Business 30 June 2018
20 years ago I was a one-woman shop, juggling face-time with clients, managing finances and boosting publicity. My brand centered on myself, yet I didn’t see it that way. Even in the infancy of my company, I was a global business owner. I never viewed myself as a sole proprietor, even though I was one, because I was so focused on building an international brand. In order to create a global company that was innovative and groundbreaking, I knew I needed to think big and plan ahead even if it required adapting in the future. As an entrepreneur I decided to create a twenty-year plan for my company in order to strategize and map my steps towards success. Planning so far in the future was audacious, but it also empowered and inspired me to take risks in order to meet these goals.
While creating an ambitious long-term plan enabled me to develop my brand, it is the ability to refine it that has powered IvyWise’s success. Every entrepreneur needs large-scale goals that they can chase and aspire to. But the most successful business owners are the ones who are able to balance these long-term dreams with immediate realities. Running a brand means being able to shift seamlessly from thinking big picture to planning for the next week, from envisioning the day you have clients on every continent to troubleshooting for the five people you are currently working with.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach - Dr. Kat Cohen
Reaching long-term aspirations requires insight, creativity and adaptability. There’s no simple set of steps to take or script you can stick to. Instead, you have to write your company’s own path to success and start refining it almost immediately.
Learn how to adapt quickly so you can maximize efficiency and ensure that your business remains relevant, even as times and trends change.
I launched IvyWise at a time when there were few options for independent college admissions counselors. Most of my competitors named their businesses after themselves and, for the most part, their services consisted of personal consultations with a handful of clients. IvyWise began this way, but even on day one I was thinking twenty years ahead. My goal was to create a global educational consultancy that would support students and families worldwide as they pursued their academic and personal goals with the expertise of a team of counselors, tutors and researchers.
Previously, I worked in admissions at Yale University, during which time I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey. I decided to use my prior admissions experience to optimize the application experience for my clients by providing them with every resource needed to navigate this process. A top–tier admissions counselor can help applicants unearth their passions and develop a strong list of best-fit colleges, but many clients need additional resources if they want to be competitive candidates at their first choice schools.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach, and research consultants who can provide them with crucial information about every college on an application list. Immediately, IvyWise was about tackling the school admission process holistically and multi-dimensionally, which enabled my company to grow into an aspirational brand with a global reach.
Rewriting the 20-year plan you’ve created for your company can be challenging, but it’s essential if you want your business to reach the two-decade mark. Consumers seek out brands that feel fresh and relevant, so it’s important for business owners to keep tabs on generational preferences, micro and macro economic factors and changes and new developments in technology. Since it is near impossible to anticipate what the digital and economic landscape will look like twenty years down the line, entrepreneurs must stay updated on the cultural climate and adapt business plans accordingly.
I launched my company before digital communications services like Skype and Zoom existed. IvyWise preceded the trend of web-based learning and virtual payment processing developments.
But by keeping my finger on the pulse of technological advances, particularly in the digital space, I was able to use these innovations to optimize and expand my brand. While utilizing technology to facilitate virtual consultations was not originally part of my twenty-year business plan, adapting and embracing this opportunity has enabled IvyWise to reach an international audience.
Instead of waiting for web-based learning services to become mainstream, I was able to make use of this model early on because I had been monitoring digital developments. I saw virtual consultations as an opportunity to rapidly expand IvyWise’s scale and to recruit the best admissions experts worldwide because digitalization enabled us to eliminate geographical confines.
I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey - Dr. Kat Cohen
Of course, I didn’t just piggyback off of the technology that was already in place; instead I worked with a team to create a customized portal system specifically designed to facilitate our services. Clients are able to create accounts and share application materials with my team and our counselors and tutors can converse with them seamlessly, from any location in the world. As a result of these innovations, IvyWise now works with students in over 40 countries who are able to access our resources on a 24-7 basis and benefit from the expertise of all of our counselors, tutors and consultants.
This year marks twenty years since I launched IvyWise. I frequently reflect upon the first set of large-scale plans I created, long before I had a team to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. My company has reached the international scale I envisioned, although the path to hitting this milestone was far different from what I originally anticipated. Had I adhered strictly to the processes I put in place twenty years ago, IvyWise wouldn’t have achieved the large-scale goals I knew were possible.
Most importantly, never stop creating these large-scale goals you want to reach twenty years down the line, even once you have surpassed your first set of milestones. I have a clear vision for what IvyWise will look like in 2038, and I am already adapting the processes I will need to get us there.
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.