Nicole Wood

Co-Founder and CEO of Ama La Vida

Nicole Wood is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Ama La Vida. Her job is to create an environment where her team can thrive and her clients can feel empowered. From investing in her coaches’ education to treating client feedback like gospel, Nicole loves serving her clients.

One of her greatest goals is to help her clients to stop dreading Monday and design a career which brings equal parts fulfillment and success. She is passionate about helping people’s work to be meaningful, thrilling and lucrative.

With a background in management consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers, She brings a new level of rigor, process and results-orientation to the coaching industry. At Ama La Vida, working with a coach isn’t just about feeling inspired in your sessions – it’s about making lasting changes in your life after your session is over.

She is currently leading Ama La Vida to be the first coaching organization to provide a platform for coaches who want to focus their time on coaching and amplifying their impact instead of on business administration. This business model is unprecedented in the coaching industry and is causing rapid growth among our team of highly skilled, certified coaches.

Nicole is originally from Philadelphia and put down roots with her husband and 3 little dogs a few years ago.

Where did the idea for Ama La Vida come from?

I started my career in management consulting and thought I’d be a lifer. However, after a few years I was burning out, sick of airplanes and knew for sure that it was not the path for me long-term. Unfortunately, I had no clue what I wanted to do instead and was fearful that anything else I switched to would be worse and/or would pay nothing.

Luckily at the time I was also doing quite well within my firm, and as a promotion benefit, I was given a leadership coach. I was skeptical. I didn’t really know what coaching was. But I found the coaching experience immensely valuable and continued working with my coach independent of my firm.

I realized that all of my friends and peers were in the same boat: not fulfilled by their careers but unsure of what was next. I wanted to democratize coaching and bring them a similar experience that I had. I wanted to activate people to not be content spending the next 30 or 40 years unhappy at work but to instead find the support they needed to pursue meaningful careers.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

What’s a typical day? Just kidding… sort of. There is certainly a lot of variety in my schedule based on what’s happening in the business and what my current priorities are, but some things remain consistent. One of the things that was important to within my career was having a slower morning and not rushing to an office each day. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so I start every day with breakfast and reading even if it’s just a handful of pages. I work most days in our HQ office in Lakeview where our small Chicago team operates. My days are filled with team and vendor meetings, being introduced to clients who are doing their session in person at our office and meetings with new potential partners. Quite often we host events in the evenings on all sorts of career, leadership and health topics, so I’m often attending an event before heading home.

