Ep: 198: How this online business coach helps hundreds of entrepreneurs simplify and scale with Courtney Elmer
In this episode, I speak with Courtney Elmer who is CEO of The EffortLESS Life®, where every year she helps hundreds of entrepreneurs simplify and scale their business using a proven new approach to work smarter, not harder.
Courtney developed The EffortLESS Life® Method to help struggling entrepreneurs understand why stress, overwhelm, and burnout happens even when they’re pursuing their passion.
Listen on to find out how Courtney helps hundreds of entrepreneurs as an online business coach.
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Ep: 195: How this passionate entrepreneur help businesses scale up with Todd O’Brien
Hey everyone. Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to speak with my guest today, Courtney.
Hey Courtney. How are you?
Hey Debbie. I am great. How about you? I’m excited to be here.
I’m wonderful. Thank you so much. Can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life?
Yes. So when I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with cancer and that was a moment in my life where it put things into perspective. Prior to that, I was working in the corporate world, 9 to 5, and really had developed the habit of overworking.
Overworking myself: bringing work home at night, working on the weekends, doing everything that I thought was necessary to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible so I can have the success and ultimately the freedom that I wanted in my life and in my business. To be able to travel, to be able to just live my life and enjoy it without having to work so hard.
But the problem was that day never came and at 25, it was just a very eye-opening moment for me where I recognize that all of the success that I had experienced in my life to that point had committed a huge cost. Which was the cost of my relationships, my health, my mental health, my sanity – all of those things that truly mattered. And that’s what it had cost me.
And so I recognized at that moment that I needed to make some changes and I didn’t really know where to start. I didn’t really know what to do first but I knew that working 9 to 5 and then some lifestyle was not for me.
From that point forward, I started making shifts and really just in my own life, looking to heal myself from the inside out. Looking to just become a better version of myself and also detach from my identity as just a workaholic because that was really what I had become.
In that process, I recognize that, “Gosh, I really could help a lot of people who are experiencing the same thing. ”We live in a culture that just rises and grind and hustle, hustle, hustle, all day. You gotta work hard to be successful.
And recognizing that people are really burning out on the path to their dreams and haven’t even closed the door to their dreams because their body and their mental health could not handle the relentless pursuit of those dreams.
Back in 2017, I decided, “Hey, I’m just going to put this out there and help people who need help in this area,” and started coaching people, business owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs – those who had experienced this similar path or similar journey as I had.
Maybe it wasn’t cancer but just reaching a wall in their business where they burnt out and coaching and beyond that so they could go on to build successful businesses and have the freedom and the impact that they truly want.
And that has evolved into what we do today which is to run a brand The Effortless Life which is all about that: helping people simplify and streamline their work so that they can get out there and do the thing they’ve been put here on this Earth to do.
With your story, Courtney, and I hear this and I’ve felt this out myself as well, sometimes it’s unfortunate that it has to take us to the low point for us to realize that we can’t do everything or not that we can but we shouldn’t.
And it does take a toll on your body when you put that much stress on you and it starts to surface in different ways. Whether it’s with your relationships or it’s with your health. It’s a blessing in disguise sometimes and those things happen as long as you learn from it and then you turn it around and it changes your whole life completely.
A hundred percent.
I have nothing but gratitude looking back on that. People ask me all the time, “My gosh, what was it like to be diagnosed with cancer and your 25?” I actually found out two days after we got home from our honeymoon. So I had just gotten married and it really had my whole life ahead of me.
My heart is full of nothing but gratitude for that happening because I hate to think of where I would be today If it hadn’t. How much worse off I would be and the consequences that I would have experienced from my overworking and just inability to detach and focus on the more important things in life.
I think, also, especially here in the United States, we are often taught that we have to really focus on our earnings. We need to have a specific amount every single month, every year, in order to feel like we’re stable enough to be happy.
And I think a lot of our happiness is really measured by what you’re earning and it gives you so much stress. And then you, being diagnosed with cancer, right after you just got married and then you’re thinking to yourself, “What am I doing with my life?” And just re-evaluate that because there’s so much more.
