Chances are, if you don’t know Toronto business coach and entrepreneur Laura-Jean Bernhardson, you know someone who does.
With 30+ years of experience as a fashion entrepreneur and her 21-year run of the successful brick and mortar Fresh Collective, Laura-Jean has touched hundreds of Toronto entrepreneurs’ lives, designers, and happy customers.
Mostly self-taught, she has run multiple businesses across multiple industries while coaching the businesses of others. (Check out her full story on the road to fashion entrepreneurship.)
Laura-Jean coaches primarily female-identifying and non-binary entrepreneurs through her one-on-one coaching program or group coaching sessions like her Social Media Fall Camp. You can also find her handing out sage advice on both the free and membership version of the Women Growing Empires Facebook groups she co-founded.
Laura-Jean is everywhere!
But, if you’ve never had a chance to work with her, you and your business are missing out.
When I first started one-to-one coaching with Laura-Jean, I had no official business, made $20 an hour from one client, and had no real entrepreneurial focus. But in just three months of coaching, I was able to launch an official business, grow into the role of entrepreneur, and get to my first $6K month.
Signing up to work with Laura-Jean was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
And here’s why.
Taking the Plunge:
I come from a hardworking, middle-class family, where everyone is an employee. Parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles (for the most part), all employees. Everyone works for somebody else, goes to their jobs, and gets paid a pre-determined amount.
Money and time are fixed.
All to say, there are no real role models in my life for breaking from the employee mindset. And I likely wouldn’t have. Except that during the 2020 pandemic, I found myself absolutely unemployable.
Everything I used to do to make money (acting & serving tables — I know, the rarest of big city combos!) was shut down.
I realize this was the case for many folks, as I remember sending out job applications daily and seeing postings that showed 1900+ applicants. (That’s a lot of people suddenly passionate about Veterinary Reception work!)
By November, I was so worn down trying to land a consistent job; I felt lucky to get a seasonal gig at a shop in Yorkdale Mall. But just a few weeks in, I was let go when lockdown went back into effect before the holidays.
Being let go from a job where most of my co-workers were more worried about mid-terms than rent was humiliating. I was so ashamed that even with my education and work experience, I had only set myself up to be entry-level and absolutely dispensable.
The smartest thing I ever did was do the dumbest Google search imaginable.
w w w dot business coach Toronto (delete delete delete) female business coach Toronto (enter)
(Okay, there have probably been dumber searches: Best places to buy discount shellfish?)
Upon clicking enter, on my computer screen popped up a bright and magnetic-looking woman with the warmest smile and brimming with total confidence. The banner read: “Laura-Jean Bernhardson: Business Coach. Entrepreneur.”
I immediately booked a call and got her on the phone.
Um, ya, I like writing, um and I think I want to start doing it for real. I think.
You want to start a business! Yay! Okay, well, how much money do you want to make?
I almost dropped my phone.
How was that even a question?!
But instinct told me I’d come to the right woman. I instantly signed up for her 3-Month Coaching package without hesitation.
Here’s a bit of what those months looked like from the inside ...
Month 1: Mindset
Do I even have a business?
In the first month, almost all of my weekly calls with Laura-Jean began with this question.
This initial phase was all about fleshing out the business. Who was my ideal client? What did I actually do for them? How could I connect with them?
“Great,” Laura-Jean says on one of our calls. “So, you’re a writer who will take on as much work from as many clients as you can! And deliver them excellent writing. Perfect!”
That should have been a great thing to hear, but my brain was in hyper-saboteur mode all through this initial phase.
Pump the breaks, lady! What if I’m no good at this? I take on all of these clients — now, they all want something from me — but what if I can’t do the thing I say I can do?!
Understand, I have walked around a lot of my life thinking I’m a decently confident person. Wow. It turns out I’m dead wrong. Taking the plunge to start my own business revealed the genuinely dark nature of my negative thought patterns.
On the times that I voiced these thoughts aloud, Laura-Jean was always kind and patient. She knows the head garbage that swims around in the brain of someone trying something new and the imposter syndrome that none of us can keep quiet.
A Typical Exchange:
Is this even a business?
You’re a writer?
Yes. Well… You see, I know a lot of real writer-writers — novelist-level writers. So… I’m not really...
