Turning Tragedy into Triumph to Embrace a Destiny in Entrepreneurship
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Prior to becoming a REALTOR®, Serena ran her own multi-award-winning brand experience agency called Tigris Events for close to 18 years. Under her leadership, she grew the agency to ten full-time staff at their head office in Pickering and over 2,200 part-time staff across the country. They won 18 awards and were nominated for several others, in recognition of their work since 2014.
Serena made the decision to merge with another agency in February of this year to take the business to the next level. Between taking courses and studying to obtain her real estate licenses throughout covid, she was also going through rounds of editing for her book, The Accidental Entrepreneur, which was published in October 2021. Her book chronicles how she went from surviving a troubled childhood to surviving as a self-styled, multi-faceted entrepreneur. The book also describes the difficulties faced along with lessons learned and mistakes made, all with the hopes of helping others who are or have been facing similar challenges, either personally or professionally.
Gift: For the first 5 people who subscribe, rate and share Serena's episode and then email email@example.com ~ you will receive a copy of Serena's book "The Accidental Entrepreneur"
Philanthropy: Elephant Nature Park Projects in Thailand
Moira's Website: https://moirasutton.com/
Moira's Community: https://www.facebook.com/CreatetheLifeyouLove1/
Nova Scotia Realtor: Markus Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Intro: Welcome to the Heart Soul Wisdom Podcast a journey of self-discovery and transformation. Moira Sutton and her amazing guests share real life stories, tools, and strategies to inspire and empower you to create and live your best life. Come along on the journey and finally blast through any fears, obstacles and challenges that have held you back in the past so you can live your life with the joy, passion, and happiness that you desire. Now, here's your host. Create the life you love. Empowerment life coach Moira Sutton.
Moira: Welcome to season four, Episode 72 turning Tragedy into Triumph to embrace destiny and entrepreneurship with our very special guest, author, realtor, and entrepreneur serena Holmes. Prior to becoming a realtor, serena ran her own multi award winning brand experience agency called Tigris Events for close to 18 years. Under her leadership, she grew the agency to attend full time staff at their head office in Pickering and over 2200 part time staff across the country. They won 18 awards and were nominated for several others in recognition of their work since 2014. Serena made the decision to merge with another agency in February of this year to take the business to the next level between taking courses and studying to obtain her real estate licenses. Throughout COVID, she was also going through rounds of editing for her book The accidental Entrepreneur, which was published in October 2021. Her book chronicles how she went from surviving a troubled childhood to surviving as a self-styled multifaceted entrepreneur. The book also describes the difficulties faced along with lessons learned and mistakes made, all with the hopes of helping others who are or have been facing similar challenges, either personally or professionally. So, without further ado, it is my pleasure to welcome serena Holmes. Welcome, serena.
Serena: Hi there. Thanks for having me.
Moira: Yeah. Wow. Quite a lot there.
Serena: You could say so, yeah.
Moira: So, let's start with the book. We know that just there you wanted to help people. Is that what inspired you to write the book?
Serena: Yes. I think it's one of those things that when I was growing up, people would often say to me, you've been through so much, like, you're going to have to write a book one day. I can help other people. And I think it just planted the seeds when I was quite young and just something I heard over and over as the years continued. So I went to a conference, actually, that had nothing to do with publishing, but I met a woman that has a publishing company and helps authors kind of get started writing their books. So, I signed up for a workshop, flew to San Diego and just wrote My Little Heart out for a few days, like a huge chunk of it. So, it just felt like it's hard to say. It really felt like I was compelled to write it. I had to just get my story out and then maybe it was even healing to do so. You know what I mean? It just felt like I really just had to do it well, for sure.
Moira: You know if I've read the book. And like we said at the very beginning, you've gone through a lot of challenges and ups and downs in life. And, yes, that's one of the reasons I was drawn to you, to share your journey and share that. Because there's a lot of people who are going through a lot of challenges and they don't know how to get through that. And you always had that mindset. And then how did you come up with that title? accidental Entrepreneur. That's kind of cute.
Serena: Yeah. I mean, I really had no intention of ever being an entrepreneur. I never thought I'd run a business, and I was going through school for journalism and started doing promotional work part time. And I think just because I was paying for school myself, I was always looking for ways to make money and stuff like that. But when I graduated, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get into the media industry. And I was applying all over and things just weren't really happening. So I basically was offered an opportunity part time with the company that I later came to own, so started as a brand ambassador part time, was offered a management role that led into a partnership role all very swiftly, like in the span of probably eight months, I guess, altogether. And then took the opportunity for partnership, almost turned it down for another opportunity with Am 640. But I did take the partnership and then four years later, the woman that founded the company decided to exit. So just one thing kind of happened after another. And I always would joke that it was an accident because I never really intended to go down this path.