Obviously, creating income is important but there also has to be a balance between all of that.\
And you know what’s so interesting? You’re absolutely right. Like, in our culture especially, here in the US and in the western world, we measure our success, our worth, our happiness, our value on, honestly, superficial things.
You have a great point. Yeah, you need money, right? We need income. You got to have a roof over your head, you want to have food on your table – all those things. You want to meet your basic needs and maybe have a little extra there so you can save and put towards other things that really mean something to you.
But we have to evaluate the yardstick that we are using to measure our happiness, our success, and our worth. And what most people make the mistake of doing is measuring it by what they’re earning or measuring it by the neighborhood they live in or how big of a house they have or what car is there driving.
Or, what I see a lot in our clients and students struggle with a lot, if measuring it by how much they’re working. Because in their mind, they’ve adopted this belief or this story that the more they work or the harder they work, the more worthy they are.
And so they begin to wear their busyness as a badge of honor. It becomes kind of a sense of pride, right? “Look at me. Look how hard I’m working. Therefore, I must be worthy.” When it comes to eliminating stress and overwhelming anxiety from your life, it’s not about implementing some stress management practices or doing a better job at self-care.
It really boils down to these deeper root causes underneath why the stress is happening, why the overwhelm is happening. And certainly, if you’re running your business or living your life telling yourself a story that, “I’m only worth as much as I work,” then you’ll be constantly seeking that worth, that approval with more work.
Does that make sense?
I’m a New Yorker and every time you talk to any New Yorker here, what they’re doing is always, “I’m busy working. I’m hustling. I’m doing all of these things.” Because, like you said, when you’re not doing any of those things that are keeping you busy, you feel like you are worthless.
And there’s a sense of guilt when you’re actually not doing enough or you’re not good. You’re not as good as the other person who’s doing more than you. For me and my family, who are immigrants and I’m an immigrant, we’re always taught to be busy. We are always taught to work as hard as we can.
And it’s a hard shift, right, Courtney? It’s a hard shift to take yourself away from that type of mentality to actually working smarter not harder.
Yes. And I would venture to say it is a lifelong process because the pool will always be there. And just like any addiction, you think of alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or any addiction, the tendency to work is really an addiction because the brain fires in the same way.
The work itself, the busyness, gives you a sense of worth of fulfillment. It’s temporary worth, temporary fulfillment. A temporary sense of those things. But it gives you that and it triggers those dopamine receptors in your brain.
What happens though is that once your brain becomes used to having that certain level of dopamine all the time, which is the feel-good chemical, it’s the happiness chemical, that positive, feel-good, sense, well, you need more of it. Your brain needs more of it because it gets used to having that particular level of it in your body.
And so the way that you increase the dopamine is to work more. It’s very interesting and a lot of people don’t realize that’s actually what’s going on on a biological level.
And you’re so right about the guilt for not doing enough and I can remember that. My goodness. I used to come home at the end of a long day full of meetings and full of just everything that had gone on that day. I felt like I was constantly putting out fires.
I would come home and open my laptop, check email, and spending of the next 3 hours on my laptop before going to bed at night. My husband would come home and he would just completely unplug. He would lay on the couch and watch Netflix.
And I remember thinking of myself on two things: one, I resented him for being able to unplug like that because I couldn’t, and then number two, I thought, “That’s so lazy. You should be working.” It’s terrible but it was really the thought that went through my mind.
And I think what’s so interesting is that from a young age, yes, we are taught to be busy. We are taught that for just sitting around doing nothing then you’re being lazy, right? And so we don’t want to acquaint ourselves with being lazy because we have unknowingly labeled lazy as bad.
And when you start to apply labels to things like that. Like, being productive is good, being lazy is bad then you really get into some tricky spots. Because then everything becomes black or white. And you box yourself in without realizing it. And so if you’re working: good, if you’re not working: bad.
Therefore, because as from a young age we were taught to be good we don’t want to be bad, we work. And it’s so fascinating how all of this works. It all ties in from a psychological level, biological level, and creates this experience or this environment that we find ourselves in our lives sometimes where it’s like, “I’m working so hard but what for?”
