Designing Your Own Life

WITH

Courtney Zaugg

The Limitless Podcast

Designing Your Own Life

with Courtney Zaugg

0:00
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All business leaders want to scale, but not everyone knows how.

If you’re a small-scale entrepreneur, getting access to resources that will help your business grow can be a headache.

Say NO to easy money and YES to real opportunities.

Founder and President of Plaka + Associates, Courtney Zaugg, reminds you to align your work with your purpose.

Take on projects that are innovative, will help your business prosper and feel good. Ask yourself these questions first, before making a decision:

  1. Is it good to invest your resources right now in this?
  2. Is it more suitable to take that opportunity later?
  3. What value are you giving and getting?

Economic development is possible only through community effort.

You can’t do it by yourself. You need peers, mentors, advisers, and strategic partners to help you succeed. You need the people who have gone through what you’re going through, and people who have tried, tested, and seen results. This way, you can learn from their journey and be better equipped for massive growth.

What are you waiting for? Now is the right time to start.

"Saying "NO" is something that we need to get better at."

- Courtney Zaugg
@LimitlessShow @franklyco_

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IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN

  • What economic development is.

  • Which resources are available in your town and how to access them.

  • How to actually invest in your entrepreneurs.

  • The value of your ‘NO.’

  • The importance of aligning your work with your purpose.

LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE

Johanna Buchweitz:
How would you feel if time and money were no object? Or if you always knew that the answers you sought were at your fingertips? Or that the creative spark you would need for the next project was always going to be there. You would feel limitless. I’m Johanna Buchweitz, and it’s my honor to welcome all of you to Limitless. The show where we have open, honest and direct communication with extraordinary women in business to provide you with actionable next steps for super growth based on their proven success tactics.
Joining me in today’s episode is Courtney Zaugg, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and president of Plaka Associates, a women owned innovation and impact consulting firm. Connecting Leaders in government, economic development and entrepreneurship at the intersection of innovation, industry and talent. Courtney, welcome to Limitless.

Courtney Zaugg:
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here today.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I’m so excited to have you here. So I love to kick off the show with one of my favorite questions ever. And for me, I truly believe that all driven female entrepreneurs are today’s modern day superheroes. So as a superhero entrepreneur, you are Courtney. What’s your superpower?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think well, one, I agree with you, I think female entrepreneurs are superheroes in many ways because we wear lots of hats all the time. But I think mine is insight. I think I have this ability to really cut through the B.S., to get to the root of the problem. And to find the solution.
You know, I think with that superpower I’ve been a little successful, a lot successful at times making connections. And so if I you know, if I’m not the right person to solve that problem, I’m able to bring people in to get it done. And so Insight. I think Insight is my superpower. And I think a lot of other women also have that. I don’t think I’m unique in that aspect. There’s something about our intuition that we just can see like this is going to work or something else needs to happen in order for this to pan out.

Johanna Buchweitz:
And I also love how humble you are when you said that. But it’s cool because like while like other people maybe have, you know, great insight as well, like your unique lens and your unique perspective is kind of what makes it your superpower that, like nobody else has. It’s like only yours. It’s unique to Courtney.