To remain productive, I try to block segments of my day as much as possible. I’m much more creative in the mornings, so I block off time during the mornings to crank out work that I need to do. I keep all my one-on-ones with my team on two afternoons, so I can do them back-to-back. If I have to go downtown for a meeting, I try to stack other downtown meetings on the same day so I’m not wasting time commuting multiple times. Calendaring for me is everything.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Quickly! That’s one of my favorite things about being a small business. We don’t have a lot of red tape or levels of controls before we can make an idea reality. We of course have careful planning and want to determine the impact of a new idea to the business, team and clients, but we are able to roll changes out in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks or months. People are often so afraid of making mistakes in their business, and it always stings when you do. However, I’ve found inaction to be way more costly than wrong action. You learn and pivot quickly.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The de-stigmatization of prioritizing mental health. For far too long, seeking help of any kind was viewed as a weakness. People were ashamed to talk about their therapy, and they really didn’t have a clue about coaching. Now all of this is becoming more mainstream as people realize that mental health is just as important as physical. I believe that everyone deserves to have unbiased support, and a coach can be just that. I’m excited for this trend to continue to the point where talking about your coach is as common as discussing your dentist or doctor.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m pretty good at being present and focusing on one thing at a time. We now know that multitasking does not work. It’s been proven by countless studies. You are way more productive if you focus all your energy on one thing, crank it out, and then move onto the next. I get distracted by emails, notifications, and social media, but when I’m feeling particularly scattered, I’ll utilize the pomodoro technique and focus on one thing for 25 minutes. I’ll set a timer on my phone and do nothing else. You’d be surprised at how much work you can accomplish in 25 minutes without interruptions. I also think this mindset is helpful from the “work/life balance” perspective. When I’m at work I’m not browsing the internet or texting with friends. When I’m with friends and family, I try to keep my work away. It makes the time in each place more meaningful.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To start prioritizing building my network sooner. I never really thought about networking or building relationships in any intentional way until I started my business. That was a missed opportunity. I organically formed a lot of strong relationships with colleagues which helped me land jobs and have helped me in my business now, but I could have done so much more. A colleague on my team is 19 years old and has no fear asking our clients, partners or vendors for coffee if it seems like a worthwhile relationship to form. By the time she’s my age, she will be ruling the world. I wish I had that kind of mentality earlier on and knew that I didn’t have to ask permission to do it. And also chill. Things will happen in their own time. Young me and current me can always benefit from this reminder.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There are no rules. I say this all the time, especially to younger folks who are just exiting the school system and are so used to operating in a world with nothing but rules. In the “real world” there are laws (follow them please) and there are norms. But the rules you think are hard fast are often broken, and you might as well be the person breaking them. For example, people will say, “Of course I can’t ask the CEO for coffee. That’s not how it works around here.” Yes, you can. The worst that can happen is she says no. So what. Or someone will say, “You just don’t understand how our company works. No one negotiates pay.” Oh yes they do! When you get out there and start breaking the rules you realize that they aren’t even real, and so much more than you thought is possible.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Get rejected. Whether it’s applying for something, pitching to a client or any number of other times when it’s necessary for me to put myself out there, naturally I don’t always win and so rejection is part of my daily life. I used to be terrified of it. I won’t say that I’ve made rejection my pal, but it has certainly lost some of its bite for me. I’m less fearful to go for it, whatever it is, and this has carried into other aspects of my life. I feel like so many people move through life so gingerly, careful not to face embarrassment or do something too scary. But the world opens up when you do. I highly suggest you start getting rejected so you can see what you’re really capable of.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Stay away from comparison. You mostly think about this in terms of your personal life and mental health, but the same theory applies for your business. What works for someone else’s business might not work for yours, and you never know what challenges another business is facing behind the scenes. Be aware enough to understand your competition and industry trends, but don’t compare yourself to everyone who seems like an overnight success. Keep your head down and focus on what you do best.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I fail at things every single day, whether it be trying a new product that doesn’t succeed or in an approach I experimented with as a leader, failures are everywhere as an entrepreneur. One of the most significant ones that comes to mind was when we went from three business partners to two. Over time, my current partner and I grew apart from our third partner, and it became clear that we had different expectations from entrepreneurship and from the business. The situation escalated until our it eventually became clear that continuing to work together was not possible, and we had to go our separate ways. It was really personally challenging and demoralizing because of how close we had grown and because of how valuable she was to the business. However, my current partner and I had no choice but to keep pressing forward, and that’s what we did. We reminded ourselves of our plan and why we’re doing what we’re doing and we supplemented our team with the skill sets we had lost when we lost our third partner. I still miss her to this day, but with some time and space, I now see that it worked out as best as it possibly could have for everyone.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Be generous. Kind of an ironic response, but it’s a true one. I often see business leaders so concerned about every idea, every penny every competitor, and I think that prudence is sometimes wise within reason. But more often than not, when you give things away for free you get it back tenfold because you’ve been able to build trust. When you invest in doing something right, not just cheap, you actually make the impact you want to make. When you’re generous with your customers, they become loyal for life. And when you stop worrying so much about your competitors, as Simon Sinek says when you view them as worthy adversaries to be studied rather than enemies to kill, you are truly able to move your business forward. When you try to move away from such a scarcity mindset and instead are generous with your team, customers, partners and even sometimes competitors, it will pay dividends.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a bunch of supplies to start embroidering. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn how to do for a long time, and here we are quarantined with nothing else to do, so it made sense to give it a go. A couple of YouTube videos and sore fingers later, and I’m embroidering denim jackets for my team. Being creative in new ways that don’t have a goal or deadline or margin associated with them is such a nice mental break. I encourage everyone to do something creative with no real purpose other than to have an outlet that’s personally satisfying.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Zapier. Their slogan is “Zapier makes you happier,” and man is that true. We use about 928347987 different pieces of software to make our business function from processing orders on our site to keeping in contact with our clients to collecting reflections in our eCoaching platform. Of course, most of these platforms don’t talk to each other, and we are too small to afford custom development to connect everything. Good news is, we don’t need to because that’s what Zapier does. It provides pre-built APIs to connect many common software systems like Google sheets, Calendly, Woocommerce, Mailchimp, etc. You simply set up a “zap” to connect the systems, and boom. Your systems now talk to each other automatically.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. So many entrepreneurial and leadership books talk about what happens when things go right. This book talks about how to handle challenges when things go wrong which is inevitable in every business. Many of the lessons in the book can be quite confronting and sobering, but I think they are necessary and also there is an underlying positivity about the fact that we will all face these challenges, and there are ways to overcome them.

What is your favorite quote?

“In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?” This isn’t a direct quote from a book or famous person. It’s more of a mantra that my dance teacher used to say to me growing up. I tend to be a person who beats myself up about a lot of things and can overthink with the best of ‘em. This helps me to keep my worries in check put things in perspective. Even now, when the state of the world is terrible and operating a small business is really tough, I remind myself that this isn’t forever. Even if things are slow for a year, this is a blip on the radar in a long and hopefully otherwise fruitful career.

Key Learnings:

  • It’s always great to pause and reflect. As a coaching company I preach this all day, but it’s always good to listen to your own advice!
  • Many lessons can be quite confronting and sobering, but I think they are necessary and also there is an underlying positivity about the fact that we will all face these challenges, and there are ways to overcome them.
  • I encourage everyone to do something creative with no real purpose other than to have an outlet that’s personally satisfying.
  • Breakfast is a great way to start a successful day!