As we bring this decade to a close, I feel especially compelled to reflect. What have I accomplished? How have I grown? What challenges have I overcome? Who have I supported? How can I measure my impact? All too often, I’m fully focused on the future, and neglect taking the time to sit with my success, power, and total privilege to get to do this important work. But given how much this year changed everything, I knew I had to capture it.
It’s been a while since my last Annual Report in 2016. I apologize to anyone who’d been following along and missed getting insight into the evolution of things. I really regret not writing them.
Skipping annual reports in 2017 and 2018, I didn’t give myself a chance to process, absorb, and celebrate my absolute best years in business. I hit revenue numbers and client conversion KPIs I never thought possible.
It required a big shift in thinking and behavior: from working for the business to working on the business. With Fredrick’s invaluable support, I optimized my business strategy and content for my desired target audiences, increased my package rates, leveled-up my sales process, expanded my private coaching practice, won the trust of many new and inspiring corporate clients, and gave some fun talks and workshops around the globe.
As a result, I had 70% year-over-year revenue growth from 2016 to 2017, and then repeated the revenue in 2018. It was a wild experience and I’m incredibly proud for having seen it through.
But by the end of 2018, it was time for the next challenge: from expansion to efficiency. To achieve more by doing less.
Here is the story of my 2019. Thank you for reading.
Big Changes & Bigger Wins
- Fredrick and I moved to Maine! We landed in a short-term furnished rental in February, then found a long-term unfurnished rental in June (and finally got all our stuff out of storage in NYC). It was a big time suck, but we couldn’t be happier now. It’s glorious here, and we hope you visit soon. Maine — The Way Life Should Be.
- I completed Phase 4 and signed-and-started Phase 5 of a massive, multi-year organizational design and culture change initiative with an institutional client I’ve been supporting since 2016. I’ve coached 14 leaders for 6 months or more each; interviewed 50+ individuals across the organization; helped facilitate 3 daylong off-sites; spent countless hours in strategy sessions; and witnessed seismic shifts in attitudes, behaviors, outcomes, and long-term prospects for the business’s success.
- As all my clients know, I’m a big advocate of owning your own calendar, and have been following Paul Graham’s maker vs. manager system for many years. This year I reduced my client sessions to no more than 3 days a week (from a variable 3-4), and firmly blocked 2 days a week for business development, bookkeeping, and self-care. I consistently kept my evenings and weekends free of business, and pulled NO all-nighters the entire year (for the first time since starting my company 14 years ago).
- I turned down projects and prospective clients at an exponentially higher rate than ever before. Now having run a coaching business for 6 years, I have a much stronger sense of who I can successfully coach and who I’ll enjoy spending time with. I know my faults and flaws better, and I can spot the patterns sooner. Giving myself the permission to say “No” to work I don’t want to do or don’t believe I can do well has been unbelievably difficult and yet enormously liberating. Making a couple simple changes to my sales flow checklist has reduced the emotional toll and made “checking in” a normal and necessary part of the process — every single time.
- I designed, ran, and honed a new workshop on the foundations of Nonviolent Communication and practicing empathy at work, through games and other highly-interactive exercises. I’ve now conducted these fun and fast-paced workshops at conferences and corporations in multiple countries and cities across the U.S., and am currently scheduling more for 2020.
We're thrilled to have #empathy #leadership coach @whitneyhess speaking and running a workshop at #LDNYC on the crucial subject of resolving conflict at work. She'll explore improving effective leadership and #collaboration using principals of #NonViolentCommunication. pic.twitter.com/2KgXGq4LFj
— LeadingDesignConf (@LDconf) April 18, 2019
Results, Outcomes & Impact
All of my client engagements are 100% confidential, so I can’t give too many specifics about what big dreams they held, what issues they faced, what steps they took, and how beautifully they navigated to a new way of being. Some tell you in their own words in my Testimonials. Sometimes I vague-tweet when I can’t help but celebrate their wins. Below is a selection of the major themes that emerged in 2019.