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah, I think so at times, anyway. At times, yeah.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So I would love for you to talk a little bit about Plaka and like what even got you to this point. Like, what made you even want to create this company?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. So the back story is that I never planned on being an entrepreneur. My parents owned restaurants and they failed. And so walking through that with them as a child was painful. And so, you know, entrepreneurship was like not something that we ever, ever discussed. And so I met my husband after grad school.
He’s a Marine Corps veteran. And he started doing some projects on the side, some construction projects. He framed houses before going to the Marine Corps. And we were like, You’re really happy doing this. Why don’t we see like, why don’t we see if we can do this? And walking with him through that process was mind blowing. One, we had – and my daughter was six months old at the time. And like thinking back on it now, like, why did we decide to do that? She was an infant. It was very difficult, but worth it. And two things came to mind. Like when we started the company, one was it shouldn’t be this difficult.
You know, construction is not necessarily an innovative company. It’s not you know, we’re not changing lives. And the other thought was, in the work that I was doing, in income development consulting across the U.S. Community said that they focus on business attraction. They focused on business retention, they focused on entrepreneurship. But in reality, that’s B.S. Most communities do not do it well. And there’s lots of reasons for that, that I can talk about later, or over cocktails. But that’s why I wanted to start Plaka. In addition, I had had some bosses that I felt like failed me. So one previous boss had promised part ownership that I would start this new development service line and I didn’t get it in writing.
And so I started the line. And for a while we were just trying to negotiate with like, Hey, you said that this was going to be a thing and in the end it didn’t, they couldn’t deliver. And so that’s when I launched Plaka.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That’s so cool. I love that story and how you, you know, really just came to this point. And I want to talk about a couple of things that you said. So the first one I thought was so interesting, the fact that you grew up with parents who created these restaurants and you said they were not successful. How did you even overcome the fear of starting your own company with that being a part of your mindset and something that you were just so familiar with?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think there are two things. One, we had, with my husband, we had made good financial decisions to live humbly and within our means in order to be able at that point that was, you know, even financial decisions early in our relationship before even thinking about starting businesses. But we were like, okay, if, you know, if the market crashed, if one of us lost our jobs, we’d never lose the house right? And I think growing up so broke, that was that was a little bit of a fear of like, I want to be in a position where we’ll never lose the house. You know, we’ll be fine regardless. And that set us up for success because with my husband starting the construction company and having an infant, it was like, yeah, we can do this without feeling a lot of pain.
And so I think that’s why it felt less risky. And at the end of the day, I think we also felt like, okay, we’re going to try this. And if it fails, the worst thing is we’ll go get a job. You know, like I was never afraid – growing up in the restaurant industry. Like, I think a waitress or bartender make money. Not a big deal. If that’s the worst that can happen. It’s temporary. We can always try something new. And so I think it was I think it was those things of yeah, there was some fear, but the financial side didn’t feel risky. And I think the other thing was I just, I, I really, I wanted to design my own life.
I wasn’t going to let other people and bosses define what that looked for me and my family and entrepreneurship was the best way for me to do that. You know, I wanted to be in control of my schedule. I wanted to be in control of the people I worked with, whether it’s partners on my projects or whether it was clients. I wanted to be able to be there for my daughter and be there for my husband when they needed it, and then also be able to, you know, work on the things that give me life and not only feed us financially, but like feed my soul. The things that really I wanted to make a difference. I never felt like I had those opportunities working for other people in regular jobs.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I love that. And I think it’s so, so cool really that like you were able to, to go into it with that mindset. And I think it really helped, like you said, like having that like financial security, knowing that like, you know, what’s the worst thing that could happen like and kind of planning that out because it takes a lot of the fear out of it, knowing that the worst thing is really not that bad and that you still would be okay even if it did. And like the fact that you knew you wanted to create your own experience, like you wanted to live the life that that you envisioned and you knew the best way to do that was to create it yourself and like you said, like I love that’s something that feeds your soul, you know, because like when you have that passion, everything is just better.
Like, you know, you spend so much time working that, like when you love what you do, it’s literally the best thing ever. It’s just like work is fun as it should be.

Courtney Zaugg:
Yes, I 100% agree with that. And I know it sounds like a cliche, but I think once you’ve lived it, it’s like, yeah, this is real. And you want to and then you want to, you know exactly what you’re doing to like you want everyone to feel this and to experience this as well.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Yeah, no. 100%. So when you actually first started out, how did you even know what to do? Like where did you even go? Like when you were like, okay, I’m starting this company. I got it. We’ll be fine. I could do it. Like, what were the steps that you took? Like, how did you even figure it out from, like, like, creating it to getting your first clients, like, walk all of us through that.

Courtney Zaugg:
It’s interesting. And so, you know, with the construction companies and contractors, it was a very different experience because that was built from the ground up versus Plaka, you know, it almost – let me start with Plaka. So like I already been consulting in an income development for like nine years before launching my own practice. And so I knew my market, I knew my strategic partners, I knew the types of projects I wanted to work on and the types of communities that I wanted to work in. It almost was just a script where I’m like, Okay, I’ve been doing this same work. Why am I not getting like, why am I not paying myself? Why? Why am I giving this money away to other people who don’t have my best interests in mind? Let me just go and do this for myself. So that’s Plaka. With Zinc Contractors

00:10:18:06 – 00:10:47:01
Courtney Zaugg:
It was really hard. You know, my husband had the technical knowledge. Neither of us had the business knowledge. And knowing how to price things and where to find good subcontractors, where to find Foremen, and the competition with being able to attract and retain Foremen that were critical to a construction company. And, you know, in economic development, it means I should know these resources that are for small businesses. And we went to them and they were moderately helpful. But the most difficult part was we wanted someone with industry experience. And so we went to I don’t know if I should say this out loud, but, you know, like the score or, you know, the small business centers and it was fine and they validated things we knew. So that was comforting and that was helpful.
But none of them were business owners, you know, none of them knew construction. And so the questions that we really needed answered, they couldn’t answer them. So we just had to figure it out. And it’s been, you know, it’s working 80 to 90 hours a week. You know, in the beginning, and just keep going. And finally, we were able to figure it out and hit our stride. Thankfully. But I think that also was a testament to, you know, the data showing how many small businesses fail under, you know, that are less than five years old. It’s like you’ve got to keep going because eventually you’ll be able to find like the dots will connect and you’ll be able to find the right people and the right capital, and the right projects. But it’s hard. It’s hard work.

