Inspirational Women Interviews: Laura Williams

Y’all. I am seriously, massively excited for today’s Inspirational Women interview. Like, super-uber excited.

Today’s interview is with Laura Williams, the CEO of Girls Gone Sporty. Now, for those of you who are new to this blog, I’m a Girls Gone Sporty Ambassador — and of all the women’s fitness organizations out there, this was the first one I knew, almost immediately, that I wanted to be involved with. {Please pardon the minor stroke I’m having as a result of ending that sentence with a preposition.}

As soon as I learned more about their goals — most notably, embracing fun and adventure, of loving fitness not because it can make you skinny but because it immeasurably enriches your life, and being a source of uplifting and body-positive fitness and health information — I knew: this is an awesome organization. I want to be part of this. Pleaseohpleaseohplease, let them be accepting Ambassadors.

Sure enough, I became a GGS Ambassador, and I did a happy dance as soon as I found out I’d been accepted. So, to say the least, I’m extra excited about interviewing Laura. For some background, here’s her bio:

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science from Texas State University, Laura Williams focused her career on aquatic and fitness management. Over the course of eight years she moved cross-country three times to take on progressively more difficult roles. She left management in 2010 to finish her master’s degree in exercise and sport science from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. She is now a writer, entrepreneur and the “Sporty Girl CEO” of GirlsGoneSporty. When she’s not working, Laura can be found running her dogs, snowboarding, lifting weights, attempting yoga or watching shamelessly trashy television.

Image source: http://www.girlsgonesporty.com

 

And, with all that being said, here’s her story.

I know you’d held a number of sports management jobs before founding GGS, so heading out on your own must’ve been a huge change (and, if I may, it seems more than a little bit terrifying!). Were there specific experiences or factors that inspired you to take action towards starting GGS and taking the leap into entrepreneurship?

There were a lot of factors that played a contributing role, so this answer might take awhile!

I recently did an interview with Brett Hoebel, and he said at one point, “I don’t believe in luck, I believe in opportunity meets preparation,” and there was a lot of that at play when I started Girls Gone Sporty.

In 2008 I accepted my “dream job” as the Director of Programs for a giant recreation center in Salem, Oregon. The facility wasn’t built yet, so I had the opportunity to create all the programs from scratch, purchase all the equipment, hire all the employees for my department, play a key role in marketing the facility and introducing it to the community. At the time I was only 27 years old and in charge of a staff of 140 people spanning disciplines from rock climbing to aquatics to fitness and even fine arts. I was so excited and fired up for my career, and for the first nine months, I had a blast!

Then things went horribly wrong. It was like you could see the façade start to crumble and crack. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the facility, or even with the staff or the members. There was just this intangible, horrible “thing” happening in the upper levels of management – distrust, contempt and outright workplace bullying. For months I did everything I knew how to try to make it stop, to repair the damage being done, but no matter what I tried, things got worse.

A little more than a year after I was hired, I started weighing my options. I didn’t want to leave my job. I loved my staff, I loved the programs we ran, I loved the families who came in and used the facility. What I didn’t love was who I was becoming – I was becoming disillusioned, angry and bitter. I couldn’t shake the anger I felt when I left the facility, so even at home I was someone I didn’t want to be. I silently watched the interactions of other upper level managers – always vying for position, taking every opportunity they could to put others down, even lying and manipulating events for the sole purpose of making others look bad – and I remember thinking to myself, “I’m becoming like them. I can’t let that happen. I don’t want to be hateful and bitter.”

So I quit.

I had been working at a university and taking master’s degree courses prior to taking the job in Oregon, so I contacted my professors and asked if I could re-enter their program. I went back to school, and to make up for my salary loss, I started freelance writing for websites like LiveStrong, About.com, Exercise.com and SheKnows.

One thing led to another, and I was eventually asked to step in as an Assigning Editor at Sheknows.

All these different experiences were adding up, and at the end of my master’s program, I asked myself, “Should I go back into management, or should I do something with writing on my own?”