And even when we recognize that and want to work less, want to unplug, or want to figure out how to work smarter not harder, what that even means, it’s really difficult to do so if you don’t recognize all of this that goes into it and why the tendency to work is there in the first place.
You definitely have to teach yourself to wind down especially when you’re working for yourself, you have your own company because it’s really hard to just put anything down. It’s really hard.
Yeah. Because so much and I experienced this in my transition to entrepreneurship which was I thought I was escaping the corporate life and that being an entrepreneur, I’d have the freedom that I finally want.
I didn’t have to show up at the office every day. I didn’t have to go in and answer to somebody else. I could be my own boss, right? But then I recognized how much harder that is in the sense of well, suddenly, everything is riding on your shoulders. And if you don’t do it, then it’s not going to get done.
And we see this a lot. This is really common with entrepreneurs and freelancers. And that experience of, oh my goodness, the pressure, the urgency to get things checked off the list because if not, then the business might fail, it won’t be successful, or you would take longer to make the profit you’re hoping to make.
And it just takes some organization, I think, and, again, working smarter not harder is the way to go. I tell people all the time that I’m definitely a lazy entrepreneur and that actually makes you more innovative. And it makes you think outside of the box when you’re trying to do less but still earn like the same or more than what you’re already currently making to be able to do that.
So I think, I don’t know, I feel like it’s the way to go when you’re a lazy entrepreneur in that sense.
I love that. I even love like, “Yeah. I just own it. I’m a lazy entrepreneur.” That’s great.
My own mentor who I work with closely and have trained with over the years, he says, “The less I do, the more I make.” And that’s a really hard concept to wrap your mind around because in our culture, in our world, it’s the opposite. The more I do, the more I make, right?
But when you really begin to get that, when you really begin to understand that the less time you spend on the busy work or on the work that doesn’t really move the needle in your business, and the more time you spend on the higher payoff activities, the less you have to work because you’re focused on the things that actually bring in revenue, that bring in income and not so bogged down by all the busy work all the time but doesn’t actually make you money.
Creating a really fancy nice-looking PDF, great, it might look nice for your brand. Yeah, you need a lead magnet may be to get some people on your email list. But if your hourly rate is more than it would cost you to hire someone from Fiverr, Upwork, or whatever to create that PDF for you then, really, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and you become the bottleneck in your own business because you’re not able to really break out of that cycle to start profiting.
Absolutely. I definitely agree with you on that one and that’s a lot to take for entrepreneurs, new and seasoned ones, because I think a lot of people still think that, “if I don’t have my hand in it, it’s not going to be perfect.” But I can just say this from personal experience, it’s never going to be the same as the way you’re going to do it but sometimes it’s actually the same or better results than what you’re going to get if you’re just doing it on your own.
So true. What’s interesting too is a lot of entrepreneurs never consider this. Like, when you’re working for somebody else you have an hourly wage, an hourly rate for the most part or even if you’re salaried, you can calculate out based on the number of hours you’re working approximately what your hourly rate is.
Most entrepreneurs don’t take the time to calculate that out. A really easy way to do this is just to think of a number in your mind right now that you think is your hourly rate, 20 bucks, 50 bucks, a hundred bucks, whatever it is. Multiply that by 2080 because that is the number of working hours in a year.
And what you will find is that the number that you get is your annual revenue working at that rate or what should be your annual revenue. And just say for example you’re working $50 an hour, okay, calculate it by 2080. What does that come out to be? And the answer is $104,000.
But let’s say that you want to have a quarter of a million-dollar business next year or you want your annual revenue to be half a million dollars, right? It’s not going to cut it if you’re working and spending all of those working hours that you have, doing $50 an hour task.
And so if you can then say, “Okay. Well, you reverse engineer and say, “I want to have a $500,000 business, profiting,” and then you divide that by 2080 then your hourly rate really is right around $240 which means that you should be valuing your time as if every hour is worth $240.
And then to take a look at “what is it costing me if I sit here and create this PDF” versus hiring someone to do it for 40 bucks on Fiverr and really getting present to the fact that the more time you spend doing $10, $20, $30 an hour tasks, the longer it will take you to see that profit in your business.
