[quote style=”boxed”]I am willing to give anyone in my network that asks 5 minutes to help them make a quick introduction to someone else (if I can and it is appropriate) or provide quick feedback on something. This allows me to give and make a difference for others with no expectation of return.[/quote]
Lanita Foley is a college admission expert and founder of Where Success Blooms. A former Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Stanford University (her alma mater) and Associate Director of College Counseling at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Lanita knows about college admission from both sides of the desk. Before moving to Massachusetts, she served as a Director of College Counseling at a small, private day school in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the past, she has appeared on regional and national professional panels. Lanita is a native of Los Angeles.
Where did the idea for Where Success Blooms come from? What does your typical day look like?
I’ve worked in both college admissions at Stanford University and college counseling at Phillips Academy, Andover; two very highly selective educational institutions. On both sides of the desk I genuinely enjoy working with students and families; however, watching parents and students endure the high degree of competitiveness and stress that accompanies this time period was like watching people suffer through a medieval torture chamber. I knew there was a more mindful, compassionate, and holistic way to help guide students and parents through this process that couldn’t be addressed in a school setting.
In 2012, while visiting Plum Village in France, I encountered a lotus blossom for the first time. While on a walking meditation with Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist, he explained that the lotus blossom only bloomed in mud. Actually he said, “No mud, no lotus.” I was initially struck by the idea that something so beautiful and graceful and perfect resulted from something we don’t deem as beautiful, graceful or perfect at all. And this was true about the college application and admission process as well. It was critical to me to create a business that acknowledged the not so pretty parts of this journey while also nourishing students holistically and authentically. It’s about honoring the growth process during this period in a student’s life by helping them connect most authentically with who they are as young adults, who they wish to be, and finding their best college fit based on those criteria without stressing them or their parents out unnecessarily. I approach the process with candor, humor, and compassion and that in turn helps busy parents save time and money in finding a great set of colleges to which to apply and while making the high school experience more meaningful.
As for a typical day, I start with a power hour by reading something inspirational for 20 minutes, exercising for 20 minutes, and meditating or sitting quietly for 20 minutes. Due to the nature of working with students in grades 8 to 12, my work is very cyclical. At my busiest times I am meeting weekly with both local and national clients. Thanks to technological innovations like Skype and WebEx I can work with students and families all over the country. When I am not in actual or virtual meetings, I return calls, develop strategic ways to be proactive about current client needs, travel to conferences to stay abreast in the field, and do presentations to educate families about the process and nuances that exist in today’s complex educational system.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Playfulness. Beauty. Nature. I am driven by what I see. As a very visual person, I do a lot of mind-mapping, drawing, and diagramming. It’s been surprising to me to see how many of my students are also visual learners. I operate best through stories that provide cultural and geographic references since I’ve worked with students and families from all over the world. Even in presentations, if I can show a picture rather than talking, I feel I have successfully captured the essence of what I am sharing with an audience.
For example, the majority of colleges in the US accept 66% of students who apply. But at the most selective schools who admit between 5%-6%, how do you present that visually? After the Boston Marathon bombing, the square nearest where they temporarily set up a memorial site was filled with yellow tulips for as far as the eye could see. There in the midst of all that yellow, was a single red tulip. I took a picture and I use that photo to explain to students and families that a great majority of applicants who apply to selective schools have perfect scores, perfect grades, and tons of community service. Yet how does one stand out like that single red tulip in an increasing crowd of applicants? You approach the process differently, that’s how.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love the emergence and growth of the “share economy” in metropolitan areas around the country. I work in a co-working space for entrepreneurs, I rent Zipcars for longer distances or get rides from Uber or Lyft for around town when I prefer not to drive my personal car, stay at an AirBnB listing, and share advice through TripAdvisor or Facebook.
