Being a coach and outsourced COO for creative businesses is amazing because I get to work with some truly inspiring people. Seriously, my clients are some of the most talented business owners and artists I’ve ever met, and I’m lucky to consider them not only clients but friends.
I could talk all day about their businesses and the amazing things they’re doing, which is why I want to highlight one of them this week.
My goal is to feature a diverse range of creative businesses and showcase how each of my clients and their unique missions have helped me achieve my own mission:
To prove, once and for all, that artists and creatives can excel in business.
In this blog post, I’m excited to introduce you to Wendy Hollender, a talented botanical artist who has worked with me to transform her successful but “accidental” business into an even more successful and intentional one.
By working together, Wendy has been able to focus on the creative work she loves while still achieving even greater heights in her business.
Keep reading to learn more about Wendy’s journey and how we worked together to make her unique business goals a reality!
I’m thrilled to introduce you to Wendy Hollender, my client for the past year and change. Wendy is a true inspiration for anyone who wants to follow their passions and make a living doing the creative work they feel called to pursue!
She’s a prime example of how you can shatter the “starving artist” myth and build a thriving business doing what you love.
Not only has Wendy made a name for herself as a talented botanical artist, but she’s also built a successful creative business teaching botanical art (in swoon-worthy locations like Hawaii, Spain, and on her stunning farm nestled in the Catskill Mountains of NY), publishing books, hosting Zoom workshops, selling prints, products, and supplies, and training other instructors.
Early on, Wendy didn’t draw much at all.
After resisting her parents’ encouragement to pursue a “real” job in accounting, Wendy graduated from RISD (my alma mater!) and began a career in textile design.
As a textile designer, she had always admired the floral patterns of household names like Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley but found even more inspiration from the more realistic images in botanical art books. She tried to imitate these drawings but found botanical art didn’t quite come naturally to her.
Most people would have likely given up and moved on.
But not Wendy. She doubled down.
“The artists in these books must have learned to draw botanicals somehow, so why can’t I?”
This lightbulb moment, over 25 years ago, sent her on a quest to “follow the plants.”
“I didn’t want to copy these old things so much. I wanted to work from nature. I didn’t want to sit there with a photograph or something. So, I needed to figure out how to find it in the 3D world, and then translate it.”
She did exactly that and began learning how to create botanical art at none other than the New York Botanical Gardens and never looked back.
Today, she is a botanical artist, educator, and author!
Her illustrations have been published in The New York Times, “O,” The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Sunset Magazine, and The Observer (to name a few).
She has also published several books including THE JOY OF BOTANICAL DRAWING: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing and Painting Flowers, Leaves, Fruit, and More. You can find all of her published works here.
Plus, she’s served as an instructor at the New York Botanical Gardens for the past 20 years – right where it all began.
Hello, full circle moment!
So why would someone with so much talent and success need a COO?
It would seem on the surface she had it all figured out!
And yes, while Wendy had achieved much success and joy in her career something was missing.
And that’s where our work together began.
In 2020 the world was completely rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As brick-and-mortar stores closed their doors and quarantine went into full effect, so many businesses went under or had to pivot HARD.
Lucky for Wendy, this wasn’t the case.
Because of the high demand for her instruction (and her inability to be everywhere at once), she had spent the previous year getting her live courses and workshops up and running via Zoom.
Basically, her business was perfectly positioned for the pandemic and the stay-at-home world we were all forced into that year.
She felt like a “kid in a candy store!”
While this was wonderful, it also meant that her business, Draw Botanical, would hit some serious growing pains.
It was a good problem, but a challenge nonetheless.
She was overwhelmed by the demand and knew that she would need to bring in reinforcements.
Her team expanded as she brought on new instructors to teach her proprietary methods and suddenly she found herself at the helm of the ship– serving as a manager instead of as an artist.
Quickly, things spiraled out of control.
As a freelance artist, Wendy realized she had no idea how to say NO and this eventually backfired as she took on too much, too fast!
She was so used to accepting any and every project that came her way. But this didn’t work as the owner of a business that now had so many different elements and people involved!
Training, delegating, and strategizing didn’t come easily at first.
This is where I stepped in!
As COO, I rolled up my sleeves and dug into the backend of her business (while infusing a bit of business coaching magic along the way)!
Wendy knew she needed help with the business side of things. She had so many questions that most creative entrepreneurs encounter at one point or another.
Basically, Wendy came to me wanting help making sense of her business so she could finally answer these questions once and for all!
So, we hit the ground running!
Before taking any action, it was important that we got clear on what Wendy wanted from her business. Success looks and feels different for everyone, so I wanted to get HER definition so that all of our actions moving forward would be in alignment.
After some reflection, it was clear that Wendy wanted to be able to take a step back from the operations of her business so that she could refocus her efforts on the creative work she loved.
