Erika Brechtel is a social entrepreneur and brand builder for women leaders for 20 years, and the founder and CEO of Élanoura. In this interview, Erika talks about her challenges in the journey to becoming a lifelong founder, making a mark with her business, and the ups and downs in between.
Tell us why you started your company and how you got started.
My personal and professional journey has certainly not been a straight line, or even a predictable path (and isn’t that the fun of it all?). I fell into brand building and working for myself because a corporation I worked for was bought out, and because I couldn’t find a job when I moved to New York. I started taking on clients 20 years ago and thankfully, it keeps on going! Élanoura is taking what I have done to the next level by providing women leaders with the enlightenment, engagement, and empowerment to make their marks and make it matter.
What do you think is a quality you have or have developed that has helped you along your founder journey?
FLOW. Through that 20 years and a major recession, motherhood, a divorce, a business betrayal, and a global pandemic, I have had to learn to flow. Meaning, putting the internally-loud anxiety aside and staying clear and focused on all the solutions that are available to me. You just have to keep going and believe that it will work out because you are working it out.
What is a past challenge in your founder journey you faced that at the time seemed devastating or insurmountable, but ended up being a point of growth? What did you do to keep going?
Oh yes, many! The biggest one for me was three years ago when I underwent a major business betrayal. It was wrong and unethical and although I could have taken legal action, I chose to walk away. The question I asked myself several times throughout that time was, “Do you want to be right or do you want it to be resolved?” The answer was always simple. I decided that I could get sucked into years of negative energy to prove myself right, or knowing I was already right, I could positively focus my energy on creating solutions for the people I actually want to help: women leaders. I went back to my own process and created my Intentional Branding method, working out my brand essentials, my 4 P’s (People, Purpose, Positioning, Personality) and realized that there are countless ways I can continue to do my work. From there I traveled to 8 cities across the U.S. on my Branding Masterclass Tour, I launched an online course Brand Building Foundations, and much of what I teach to others and did for myself I put in my upcoming book. Élanoura is the latest incarnation of this larger purpose. I do not know that I would have done all of that if it wasn’t for the betrayal. It clearly wasn’t aligned with me and I had to be shown the right path (even if that meant smacking me in the face!).
What are you most proud of in your career or in your business thus far? (Can certainly be more than one!)
Like many founders, I am naturally always thinking ahead about the next moves! So I appreciate this question to get me to stop and have gratitude for what’s been that has gotten me here. I would say through all of it, it’s that I can now say I am living my best life. My most authentic life. Because I’m doing the work, everyday. It’s not just one victory or accomplishment. It’s knowing the bigger picture, learning to adjust through the flow of it, and creating daily practices to stay aligned with it. It’s the three steps I put in my new book: Elevate. Integrate. Create. as you build your legacy. I hope Élanoura is my legacy.
What’s one thing you learned once you went out on your own that you didn’t know before, perhaps as a piece of advice for new founders?
I’m still learning, and I hope it continues to be that way! The biggest lesson for any go-getter, do-it-all, Type A personality is probably the biggest truth of it all: you can’t do it all. You need help. You don’t need to do it all. And even then, it doesn’t always go your way. You can either feel sorry for yourself, or figure out how to keep going. And it’s so much easier when you know who you are, what you’re about, and especially, who you want to help. Because it’s not about you, it’s about the people you want to help. As I like to say (lovingly), get over yourself!
I joke but in all seriousness, we can’t create the biggest impact if it’s self-serving. So, we have to get over our “selves” and shift from a Me-focus to a We-focus in order to create from a place of empathy, compassion, and good for all. The age of the irresponsible and self-centered entrepreneur is over. It’s time for women leaders to step up and answer the call.
Resources: please provide a few apps, tech solutions, or game changers that you utilize to streamline your process and help run your business and days more smoothly.
My suggestions are all pretty basic but I work with what has worked for me and my clients. Honestly, we all don’t have the time and energy to learn new platforms constantly!
- I cannot live without the Google suite for email, calendar, and document sharing.