Moira: It just sounds like, first of all, what I got reading your book is you're quite the energetic person. You do a lot of things and you set your sights for something and then it just happens. And no, I don't believe just things happen if you're in action, especially an inspired action, people, opportunities, things show up in our lives for sure.
Serena: Yeah. I think it's one of those things that, again, I didn't intend to do it, but the opportunity presented itself where it wasn't presenting itself in my field of study and what I thought that I was going to do. And I think that looking back, I'm probably in a far better place personally, financially, than maybe I could have been. And I continued to pursue that other path. And obviously things happen for a reason. So, I think it came into my life for whatever purpose that was.
Moira: Got it. So, who relates best to your book? Who's your audience and who's your avatar? I know we talked about people who are going through challenges in that, but who are the people that you've been speaking to?
Serena: Yeah, I think what was really interesting when I was writing it was that the woman, I did the workshop with was like, you can't write a book like this. You can't combine a memoir and a business book. Just two different kinds of readers. So early on, when I was promoting the book on social and stuff like that, I had a lot of people reaching out to me that were going through a divorce. They had custody issues with their children, they had experienced loss and grief. So, I had all of those kinds of people connecting with me. And then as time passed, as I progressed into the book and being an entrepreneur, and that doesn't mean that there's not those personal things that are happening along the way, but then you have the people that are like, these business tips are so helpful and they connect with you in the entrepreneurship sense. So I think it was very much like intended for both, but it just felt like I couldn't write one half without the other, if that makes sense.
Moira: Got it. So did you write this whole book when you're at that workshop, or did you just start it there, or did you finish it there?
Serena: Yeah, I wrote about 17 or 18 of what became 31 chapters, ended up finishing it towards the rest of the year, which was the end of 2018. And then I just hit a wall when it came to publishing. I just wasn't really sure what to do next, and I just put it on pause. And then, as everyone knows, COVID hit not all that long after. So for the first time, I had had, at that point, 16 years, like, my business came to a complete halt. Yes, I had a new baby at home, but I also wasn't getting like hundreds of emails every day. So I looked at that as an opportunity to finally get the book done. I committed to getting it published. Ended up rewriting the ending because of COVID happening and obviously all the things that ensued because of the whole world data falling apart for a little while, and then basically just I think it took maybe eight or nine months, going through multiple rounds of editing and the publishing and design and things like that.
Moira: I have my publisher lined up it's me to commit the time to finish my book, which is literally in the next few months. But it is a process.
Serena: Oh, it's a process. Yeah.
Moira: What are the big, big takeaways you want someone to walk away with after reading your book? I know you have many.
Serena: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely again, of course, it depends, I think, on who's reading it, but I think it really is a story about overcoming obstacles and persisting and just believing in yourself to take those chances and take action and things like that. I think that sometimes when people are experiencing challenges in their life, it's very easy to kind of wallow in that and stay in that place, but the only person that's going to hurt is you. So, I think I learned that early on. I can't depend on anyone else to turn my life into anything. So, I think that's what made me entrepreneurial in a certain sense. Even before I was an entrepreneur, I would always take different opportunities and stuff like that. So, I think for anyone that has a challenge, like, yes, take the time to grieve or be upset or whatever it is, but just don't stay there for too long. And I think by investing in yourself and trying to give yourself a sense of purpose, I think that'll kind of change your outlook and your perspective, because.
Moira: You came from a family with a lot of different issues. Just share a little bit about that and how you navigated through that serena, because you're very young and you made some major decisions, like with putting what with your stepmother? You had her charged and a little girl doing that. Where did that come from? Did that just come out of anger? Did that come out of a place that was just writing to boil up?
Serena: Yeah. I think in that particular instance, I had suffered some abuse with my stepmom. And when I tried to leave the first time, I was only supposed to move in with my dad and her temporarily. The court system basically sent me back and thought that it just looks better from an object standpoint, like living on a farm, my stepsister and my half brother and things like that. And they thought that it was better than a single mom living in an apartment in the city. So, when a few years passed and some of those circumstances really escalated over the following few years, when we hired a lawyer to look into actually moving into my aunt's my aunt and uncle's house, the lawyer when we documented and outlined everything that had happened, why I wanted to move out. She said that it would strengthen the custody case to go through with those charges. So, it doesn't undermine the fact that, yes, it happened. I didn't necessarily want anything horrible to happen to my son, and she's still raising the rest of her own kids, but it was just strengthened just me getting out of that situation so that I could start over with my extended family.