Johanna Buchweitz:
What was the biggest learning curve for you guys?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think that, um, well, two things: for Plaka the learning curve was not that people really want to stick to the status quo. And for an economic development, you have to think differently about how to grow your economy over the long term and to do it sustainably. And that’s very difficult for people to shift the paradigm and somewhat change the culture of how government and business interact. And so I think for me, it was just a matter of I knew that my work, what I wanted, I wanted it to be innovative and my target market then for the leaders that think that way, which is much smaller than I would say like the traditional development target market where, you know, a lot of the firms that my competitors are legacy companies, they’ve been in business for 30 years.
People know them. They kind of produce the same type of products. They have the same methodology. And what Plaka is selling is a different way to think. And that’s difficult. And I think at the beginning I was like, oh, yeah, of course, people want to do this. Of course people want to question things and be innovative and change. And that’s generally not the case. So that’s Plaka. I think with Zinc, the learning curve was just how difficult having talent and finding talent and keeping talent is in the construction and trades industry. We knew it. We knew it’d be hard. I don’t think we recognize how hard it was going to be.

Johanna Buchweitz:
When it came to Plaka, like, how did you properly communicate that value, that the fact that you were doing things differently and maybe not everyone was as excited for all this change? How did you get them excited? Like how did you really share what it is like you’re doing to a point? Like, they really understood it. They were excited about it and wanted to be a part of it.