And so that can be really powerful when you just sit down and run the numbers and do some simple math to see, “Okay. Well, this is where I want my business to be. Therefore, this is what my hourly rate needs to be. Therefore, I need to be focusing my time on only tasks, projects, and things that will bring in that revenue, right?
You’re the only one who can record a podcast. You’re the only one who can show up on that webinar or sit there on a coaching call with a client or whatever it is. Design that website, but maybe there’s somebody else that can take care of creating your lead magnet for you, editing your podcast episodes, or emailing your client to let them know the first draft of their website is ready for review.
And so the more we begin to value our time, the more we begin to recognize, “Yeah, the less I do, the more I make.”
Yeah. And I think that’s a really great way to put it because most people don’t really sit down and write down what it is that they need to do in order to achieve those goals and really put down in numbers because I think most of us are really afraid of that.
It tells us and shows us the reality of what we actually need to do. And for a long time that happened to me so I’m pretty sure, many people are feeling the same way.
Yes. Oh me too. I did this for years and it was always a story of “oh, I’m not good at math, I’m not good at numbers,” so I would just avoid it. It got to a point one day where I was like, “Pay attention to these numbers because the way you track your progress is by your profit.” And it’s really an important concept to realize.
You learn to love it. Once you start actually making that money – it’s good.
So when you were diagnosed with cancer, Courtney, and you knew that you had to make that change with your personal life, your business life, how did you prepare to make that big change to be this effortless CEO that you are now?
That’s such a great question because to be a hundred percent transparent. The only thing I could think about when I was going through surgery, radiation, treatment, and all those months of recovery was getting back to work.
I know I didn’t want to go back to 9 to 5, but I still felt the pull and the need to be working because, at that point in my life, it was still offering that temporary sense of fulfillment for me. And without work, I didn’t know who I was.
And so I didn’t necessarily create a big ol’ business plan to say, “Okay, this is my plan. This is where we’re going. This is what the business is going to look like. Here’s the corporate structure and this is what we’re going to create.”
It was really more of an evolution that started with my own journey – healing and then also recognizing just how much my identity was wrapped up in my work. You could even say I had an identity crisis at 25 because that’s when I realized, “Who am I without my work?” And that was a very scary thought.
And so the first thing I did was I hired a business coach who was also a life coach in the sense that she worked with me not only to set up my business and to create my brand as it was then the time but to also begin to notice and to rediscover who I truly was and the gifts that I had to offer to the world.
And so from there, that just gave me clarity on the next steps forward. I never had the whole plan figured out. I still don’t but I take so much peace and just joy in the fact that I don’t have to have it all figured out. I just need to know the next few steps.
So that is really how I have grown my brand and operated this business for the past almost four years now just focusing on, “Okay, what’s my next required action?” And maybe some people would say, “That’s foolish. You need to have a plan,” and, sure, we set quarterly goals, we know where we’re headed, we want where we want to be a year from now, 3 years from now.
But I’m not mapping it all out to teeth if that makes sense. I’m just taking the next few steps that I know will get me closer to those goals.
And that’s really good too because you can’t always be rigid in terms of your business. A huge example is 2020, who knew that everything like this was going to happen? And we all had to make changes with our business and if you were so set on that specific goal, it’s going to be really hard for you to switch things around.
So there’s a lot of things that always happen that are unexpected that you have to really brainstorm and think your way out of it.
Yes. And just like we were talking about before we hit record: it’s an opportunity to get creative in a way that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise. You said that. I love that so much ‘cause it is so true.
And I think one of the things that get us in trouble is when we set our expectations and set ourselves on a particular goal and in a sense we might not consciously say this to ourselves but in an unconscious way, we’ll say, “This has to happen or else.”
We make our business so dependent on whether or not we achieve that goal and then if we don’t achieve it we make it mean all sorts of things about us that doesn’t necessarily mean. And that can really get you in a danger zone because that is where you begin to lead your business from emotion rather than logic, what the data is telling you, and what the numbers are telling you.
And you don’t have to be good at numbers to know how much cash flow is coming in versus how much is going out. You could do a simple calculation to figure that out. What we have to really become aware of is that even when you set goals, you have to remain non-attached to the outcome.