Moira: Did you feel in that moment, going to your Aunt Jane and I think Saul is your uncle did you feel encouraged, like you were developing this courage or you're just doing things like in the moment with the people telling you, yes, put this through, say what's happening?
Serena: There's a lot more confidence, I think, involved because I was older when I moved in with my mom when I was ten, it wasn't thought out. It was just like Labor Day weekend. She said, you're not going home. And I was like, what? And I was much younger at that point in time, and that was just really stressful. She just kind of, like, yanked me out of that situation. It wasn't really something that we talked about in advance, and it wasn't handled properly. The situation with my aunt when I confided in her about some of the abuse that I was experiencing with my stepmom, because as I was getting older, it was getting worse. She was the one that obviously talked to my mom and said, how would you like to live with us? And over the course of a few months, I would always bring extra clothes. I'd leave clothes behind. So, it was like we had planned it for a little while and then obviously told my dad, like, similar things, like Labor Day weekend, I'm not coming home. And then our first step was going to the lawyers the following morning, but he wasn't really willing to accept it. I think he was happier knowing I was there rather than with my mom, because he had his opinions on how he felt about her as a parent and things that she had kind of decisions that she had made since they had separated. So, I think he felt better about knowing that I was there. And then as it kind of went through the custody proceedings and stuff like that, I think it was just like an outer body experience. Like, I write about that in the book, like, sitting there to find out if I'm going to get sent back or if I'm going to be able to stay where I was and just like, how scary that whole situation was. Right. I just felt like if I was sent back, I'm going back into a horrible situation. What was already bad to begin with is going to get a whole lot worse. It wasn't easy, but it was definitely a better option at the time.
Moira: Do you believe that any of that scarred you in any way? Or you bought through the healing? Like you said, even writing the book was a healing experience for you too, because you're a very strong personality. Maybe you think of my niece. She's very strong. It's like, no way I'm putting up with any ****. It's my knees.
Serena: Yeah, I mean, I think it's not like it was the kind of abuse that you read about some people having that's, like, so serious. It wasn't good. But I think that I just kind of looked at it for what it was. I think that now I know my step mum has a lot of her own issues. Like, she's been diagnosed as bipolar. I think she was diagnosed with that probably ten years after I moved out. So now a lot of her behavior, when I look back on it, makes sense. And it's like you don't necessarily completely forgive it, but you understand it better and you try to put it in that perspective, like, she was young, she was going through whatever things that she was going through, and she would just fly off the handle in those situations. Right. I don't think it's just like she was trying to beat on me. It wasn't like an everyday thing or something like that. So, I just always try to understand what it would be like from their point of view, or like what they might have been going through. And that's kind of how I've made my own piece of it.
Moira: Thank you. You said earlier, for people who are going through challenges and obstacles, you said, don't stay there. Don't stay and grieve. Don't stay in that feeling. Because again, what we focus on, we create more of.
Moira: But it's easier to say than do. What would you say to somebody who is going through that other than don't stay there for long? What would some of your wisdom be for those people?
Serena: Yeah, I was younger then, so it's not like there were some of the technologies that there is today. But for me, I would just throw myself into books. So, I would literally just consume them so quickly. Like, I was always down with my nose in the book. And again, it just kind of takes you out of your current reality and into something different. So, between that, I was also, at the time, really passionate about artwork and things like that. So, I just throw myself into my schoolwork, on my projects, and all those things helped me because I got really good grades, I got awards, I was offered, like, scholarships and things. Like things along the way that are ultimately helping you. Right. They're all very positive ways to put yourself forward. But again, I was very young, right. So, I think someone that's older, if they're experiencing things like this, they might not take such a positive approach if there's other things that they could be doing. So, I think you just want to know, like, you're going to take your mind off it, but try to do it in the most positive way possible. If you're older, maybe you'll go for a walk or workout or connect with other friends. Like, for me, at that age, I was very limited in the things that I could do to get my mind off things.
Moira: So more or less shift your state, whatever. I'm trained in NLP a long time ago. It's where I met my hubby, in the NLP course, over 32, 33 years ago. But to even get up and move, because when you're in a state, your body also is physically in that moment, in whatever you're feeling.