Other trends that excite me are seeing more emphasis in our culture on experiences rather just material success; colleges and universities that are creating cultural bridges for connecting people from different backgrounds; increases of financial aid to ease the student loan debt crisis; and the spotlight that is on testing by making standardized tests more modern and relevant as well as an increasing number of schools that are going test optional.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
By nature I am a little irreverent and very intellectually curious. That combination lends itself to my desire to get to know people and connect them with other people. Networking just comes naturally to me and I do it without expectation. I am not afraid to ask questions or to change direction if something isn’t working. Approaching life and work with this level of openness and generosity gives me a great deal of joy.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
All jobs teach me something. I’ve had a few that taught me the value of being authentic and honest. From my first job out of college counting inventory (i.e. number of screws in a box) during a management trainee rotation to working as a seasonal worker at UPS sorting boxes during the busy holiday season to traveling broadly as an admissions officer and being in the District of Columbia during the DC sniper scare, I’ve learned that if you can’t be authentic about who you are in a workplace and honest about what you want and need, then success is unlikely.
What all those jobs taught me was my natural irreverence and curiosity is something to be valued, caring for myself isn’t weak, but self-preservation, and being honest and compassionate is the surest way to success, personally and professionally.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have moved immediately to a shared workspace. Working at home is not for the faint of heart, especially for someone as social and visual as I am. Working in a community of other entrepreneurs in person and collaborating by phone weekly with business owners throughout North America has helped me to scale my business faster and avoid some typical start-up pitfalls.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am willing to give anyone in my network that asks 5 minutes to help them make a quick introduction to someone else (if I can and it is appropriate) or provide quick feedback on something. This allows me to give and make a difference for others with no expectation of return.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
There is no single strategy, but a combination of strategies that I use to create a synergy for success.
In terms of identifying new clients, I work with strategic partners with strong brands and membership bases that also share my same values. I believe education has the power to transform people’s lives and my strategic partners help me identify families that value education and want the best for their children without causing undo stress. I also “give away” valuable information during most of my presentations knowing parents who are in my sweet spot (engaged, enthusiastic professionals who value education) will see the value of what I can provide their family.
For current clients, I provide the utmost attention and personalized service. Since everything I do is personal to each student and family, there are no short cuts or cookie-cutter solutions. A college admission is as much an art as it is a science and there are very real nuances that I assist families with navigating. One strategy that was very well received was sending handwritten notes to families at Thanksgiving sharing why I was grateful to work with them. Parents and students understand what they are experiencing is by nature challenging, but even they need to feel appreciated for the thought, energy, and resources they are investing in their family’s future.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’m a social creature with expertise in a very sought after area. That was so exciting to me when I launched that I underestimated the importance of systems. Creating a replicable business model that I can scale up easily and teach others to operate in the future requires having effective systems and dashboards in place. I overcame this challenge by hiring an elite business coach, a former classmate from Stanford. Over the last year I have developed a replicable business model and several internal systems that help me to focus on executing my company’s mission of winning the hearts and minds of my clients and their parents.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
We’re so decentralized thanks to advanced technology that bringing people together regularly and in person to help them accomplish a goal, an idea, or a dream will be very profitable. Perhaps someone could take an existing affinity group that they belong to, transform it via the reciprocity model that Adam Grant discusses in his book “Give and Get“, and then find a way to monetize it? As the nation’s demographics are constantly changing, this seems like low-hanging fruit.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I’m a travel and experience junkie. I have traveled to five continents so far, starting at age 19. I love experiencing other cultures, learning what they value, and developing richer cultural insights. I also love art in any form and festivals of all types! My dream is to go to the European Balloon Festival in Iguadala, Spain and to the Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival in Konya, Turkey.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I love that I can access them wherever I am. Whether I am traveling for business or fun, I love that they help me to create new presentations, establish my organizational systems, and secure my business information everywhere I can get an internet connection.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Undefeated Mind by Alex Lickerman because it stresses the importance of building resiliency through adversity. As a result of this book I devised my personal mission that I follow no matter what I am doing. This serves as my personal compass.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Adam Grant, author of Give and Take; Michelle Clayman and the Clayman Center on Gender Studies at Stanford; CJ Hayden, author of Get Clients Now; Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening; Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps; Chip Conley, author of The Rebel Rules; and Jack Canfield, author of Success Principles
Where Success Blooms on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WSBlooms
Where Success Blooms on Twitter: @wsblooms
Lanita Foley on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/lanitafoley