The answer was pretty clear. I knew that to go back into management, unless I was the owner of a facility, there was only so much I could do to determine the culture of the organization and the people I worked with. I wanted to create something where the culture would be exactly what I wanted – uplifting, exciting, fun and inviting. So, Lance and I developed Girls Gone Sporty. We’d always wanted to work together and do something on our own, and in this circumstance, opportunity met preparation and we were ready!

What have been the high points and the low points?

Oh, gosh! There have been some big ones!

Let’s talk money.

When you get into a brick-and-mortar business, there’s usually a big up-front investment, but (theoretically), with the right marketing and visibility, you can start seeing money coming in pretty quickly.

Online businesses are different. There are millions upon millions of websites, and unless you have a massive amount of money to spend on marketing and development, or unless you’re very geo-targeted, it can be hard to garner interest, especially for a content-driven site like ours. Yes, we have some products we sell, but ultimately we’re “selling” free content, which means we need tons of views to get advertisers to start buying in.

When you’re spending what feels like a million hours a week investing in a site for months and months on end, and making nothing? You can get really, really down and start questioning what you’re doing.

I’ll be honest – I still have a full-time freelance gig on the side. We’re starting to get more advertisers on board, but we’re not yet self-sufficient and probably won’t be for awhile. Just in terms of endurance, there have been moments when juggling freelancing and Girls Gone Sporty have seemed really hard. That’s when you start praying for encouragement, because it’s amazing how just a tiny bit of encouragement, or the right email at the right time, can remind you why you’re making the investment of time and energy. Ultimately, it’s worth it to be doing what you love and reaching people with your message.

The only other real “low” points have come when I’ve kind of lost track of my goals. Girls Gone Sporty is not about me. It’s about reaching others, offering a “safe” fitness and health site that doesn’t focus on weight loss or size. It’s about encouraging and lifting others up. There have been a couple times when I got distracted by external factors that kind of pulled me away from my goals and the intention of Girls Gone Sporty. The interesting thing is that I didn’t really recognize what I was doing at the time, but I did recognize that I was losing the joy I found in the site. When I sat back and reflected on why I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, I realized it was because the site had become too self-serving and ego-driven. With a few small changes, the joy came back!

In terms of high points, there are lots! The success of the Ambassador program humbles me every day. I’m just so awed by all these amazing women who want to take part in Girls Gone Sporty.

Also, Getting invited out to the Jamba Juice FiTrends event in Santa Monica was a real special moment. While it was cool meeting Tony Horton, Venus Williams and Brett Hoebel, I was even more thrilled to meet some of the other women in the industry making their own paths. Jenn and Tish from Fit Bottomed Girls and Cassey Ho from Blogilates. These women are so inspiring, and to have the chance to meet them? It was great.

What obstacles have you encountered, and how did you push past them?

I’m my own biggest obstacle! Really, I can get in my own head and do a number on myself. Having my husband as a partner really makes all the difference, because when I start voicing negativity and getting down on myself, he’s always there saying, “Laura, I need you to get excited. I need you to keep going.” And he’s right. He needs me just like I need him, so I decide to put my mental big girl pants on and stop being a jerk to myself. It can be hard to recognize the downward spiral into negativity in yourself, but when you have someone else calling you on it, and you’re willing to acknowledge that they’re right, it can make a huge difference!

The other big obstacle that I encountered was all about location. We were living in Oregon when we started Girls Gone Sporty, and we are not Oregon people. Lance is from Arizona and I’m from Texas. Dealing with cold, wet weather for nine months of the year was really taking a toll on my sanity. Add to that the fact that our house was in a tiny town without access to much in the way of up-and-coming fitness trends and the fact that three out of my four close friends had moved to other states, and I was feeling really lost, lonely and dissatisfied, and that dissatisfaction was taking a toll on my ability to stay motivated and engaged with GGS. I craved a move to Texas, but the right opportunity just hadn’t presented itself.

In February of this year, we hit a wall. It was move, or die trying. And almost as soon as we officially decided to make the move, the seas parted and all the steps became clear.