People have paid you to write for them?
And tell me what these people have said when you’ve handed them your work.
They’re happy. They feel relieved. They like the way their business sounds.
Do they come back for more writing?
Congratulations. You have a business.
On one of these kinds of calls, Laura-Jean suggested I normalize the experience of being an entrepreneur. “Here’s the problem,” she says, “you just don’t know any other entrepreneurs yet!”
And like the ultimate client champion she is, Laura-Jean started inviting me to networking events and tagging me in social media posts.
That level of camaraderie is the Laura-Jean difference. She doesn’t just coach her clients, she integrates them into her connection sphere.
I started to get regular pings of people looking to hire a writer — and in fact, got two gigs out of Laura-Jean’s casual tags.
A Typical Tag from Laura-Jean:
“@Shannon, she’s great!”
With confidence and flare, Laura-Jean effortlessly casts her magic wand and ping, a connection — a job!
I should have been super happy during this time, but my mind felt plagued with anxious thoughts.
What if they find out I’m crap?
What if Laura-Jean finds out I’m crap?
Holy crap, I think I’m crap?!
I would have rather returned to my old high school cafeteria dressed as a French mime than take a client call or introduce myself at a networking event.
Hi. My name is Shannon.
My pronouns are she/her and I … have a …
Palpable desire to let the earth suck me down whole!!!! ...
But anytime I felt flustered, worried, nervous, or afraid, Laura-Jean would pop up on my phone in a text bubble:
A Typical Text from Laura-Jean:
Hey! Yay! You did great! Everybody loves you!
I mean, if Laura-Jean’s not the ultimate connector and hype-man, I don’t know who is!
Month 2: Marketing & Social Media Strategy
Please don’t make me use Facebook!
Harnessing social media is a huge part of entrepreneurship to build an audience, gain authority in your field, and warm potential clients. In 2015, Fortune was warning readers not to undermine social media, calling it the next greatest movement for business since the internet. Just three years later in We Are Social’s Digital in 2018 Global Overview that Facebook is the second most visited site on the internet, with YouTube following behind and Google ranking at number one. Regardless of the size of your business, sidestepping a social media presence is a mistake.
Laura-Jean understands this inside and out. And even just a casual scroll through her posts on Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook would be a mastermind on sure-fire ways to show up to your audience with excellent content, value, and promotion.
And, she always makes it look light and breezy.
After Laura-Jean and I had established a foundational vision about my business, it was then time to start outreach — Building connections and letting the world know what I wanted to do!
Okay, so maybe you can guess where this is going…
Posting every day? You’re going to sound like an ego-maniac!
No one wants to hear from you.
You haven’t washed your hair today. You can’t post looking like that!
Ooooh, what if you post something and no one ‘likes’ it — crickets! — that’s gonna be so embarrassing for you!
When I confessed my hesitation to post, Laura-Jean’s voice was warm. “Ya, I hear ya,” she said.
Alongside her coaching work, Laura-Jean owns and operates Long Weekend, an online boutique filled with brightly coloured, handmade jewellery she crafts herself. And like any of Laura-Jean’s businesses, her sparkle is the core of her work.
But on one of our calls, she reminded me that she’s human too, and there are days when she would prefer to hide than be seen.
“When I was going through chemo,” Laura-Jean recounted of her recent fight with breast cancer, “my hair completely fell out!” Then, she cackled on the phone, “I didn’t want to post at all, but I still had to model my dang jewellery!”
Her laughter was bittersweet, filled with resilience and the kind of real-talk feistiness that makes her a true confidant to beginner entrepreneurs.
Laura-Jean’s approach to social media is the same as any other interaction: showing up as yourself. For all of what social media can present as a false curation of ideals and slick sales posts, Laura-Jean’s cure-all is to think of posting as akin to when someone walks into your brick and mortar.
“You wouldn’t hit them over the head with the sales rack and scream Buy! Buy! Buy!” She jokes. “When someone walks into your store, you say Hi! You offer them suggestions on what colours might look nice on them. Let them know if you have any items on sale. You want to help them have a good time in your store.”
Watching Laura-Jean on social media, it's clear she loves her audience and works to serve them. Her posts are creative and fun but also valuable, warm, friendly. And they’re really her — not over-engineered or curated to the point of plastic, but thoughtful, genuine, and full of sparkle.