- Promotions & raises
- New jobs
- New businesses
- New responsibilities
- Team expansions
- More support
- More influence
- More delegation and focus
- Calendars tamed
- Focused gained
- Many résumés, portfolios, interviews fine-tuned
- Speaking gigs — and some finally started charging
- New cities, homes, land
- Paid relocations
- Visas & residence permits
- Multimillion-dollar grants
- Press mentions
- Industry awards
- Lawsuits won & closed
- Volunteering efforts increased
- Continuing ed, new degrees & certifications
- Layoffs endured & new, better jobs attained
- New relationships started
- Bad relationships ended
- Conflicts addressed, resolved or accepted
- Losses mourned
- Illnesses healed, managed
- Identities & views publicly voiced
- Professional networks expanded & nurtured
- Weight lost, strength gained, sleep improved, bodies cared for
- Self-respect & self-love abound
Client landed dream job after yrs of being misused & ignored. Within 1 yr, promoted 2x! Now transforming process & culture across org. BAM!
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) November 7, 2019
Client faced harassment & gender bias at work. Sued, won, forced board restructuring & policy change across org. Now helping others do same
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) November 11, 2019
After yrs of overwork & health issues, client went solo, founded wellness co, consulting with leaders across globe, integrating life & work!
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) December 16, 2019
New-COO client felt overwhelmed & underprepared. Together we created action plan to learn, communicate, delegate. Got a raise, working less!
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) November 19, 2019
Client promoted 2x in a year, now on executive team and being tapped to sponsor corporate initiatives dear to their heart. Dream come true!
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) December 13, 2019
Many of my clients have fallen so in love w/ coaching, they’ve become certified coaches themselves! They’re a gift to their clients & to me
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) November 25, 2019
Clients, Time & Revenue
I am so SO grateful to my clients for your trust and vulnerability and courage and passion and commitment and self-respect and love. I am in awe of each and every one of you, and I consider it the ultimate privilege to get to walk alongside you on your journey and witness your tremendous growth and development. Thank you for inviting me in. Deepest bow to you.
I had 32 total clients in 2019, including:
- 15 private clients with 6-12-month coaching programs
- 12 employer-sponsored clients with 6-9-month coaching programs
- 4 organizational clients with 6-month engagements
My time in 2019 was primarily spent:
- Holding 250 coaching sessions (~275 coaching hours)
- Crafting 12 custom coaching programs
- Investing just 18 hours with prospects who didn’t become clients (yet)
- Offering 50+ hours coaching to pro bono clients
As for revenue streams, 30% of my 2019 revenue came from private clients, 10% from employer-sponsored clients, and 60% from organizational clients.
I finished 2019 with 19% year-over-year loss in gross revenue compared to 2018 (having shaved a day off my workweek, proportionally YOY revenue was actually flat). But net income (profit) fell by only
7% 4.5% — and I was able to pay myself even more than the year before! Efficiency achieved.
I’ve now had 129 total lifetime individual coaching clients (since 2014):
- 60% (78) with at least 6 months of coaching
- 56% (44) re-ups for more coaching
- 18% (8) clients who’ve re-upped their coaching packages 3 or more times
I offer 3 package options to my private clients, allowing them to choose the duration of coaching and additional services. Since I started offering packages in 2016, 38% of clients have bought the lowest package, 45% bought the middle package, and 17% bought the highest package. That ratio has been fairly consistent each year.
What bowls me over the most is the sheer numbers of the past 6 years. I earned my coaching certification in June 2014, and immediately set out building my coaching practice. Analyzing all the data I’ve been tracking since yields some pretty big surprises for me, stuff I’m not particularly conscious of day-to-day.
- I’ve accrued 2500 total coaching hours. That’s 2500 hours in coaching sessions with clients. ::head asplode:: That number qualifies me to apply for the next level of my coaching credential through the International Coach Federation: the Master Certified Coach. “The MCC represents the highest level of achievement in coaching and identifies an expert coach.” I’ll likely pursue my MCC in 2020, if I’m feeling ready; it’s quite a rigorous process.
- I have coaching clients in 15 countries across 6 continents (none in Antarctica yet), and in 59 cities around the world. We make it work with time zone differences, and my conference line has local dial-in numbers for almost everywhere.