It was as if finally making the decision to move changed everything. I think sometimes you don’t have to know all the steps, you just have to start moving in the right direction. Being back in Texas has made all the difference for me. I’m motivated and excited again, and that’s being reflected in my work and interactions. It may seem like picking up and moving wouldn’t make a difference to a business, but since we are our business, our fundamental happiness plays a significant role in how our business runs. If you need a major change in your life, changing everything about your environment can do the trick.

Do you have a support network and/or personal cheerleaders who have helped you in this process? If so, what have they done to encourage you and help you move forward?

Like I said, my husband is amazing. I seriously couldn’t do this without him. Also, both of our parents have been great. I don’t think they entirely understand what we’re trying to do, and I think there’s some skepticism there, but they’ve also been truly wonderful when it comes to supporting, and not questioning, the untraditional choices we’ve made. This path isn’t for everyone. It’s uncertain and unpredictable, and I appreciate the fact that they’re there for us.

Finally, I can’t do this without the Ambassadors! Like I said before, I feel so accountable to them. The fact that these women want to be involved and are excited about Girls Gone Sporty is like wind beneath my wings. Every day the first thing I do when I get up is check the Ambassador Facebook Groups because they put a smile on my face every time.

 

If you could give advice to women who are either trying to find the courage to pursue their dreams or are at the beginning of their own journey, what would it be?

First, make sure whatever you’re pursuing is truly something you’re passionate about. You have to know your “why” – why are you pursuing this? If it’s just for money or because it seems like a good idea, you’re going to have a hard time sticking with it.

Second, write down your business plan. No one ever has to see it but you, but you need to write out your mission, vision and goals. There will be lots of distractions to pull you away, but if you have something written out that you can come back to and look at, it’ll be easier to get back on course.

Third, think about the long game. It’s easy to imagine that you’ll be one of the lucky ones who shoots to fame overnight with clear success and a lot of money. It can happen, but usually those “overnight successes” have actually been working at their craft for years. Recognize that whatever you do is going to take time, and mentally prepare yourself for the low points. Just like in a relationship, the hard times don’t mean the relationship is over, it just means you have to be committed to holding it together. When you go through tough times in a business, you have to be mentally committed to stick it out.

Fourth, give it your all every single day, but recognize that “your all” will change from day to day. When you’re juggling other work, family stress, moving cross country, or whatever, “your all” might just be a quick Facebook post one day. If that’s all you can handle, great! As long as you go to bed at night with the confidence that you did what you could, you know you’re moving in the right direction. Other days, “your all” may be a full-out 12 hour day committed to the business. That’s great, too! The point is recognizing your limitations and working with those limitations every single day, rather than looking at the experience as all-or-nothing.

Fifth, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing. Period. That whole, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” cliche is nonsense. If it’s worth doing, go do it! Yes, you want to give things your best effort, but it’s way too easy to get caught up in perfectionism. Waiting to do something until the perfect time, or waiting to do something until you’ve mastered X, Y or Z, can really just be an excuse not to get started.  If you know your skill, and you know you can get something out there and improve it over time? Just start! A couple years from now, no one will remember how you started, and the product you provide two years from now will be a combination of the knowledge and experience you develop between now and then, which will be light years better than if you wait another 6, 12, 18 months to get started.

17 thoughts on “Inspirational Women Interviews: Laura Williams

  1. Caitlyn May 9, 2013 / 7:21 am

    So great you got to interview her! This was an awesome read– loved what she had to say. I’ll have to look into GGS.

  2. aftertheivyleague May 9, 2013 / 7:36 am

    I loved reading this. Laura has such an inspirational story! So many good points to take home. I can kind of relate it to working my current full-time job, but trying to manage and keep up with my blog on the side in my free time. I find myself struggling to balance the two very often, and this is so true: “That’s when you start praying for encouragement, because it’s amazing how just a tiny bit of encouragement, or the right email at the right time, can remind you why you’re making the investment of time and energy.” The right email, or comment, or post, or whatever always re-invigorates me and reminds me that this is something I love and I’m not giving up on it!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 9, 2013 / 9:32 pm

      It’s so true! I’ve found that exactly the right thing tends to arrive at exactly the right time. It’s awesome when that happens, and I think she captured that sentiment perfectly. 🙂

  3. Charlotte @ Commitness to Fitness May 9, 2013 / 8:26 am

    Ahh I was so sad when the interview ended! I wanted to keep reading! i was a zombie when i got to my desk this morning but as i started reading this i just felt this renewed strength with every sentence I read. I’m obsessed with Laura and you and this post! there are SO many awesome quotes i can (and will) take from this to email to friends today (with the link of course:) but i especially loved this line: “I think sometimes you don’t have to know all the steps, you just have to start moving in the right direction.” AMEN!