To build my own audience, Laura-Jean suggests I run a social media campaign, posting every day as a countdown to the launch of my website.
“Make it an event!” She says.
And even though my brain is a hot garbage fire of negativity and worry, I do. I post almost every day for 26 days straight. I can only imagine it was the greatest shock to the Facebook algorithm as it must have assumed my site was In Memoriam.
I anticipated fields of crickets, but lo and behold, there were people out there — actual, real, live people who were nice and supportive, and they rallied.
We started chats on threads. We began recommending books and tools for business, lending each other support for our enterprises. The outreach was reciprocal. I no longer wanted to create a hasty post and slap my laptop shut. Instead, I wanted to spend time seeing what other people are doing, how they’re doing it. What they’re offering their followers.
I ran the “Launch my Website” campaign, and two days before my site launched, I set up calls with two big potential clients.
And I wish I could tell you that by this point, the toxic chatter in my brain had permanently shut up, allowing my feet to do their happy dance through the streets. But, alas…
You can’t take this on; you don’t have enough time.
You won’t be able to do the job, and then you’ll let everyone down.
Oouf, you charge people money, and they’re gonna expect more than anything you can deliver!
I quickly realized it wasn’t the crickets and failure that had been making me fearful; it was the thought that I might succeed.
Laura-Jean calls me when she finds out about the client call.
Yay! This is amazing news!
I don’t think I should take the job.
I’m sorry, what?!
Month 3: Client Care, Time Management, & Learning to Pay Myself
I’ll take another round of champagne problems, please!
Understandably, Laura-Jean couldn’t believe I was debating the refusal of my first considerable writing opportunity.
“This is everything that you wanted.” There is a mix of stern and baffled in her voice. Unlike other confessions of my flakey self-doubt, she is not charmed by this one. “I don’t understand why you’re about to say ‘no.’ Walk me through what’s going on.”
Unlike our other calls, I’m not as cheery in my angst but just suffering from indecision. I can feel a halting kind of panic — a kind of stuck-ness.
I speak plainly to Laura-Jean, confessing everything. I’m afraid that I’ll take on more than I can handle and disappoint everyone, turn my reputation to mud, and maybe worse, realize that I have no talent or ability and should just go back to working with teenagers at a mall.
Laura-Jean hears this. “You won’t be convinced you can do a job until you’ve done a few of them.”
I throw up the weakest excuse: I’ll be too busy!
Laura-Jean will have none of this waffling. “Surely you didn’t think you were going to launch a business and not be busy?”
I hear her words, and an alarming thought occurs to me. I say to Laura-Jean, trying not to succumb to emotions, “I truly never thought I’d be successful enough to be busy.”
Ever forward-moving, Laura-Jean says, “Hm. Well, so, good. You’ll take the job!”
I hang up the phone, and I pace around my apartment. I suddenly feel the responsibility of work and clients. It’s no longer a myopic inner tunnel of worry.
Oh my God, I’ve got a business to run!
From that point onward, my work with Laura-Jean has taken on new gravitas. I no longer feel like I’m flailing in the worry wind, but instead running a marathon and needing pragmatic check-ins on systems for efficiency, navigating the CRA, learning how to pay myself, managing time-blocking, and how to stagger clients through the door.
A Current Typical Call with Laura-Jean:
How much should I pay myself?
Decide on a salary from your business, the pay-out schedule, and keep an eye on your client stream. Consider a line of credit.
All I want is to buy a new bra.
Even only taking in 30% of Laura-Jean’s wisdom in this phase is worth every penny. And she’s the first to admit that when you’re just starting a business, you’re likely only going to get systems right before you need them. Case in point, I registered for an HST number only one hour before I needed to hand it over to an expecting third party. But, such is the way at the beginning.
Is this what it was like for you? When you started?
Sure. Ya. But, I guess, what is it? 31-ish years later, I’m still doing it. I’m still going!
Laura-Jean giggles. Her laugh is infectious and welcoming. I feel like I’ve done so much work to hike this first leg, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like without my coach and confidant.
Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have even started.
If you are debating a business, you must (absolutely must) book a call with my new dear friend, Laura-Jean!