Serena: And I think it's easier when you're a child. Like, I think that you're just you're more resilient in certain ways. Right. Like, when I look at how my mom like, you know, she lost her husband and then a year later lost my brother, so, like, loses her son in this tragic accident that really should never have happened because my brother had been he'd only moved in with my dad and my stepmom a month and a half before. And we learned after the fact that it wasn't the first time, he'd been left alone like this. Seems like it had been a repeated circumstance. So, for those things to happen, like two very significant things happening right back to back, the way that she dealt with it was by starting to drink excessively and got into like a really damaging relationship. So, from an adult, from an adult point of view, but obviously everyone deals with things different. That's how she kind of dealt with it and had her struggles to kind of get through things, right?
Moira: Yeah, we all have our way of dealing with, well, grief. That's a lot of grief and tragedy. As you said, that's part of their title, turning Tragedy into Triumph. Now, scholarships. Yeah. You applied and got into four-year Ryerson program on journalism. Share about first of all, how did you find out about scholarships? I know you're very brilliant, but for people listening again who don't know that that's a good way to go, how do people apply for that and find out more about that?
Serena: For sure. I mean, the schools have a lot of resources, so it's not like I necessarily knew about all of them, but I brought my financial situation to their attention and that of course, I want to go to university, but I don't have any support from my family at all. So, what would be the best course of action there? And they basically just would provide me with all of the different scholarship updates, like with the way that the world is today. I'm sure some of those things would be more accessible or available online, but the school basically helped me figure out where I could apply and stuff like that. And for the scholarship that I ended up landing, which covered probably about 60% of my tuition each year for four years. And it was from a real estate developer that owns a golf course at ajax and basically met all their needs. So, it was financial need, involvement in the community, and academic excellence. And then by demonstrating all of that, I think I had to write an essay and then also go for an interview. So they would interview however many candidates from each of the schools in Durham region and then accept a scholarship recipient each year. And then I think they've kind of added to that as time has passed. Maybe there's two or four per year.
Moira: Now you're out in that neck of the woods. Have you ever bumped into that gentleman?
Serena: I have not. I have golfed at that golf course. The man that owns that company and.
Moira: Owns the golf course, wouldn't that be interesting? I saw a video the other day with Kate. Kate is in the royalty. Kate. And she bumped into a teacher from her school he was volunteering with the crowds, and she just lit up. She said she remembered him, she remembered the classes. It was just so just natural.
Serena: Yeah, I hear you. Yeah. It was something that someone that had such a big impact on my life, but obviously it wasn't someone that I knew personally or directly for a few years after I had to speak at their annual golf tournament and to talk about how the scholarship was impacting me and things like that. But outside of that, that's been quite a long time at this point.
Moira: That's kind of cool too, that you were developing your speaking. Wow, that's pretty cool. Now you share in the book many times you say things like, with your feelings, whenever it's too good, it could mean a curveball is coming. Yeah, what do you mean by that?
Serena: Yeah, I just think that because I had so many really bad things, I guess, happen over the course of my life, sometimes I would be nervous to get too attached to something positive because it felt like if I would, things could just so easily fall apart. So, I think that's maybe not the best way to look at it, of course, but when they say, like, what goes up must come down, right. So, I think sometimes things are really good. They can be triggered and follow other events and things like that. Right. And even I think as an adult, back in 2016, I got married and I felt like my business is developing to a certain point and things are growing. And then the following year, it's like, my mother-in-law was really sick and our dog was really sick, and then we had losses in our family. So, it's like you have these really great times followed by sad times and difficult times. Right. And obviously, I think that's just what life all is about. Like how those things kind of weave together and create that fabric for us.
Moira: I used to say things like the ups and downs, the curves, the mountains, the valleys. It's all because you wouldn't know the other side in some ways. Not to say, I'm going to go experience that because I want to be over their love or whatever, but yeah, its life, right? And all the different facets of our life. So, tell me about this house of cards. When you said that your introduction to Melanie changed the direction of your life forever, you have a lot of those comments at the end of each chapter. You have like, sort of my little hooks. Your little hooks? I guess that's what it is. But it does hook you another to judge where she's going now.