- 90% of my clients come from referral — whether by one of my clients, a current or former colleague, a Twitter friend (remember when we called them “tweeps?”), a family member, or someone who has seen me speak at a conference. I’m indebted to the great people who send other great people my way, as they do the vetting for me! And I’m actually more surprised that 1 in 10 clients find me through organic search — googling for “design leadership coaching,” “UX leadership coaching,” “empathy leadership coach” or some variation thereof.
- It turns out 72% of my coaching clients are women*; 28% of my clients are non-white*; 10% of my clients are LGBTQI+*; and 11% of my clients are over the age of 50. Though I certainly never planned it, I’m quite happy with this distribution, all above population stats. I am very eager to support even more people who are underrepresented in tech and business (especially in leadership), and all too often underestimated.
- ICF’s peer reciprocal coaching round for coaches preparing to apply for their MCC credential; I greatly benefitted from receiving 3 months of coaching as a client
- The Book You Were Born To Write (5-Day Intensive) — Kelly Notaras, Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, MA
- Proprioceptive Writing (3-Day Workshop) — Charles Melcher, Maine College of Art (MECA), Portland, ME
- Finding Your Mythic Voice in Memoir — Robert Atkinson (1-Day Workshop), Maine Publishers and Writers Association (MPWA), Portland, ME
- Collaborative Communication & Nonviolent Communication Level 1 (2-Day Workshop) — Leah Boyd, Camp Calumet, Freedom, NH
- Nonviolent Communication, Improvisation, and Mindfulness (3-Week Workshop) — Phoenix Soleil, Good Medicine Collective, Portland, ME
- The Wisdom of the Enneagram (2-Day Workshop) — Michael Naylor, Portland, ME
- International Coach Federation communities of practice webinars
- Reiki 1 Certification — Kristine Keegan, Arcana, Portland, ME
- New Moon Circles, Monthly Gatherings — Taylor Vallee, Tula Studios, South Portland, ME
When we became a Certified B Corp in June 2018, and changed our legal status to a Public Benefit Corporation, we made a commitment to donate a sizable portion of our revenue to 501(c)(3) nonprofits whose missions we feel personally and professionally align with ours.
In 2019, we made contributions totaling more than $5,000 to the following organizations:
- Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
- Conservation Law Foundation
- New York Public Library
- Code for America (Open Maine)
- Sea Change Yoga
If there are other organizations you think we should be supporting, please let me know.
- Fredrick and I have been working on our finances in earnest since January 2016, using spreadsheets to track our payments, savings, and outstanding debts. Still, we couldn’t quite reach the finish line. This fall we started listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast (I like his process, not his politics), put ourselves on a much stricter budget (using the Every Dollar app), used our savings to pay off all our debts (credit cards and Fredrick’s student loans), and are now rebuilding our emergency fund. Next we’ll be saving to buy a house — hopefully in cash! (A note here to small business owners and those aspiring to be: I keep my personal and business finances very, very separate. My company carries no debt and I keep retained earnings in the business so it can always take care of itself.)
- Prioritized mental health and made tremendous progress healing long-ago traumas that kept rearing their ugly head.
- Maintained regular talk therapy, group therapy, polarity therapy (energy/bodywork), and breathwork sessions.
- Practiced yoga at several studios inconsistently, but attended 3 daylong yoga retreats (Sea Change Yoga, Maine YogaFest, and Wild Vibes Festival) where I did more yoga in a single day than I ever thought I was capable of — and no soreness the next day!
- Started trailwalking and hiking (my longest walk so far was 8.8 miles through the woods in our town), and walked in two 5Ks for charity.
- Steadily continued to lose weight since shifting my eating habits in July 2018 from veganish to anti-inflammatory/Keto (down 10 pounds this year; almost 40 since my highest in 2016). Finally feeling good in my own skin.
- All this work plus other stress-reduction techniques resulted in experiencing almost no Fibromyalgia flare-ups and the least overall body pain since I was 10 years old.
- And if you missed it above, Fredrick and I moved to Maine!
Thank you so much for reading this looong post! If you have any questions or want to dig into anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to share more if it will support and benefit you and your business in any way.
I hope our paths cross in the coming year. Wishing you and your loved ones a fulfilling, fun, and unforgettable 2020.
All my love,