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.
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One of the few things I remember from grade school biology is the concept of tropism. In plain language, tropism is the reaction of a living thing, like a plant, towards a stimulus like sunlight or heat. You've likely seen this before but just didn't recognize it for what it was. If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action. The plant is bending towards the sunlight.
If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action.
In our everyday lives, we are all inundated with stimuli throughout the day. The driver in front of us that stalls at the yellow light and zooms through the red light, leaving us behind to wait. Or the customer service rep that leaves us on hold for an ungodly amount of time, only for the call to prematurely drop. There are so many examples both common and unique to our individual lives. The trouble begins when we form the habit of responding to everything — particularly negative stimuli. By doing this, our mental peace is disrupted and diverted making us slaves to whatever happens to happen. Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us. Now take that concept and multiply it by the number of things that can happen in a day, week, or month. What happens to you mentally with so many emotional pivots?
For me, the result is: Restlessness. Anxiety. Sleepness. Mindless Eating. Everything besides peace of mind.
Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us.
Earlier this year, something pretty trivial happened to me. I'm sure this has happened to you at some point in your life also. I was walking through a door and, as I always do, glanced back and held the door longer and wider than normal for the person coming behind me. My gracious gesture was met with silence — no thank you, no smile, not even a nod. I remember being so annoyed at this travesty of justice. How dare they not acknowledge me and thank me for holding the door? After all, I didn't have to do it. I know I spent the next few hours thinking about it and probably even texted a few friends so that they could join in on my rant and tell me how right I was to be upset. In hindsight, I should not have allowed this pretty petty thing to occupy my mind and heart, but I did. I let it shake my peace.
I've since taken some classes on mindfulness and what I've learned (and I'm still learning) is the art of being aware — being aware of the present and my feelings. Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy. We're all human and having emotions is part of the deal but as mindful adults, it's critically important to choose what you're going to care about and let everything else pass along. There are several tools on the market to help with this but the Headspace app has really helped me in my mindfulness journey. The lessons are guided and coupled with some pretty cute animations.
Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy.
Over the course of the next week, I'd like to challenge you to pay more attention to your reactions. How aware are you of how you allow your environment to affect you? Are you highly reactive? Do you ruminate for hours or even days on events that are insignificant in your life? If so, practicing a bit of mindfulness may be the way to go.