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.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.