Camille Preston is author of Create More Flow and Rewired, a partner at Blackhorn Ventures and CEO and founder of AIM Leadership where she helps leaders and organizations recognize patterns and systems that improve productivity, engagement, and impact. A sought-after speaker and celebrated thought leader on virtual effectiveness, Camille has shared her insights on how to work and live more effectively with clients and audiences around the world.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I feel like my business found me, more than me saying, “I want to build a business.” About ten years ago, my father who really understood my gift for asking powerful, thought-provoking questions that can drive change said, “Oh, you’ve done that since you were five – that’s what you do!”
By then I had already spent several years working in a coach-like capacity—first informally for the Police Executive Research Forum – but I wanted to bring my passion for coaching to people across all sectors. I founded AIM Leadership with that mandate.
Tell us about your business.
I’m a psychologist by training, and I have always loved understanding or decoding and helping people. I’m also nuts about productivity and how to achieve a great quality of life. I started AIM Leadership to bring my insights on people, productivity, and optimization to others.
It’s quite amazing work since it involves a bit of science, art, and a hell of a lot of passion! With AIM Leadership, I’m able to put my expertise in psychology to work in innovative ways with clients who are passionate about doing their very best work.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
I recently released my second book, Create More Flow (also available on audible). Rather than being a book just about flow and its incredible benefits, it’s a tactical guide to help people identify ways to achieve more flow in their own lives, so every reader can start driving real impact immediately.
Over the years, I’ve had my work acknowledged with various accolades, starting with the APA’s International Best Dissertation of the Year award. Ironically, my master’s thesis advisor tried to get me kicked out of the program because I didn’t represent “the quality of research the institution prides itself on.” In the end my dissertation won this award!
Since then I’ve been awarded several other fellowships and honors. A few years ago I had an opportunity to do a TEDx talk and was part of Boston’s inaugural Pipeline Fellowship program teaching women about Angel investing.
Where is your business based?
My business is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts – but I work with clients across the country and around the world.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I thought long and hard about my goals: namely, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to serve, and why. I still keep asking myself these questions and reassessing. My business is a work in progress. It is always growing. But the following few things stand out as especially vital.
- Financial stability: When I became clear about what I wanted to do, I stabilized my finances by taking contract work from the non-profit I was leaving. This provided me with stability while I built up a broader client base.
- Network to learn from others’ successes and failures: I also connected with people who had thriving businesses and others that were folding, all in order to discover how to emulate or not emulate their approaches.
- Blue Chip clients: One person told me to get a few great, name-brand clients – to do it even if it means charging them lower rates – and then really deliver. This was great advice.
- Metrics: Get metrics! For example, my first three clients at MGM Mirage were all promoted within two months of beginning to work with me. These metrics are essential.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
While some training and development is a commodity (anyone can teach it), my work is more nuanced – I see it more as an art than science. I’m working to understand what you need and when and then working to discover the easiest way to get you there!
While I publish often (e.g., books, blogs, and articles), the vast majority of my work is relationship-based referrals. I call it “the whisper circuit” – past clients who have found success pass on my contact information to colleagues and friends – this is how most of my clients find me.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Like most small business, you are at the helm of everything – building the plane while flying it! Eventually, you need things that you don’t know or understand (e.g., SEO or Salesforce). It doesn’t make sense to “learn” it, but it is essential to know enough to be able to specify outcomes and delegate effectively. Finding team members who you truly trust is critical but an ongoing challenge.
How did you overcome these challenges?
After thirteen years in business, I implemented a board. While they technically have no authority, I have such profound regard for my board members that I take the entire process seriously: board meetings, board decks, goals, and so on.
It has been challenging because they are also friends, so I really want to impress. Since creating the board, I have watched my business level up. They have pushed me to think about things differently than I would otherwise.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Over twelve years ago I created a one-page intentions document that helped me see the big picture. At the top of it is a description of what a great life would like for me, both personally and professionally. This is my ballast amid hard times.
My powerful peer group has also been vital. The key is that you need to invest in this over time – and proactively rather than only when you need it. Great people in diverse areas are a great source of inspiration.
When all else fails, I go back to my body. Getting a good night sleep, exercising, and hydrating should never be underrated.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Everyone and their brother, or sister, is now calling themselves a “coach.” I try to differentiate myself by my past clients and their successes. I also distinguish myself through my thought leadership and training credentials. Another thing that makes me unique is my versatility. People call me different things: a strategic advisor, trusted thought partner, psychologist, and secret weapon.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I’m actively working to find the right language to communicate what I do to different types of stakeholders who have never experienced it.
I work with leaders in very different industries (technology, arts, healthcare and so on), from very different size organizations (early stage companies to Fortune 100 companies) and from very different modes (for-profit to military leaders to non-profits).
These clients all require different types of messaging and provide me a wonderful opportunity to build my agility and engage people who have never experienced coaching. This is great, but communicating what I do to all these different stakeholders can be a challenge.
A board member recently suggested that I use my affiliations, including that with Blackhorn Ventures, to help package my services more effectively to at least some of these clients.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Create more flow in everything you do. Find balance between intense pushing forward and release. Experiment with pushing yourself hard, but also be kind to yourself.
Release is essential to well-being and sustainability – and invariably people find when they give themselves that space in between – great ideas surface.
Also, relationships matter – who you surround yourself with has a huge impact on your success.
What are your favorite business tools and resources and why?
I can’t say enough good things about Wunderlist; it’s an app that essentially helps you organize anything in your life. I use it at work and at home. I’m also a raving fan of Instapaper to collate information.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I recently found FirstRound.com and have been mesmerized with the quality and relevance of their work.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I’m trying to implement Salesforce, so that is taking up some time. I’m also always looking for ways to automate tasks, which is a good way to manage a business while reducing overhead costs.
My clients are increasingly coming to me with questions about how to change their workplace cultures, and I’m really thinking hard about how to support them on this journey. There is a lot of toxicity in a lot of workplaces, especially around gender issues, but I know there is also a strong desire to bring about change.
Organizations need support getting started and following through on their action plans.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Personally, my word of the year is harmony. This isn’t about “kumbaya” but more about finding that delicate dance between pushing and allowing, stretching and releasing. I’m searching for the overall balance between my head, heart, and body.
For me this is partly about putting the right systems in place, and it is also about creating more flow in my life, which is something I have been focusing on in recent years.
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