Alist Nation Magazine April 2021
Women Owned Business / Interview
Caroline Castrillon, Founder of Corporate Escape Artist
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.
I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the only daughter of Cuban immigrants. My parents came to the U.S. with nothing (literally), so they struggled quite a bit to rebuild their lives. We settled in a nice middle-class neighborhood, and both my parents worked full-time to make ends meet. I grew up with a solid work ethic, and education was highly valued. But family always came first. My grandmother lived with us and was there when I would get home from school. She provided me with a valuable cultural perspective, and it's mainly because of her that I am bilingual. I was raised watching my parents work like crazy to pay the bills but never felt that a career could be both profitable AND meaningful. Early on, I fell into the traditional mindset that you go to a good college, get a good job, work hard for someone else, save some money and hopefully, you can retire at some point to REALLY start enjoying your life. But working in the corporate world was never fulfilling, and I spent years wanting to be my own boss but not knowing what to do or how to get there.
When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?
For 25 years, I endured what seemed like endless layoffs, restructuring, downsizing—you name it. Everyone thinks that working for a company is so secure because you have a “steady” paycheck—well, so much for security! Despite all that, I got my MBA, and my work allowed me to live in some beautiful places and travel internationally. When I finally got the V.P. of Marketing job, making more money than ever, I thought, “Wow, I’ve made it!” I knew something was wrong when everyone around me was so excited for my success, and I was miserable. I didn't have the freedom, flexibility, or creativity that I craved and felt suffocated. It got to the point where I stared at the four walls of my office and thought, "Is this it?", "Is this all there is?", “There must be MORE!” Essentially, the status quo was worse than the thought of change, and I decided to go for it.
Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
I decided to hire a life coach, and that’s when I had my breakthrough. She helped me identify the intersection of the things that I enjoyed and was good at. Once I realized that coaching could encompass so many of the elements I was looking for in a dream job like mentoring, writing, and marketing, I was hooked. I started researching coaching certification programs and decided that becoming a coach would allow me to positively impact people's lives while also having the freedom and flexibility I was craving. I was always a good listener and loved helping people grow personally and professionally. Now I could do that on a much bigger scale. It's also a great profession if you want to work from anywhere, anytime, and that's what I was looking for. By the time I met the people in my coaching program, I knew I was in the right place and felt that I'd finally found my tribe.
How did you fund this project?
I self-funded my business with some help from family along the way. My parents like to say that they were my first investors.
How long did it take to become profitable?
It took me about a year to become profitable. Essentially, I tried to do as much as I could myself, kept costs low and worked my buns off. Fortunately, my 25 years of marketing experience came in handy.
After you made the decision, what steps did you take?
I researched certification programs and decided on iPEC, a rigorous 9-month program that provided an excellent foundation for my coaching practice. At the end of that program, I began working with another coach to home in on my target audience, tackle limiting beliefs and start the process of building my own business. I hired a design team to help me create my website and logo. Then I started blogging and vlogging consistently. I sought out any opportunity I could find to contribute to online or print publications and finally joined the Forbes team as a regular contributor. I also relied quite a bit on social media to get the word out.
Do you feel it was more difficult because you are a woman?
For me personally, no.
Do you think social media is important?
Definitely, the key is not to spread yourself too thin and find the one or two social networks that work for you. It also depends on the type of business you have. For example, if your business is highly visual, like painting or photography, then Instagram is a no-brainer. Because I work with corporate professionals, LinkedIn is a great resource. Again, the key is consistency.
What was the best thing you did to grow your business?
While there isn’t one silver bullet, joining the Forbes team as a contributor has helped me broaden my reach globally and positively impact people in a way that I never imagined.
What were the hardest hurdles?
In the beginning, you underestimate how long it will take to gain traction in your business. It takes a lot of patience. People are smitten with the illusion of overnight success, but that's what it is, an illusion. Most of the successful entrepreneurs I've interviewed joke about the 10-year overnight success. Everyone ultimately sees the end result but not all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get there. You really have to be super-passionate about what you’re doing because it takes a lot of hard work, discipline and consistency. It’s critical to leave your ego at the door and step outside your comfort zone because that’s where the growth happens. Fear also tends to rear its ugly head, so it's important to acknowledge it and then keep moving forward in the direction of your dreams. I’ve found that it’s very difficult for action and fear to co-exist.
What advice do you wish someone would have given you?
There is no magic success formula. Every business is so unique; you have to find what works for you. When I started, I thought, I’ll just find a successful coach and do what they did. Wrong. Yes, it's great to have mentors, but no one can tell you exactly what to do to succeed. A lot of it is trial and error and also trusting your intuition. What may work for one person won't necessarily work for another. For example, one of my early coaches was in favor of the "hard sell" approach. That made me feel like a used car salesman. He also didn't have a specific framework to work with clients. That didn't work for me. While it took me some time, I finally found a tone and approach that I’m comfortable with. Actually, once I started doing the opposite of some of the things he recommended, I began having success.
Did you have a mentor? I initially worked with a couple of established coaches, but the people I really looked up to and wanted to emulate were coaches like Marie Forleo. I always admired her approachability and authenticity. In fact, I modeled many of my early videos after her MarieTV format, and I still follow her to this day.
At any point did you want to give up? Yes, often! It’s hard to build a business and lonely when you’re a solopreneur. That’s why I created what I call an “inspo file.” It’s a place where I save all the emails that I receive from people telling me that they feel more confident, inspired or empowered by my writing. When you get praise like that from people you don’t know, it’s a powerful reminder of why you started doing this in the first place.
What made you keep going? Besides knowing I was making a positive impact in people’s lives, my immediate family has always been by my side cheering me on. It's essential to surround yourself with people who believe in you during those tough times when you may doubt yourself. If you really love what you do and aren't doing it just for the money, it's much easier to stick with it. As long as you’re truly passionate about something and you work hard, the money will come.
Has COVID-19 affected your business?
To be honest, my business has expanded during this time. The pandemic has caused more people to reevaluate their values and priorities. Finding meaning and fulfillment in their work has become more important. Also, family is a higher priority, so women in particular (who tend to be the primary caregivers) are looking for careers that will provide more flexibility and the ability to work remotely. All these factors are causing people to reach out for help in navigating the employment landscape.
Were there any life lessons you learned along the way?
So many! Fear doesn’t go away. You just have to manage it so that it doesn’t prevent you from achieving your goals. Many people assume fear is alerting you of danger. That might be true if you’re in the jungle and a tiger jumps out. But in our world, it’s actually a good sign. It means your dreams are big, and you're pushing yourself. I tell my clients if they aren't at least a little scared, their dreams aren't big enough. Also, you don’t have to predict the future ten years down the road. It’s more important to continue taking small steps forward. The worst thing you can do is get analysis paralysis. One of my favorite quotes is that you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
What is the happiest memory from this journey?
It’s hard to pick just one – actually, anytime someone reaches out to me thanking me for writing something that inspired them or helped them on their journey. One memory that stands out is a person who read my article on the importance of a growth mindset and immediately connected to it. As someone born with a physical disability, he said he always looked at adversity as a catalyst. Another was when I had a client struggling with limiting beliefs. Through our work together, he successfully applied, interviewed for, and accepted a position with a prestigious consulting firm during a pandemic! That was incredible.