Serena: Yeah, I mean, when I met my business partner, obviously I didn't know that was who she was going to become at that point in time. I'd been doing promotional events. I met a girl that's like, oh, have you ever hosted before? And basically, they're fundraising events to raise money for grooms who are getting married. And you just sell like this game and that game and it's fine and it pays cash. And I had the interview with the woman that became my business partner and saw her in the interview and then didn't see her again for like two years.
Moira: Wow, what was that about?
Serena: Yeah, she was involved in that business for about five years and then left to basically start her own business. So, during that time when she was building I was just a girl she interviewed, like, we didn't really have any relationship. I never saw her at those events. She obviously left shortly after. And then I guess she ran into someone that I was dating a couple of years later, talked about how she was starting this agency, and he's like, oh, my girlfriend does that kind of work. And then kind of put it together like who I was, and then reached out because she was trying to build her roster for the agency that she was creating. And then along with that company started the company that I later came to own, which was Tigers Events. And at the time there were a couple of other divisions as well.
Moira: So how did you create that? You got into event planning. Did you ever think that you would be in that business? And how did you create this successful Tigris event?
Serena: Yeah, I mean, she started it, so I can't take credit in that sense. It did evolve as time passed because she created all these divisions separate from each other, thinking that if an event planning agency hired us and they didn't know that we did event planning, they wouldn't see us as a threat. So that was her reason to kind of keep things identified separately. So, it just worked out that the staffing was what took off. And then as time passed, it's also isolating and limiting us from taking on these bigger opportunities in experiential and event planning because nobody knows that we can do this. So as time passed, just by gaining mentorship and business coaching, I had received advice. You should really consolidate things. You want people to understand your full offering. And yes, that meant that eventually some of those companies that hired us felt we were a threat. So we gained some clients, we lost some clients, but overall, I think gained more than we lost. And I think for the people that we were working with and supporting on the staffing side, like, they knew we weren't going to go out and solicit their clients and try to steal business from them and stuff like that. So that was more often the case, not always, which I talk about in the book and stuff like that as well. But it made sense just because it was a confusing business structure. Early on, we had three separate businesses, three separate bank accounts, three tax filings at the end of the year and it just made it really complicated. So when my partner left, as time passed, I slowly started streamlining things and just making it easier for people to understand the full scope of everything that we offered.
Moira: So, you built this amazing brand. There's a lot of entrepreneurs that or want to be one, entrepreneurs that listen to this podcast. What are some key questions that you could help somebody become clear on their brand and build their brand?
Serena: Yeah, I think you just want to look at it from a customer's perspective and think, like, how would they perceive us and what values can you deliver to them? So that's one thing. It's just trying to make it super simple. They say you should be able to explain it to like, a kid or your grandmother. So that's one way to look at it. And I think just again, how you're going to find your clients? Like, for us, it didn't matter that we necessarily had an office until we were starting to grow our head office team, we worked with clients from all across the country, so it really mattered for us, like, how people can find us online. And we'd have people literally as far away as like Australia and Europe and all over the state finding us because they were searching Toronto brand ambassadors or Calgary event staff or Vancouver event planning or whatever that is. And it's probably one of my biggest business requests is that we just didn't start doing that sooner and I didn't understand enough about it. It was presented to us probably a year into our business and we were kind of like, we're fine, just didn't know enough about it. And if I could go back and change it, I mean, who would have been a total game changer? Because that's really how I saved the company from going out of business. When we lost our biggest client was by investing in digital marketing and search engine optimization and things like that. Depending on the nature of your business, that may not always work. It just depends on what your business is. So for us, that was key to being found and hired basically by all these different companies.
Moira: So, does digital marketing tie in with Experiential marketing?
Serena: No, Experiential is more face to face. So, if you take example, like a PR stunt, for example, there was a financial services company that hired us to push around like a 500 pound alarm clock, do like 100% pillow fight and all these crazy things.
Moira: I saw the pillow fight, it was good.
Serena: Yeah, more the experiential side. Digital marketing is more like you're sitting at Google, and you just search in like best Toronto restaurants or Toronto restaurants around, whatever, or in my case, Calgary brand ambassadors. Or you just Google search what you're looking for and ideally you want to rank as high as possible on page one so that people can find what you're. Offering.
Moira: He's been worked with. He partnered with winners at iHeart radio. I thought that was pretty cool.
Serena: Yeah, that was pretty awesome. We had like a fab grab money machine where people could kind of collect as much as possible and then exchange what they had for different prizes and stuff like that. So that would definitely be like on the experiential side, where you want them to kind of have this unique brand experience and then have those positive associations and connections to your brand you wore.