Courtney Zaugg:
That’s a good question. I think that I took a different approach to marketing Plaka, and myself, where the legacy firms, you know, traditionally have done business development on the golf course or going to conferences, which is all great and it’s worked and it works. For me it was like, No, I want to be a thought leader. I want to share strategies and the data behind the strategies for the up and coming leaders and that kind of development to say, Hey, you should think about doing things just a little bit differently and here’s why.
And so the social media and LinkedIn content creation has been a game changer. I think that’s where, you know, our generation of leaders are gathering content and making connections. They’re also doing it on the golf course and they’re also doing it at conferences. But so much of our world now is digital that that’s the direction that I’ve sort of gone in
and it’s been a benefit. We had one client last year say, you know, when we asked them, you know, why did you choose us? And they said, well, you’re the Tesla against, you know, ” unnamed legacy car company”. And so I think there are some folks that are looking for a different way to do things and social media and the digital aspect of sharing content and finding information. But again, like what you’re doing is the future of how this is going to work.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So what type of content do you create to get that message across?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think, so some of it is showing that nearly all net new job creation are from firms under five years old. When most people think, oh, you know, most jobs or high wage jobs are from the large manufacturing companies or large logistics companies. And there’s, you know, that does happen in some communities. But I think getting people to be like, oh, that data.
Hmm, that’s interesting. Let me dig into that a little bit more. So sharing more about how entrepreneurs are really actually the backbone of many economies, whether you’re New York City, whether you’re in Indianapolis, whether you are Scottsbluff, Nebraska. So much of the economy is because of the small businesses and young businesses that it’s sharing and highlighting those examples of what those types of entrepreneurs are doing.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So how do you actually help those entrepreneurs? Like what is the work that you guys do to help? Like really uplift them within the community? So when you talk about like economic development, so for anyone who’s listening, who is not as familiar and they’re thinking, oh, I run a small business, I live in a small town, I have no idea what’s going on. Like what is economic development like? What are the resources available to me in my small town? Could you share a little bit more about that and how that whole process even works?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yes, yes. Which definitely relates to the work that you’re doing as well. So if you are especially in a small, let’s say, even a rural community, you largely don’t have access to like a small business development center or any type of accelerator or incubator program. You might have a co-working space maybe, but generally there’s nowhere for you to walk in and be in, either collide with other entrepreneurs or find the resources to help you start and grow your business so you have to go elsewhere. So in these communities, the strategies that I’m building with these community leaders to say, okay, maybe you don’t have a small business development center, but could you have, you know, online programing or some type of online access so that this entrepreneur can schedule a time to meet with you or having a regional approach to sharing resources? For example, establishing a makerspace is expensive because of equipment. You know, if you are in a not a very densely populated community, you’re not going to have a ton of people buying memberships. And so the sustainability piece is challenging financially. But what if you created a mobile maker unit that went you know, you had one spot, you had all these tools that were available, people would be trained on them.
They could use them at certain times, just signing in, signing out, whatever that might look like. And it goes around to different communities in a greater region so that it’s shared among lots of people. There’s a cost share as well. So the burden isn’t just on one smaller community and that provides a greater benefit to everyone.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That’s so cool. So for anyone who’s listening, who says you know, I live in like a rural community. I want to know where to look for these resources. Like where should they go? Do they just like Google it based on the city that they’re in or the town that they’re in? How can they find the resources they need?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah, that’s the problem you’re solving, right? Yeah. So yeah, it’s typically they’re Googling their, you know, asking other entrepreneurs sometimes they’re calling their city office and the city office and saying, I don’t know. You said, you know, call someone at this random phone number. I’ve never met them before and see if they can help you. And so it’s going to take, you know, let’s say, ten phone calls to get them maybe something that is valuable to them versus having access to an online resource or an app that they can be like, this is what I need right now, right here, boom. You know, I think getting so much of the success for entrepreneurial communities is getting them to a yes or no quickly. You know, not wasting all of this time with the telephone calls trying to just figure out who I talk to next, you know? So closing that gap is incredibly impactful.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So when it comes to that like economic development, let’s say like a town’s resources like today, if someone wanted access to whatever information there is or whatever programing their town has, like do just call the like city council or go on their website and they have a list of resources? Like how does it work for you guys like in the town that you’re in?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah. So in Indianapolis, you could go to the economic development organization. Sometimes they’re affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, sometimes are housed within the city offices themselves. It depends on the community. So again, you know, there isn’t just one, one place to access resources. Generally, you will call someone there, they’ll connect you with a couple of people. They might send you to a regional small business development center.
They might send you to score. You know, they’ll provide a list of resources for you to then go and vette versus having someone else. Are you to do that work for you and then say, here’s the best way, you know, here’s the best place to go. Here’s the best person to talk to. Yeah, that’s typically how it goes.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Yeah, that’s good. So for anyone who’s listening now, you know where to go, especially if you do live in one of those smaller towns or rural towns, that’s definitely something that you guys can all look into. So with your current clients or with the consulting that you do, is there a commonality that you generally see where there’s like a general piece of advice that you just find yourself giving over and over again no matter what kind of client you’re working with?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think for communities that aren’t like New York City or Chicago or L.A., the structure of economic development favors densely populated areas. And so if you’re not in that category, in order for you to survive and I mean survivors and retain your population and attract population and therefore businesses and increase tax revenue, you have to think and do things differently.
And at home development and the data shows investing in entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship provides that long term sustainability and viability of your community.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That makes sense. So like, how do you actually invest in those entrepreneurs? Is it just with those resources that you were talking about with like general shape programs or do do they actually like giving money out? Do they give grants or how does that work?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah, all of the above. So a lot of communities have small revolving loan funds that are meant for gap financing, and it’s working with your banks to come together and use some of their CRA credits to invest in maybe the the entrepreneurs that aren’t yet bankable. It’s looking at creating different financing options, whether it’s grant dollars in the beginning, maybe it’s there’s, you know, CDFI types of entities that will provide capacity building saying, okay, entrepreneur, great business plan. You have traction with customers, your credit score isn’t that great. Here’s how we can help you do that. You know, increase your credit score so you can go to a bank and get a traditional bank loan. There are lots of different resources depending on the community, but yeah, offering grants as well. And one interesting example that some communities have done has been put together almost like a a list, an inventory of resources, and then it’s seeded by, let’s say, philanthropic dollars from your community foundation.
And so, you know, entrepreneur, me, restaurant owner says, you know, I really need some help marketing. I’m doing okay with everything else and finances are good, but I need some help marketing and they apply for these grant dollars and on this inventory of resources are local marketing firms. And so the dollars are not being spent outside, but they’re actually being spent and investing in not only the entrepreneur that’s local, but other entrepreneurs, other companies within that economy. It’s a really interesting model that’s happening.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That’s smart. I like that a lot because like you said, then, it’s still being reinvested into the community and also other entrepreneurs, and you just are all kind of working together and helping to build up each other’s businesses to which creates an awesome, like, atmosphere, you know, really primed for success. So when it comes to yourself and the work that you’re doing, like how do you manage your own time, your own resources?
Like especially, you know, when you said you wanted to create this like life that you envisioned, like how do you feel one that you’re doing with that? Like, do you feel like you’re actually, you know, living everything that you kind of envisioned? And how do you manage all the different roles that you are currently playing?

00:25:01:13 – 00:25:20:21
Courtney Zaugg:
I don’t think I do it as well as I’d like to. I think entrepreneurs in general have a hard time letting go. And so, you know, this spring I was immensely busy. I should have hired more people. And I didn’t it was like, oh, it’s just, you know, I just got out in a couple of months, it’ll be fine. And it was stressful. You know, there was a little bit of a lack of sleep and then things, you know, get out of balance with home. And if things aren’t happy at home and, you know, you’re not spending time with your family, then your business is never going to be successful. And so just making sure that balance and the pendulum swings back is really important.
I think, though, saying no and letting go is just something that we need to get better at. I think from my perspective, women are not as good at it as men. And the power of saying no, even if it’s a great opportunity, but it’s not a good opportunity right now, that’s okay, because more opportunities will come down or will be coming down the pike, as you know, as long as you are working hard and moving forward, you know, like if you never give up, you’ll be successful.
But a part of that means there are things you have to let go of and say no to opportunities that just may not be the best fit right now.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Why do you think that we as women have a harder time saying no and letting go? And how have you tried to get yourself to be more comfortable with it and also put into practice and be able to do it more?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think our culture, you know, is a big part of why women struggle with that. I think it goes back to being okay with the status quo and not questioning things. You know, I one thing that maybe this goes back to the super power of insight. I question everything and everyone sometimes to a fault right?
But it allows me to figure out what does work best for us. But yeah, I don’t know. I think change is hard for a lot of people and for me I’ve just always – maybe because of how I grew up and growing up really poor, that I just always wanted to have a different life and to be in control of what that looks like. And so when, you know, I’m getting directions or information questioning the why, like, well, why is it that way? Because I don’t want it to be that way. I want it to be this way. But I need to know what the rules are so I can break them. Yeah, I would say that’s what’s important.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I love that. And I honestly think, like, it’s so remarkable the fact that you recognize, like, hey, this is not the life I want to live and I want to do things differently. And you did like I just want to, like, take a moment to applaud you for that because not everyone is able to actually do that.
They might want to do things differently, but then being able to actually, like, apply it no matter what and keep going until that like their life is exactly the way that they wanted it to be. Not everyone has been able to do that. So just applauding you for a second there Courtney because that is awesome. Proud of you.

