Lauren Green of Dancing with Markers: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Launched My Business or Startup
An Interview With Doug Noll
Never stop learning. Stay humble. Even if you find success, you’ll hit a Pandemic, and that ego will quickly become in check. I try to do one or two things for my professional development every year. I also try to volunteer and do activities outside of work that are fueling and bring this energy back into my work.
Taking the risk to start a company is a feat few are fully equipped for. Any business owner knows that the first few years in business are anything but glamorous. Building a successful business takes time, lessons learned, and most importantly, enormous growth as a business owner. What works and what doesn’t when one starts a new business? What are the valuable lessons learned from the “University of Adversity”? As part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Green.
Lauren Green is a certified virtual facilitator, certified coach, experienced visual note-taker and effective leadership development trainer. She believes in the power of visualization to support productive and dynamic group processes and knowledge management. Lauren has an extensive toolkit of modalities for designing inclusive, engaging and productive sessions, whether in person, online or in a hybrid/blended format. Lauren is the owner and executive director of Dancing with Markers®, a team of visual practitioners who hold space for individuals, teams and organizations as they work towards their vision and achieve their goals. Lauren teaches facilitation as an adjunct professor for George Mason University’s Organization Development and Knowledge Management Program. She is also the host of the podcast This Meeting Sucks, a training podcast that aims to bring meeting skills to the masses. She holds a master’s degree in Organization Development and Knowledge Management from George Mason University. Lauren is an International Coach Federation certified coach and an MBTI® and EQi (emotional intelligence) Practitioner.
* FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dancingwithmarkers* LI: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dancing-with-markers/
* IG: https://www.instagram.com/dancingwithmarkers/
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Visual facilitation uniquely combines my passions and career paths in performance art, communications and organization development. Being a business owner never occurred to me, but it happened organically. I highly value autonomy, and being at the helm of manifesting my dreams in service of my community is a true joy.
In my last full-time job, I could also take side work, assuming there was no conflict of interest. I found myself using PTO to take projects on as a contractor until, one day, I got my first client. Knowing I needed to make it official, I drove to the government center to get my business license that day.
This story represents most of my business growth — organic and situational, being in the right place at the right time with the right connections. As a former dancer, I know that sometimes talent and desire are not enough. The stars have to align in all the right ways.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My business is primarily supporting in-person events. Most of my leads came from people who would see my graphic record in person and then ask me to support their next event. When COVID happened, all of that changed. Like many, I waited a few weeks for the tides to change in my favor, but when nothing happened, I knew I needed to think differently about my business. That’s when I started to really explore what it was that was unique to me and what those who were reaching out were asking for. Fast forward several years later, and I feel like I’m back in my first year of business but with a fresh and clear focus. My passion is in teaching; I could teach a walrus how to water ski and be happy. But I’m noticing a gap in the field — training in “meeting skills” for the everyday project managers and leaders who simply needs to run better meetings to create better teams that drive successful organizations and support healthy cultures. And this has been the start of our new podcast, This Meeting Sucks, which we are using to transition into a totally new brand for this audience.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Necessity. My business is how I make a living. There was never an option to throw the towel in when things got hard. Getting the PPP loan during COVID definitely helped. I never wanted to go back to working for an organization, so I found ways to adapt and learn. I took a course on writing blogs. I got content out there. I created an online course. I started selling more online products. There’s always something new to learn.
You have to tune in not just to what you’re passionate about but what people want from you. There’s a lot of guidance about finding your voice and brand, but you have to understand your audience at a very deep level. I learned a lot from Amy Porterfield’s podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy. I think Amy has the best guidance for marketing that aligns with well-being. Her “shorty” podcast episodes are what I’ve modeled my own podcast after.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Now that I better understand where I need to focus, I have been working to understand what kind of support the business needs. We are now a mighty team of two, myself and our part-time operations and marketing manager, Caitlin, with whom I used to professionally dance. I also hired a virtual assistant agency to support back-office tasks like scheduling and bookkeeping. Whenever you hire, it takes time for everyone to learn and get into a rhythm. We have developed Standard Operating Procedures and are starting to get into our groove as a small business. This support has enabled me to really drive forward in my strategic thinking and pursue more education in business finances so that I can consider a hiring move in the next two to three years. I feel like we are sustaining where we are, which feels like a great place to be. A lot of our pre-COVID work is back, and we now have new avenues for income, as well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think everyone does this, but my “big whoopsy” (not necessarily funny) was missing out on billing about 30 hours of work on a mural I was pre-designing for a workshop I was leading. I just didn’t anticipate that scope. I took it as a learning experience. Scoping your own work is an art and a science, and you don’t always get it right. I try to go easy on myself and others when we get it wrong, and I’ve learned to be more upfront and transparent with clients when we start to hit our capacity.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are lots of graphic recording and facilitation vendors out there. What makes our company different is the way we work with our clients. We have a straightforward process; we respond quickly; we have educational materials to explain what the heck graphic recording is. We try to educate our clients and also work patiently with them to identify needs they may not realize they have. This is how, over time, I’ve been requested to go “beyond the markers” to provide facilitation and long-term consulting support for teams and organizations.
