Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Michelle Tillis Lederman, Founder of Executive Essentials, LLC., located in South Orange, NJ, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I am in the business of helping people work better together and increase their individual impact. We do that through custom training and coaching programs, as well as leading retreats, keynotes, and conferences for our clients. Executive Essential’s trainers and coaches are dedicated to the success of our clients. With a fundamental belief in continuous learning, they are business professionals who succeed in their profession by utilizing the business skills they train.

The result is a trainer, speaker, and coach who understands the issues and audiences you face. Our clients range across industries and levels from the government to academia to non-profit to Fortune 500 companies, including
Madison Square Garden, Citi, Johnson & Johnson, Ernst & Young, Deutsche Bank, Michigan State University, Columbia Business School, Target, Sony, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, and The Museum of Modern Art. You can see a list here.

Tell us about yourself

I started my career in finance in the early 1990s. I was quickly promoted and managed others, sometimes ten years my senior, by the age of 22. I made many, many mistakes. I found myself frustrated by the lack of clear communication and effective leadership. Over my decade in finance, I found myself wanting to explain to those sitting across from me how to pitch effectively, deliver feedback, and provide information. I wished someone had taught me rather than learning through trial and error.

That desire is the vision behind Executive Essentials. My goal was to equip people with the knowledge and tools to communicate and lead with confidence, clarity, and connection. Founded in 2004, today, Executive Essentials is a team of experienced speakers, coaches, and trainers with that same mission.

We understand that people learn differently and create custom live, virtual, and hybrid training and coaching programs to reach all learning styles. Every course we offer is:

  • CUSTOMIZED: Designed specifically with your organization’s needs in mind.
  • INCLUSIVE: Considers the diversity of people and situations in the room.
  • EMPOWERING: Results in increased confidence and willingness to implement the learned skills.
  • INTERACTIVE: Delivered with high energy, engaging all learning styles.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I am so proud of having built a sustainable business for nearly 20 years, which is an accomplishment on its own. But it is the relationships that I have built and maintained that I am most proud of. My second client ever is still a client today. She's brought her to every job she's had—and there have been a lot!

It is not just the client relationships but also those with the trainers, coaches, and speakers that have become part of the Executive Essentials team. I want to work with and for people who want to work with and for me. I believe the relationship comes first.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Learning to say no. I actually had a sticky note on my computer with the word NO on it for over a year. As an entrepreneur, there are so many opportunities. The challenge is to have a clear vision of your work and your mission. I had to learn to determine if the work related to my core skills and get comfortable saying no.

As I learned this, I also learned to find people who were a fit for the work, and my team grew. That led to the second challenge, letting go of control and trusting other people to represent your brand. When you do this right, you create a true business, and the growth is exponential.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Build Relationships. This really tips 1, 2, and 3! Whatever it is you want to do, you will accomplish it faster, easier, and often with a better result through the relationships you build.
  2. Talk, share, and listen. When you are passionate about what you do, talk about it. Your energy will be contagious. Share your passion, and people will give you ideas, thoughts, connections, and advice. Then just listen and follow up.
  3. Ask For What You Want. You won't get what you don’t ask for. Whether a referral, an introduction, or a higher fee—ask. The key is to ask in a way that doesn’t put the relationship at risk. Consider the four types of asks I explain in chapter 5 of The Connector’s Advantage. My favorite is the "opt-out" ask.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.