That’s a lot easier said than done. It’s something I’m still working on but I’ve gotten so much better at it over the years simply by recognizing that you can’t be attached to the outcome.
Even in our language, the word need implies a lack. “I need this because I don’t have it,” and that can create, and we can get into kinda psychology over here, an emotional state in your body and energy of desperation in a sense. “I need this to happen. And if it doesn’t, oh my gosh, my business is going to fail,” if you think in terms of these worst-case scenarios.
As opposed to saying, “I want this to happen.” Want implies that it’s simply a desire. There’s no lack, there’s no desperation attached to that. It’s just simply, “Yeah, I really want this goal but it doesn’t mean anything about me if I don’t hit it. It doesn’t mean my business is going to fail if I don’t hit it.” And recognize what you’re making it mean whether you hit or don’t hit that particular goal.
And there’s a lot of freedom in that. I work with students and clients very closely and it’s the work that most entrepreneurs aren’t doing – it’s the inner work. And it’s really slowing down and getting present to, “What’s working in my business? What’s not? Where am I feeling that sense of urgency or need or desperation? And where am I really kind of limiting my own opportunities by thinking that way?”
It’s very eye-opening when you start to get present to these things and truly learn how to operate from a place of that logic and reason as opposed to emotion.
Absolutely. And most of the time we just put it under the rug because when we get there we’re like, “I don’t want to feel that way.” It makes you feel like starting away when that happens, isn’t it?
So how did you make your business into something that can be location independent and how does that really change your environment and maybe even your personal relationship, right? Because it’s a completely different thing when you have a brick-and-mortar and when you have something that you can take with you anywhere.
Yes. The beauty of when I started my business, I was doing coaching and primarily doing it online on Zoom calls, on Skype calls before that was really even a thing. Now, in 2020s, it’s like, “Oh, everybody’s doing Zoom calls.
That was how I primarily met with my clients because a lot of them were not local to me. Most of them I had met online. They had followed me online for a while or just seen my work. They had maybe seen me speak. I travel to speak somewhere and so I didn’t live in that area, they don’t live in that area. And so we would meet and collaborate online.
And I never had any intention of having an online business and through the years, I’ve had life components of my business where something does happen in my hometown and people fly in for that particular event but the majority of my business is run online.
And even though it started out with just coaching calls and one-on-one meetings, it evolved to me thinking of, “How can I leverage this better?” And instead of going one-to-one, teaching one-to-many.
So that’s when I started leading group coaching programs and creating online courses and things like that where I have an opportunity not only to teach what I know and to help someone but also to lead them, guide them, and coach them. And I could do it all from my laptop which is awesome.
Depending on how the next few weeks are with 2020 and if we see another spike in anything, we’re hoping to take a little mini-vacation over Thanksgiving and just get an Airbnb, just go there, go back home. I can bring my laptop with me.
And even though my tendency is not to work on vacation, if there was something that needed my urgent attention, I can open my laptop and take care of it, and be done. There’s so much freedom in that, not being tied to a specific locale where you can really work from anywhere.
And it’s funny we’re talking about this too because this morning on the news, they were talking about a story of a guy who is working from a Ferris wheel. I don’t know where it was but it was just kind of a nod to 2020 and how crazy this has been. So many people are working from anywhere now and everywhere.
It provides so much freedom for me and it allows me to have that space to spend more time with my family because I’m not stuck in an office all day long. I could be home and I’m available to pick up my son from school and all of those things that are important to me.
And that’s really the keyword that I like to tell people why I do this and you do this and most people who are in this type of lifestyle is freedom. We have so much more freedom with our life and especially our time when we can work from anywhere and when we can work in our own time frame. So it’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, it really is.
It’s interesting, I’ve read a statistic the other day that said entrepreneurs are really a rare breed because for every 100,000 people out there only 320 of them are entrepreneurial or entrepreneur-minded.
And it got me thinking like, “Gosh!” I mean, for most people listening, I would imagine freedom is one of their top values as well like you said. Like that’s the reason why we do this, right?