An example is my work with Johns Hopkins University Urban Health Institute. One of the directors and I get along very well and see eye-to-eye on most organizational challenges. Whenever we connect, it feels more like talking to a friend or partner than a client-contractor relationship. Over time, she has found different opportunities to bring me in and support her team, most recently with a six-month effort to “revision” a program that serves emerging leaders in the city of Baltimore. It starts with connection — true connection — and finding clients that feel like partners.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The biggest tip I can suggest is to find your people. When I made the move to be an independent facilitator, I realized it could be very lonely. Without peers and mentors, you can feel isolated and stagnate in your learning. Joining communities of practice and finding people to mentor you, no matter what age you are, is just as important for your growth as it is for your health and well-being.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I first started, I only had one or two clients, not enough to be fully independent, but I did have a colleague — Brian Tarallo of Lizard Brain — who was rapidly scaling his practice and had plenty of work to share and tag team on. Brian is a wonderful mentor and colleague I’ve worked with for five or six years now. If it weren’t for the work and mentorship I received from him and others I subcontract to, I wouldn’t have had the easy on-ramp toward a sustainable practice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I firmly believe that better meetings enable good people to do extraordinary things, so I’m in the business of meetings. Dancing with Markers has been supporting meetings with dynamic visuals since 2017. Visuals in meetings are proven to increase engagement, increase information retention, and decrease decision-making time. With better, faster, more visual meetings, teams and organizations can see their ideas and actualize their future with more ease and collaboration.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first launched my business,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Find your tribe.
I used to be on a team called the Visioneers. They were the best team I was ever on and demonstrated high performance at its best. We still keep up with each other via WhatsApp even though we don’t work for the same company. Having a “tribe” you can ping for questions and understanding is key to overcoming isolation and fatigue.
2. Know your audience
Many people will tell you to follow your dream, but what if no one wants to buy your dream? As snarky as that sounds, it’s true. You have to know your dream and also know what people want from you. Who reaches out to you for advice? What are they asking for? How might you serve them? I started weekly “Coffee Chats” on Zoom at the beginning of the Pandemic as a way to learn online facilitation. Little did I know that the facilitators who attended would teach me a ton about the type of audience I could be serving.
3. Never stop learning.
Stay humble. Even if you find success, you’ll hit a Pandemic, and that ego will quickly become in check. I try to do one or two things for my professional development every year. I also try to volunteer and do activities outside of work that are fueling and bring this energy back into my work.
4. One foot in the present, one foot in the future.
Sometimes you have to take the job that pays rather than the one you want. Right now, my business is primarily focused on visualizing meetings. I love this work, and I’m grateful that I have thriving visual practice. Still, I’d like to do more facilitation training,and I’m working on projects (like our podcast) to help establish myself as a thought leader in facilitation and training. And excitingly, I was recently offered an adjunct role to teach facilitation at a university, so this is already starting to manifest.
5. Design a decision-model.
How do you uniquely make decisions? If you said — I phone a friend — you need a decision model. In other words, a series of questions you ask yourself to decide whether to take on a piece of work. I struggled with saying yes or no on specific work requests until I started to think about how I uniquely make decisions. For me, it really comes down to two questions:is this work aligned with my skill sets, and do I have energy around this project? If the answer is “yes” to both, then it’s a “yes.” If it’s “no” to both, then it’s a “no” or a “not me.” If it’s 50/50, then I need to do some deeper thinking. If it’s helpful, I have a blog on how to create a personal decision model.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I like to joke that “my boss is really hard on me.” People look at me sideways until they realize I’m talking about myself. When you’re the boss, there is no one to blame. The accountability is real. It’s important to set up personal working rhythms that enable you to be at your best and align with your values. For example, I like knowing where all of my clients are in my pipeline each week, so I spend a good amount of time just organizing projects. When that became overwhelming, a coach suggested I have a set time each week for pipeline management instead of doing it all the time. Similarly, email can be overwhelming and time-sucking. I have found that I can be more efficient if I only check my email 2–3 times a day and have time to focus on the work I need to get done.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would teach facilitation skills in middle or high school. The principles of facilitation are working skills that help people do better work in teams — listening, curiosity, visualization, and making space for others. Kids tend to be pretty good at this, but adults aren’t. If facilitation was taught as a core subject, it would funnel through to post-secondary education and the workplace.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
- Website: www.dancingwithmarkers.com
- Website: www.makemeetings.work
- Dancing with Markers Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/dancingwithmarkers
- MeetingMakers Facebook Community: www.facebook.com/groups/meetingmakers
- Dancing with Markers Instagram: www.instagram.com/dancingwithmarkers
- Dancing with Markers LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/dancing-with-markers
- This Meeting Sucks LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/meetingmakers
- Lauren Green LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/greenlauren
- Dancing with Markers Twitter: www.twitter.com/dancing_markers
- YouTube channel: www.bit.ly/dancingwithmarkersyoutube
- Pinterest (Best of Dancing with Markers board): www.bit.ly/dwm-pinterest
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.