She had built an outstanding (though accidental) business, but she wasn’t fully enjoying it because it required her to show up constantly and have a hand in everything!
In order to give her more freedom (Wendy’s definition of success), I knew she needed help putting the right structures and systems in place!
As I worked with Wendy to build out her systems, we decided to focus on two main areas of her business:
Profitability and Communication.
Here’s how we tackled these two elements head-on!
First, we had to make sure each of the facets of Wendy’s robust business actually made sense from a financial standpoint!
One of the telltale signs of an “accidental business?”
Revenue streams that don’t turn a profit!
And Wendy’s business was a quintessential example of this.
So the first place we needed to look was her online art supply shop.
We assessed her revenue and saw that the shop, while great in theory, had added extra levels of complication, work, and expenses to Wendy’s plate!
She had hired an employee just to manage her online shop. Not only did this mean Wendy had one more person to oversee (something she didn’t love) but she also had to find a place to store and keep up with her supply stock. Both of these things became extremely time-consuming!
At the end of the day, the profits from her shop (after expenses) were a very, very small percentage of her overall income.
Seeing it that way, Wendy made the decision to wind down the shop part of her business and focus on the other pieces she truly enjoyed.
While she still sells a few items through her online shop, today it is much more manageable!
In simplifying the business, she was able to amplify her impact.
With the online shop under control, it was time to shift our attention to communications.
Wendy had a team of educators on staff who regularly helped her lead courses and workshops! While she loved nurturing these botanical artists as they developed into strong teachers and guides, she didn’t find as much joy in managing them as employees.
As a result, she became the bottleneck!
Everything had to flow through her and she was starting to resent it!
I knew we needed to provide her team with some structure so that they could run the business well without needing her constant intervention.
One of the first things I implemented was weekly team meetings.
At least at first.
She found the idea so boring and stiff. But eventually, she warmed up to the concept when she saw the tremendous positive impact it could have!
Now, she sees it as a space for her and her team to bring all of their creative energy together in a strategic way rather than just dumping ideas and never following through.
She has also found that it helps her prioritize opportunities and make sure that the things she decides to pursue in her business are actually supporting her business vision and goals.
Beyond being a space for collaboration, Wendy also found the weekly meetings helped her support her team members without adding a heavy lift!
Ultimately, we were able to improve morale, hone everyone’s jobs so they were working in their zone of genius, and enhance work-life balance for all.
COO Tip: Looking to streamline your business communications? I wrote this blog completely dedicated to communication systems and the rhythms that support them so that you can learn how to communicate regularly and in a way that leaves every single person you interact with feeling understood, supported, and heard.
Bringing on a COO or working with a business coach isn’t just for struggling businesses. Even the most successful creative entrepreneurs can benefit from the help of a COO as they grow, scale, and evolve!
With strategic support, Wendy was able to navigate the challenges of running her ever-changing creative business while empowering her team and becoming more profitable.
Perhaps most importantly, Wendy now finds she is able to prioritize her artistic endeavors above all else.
In the past, her business started to overshadow her creative passions and whims.
Now, it supports them!
“You can’t allow your business to pin you down. Instead you need to allow your business to support you so that you can continue to pursue those avenues and that next inspiring idea.” –Wendy Hollender
As an educator, she has the time and energy to cultivate a physical space for creative inspiration! On her farm, Hollengold Farm, she encourages students and the educators she trains to let nature be their guide.
When you do so, Wendy believes, “you’re going to always be inspired, you’re going to always find something exciting to look at and want to try to draw. I want my students to find their own excitement in nature and convey it– not copy what I’ve done.”
As an artist, Wendy is also able to carve out ample creative time for herself. She even has a personal creative project in the works. It’s completely self-motivated and she loves the fact that it isn’t for a client, a student, or a program. It’s just for her and she is “purposely not trying to have an end game with it.”
I hope that Wendy’s story and journey as a botanical artist serve as evidence that with clear goals, streamlined priorities, the right systems, and an infectious passion for your craft you can achieve your vision as a creative entrepreneur!
I’ll leave you with Wendy’s words of wisdom that wholeheartedly resonate with me and my mission,
“I think you need to follow what really excites you instead of just what you think would be a good business. Pay attention to what you’re excited by, that maybe will excite other people. And rather than trying to be something you’re not, you’ve got to be what you are. Stay true to that.”
Want to learn more about the incredible botanical artwork Wendy creates or opportunities to learn from her online and in person?
In fact – I just recently joined her for one of her in-person events where we focused on illustrating tulips!
Wendy actually brought home and planted a wide array of 300+ tulip bulbs from HOLLAND!
It was such as BLAST to participate, learn, and fill up my own creative cup Hollengold Farm! I can’t wait to share more about this one-of-a-kind experience with you!
Does Wendy’s story inspire you to take the future of your business into your own hands?