Courtney Zaugg:
Thank you. I am privileged and I’ve had opportunities to be able to do that and some people don’t, but you know, in the work that I do, in the work that I do with Bunker Labs, which is focused on veterans and the military spouse entrepreneurs, like, I want that for them. You know, I want to be able to create an environment and support them so that they can grow and make the path a little bit smoother for them. It was rocky for us. I wanted it to be through there for the people that are thinking about it and coming after us.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That’s beautiful. And I love that because you’re really trying to pay it forward at the end of the day and help other people. I would love for you to talk a little bit about that. Tell me a little bit about Bunker Labs and the work that you’re doing there?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah, thanks for asking because it’s really important to us. So Bunker Labs is a national incubator for veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs, military connected families. And we launched a new chapter last year. And so we’re starting our new cohort of accelerator programs called Veterans in Residence. It’s a little bit of a misnomer because it is for military spouses and military connected families, but it’s peer oriented.

Courtney Zaugg:
So what’s beautiful about Bunker is that you have, you know, it’s industry agnostic, it’s focused on periods. You could have a nonprofit and you can have VC fund managers in the same cohort trying to build and scale their businesses and their organizations. And the beauty of it is the trust, the foundation of that trust because of the military experience, it’s exactly what communities are trying to build. So talking about co-working spaces, you know, a lot of a lot of folks are like, well, we need you know, let’s try and build this coworking space and, you know, the special sauce is not the space itself. The special sauce are the people in any community. It’s always the people and Bunkers because of the platform of the military experience that special sauce exists when you walk in. And so for us it’s, you know, I’m an ambassador, which means I’m a volunteer. I don’t get paid for this work. But it’s so important to us because of our experience with starting with the starting Zinc initially and then Plaka and then others that we’re launching this fall. It’s important, you know, we want to pay it forward.
And this is the way that we can do that.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I love that. And it’s so beautiful. And I think it’s really important work that you’re doing and really amazing to be able to take care of, you know, military, military families, you know, giving back for all that they do for us. But sometimes, you know, we don’t always think about it on a daily basis. So with the work that you’re doing, it is remarkable.
So anyone who is listening, who is military, you’re military family, how can they apply if they want to be a part of this?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah. So if you go to Bunker Labs.org online and the new cohort for applications will open in September. So there’ll be a new cohort launching in January. They’re six months long. They’re about 8 to 10 people in the cohort. If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. We have a great, great network of folks across the U.S. again, from, you know, people you know, helping homeless veterans to people raising a $1 billion venture capital fund.
And so the resources that are available with the people is very unique. And I’m again happy to connect anyone if they have questions; Bunkerlabs.org.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Thank you. That’s so cool. I’m definitely going to check it out also and share it with anyone who I know who is within that community because I think that’s such a cool resource. So you seem like you are an awesome leader, like just with all the work that you’re doing, like, you know, whether it’s Bunker Labs or like, you know, the company you started with your husband or now with like Plaka. I think, you know, your leadership definitely is shining through. So what for you is, like, really important as a leader to, like, convey to, you know, everyone who you’re working with and like, what are those traits? What are those things that are important for you to focus on?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think there are two things. One is as a leader, you need to be a little bit disruptive, but you cannot alienate people. And so learning that communication skill will be critical. I mean, you have to it’s like you have to be firm, but you have to be diplomatic and some people can do that without practice. For me, it took a lot of practice, but I think that’s been really important in the work that I’ve done and continue to do. I think the other thing this maybe is more about entrepreneurship rather than leadership, but it can apply to both and that is you have to be okay and at peace with the chaos. You know, entrepreneurship, and I think life in general, is chaotic and unpredictable. And the more that you can find some steady footing and be at peace with that and be focused and disciplined, the better because things are going to swirl around you regardless. Regardless of what you’re doing and who you are and how much money you have.
But if you can have that peace and have some roots and be steady like that is really truly what is going to make you successful over the long term?

