Today’s Entrepreneurs Talk is with Michele Wierzgac, a personal branding expert and trainer as well as the owner of Michele & Co.
I met Michele in Mexico in 2013 during a week-long training program. She was one of the fabulous instructors and helped most of us decide on the kind of business plan we wanted to work on.
She is a successful speaker and personal branding expert and recently published her first book.
She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and share how she runs her one-woman business empire while following her passion for motorcycles.
Entrepreneur’s Talk – Michelle Shares How She Runs Her One Woman Empire
1. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
September 11 came and went, along with a recession, which wiped out my meeting and event planning business. Faced with huge debt, my colleagues, friends, and family encouraged me to re-brand myself as a speaker.
“Stop doing it for free,” was what they told me. So in April 2002, I wrote a business plan to start a speaking business.
2. How challenging was it from the launch phase to the point where you started turning a profit?
The challenging part was being “patient” for the marketing to take hold. Remember, I had to inform all my brand champions (supporters) that I was re-branding myself.
It took time to inform and encourage them to remember my brand statement. The business began to roll in the second month.
3. How did you successfully build a client base?
My brand champions (colleagues, friends, family) helped me build my client base. Word of mouth via social media is the cornerstone of building a client base.
4. How big is your organization currently? Do you have plans to grow even bigger?
I am a one-person operation and love it. Really now, how much money does a person have to make to be happy? I have thought about growing my business but I am content right now.
I am an author as well and recently published “The Talking Stick According To Michele: A Guide For Reflecting On Your Personal Brand” with another book on the way.
So as far as expansion, let’s wait and see. I have thought about leadership training programs for corporations and associations, but as I said, I am happy.
5. How do you come up with new ideas?
Reflecting on how my “gift” – to teach and speak – has impacted others inspires me. The messages from those inspired by a presentation I made create ideas.
They come naturally to me because I am open to the signs and symbols along the way.
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6. What would you say contributed the most to your success?
There are three things that contributed to my success: one, the women in my life that provided unconditional love/support – my mother, grandmother, volleyball coaches, and fiancé.
Unconditional love is a powerful gift one gives to another person – love fuels my success.
Two, sport provided me with confidence and discipline which is required for success, and three, my education.
I have a Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Leadership and a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education & Athletic Coaching. I learn ~ I teach.
7. What are some of the secrets to becoming a great public speaker?
Have a genuine spirit – this comes from your family upbringing, passion for your topic(s) – have to believe in your message and empathy for your audience – provide them with inspiration or teach them something.
Audiences know when you are a “canned” speaker – in other words, if it is all about you and your ego, you are NOT a great speaker!
8. Tell us about your new book?
“The Talking Stick According to Michele: A Guide for Reflecting on Your Personal Brand” (Luv Big Publisher, 2014), is designed to help readers answer the question “what makes you unique—and put that answer to work.
It’s a workbook that includes advice and exercises to help readers develop their personal brand.
Personal branding is all about strategy, and I am on a mission to educate business people on how to develop a strategy that makes them stand out among their peers.
Do not expect a type of self-help narrative. The journal format contains pages that the reader fills out including topics such as “Describe your skills” and “Who are your brand champions?”
It also contains brief descriptions of what each entry should focus on and has inspirational bursts such as “Being concise is a fundamental skill to getting your idea heard.” The book can be purchased on my website at www.micheleandco.com
9. Who is your most favourite person from history and why?
My great-grandmother, Mary Tyrka and my grandmother, Celia Rolla. There were rumours of a war starting, so my great-grandmother saved enough money to travel on a steamship from Poland to the United States in the early 1900s.
Her husband was an alcoholic and had abandoned her. It took two months to travel the long distance. My great grandmother took ill on the long journey, so my grandmother, age 7, took care of her the entire time.
After arriving at Ellis Island, my grandmother was taken care of by strangers for 30 days until my great grandmother was released from quarantine.
They were released from Ellis Island and travelled alone by train to Chicago because this is where they had heard the Polish immigrants were going.
Can you imagine no one welcoming you to a new country? Can you imagine having no home to go to? I thank God every day for my great-grandmother and grandmother’s courage to travel such a long distance to provide opportunities for future generations. Their names are on the original Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.
10. What have the challenges you faced over the years taught you?
Never give up on dreams, hope, and love. Love hurts, therefore, you cannot microwave grief – the grieving process takes time. Eventually, the pain will subside.
You’re never too old to reinvent yourself, to explore, to write a book, to ride a Harley, to teach others how to ride a motorcycle, to fall in love, to challenge yourself.
11. What are your favorite business books?
- Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock & Sarah Laschever
- Elizabeth 1, CEO by Alan Axelrod
- Use What You’ve Got & Other Business Lessons I Learnt from my Mom by Barbara Corcoran
- Managing Marketing in the 21st Century by Noel Capon
- The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott
12. What does your typical day look like?
I take my cup of coffee and my cell phone, sit down in my beautiful office within my home, say a prayer, and my day starts. Every day is different and filled with extraordinary blessings.
When I was a miserable college administrator, I used to daydream about what the perfect workday would look like – that daydream has become a reality!
13. Tell us a little bit about your other passion – motorcycles
(an excerpt from my soon to be released second book) – for as long as I could remember, I had wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. “Please wait until I die,” said my mom, who worried that something would happen to me. So out of respect for her, I held off.
She passed away mere weeks before my 50th birthday and just after my speaker/trainer business had come to a stall, thanks to the economy. My world turned upside down.
My mom had been my best friend. My work had been my passion. I was officially middle-aged. Sadness and sorrow took over.
After several days of barely being able to get out of bed, a friend took me for a ride on her motorcycle. Sue, a petite, middle-aged woman, hopped on with ease and fired her Harley Davidson Heritage up. This massive motorcycle roared.
Such a powerful, beautiful sound. “Get on!” she yelled. We rolled out of the driveway and I hung on as we quickly left suburbia behind and headed out onto beautiful open country roads. The wind blew through my hair; the bike’s vibrations rippled through my body, gently massaging me.
I began to relax and to forget the pain of losing my mother as if the breeze was blowing the shroud away.
Everything seemed brighter, more vibrant. I noticed each curve of the road, swaying blades of grass, fences and farmhouses, wild plants and flowers creating their own roadside garden.
For the first time in a long time, I felt at peace and thanked God while the bike blazed on. A smile crawled up my face, my worries left behind in a trail of dust.
It was time to follow my long-deferred dream of learning how to ride. It began to get chilly so we headed home. Back in Sue’s kitchen, I told her how the ride had made me feel.
The wind blew away all my troubles—the sadness of missing my mom, questions about my next career move—the vibrations of the engine put me in a tranquil state as if I just finished receiving a massage…
Fast forward 5 years later, I logged 65,000 miles on my first Harley, a Sportster 1200 Custom, and so far 20,000 miles on my second, Heritage Softail Classic.
I am a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach for Harley-Davidson and the State of Illinois. I learn ~ I teach.
14. Where are your favourite vacation spots?
Beach destinations and riding my Harley through mountain passes!
15. Are you living your best life? Would you change anything?
I am living my best life!
You can read more about Michele and also purchase her book at Michele & Co.
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