We want to have that time freedom, location freedom. Just the independence not to answer to anybody else and to be our own boss. And yet, how many people still have not discovered the freedom in doing that?
It’ll take you some time but if you’re listening to this and you’re taking in everything Courtney is saying then you’re probably a little step closer now.
Yes. I always hope so anyway, right?
Let’s fast-forward to 50 years from now, Courtney, and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
Oh my goodness. I got chills when you asked that question.
It’s powerful to think about that ‘cause most of us don’t think past: what’s on the tap for today or this weekend or next week? And when I look back, my definition of success really boils down to three things that I can put my head on the pillow at night knowing that I spent time with the people I love first and foremost.
Because at 25, that wake-up call came and I recognized life truly is short. It’s not just a cliche. It’s just hard to understand until you have had an experience like that. The beauty is you don’t need an experience like that to truly wake up to that truth a little more each day.
And so knowing that that was how I spent every waking day of my life, that I spent some of that time that I had, time that I couldn’t get back with people that I love.
Number two, spending a little bit of that time on myself and reaching myself furthering my own knowledge, progressing on my own path of growth. And the number 3, no matter if it was in a big way or a small way that I reached out and touched someone else’s life that day.
And whether that was through coaching or through my business or whether it was just a smile at someone at a gas station who looked like they needed a smile that day. To reach out and touch someone else’s life.
So 50 years from now, looking back, sure, I want to be a household name. I want The Effortless Life to be a brand, to be a methodology, a lifestyle that people follow. For it to be Oprah-level influence that becomes the norm.
That it’s no longer a cultural conversation about “how hard am I working, how much am I hustling, and how successful am I” where it’s more about getting back to basics and getting back to the important things in life first and recognizing that we are worth so much more than what we do.
And then looking back, in addition to that, to have zero regrets really about how I chose to spend my time and investing it in myself and with the people I love and not in working 24/7.
And that’s the beauty of it looking back at your life and knowing you did everything you can to really live to the fullest. And we definitely don’t want to regret that in the end.
And I think, yeah, that would be a beautiful thing.
Yeah. I think there are some universal fears we all experience and for a lot of us, the fear of rejection, the fear of inadequacy, if you’re not knowing enough. But I think bigger than any of those things that might prevent us from doing work here and here and now, from showing up, from serving our communities is the fear of regret.
And putting it into that perspective, 50 years from now, what are you looking back on wishing you had done? Do you wish you had gone on live video that day? Do you wish you had taken the action and pissed yourself for that podcast, for that event?
Whatever those things are that you’re afraid of doing today. What’s really the bigger fear? The thing you’re afraid of doing or the regret of not doing it?
And I think most of the time it’s in our heads and most people don’t even notice any of the things that they are really concerned about.
Yeah, it is.
A lot of this journey of entrepreneurship is a journey to rediscovering yourself and who you are and recognizing the thoughts that really do go through your head and drive your behavior. And that creates the results you get in your life.
And that’s why I’m all about diving into those deeper root causes because you can fix the surface-level stuff but it’s only going to be temporary. And the issue of overworking and just hustle and grind go so much deeper in our culture.
And so when you try to fix it with self-care and gratitude-journaling and I’m not knocking that I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to do, I’m just saying it doesn’t get deep enough. It’s like putting a Band-Aid over a gaping wound that needs stitches.
And so we got to be willing to get present to you our thoughts, to our feelings. And to not avoid that, to lean in and utilize that and recognize they’re just there to guide us. They’re there to guide us in the right direction.
I love that and being uncomfortable actually makes you grow.
Thank you so much, Courtney.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
I hang out on Instagram @CourtneyElmer_ and you can also check out The Effortless Life Podcast, Everywhere Podcast for Founders – the two main places. And of course, my website CourtneyElmer.com.
Awesome. Thank you so much. We really appreciate you being here and sharing with us your incredible journey.
Thank you Debbie for having me. This has been great.
Listen to Courtney’s extended interview where she shares how to become a true effortless CEO.
What you’ll find:
In this episode, Courtney will make you realize that owning a business shouldn’t be that hard. Learn how to become an effortless CEO from an effortless CEO herself.