Johanna Buchweitz:
I love that you said that because I think like so many, especially female entrepreneurs, but I know and work with and myself included, we all have that like type A personality and like wanting to control like every single situation that happens and you can and like trying to maintain that like desire to control all things like in your business is literally just going to make you feel horrible.

Courtney Zaugg:
Yes, yes.

Johanna Buchweitz:
It’s not healthy. It doesn’t feel good. You’re going to be stressed. And so I love that you said that because when you actually embrace the chaos and you know that like that’s happening, there’s all these like so much you can actually control and you can do and the rest you kind of have to just be like, okay, like take a deep breath, like, and, like, let go. You know, that part is so hard, I think, for so many. And like, even like you said before, like just saying no, like that’s still something that’s in your control that I think a lot of us also forget that that’s even an option, right? Like, yeah, like we think, oh no, we can’t say no. We have to say yes to everything.
Like the sun, the moon, the stars, like 100%, no matter what. Like we’ll do it. And it’s like, no, like you don’t have to. And acknowledging that too is so important. I actually want to circle back to that a little bit. When you talked about before, like saying no and you’ve been working on, you know, being more comfortable doing that because you do realize the importance.
How do you determine what you should be saying no to versus what you should be saying yes to and putting your time and your energy into?

Courtney Zaugg:
You know, I learned that because I was told “no” a lot. So I found myself just chasing the money and not the projects that were creative and innovative and with, you know, with by chasing that and proposing on them and then being told no, I’m like, why is this happening? You know? And it was an ego check that I needed, but it helped me reframe why I want to do what I do and how I want to do it. And so for me, it was okay, why am I going after these projects that really were like maybe, you know, 20% of it was interesting. The rest of it was not and how then am I also conveying my value? And I think both of those things were immensely, immensely valuable for switching how I promote myself, what I want to work on and sticking to those boundaries. So for example, there are some communities in some states that are like, I’m not I’m not responding to requests for proposals. I will absolutely talk with folks if they’re, you know, wanting to have a discussion and they’re thinking about a project, but I’m not bidding on it. And it’s interesting when I have said that to people, they’re like, oh, really? Oh, why? It’s just like, this has not been valuable to me in the past. If you want to do this work and we’ll do this as a partner together, then this is how I do it. Happy, you know, again, engage with you and have this be a partnership and not a client vendor relationship, which I think often those requests for proposals like you’re in this client vendor relationship and that’s not how I want to work. It’s not how I do my best work. I am there to support these leaders side by side and period. So that has been really helpful. But I had to be rejected first before I was like, No, I’m not going to do that. Yeah, that’s a lot of money right there. But that’s not the type of work I want to do and probably not the best fit for my practice.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I really appreciate you saying that because it’s something that has come up a couple of times. So, you know, with different guests on the show. And I love that because a lot of us, especially like, you know, you’re running your business, you’re like, I just want to like get good business. Like I’m all about the numbers. Like I want, you know, the bottom line to be doing well.
I want to get more clients and it’s like, you know, just boom, boom, boom, like go go go 100% like, you know, full speed ahead and forgetting sometimes why you even started what you’re starting. And so and I think it’s it’s such a good reminder that you almost like you didn’t realize it yourself, right? Like you had to have someone say no to you for you to be like, oh, yeah, okay.
Like, like, thank you. I appreciate that. No, because now it’s like helping me like, remember and take me back to like why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I think it’s so important to always go back to that, to like, what value are you adding and what value are you getting? Because if you’re not enjoying the work and you don’t feel its aligned with your purpose, like it doesn’t make sense just to get the client for the money because then you’re going back to whatever you were doing before where you were working and not enjoying it and.
It’s like if you’re miserable, you’re also not going to do your work as a job. Exactly. I just yeah, I actually just had this conversation with someone yesterday who was like, I love what I do. That’s why I actually think I’m the best at it. But like, they gave an example of someone who they work with and were like, they’re so miserable. They hate their life. Like they work at a big corporation. And he was saying he was like, and he’s not very good at his job. And it’s not because he’s not very smart. He’s a very smart guy, but he doesn’t apply himself as much. He doesn’t care as much, he doesn’t have the passion. So he’s not going to go that extra mile because he’s just saying, let me just get my paycheck, do whatever I have to do and might call it an hour because it was horrible for me.
So I think it’s like when you are passionate, everything is just better. Like it’s just so much more enjoyable. And I find that a lot of the time you’re actually more successful because you’re so good at what you do and people recognize that, and then you get more business like coming to you. But the type of business you actually want to say yes.

Courtney Zaugg:
To, I’m speaking to my soul.

Johanna Buchweitz:
And it’s I mean I fully believe it. I had to learn that the hard way. So anyone is listening like we’re trying to, like, make things a little bit easier for you if you haven’t learned that lesson yet. Like, please learn it now. Yeah, it’s so important.

