In 2010, Sarah Kaler had it all.
After being recruited to Lululemon from the yoga studio she started in her 20s, the now 35-year-old was working her way up through the ranks of the athleisure company.
She was even holding down a side gig, doing professional coaching. “That’s how I operated,” she remembers. “I worked 100 hours a week, and it was just normal.”
But while she was moving up the corporate ladder at Lululemon and building her coaching practice, “I was starting to unravel at the seams,” she says.
That year, she received the biggest promotion of her life. She was due to report to the executive office in seven days when she was thrown off track. “I was about to lead half the US and I had a massive grand mal seizure episode,” she says.
At the time, Kaler remembers, “I’m in the most visible, high-impact role of my career, where I’m responsible for not just millions of dollars of revenue, but thousands of leaders and hundreds of store locations.” The seizures started to increase in frequency, and the more she pushed past them to fulfil her obligations at work, the worse her health crisis became.
“The day I hit rock bottom, my son was five weeks old and I had six grand mal seizures in one week,” Kaler remembers of a summer day in 2011. “I was coming out of being unconscious, being carried on a stretcher out of my house past my five-week-old baby. I knew that was it — everything had to change. There were two things I knew my whole life: that I was going to do something big and make a big impact, and that I was going to be a mother. And here I was, on a stretcher, knowing I was completely unavailable for both.”
Over the course of the next year, Kaler started to change every element of her life, from her nutrition to her home — she and her husband, a psychologist, and her son live in the Seattle area — to her work life. She began to transition out of her job at Lululemon until she was able to leave the company in 2013.
“I haven’t had a seizure since that one after my son was born,” she says. “To this day, the doctors say they were from stress and exhaustion.”
After exiting the corporate world, Kaler sat down with a notebook (one she still has today) and started to sketch out what she really wanted to do next. “I wanted to build a business that wouldn’t just be me coaching people, but that would really encompass all the things that were most important to me — like giving back in a way that would make a global impact,” she says. “I knew I wanted to develop and empower women leaders in the world. I’d done a ton of that and helped develop thousands of women, but now I needed to do that outside of the four walls of one company.”
At the time, Kaler didn’t have a website or business cards. “I had me, and I had a network,” she says.
After years of travelling around the US and meeting businesspeople in all sorts of situations, Kaler had started to recognise some common threads in the challenges they faced, whether it was executives confessing that their marriage was on the line, that they couldn’t figure out how to hire great talent, or that they didn’t know how to navigate the boardroom when they were the only woman at the table.
“I was like, ‘I can help all of you!'” Kaler recalls. “The lightbulbs were going off that women stepping into leadership roles don’t just need to know sales and marketing. I knew this whole other world where I came from both professionally and personally as a leader, and that’s what these women needed.”
Kaler had a six-figure business before she even had a website — which she finally set up when a publication approached her for an interview and asked for her website and photo by the end of the week. “I literally freaked out and contacted a photographer and a web designer,” she says. “I moved as fast as I ever had to create an online presence.”
In February 2015, she had her first $100,000 month. “That set me on this huge trajectory,” she says. “I was just happy when I started to replace my six-figure salary as a sort of corporate warrior, and then to have that month last year in the first quarter changed everything. It gave me the freedom to take a step back and look at how I wanted to position myself.”
Today, that business she built so quickly has become SoulPowered, a coaching practice to help women entrepreneurs create and lead businesses without sacrificing the rest of the lives to do it. She has a team of three part-time employees as well as some seasonal contractors for busy periods, and splits her services between working with individual entrepreneurs and corporate clients. The company partners with two charitable organisations that facilitate creation of new jobs, sustainable employment, and financial security for women in Africa.
Kaler offers guidance through a few different avenues, ranging from an eight-week small group program for $2,000 to nine ($18,000) and 12-month coaching masterminds ($24,000-$36,000, depending on the chosen package).
In a typical month, barring any huge launch and corresponding revenue spike, the company earns $25,000-$50,000.
While her shorter program is for people just starting out, her more intensive coaching programs are for “established business owners stepping into that CEO role.”
In her mastermind programs, she explains, she focuses on 10-15 clients at a time and zeroes in on each of their individual businesses, offering guidance and bringing in other experts as needed. She also does occasional one-on-one coaching for shorter periods, such as when clients will fly her in for an intensive day of work.
As far as transitioning out of a successful corporate career into a new career path, Kaler says the biggest impression she sees among women is that this kind of change isn’t possible, especially with highly knowledgeable people coming from the corporate space who fear their skills aren’t transferable. “Was I scared to make a leap? Absolutely! Worried about not having regular paychecks? Totally.”
What got her past that fear, she says, was focusing on the value she could bring other people, rather than simply what she was passionate about. “For me, the difference between being passionate and purposeful is that purpose serves others. Passion can be a little more self-serving — not that it’s not beautiful and wonderful, but how you’re going to build your business and create momentum and resonate with other people is when you’re being of service to others. If you’re truly serving others, you’re going to connect. That actually was the thing that had me niche down and say, ‘This is what I’m best in the world at, and this is how I can help other people change how they do business and change their lives.”