    This made my morning!!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 9, 2013 / 9:33 pm

      I’m so glad it was helpful and inspiring, Charlotte! There are so many parts of her story that really resonate with me, and I found myself reading it over and over again. 🙂

  4. Jorie May 9, 2013 / 7:43 pm

    Great interview, Lillian! I love reading interviews that are as candid as this one. It’s reassuring that even CEOs like Laura struggle with moments of self-doubt. The part about feeling “lost and dissatisfied” in Oregon really resonated with me. I think where you live is just as important to your well-being as who is there with you. There are some places that just never feel like home, no matter how hard you try, and it’s important to recognize that and make a change—or risk losing your sanity! Very interesting reading. Thanks for posting!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 9, 2013 / 9:36 pm

      I totally agree — Laura’s candor and vulnerability with this are truly awesome! Knowing that even some kick-ass women have moments of self-doubt is really helpful for me (it helps me remember that we’re all in this together), and the portion about location really resonated with me as well. (Of course, I’ve been trying like hell to make DC feel like home, but to no avail — so I can totally relate to her take on the matter!). 🙂

  5. Melissa May 9, 2013 / 9:06 pm

    These interviews are so inspiring. I especially loved her thoughts on “giving it your all every day.” I think the idea that you can give 110% everyday is so outdated – sometimes, things happen, and all you can do is give what you’ve got that day. I’ve been thinking about that a lot regarding my passions/work/social life, and I think that what’s important is making an effort to be “present” rather than perfect.

    So many thoughts! Great job on the interview 🙂

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 9, 2013 / 9:37 pm

      Thanks so much, Melissa! I’m really happy to know that these interviews are inspiring for people — I wind up reading them over and over for inspiration and encouragement, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. 🙂 Laura’s comments are incredibly insightful!

  6. Meredith May 10, 2013 / 2:46 am

    Great interview and a great read, Lillian! It is refreshing to read about women who follow their heart with their careers, and this really gave me some renewed hope! Thanks 🙂

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 11, 2013 / 7:52 pm

      Thanks, Meredith! I know you’ve been working incredibly hard, so I’m glad it helped bring some renewed hope and inspiration for you!

  7. saradavies May 10, 2013 / 4:26 am

    What a great interview! Thanks for sharing this with us. I especially loved the ‘overnight success’ point, people are often unaware of how much work really goes into it. We don’t usually see ‘behind-the-scenes’, we only see the end-result. It’s so good to see both the ups and downs and all the struggles that it takes for someone to reach success. Loved all of Laura’s advice to women trying to pursue their goals too! Thanks again for this =)

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 11, 2013 / 7:50 pm

      Thanks, Sara! I loved Laura’s insight and advice, too — she’s one wise lady. 🙂 I completely agree about often only seeing the end result of peoples’ successes without seeing the hard work that goes into making things happen, and it’s part of why I wanted to start doing these interviews in the first place. I feel like we all need reassurance (I know I do) that even successful people have to work hard and occasionally battle with self-doubt, so I love that women like Laura are willing to be so open and honest in telling their stories!

  8. foodiemeetsfitness May 10, 2013 / 11:58 am

    Hi fellow GGS ambassador! I loved the interview and getting to know more about Laura, thanks for sharing!

  9. foodiemeetsfitness May 10, 2013 / 12:00 pm

    Hi fellow GGS ambassador! I loved reading this interview and getting to know more about Laura. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte May 10, 2013 / 6:09 pm

      Thanks so much! It was awesome to be able to interview her, and she’s a true inspiration. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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