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah. It’ll save you time and heartache later.

Johanna Buchweitz:
100%. Yeah, it’ll save you a lot of heartache, that’s for sure. So what’s the big vision for you now? Like, what’s next for Courtney? What’s next for Plaka? Like, how do you see things kind of unfolding, you know, in the near future?

Courtney Zaugg:
Yeah. Oh, I love this question because we’ve not yet shared, but we’re launching a new venture this fall. And it’s an intersection of senior housing and technology. So I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had really great projects that I have close to and so Plaka is still fully running and functioning and still doing projects, but I’m turning a little bit of my attention to this new venture.
And so we’re in the customer discovery phase. We’ve put together the concept and vetted some good partners. And so, yeah, I can’t announce everything yet, but we are starting a new – it’s like a tech and a real estate development company.

Johanna Buchweitz:
That’s so cool. Well, congratulations. What made you want to start that?

Courtney Zaugg:
So in every community, everywhere, whether you are again, New York City or Indianapolis or small town America, housing is an issue. And especially with senior housing. I mean, I don’t I don’t remember the exact statistics, but we could build a lot more and still not have enough. And so recognizing this is a problem, especially for a problem for entrepreneurs, you know, having having affordable housing, again, going back to like de-risking whatever business ideas that you have, like the housing piece is really critical.
And so we wanted to help solve that. And I think this is the first time that my husband’s skills in construction and real estate and my skills in account development and entrepreneurship have can come together like we can do this together. I think also five and a half years of being business owners, even though, you know, our work isn’t necessarily, you know, changing the world. I think we’ve learned so much that the thought of starting a new venture is like not scary. You know, again, it’s going back to like, what’s the worst that can happen? Nothing like the very worst thing. It’s like. So if it doesn’t work, it’s still real estate and still tech and it’ll still add value in some form or fashion. It may not be what we think it’s going to look like in the end, which both those projects don’t. Right? But we wanted to help solve that issue. And, you know, the senior community is really dear to us. Our parents are aging and seeing the options that are available and the financial options that are available for seniors in terms of caretaking and housing, it’s it’s there’s a dire need. And so we wanted to address that.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I love that. I think that that’s so cool. And I’m excited to see, you know, everything and all that you’re doing with this. Like as you’re, like, starting to build this new venture, you know, like where do you find, like, all this, you know, knowledge over the years, like you said, and like your skill set, your husband’s skill set. But like, if you need guidance of any kind currently, like where are you going to ask for help as you start a new project?

Courtney Zaugg:
So that’s interesting. I think my answer will be different depending on what community you’re in. But I’ve been I feel like I’ve been lucky in my world, in my work, to be able to connect with folks that are doing innovative things. So I’m a community partner with a venture studio called Next Studios and they are definitely providing guidance and advice.
I have a friend who I connected with and met for the first time in person last year, but we connected first during the pandemic virtually. So funny story. I have done some work with partners in Pittsburgh and at the start of the pandemic I had a friend that started a virtual coworking space. So you’re basically set up a Zoom meeting and said, Hey, if you need some social interaction or you need some support with your business and you want to just vent because you know, the world was crumbling, come join the Zoom co-working space.
And I met this guy named Aubrey Anon here in Indianapolis, who is an entrepreneur, focuses on health care tech. And so I have just been really lucky to have him and other people like him, smart people, entrepreneurs that we’ve met mainly to talk about the heartache of being entrepreneurs, but then also celebrating each other’s wins. Right? Like having that peer group to say you’re doing a really good job, Courtney, you’re doing a really great job.
I really keep going. I know this is hard, but it’s just a minor setback, not a big deal. I’ve been really lucky to be able to create that here. So, so yeah. So I’ve had some, some, some folks in my network that have been really supportive that I can ask for advice and things they don’t know much about, like health care, tech.

Johanna Buchweitz:
I like that. It’s good because at the end of the day, it’s like that community is like, you know, like we all have so much like knowledge like and you know, like, I will know things you don’t know and you will know things I don’t know. And like, if we aren’t able to connect to ensure that like, you know, what’s the point at like when we’re able to have that community and actually be like open and honest about, you know, everything, what’s going really well, what’s not going really well, that’s when we can really help each other. And I love that you’re really like using the, the resource that is the community to be able to help your, you know, your self in everything that you’re doing now and also provide value and help them take it, which is pretty cool.