I still use Evernote for note taking, brainstorming, saving resources.
- I have been using Zoom for my client meetings even before Covid! It allows me to do my one-on-one work with anyone, anywhere.
- I have tried Basecamp, Asana, Clickup for myself and clients – I don’t have a favorite but you definitely need a homebase for coordination, whichever you choose.
- For myself and my clients, I use Loomly to schedule social posts on multiple outlets. (It also acts as a content backup if your account gets hacked! It happens!)
- For my design work I am an Adobe/Mac person, dipping my toe into Figma.
- I believe in the practice of meditation or at least taking time-outs in your day to recenter yourself. I use the Chopra app and have gotten a lot out of the guided meditations (especially the ones with Oprah).
- I also love the non-tech, real-life solution of a good blank journal and pen. I have a journal for each year. All my best ideas are in there and I would be devastated if I ever lost it!
How do you optimize your time and energy? What has worked for you or what do you want to explore doing differently or more of in this regard?
- I am fortunate to live in a beautiful location with an ocean view just outside my doorstep. I take time out every day to get out there and sit, meditate, write, and be grateful. It feels like a “break” but in all honesty the work I do out there on that hill is the most important work I do. It recharges me and provides all the inspiration I need to get the action going when I get back to my desk.
- Also exercise – I work out with a virtual trainer 2-3x/week, and do spin classes 3-4x/week. Perhaps because I am an ex-athlete, I need to feel good physically to be my most productive.
- Currently, I’m learning not to give away all my energy to other people or things. I have to be very selective with whom and what I choose to give my energy to. And then, not take others’ energy on – that’s a tough one and doesn’t come naturally to me.
How do you expand your network? What are some ways that you get out there and make connections, as well as maintain and cultivate those relationships?
I belong to several women and business networking groups, and I am a volunteer for various non-profits. It’s about finding groups that you align with. What are your interests? What are you passionate about? Where will those people most likely be? This is one of the reasons I created the Global Founder’s Retreat – we get to spend quality time with other like-hearted professional women in new experiences. We are starting an Enrichment Cohort this fall to further those connections and experiences. I would say the relationships made through the Élanoura Collective we’ve curated thus far have been the most meaningful to the women involved!
Are there currently any causes you care about or organizations you support that you’d like to share? Or any causes you’d like to be more involved in solving?
My life’s work has been about elevating women globally. With the current crises we face in regards to basic human rights, I am passionate about supporting women’s rights (including women’s healthcare). This also encompasses the right for a girl to get an education and employment, and to decide who and when she wants to marry. My work abroad with Project Soar and humanitarian Maryam Montague I hope will take me to Jordan to work with refugees as well.
Elevating women globally also means elevating the women who have so much more power to do good in this world than they realize. Those of us who own businesses can take the lead in terms of social change and creating the impact we want to see in the world. It also means helping those women get over the blocks that hold them back. And as mentioned, it’s a lot easier when you know who you’re doing it all for and why.
For fun: If you could take a 2-month sabbatical (all expenses paid), what would you do?
I am very drawn to the Mediterranean and am sure I’d end up traversing the countries there, looking for a future hometown when my daughter leaves for college, and traveling to find non-profit partnerships to expand opportunities for women leaders who want to learn how to make a difference with what they do. I’d have time to dig into how we can reach more women and give this experience to inspire them to create positive impact with their businesses. And I have a ton of ideas (in that journal!) that I would finally have the time to implement.
At the end of your founder journey, what’s something that you hope you will be remembered for?
I love asking this question to my clients and to the women I come into contact with because it’s not a question we ask ourselves enough. We get so caught up in the daily grind that we feel like we’re just making it through every day or every week. But when you ask yourself this question you suddenly realize that your day-to-day may not be helping you get there. So for me, as mentioned, I am incredibly grateful that I am living my best life in service of what I want to do and hope to be remembered for: that I helped women build the best versions of themselves to build the best versions of their businesses to make their marks and make it matter!
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Photo Amanda Lee Domenech