The Soul Career story
How one woman's empty feeling led her to start a business to help people have fulfilling careers
Lisandra Rickards, CEO and founder of Soul Career, a career coaching firm based in Jamaica. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

THE former US attorney general and presidential candidate in the 1968 election in that country, Robert Kennedy once said: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." It's a quote which sums up the move by career coach Lisandra Rickards, founder and CEO of Soul Career, who walked away from a lucrative job in finance because she was feeling unfulfilled in that work, eventually starting her own company — something she did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rickards worked first as a research analyst at a stock brokerage in Jamaica before going overseas to study at the prestigious Harvard Business School. From there, she said she went on to work for a consulting firm in New York.

"That was when I realised that finance wasn't really my 'soul career'," she said. While she was moving up in the work world she said it didn't feel like something she wanted to do, even though she was good at it.

"It felt very empty for me — like I was swimming upstream. And it didn't feel like it was something that I was very passionate about, even though I thought it was interesting and I was doing well in it and getting promoted etc. I wanted to do something that I was more passionate about," she stated.

RICKARDS...When you become an entrepreneur you are a hunter and a gatherer; you have to go out there and pay yourself. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Rickards said that led her to take a psychometric test. The results showed she was more of a people person than a quantitative person. She then began to explore what type of people-focused career she could have.

"The first place that matched my passions and my interest with my career was the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship," she said in reference to the non-profit operated by the UK-based Virgin Group. There, she was employed as a business coach and trainer of the entrepreneurs selected for the programme.

Rickards was later promoted to director of all programming. Her final promotion was to take the mantle of CEO. In total, she spent seven years at the Branson Centre before leaving to start her own company.

"Being in an entrepreneur-focused company [like Branson]…I realised that I was also an entrepreneur and [that] I wanted to build something myself, grow it from scratch, and make it mean something, and build my own brand. And I started thinking a lot about what kind of company I wanted to build and really, my core came back to [me]. I am an executive coach; I have been coaching businesses for seven years through the Branson Centre...and I wanted to build a brand around coaching and programming," she recalled.

RICKARDS...It felt very empty for me — like I was swimming upstream. And it didn't feel like it was something that I was very passionate about. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Rickards then set out to build her Soul Career brand. The biggest obstacle she faced was how to get her first paying client, especially given that sales were not her forté.

"It was scary because you move from getting a steady pay cheque every month in which you don't have to eat what you kill. When you become an entrepreneur you are a hunter and a gatherer; you have to go out there and pay yourself. You have to figure out how to get your own salary and make it consistent month after month — and that is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur," she noted.

Luckily, she was able to attract some patient investors who pledged "six figures of US dollars in investments to start [the business], and that gave us 13 months to test and figure out sales while still paying myself to be able to be a full-time entrepreneur".

Rickards said during that period the fledgling company turned first to online marketing, through advertising and webinars, to get its name out. The effort yielded "about 30 to 40 clients from all over the world", including from places as far away as Japan and China, but also closer to home like US and Canada.

One of the many programmes undertaken by Soul Career.

Yet, things were not easy. Rickards said the business got the first tranche of funds from her investors in April 2020, just a few short weeks after the novel coronavirus was first detected in Jamaica. The first case was confirmed on March 9, 2020.

"I had the most anxiety I had ever had in my entire life," she said with a chuckle as she adds, "because I am starting a company, I don't know how to sell, and everything closed all at once during the pandemic."

But she said she persisted, building ads and distributing them on various social media networks to attract clients. If the strategy was to work in making money for the start-up Rickards said she would have to attract many more individual clients than she was attracting in the early months.

"And so in 2021 we shifted our strategy to targeting corporates and businesses to get coaching for their employees, and that has really been the winning strategy for the company."

Rickards at work with career coaching.

The first client contracted under this new focus was landed in April 2021 in the form of the Jamaica Producers Group, which placed 40 of its employees with Soul Career for six months of training. The experience, Rickards said, changed the trajectory of the company.

"We built things with them and for them. They were very easy to work with [and] very entrepreneurial. They just got it, and I think that first client saved our company; and the programmes that we built with them, we [have used as a template for programmes] for other companies like Sygnus, which is a big client of ours now. Sandals is a client of ours now, NCB, Bank of Jamaica, and so on. But when you get that first client who gives you a recurring revenue stream for many, many months, you don't have to hustle as hard, you can focus on the product and ensure you are delivering very high quality," she said.

She pointed out that the cost of the programmes she offers is not cheap.

"We are a premium group; we are not at the low-cost end of the scale. So if you are going to work with us you have to know that what we are delivering is excellent quality… our programming is top-notch and the calibre of clients we have worked with have not left us."

She said the team at Soul Career is small, just five individuals and all women — except her brother who gives advice. The team is also spread out across the world — from Jamaica to the US, Barbados, Pakistan and Germany.

"We want to be known as the best boutique coaching company in the world, that's the big vision," she continued. The plan is to attract more corporate clients outside Jamaica. "In order to do that, we have to continue to build out the products."

Rickards said the company started with one coaching programme called Transitioner for people transitioning to a new job. Then with Jamaica Producers they built two programmes, one for executives and the other for professionals who want to get promoted at work.

"We are now building with a client in Barbados an entrepreneurial programme called Soul Career Entrepreneurs, and that's really going to be targeted at people who are in a corporate job but want to leave their job to build their own company."

"So we are targeting the full life cycle of your career — from finding that job you love (that's transitioners) to getting promoted (that's professionals) to becoming a leader of other people (that's executives), and then entrepreneurs. Then we are building right now Soul Career Sales for sales teams, that's been one of the most highly requested programmes from our clients. They want to move selling away from being transactional and being more soulful."

Rickards said the difference is that when sales are more soulful, those selling do not see people as dollar signs but rather as individuals with a problem to be solved.

Now as she strategises the next phase of growth for the company, Rickards reflects on the journey she has taken so far, moving from feeling unfulfilled in her job to helping people gain fulfilment in theirs.

"I think it has been an inner journey more than anything else. You first start with an idea, and you feel this inner compulsion to execute it that allows you to take the risk to leave the comfort and prestige — I had a lot of prestige in my previous roles. To leave that comfort and step out on your own, you would have to have that fire in you that you can build something great. Then, the reality of cashflow hits and then you have to pivot and try to figure out your cashflow model. And then you get that first big client that believes in you and you are like, 'I was just one month from closing down because I had one month of cash left in the bank and this one big client believed in us.'

"And everything changed after that. I was able to hire people, I was able to build more programmes and tell our story now — and we are a real company now that exists outside my head."

BY DASHAN HENDRICKS Business content manager

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