Courtney Zaugg:
That we can’t do it alone. I mean, even if you are a solo founder or a solopreneur, you can’t do it by yourself. You have to have peers in mentors and advisors and strategic partners in order for it to work over the long term. So the community piece is absolutely critical.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Yeah, and I like that you said that because I think a lot of, you know, especially a solopreneur is like we think we are alone, like and we have to do it alone because we have no other choice. Like, I don’t know someone who works in this area. I don’t know someone who works in that area, but like we actually don’t have to. And I think it’s funny because like if we take the time to look all around us, like we will be surprised almost by the kind of community that we do have. Like, you know, people, you know, like I had done that actually when I started my first company, I was like, I know, absolutely nobody in tech, like, not one person. And then I was like, Wait, is that really true? I’m making that up because, like, I can’t think of anybody. So I felt like and our on Facebook, going through all my friends that I was like, okay, someone has to work in tech and who I could talk to. And I was like one person who I was like in seventh grade with hadn’t talked to him in years.
I was like, Hi, how’s it going? And he was like, Oh, hey, what’s up? And I was like, Yeah, like, I see we’re going to talk so we chat and like he ended up being such a great resource to me. Use LinkedIn, use social media. Like it might be a pain to like sort through all your contacts, but like I feel like all of us would be a little bit surprised of like who we actually might know and like send a message. They might not respond, but that’s okay.

Courtney Zaugg:
You know, that’s a really good point. I think that of all of the people over the years that I’ve asked and connected with, like I would cold call people and be like, I need some advice, right? Whether it’s career development at the time or whether it’s like becoming a mother, whether it’s how do I be an entrepreneur with a young kid?
How do you work? How do you have a business, your partner not killing them? And every time I would ask, people say, yes, you would be surprised how many people like, yes, let’s have a phone call. Let’s have a coffee. And you’re right, some people will not respond and that’s okay. But more often than not they’ll say, Yeah, let’s chat.
Not a problem. I have 30 minutes, let’s do this and that. That like that changes things. That changes literally businesses overnight.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So no, yeah, sure. And like you just have to send that message like you got, like you were sending cold messages, like, and everyone’s like, Oh my God, that sounds horrible. Like, nobody’s going to respond. And it’s like, like you said, like, more often than not, people actually do respond. Like, they do want to help. Like scheduling might be a little bit foggy, but like they do want to assist. And I think that’s pretty cool. And like, you know, like we said, like even if you got no’s or no responses, complete ignore is that’s okay too because that will happen. But it’s a numbers game. You know, at the end of the day.

Courtney Zaugg:
It is 100% a numbers game. Yeah.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So you’ve done so many cool things like and now you’re even starting like a new venture. We’re just so cool. Like, I love it. Like you’re just killing it all around. So what does success mean to you today? I’m sure it’s very different from when you first started out. But as of this moment, what does success mean to you?

Courtney Zaugg:
I think two things. One, so goes back to why I started Plaka and Zinc, that freedom is time and it’s not necessarily money. It’s the time it’s having the freedom of being there when your family needs you or your friends or frankly, like take time with yourself. But that freedom also comes with you have to be able to pay your bills.
And so that’s what success looks like. I think future success with this new venture especially is making a more physical impact. Seeing, you know, our concept come to life changing lives and then whatever money that we do make from that, like how do we address bigger problems, whether it’s child care, whether it’s health care, it’s just making sure that there’s a mission and a long term vision behind the individual projects, which still make a great local impact.
But how do we make it on a bigger scale? Using the money from that success?

Johanna Buchweitz:
Oh, man. Like when you said that, I got goosebumps almost because like, your passion and desire to help and serve really comes through. And I love that because for you, success is not just time and money freedom, although that’s important, it’s actually like changing lives. And by doing so, you’re literally changing the world. So I love that answer and you know, all the power to you.
And I can’t wait to watch everything that you continue to do and see all the magic that continues to unfold. So thank you for anyone who wants more. Courtney, like, where can we find you? How can we stay connected with you and watch everything that you’re continuing to do?

Courtney Zaugg:
I am most active on LinkedIn, so Courtney Zaugg on LinkedIn and then a little bit on Instagram which is just @CZaugg but most of my work because of my with my customers and clients are LinkedIn that’s where I focus. Most of my social media.

Johanna Buchweitz:
So before you leave us today, could you please drop a couple more words of wisdom, but words of wisdom that can fit on a tweet.

Courtney Zaugg:
The words of wisdom would be to think bigger, and that now is always the right time to start. Always, you know, I think so much advice about when having kids, like when’s the right time to have kids or when’s the right time to start a business? It’s people like there’s never the right time. Like, no, actually, there’s always the right time.
And it’s right now and it does not necessarily mean like quitting your job and starting at full time, but start it and nurture it and fail and tweak and adjust, but keep going. So think bigger. And now is always the right time to start.

Johanna Buchweitz:
Love it. Courtney, thank you so much for coming on today.

Courtney Zaugg:
Thank you. It was such a pleasure. I’m so honored. Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing the success of what you’re doing as well. So we will definitely not be strangers for sure.

Johanna Buchweitz:
We hope you enjoyed hearing from the incredible Courtney Zaugg and if you did, please leave us a review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you tune in to listen. Please share this episode with anyone who you think might enjoy it. Thank you so much for tuning in to this week’s episode of Limitless. Your next week for a new episode.

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