Moira: At that time many, many hats you had on. And there's a person, we were talking earlier when I had a show at Rogers at Oshawa, Ontario, and I had Michael Gerber on. And Michael Gerber, first of all, I was told I couldn't get him. He's a big name out of La. And I said, really? That was the challenge, right? And anyway, he talks about entrepreneurs wearing too many hats. And instead of hiring people to do what you're not good at, what's your thoughts on that? Because you wore a lot of hats, but you were also very successful doing that.
Serena: Well, I don't think we started to see some of that success until I started delegating. I had hired a business coach that I worked for a little while, and then I found a mentorship opportunity through the American Marketing Association. And I was partnered, fortunately, up with someone that's a business consultant. And he basically goes into businesses and finds out what's wrong with them and create those efficiencies and stuff like that. So the very first time we sat down, he deconstructed my entire business. And he's like, why are you still doing your own bookkeeping? Why are you doing this? Why is that? And we just went through all these things, developed an action plan, and basically, like every month, I had to kind of do certain things. So, the first thing was hiring a bookkeeper, because I was spending at that time anywhere from 4 hours to a couple of days on payroll. We could have anywhere from ten people to hundreds of people to pay every week. And the biggest thing, I was like, how do I explain to a bookkeeper, like, who these people are and how we're paying them, what we're paying for them? So, we had to kind of develop a system on how to communicate that. And then as time passed with my account managers and people that we were delegating to, they had to all learn how to do that as well. And that alleviated so much time that I could focus more on sales and bringing in opportunities to the business rather than be buried in payroll. So, something as simple as that. But I think between doing that and the investment in SEO, our business doubled the following year. So, it was just you want to be focusing on those high value tasks, and even if it costs 25 or $30 an hour, what is your time worth as a business owner could be worth $500 an hour, $1,000 an hour, depending on what you're bringing in. So that was really the change in what I had to look like. It's an investment, but these are going to be all the things that come.
Moira: Out of that that ties in. I was going to ask you about your mentors and leaders that you look up to, but you just mentioned it your business coach, consulting, marketing. Very good. Now you also talk about this is sort of a jump, but let's jump a chapter called a little philanthropy and a Little Bit of Fun. Now you're all about also giving back, and I'm about contribution, giving back. And people bring their unique gifts out to the world. And I know you have the passion for travel and adventure. You went to Thailand to start with, and you volunteered on two projects, share about that, how people can get involved, and just that whole passion that you have for that. What is that for you? That adventure and travel. It's one of mine too, but I wanted to hear it from you.
Serena: Yeah. I think as a business owner, traveling was difficult in the beginning because I felt so chained to the business. And then we through hiring, that bookkeeper went to direct deposit, and it was like life changing. Like instead of spending all this time, I would just hit, like, accept and send money. And that was all I had to do every week. But what it allowed me to do is that because I wasn't signing people's paychecks, I didn't have to necessarily be physically present in the business. Like, I could be away and still be fielding emails and things like that, whatever I had to do. But when we kind of made those changes, I was able to start traveling more. My husband and I ended up getting married in Thailand. That was kind of my first taste going there. And then just about eight months later, my cousin's like, hey, I'm going to go to Thailand and volunteer with these elephant nature park projects. Do you want to come? And it just kind of happened really suddenly. So, we were supposed to leave within less than a month. And then she got very sick in Australia and was hospitalized and actually couldn't even come for the first week. So here I am, 35 years old. I've never really traveled by myself outside of for business meetings, going to Thailand by myself. And I felt a little more confident because I had gotten married there. So, I'd been to a couple of the places already, and I knew I would feel safe and comfortable there. But I basically ended up in a town called Bury Ram, which is 8 hours from Bangkok. And by volunteering your time with these elephants that are rescued from entertainment or working and all these different things, you're basically just providing them a better life. And then the following week, we were in the mountains of Chiang Mai, and those elephants were in a different environment. Like, they're basically just walking around in the jungle the whole day, but their mahouts follow them around, so they're not chained up. So pretty much the only time they're changed is when their keepers have to sleep. So, you just got to experience what that life is like for them. And again, just by being there as a volunteer, basically kind of paying their owners keep for them, and it just takes them out of a life that's otherwise they're horribly abused. Like in virtue ram, I probably saw you could stand in a circle and turn around, and everywhere you look, you can see an elephant trained up outside of people's houses. One elephant was even in, like, a concrete cell at the back of the house, and they just keep him there and cut his ivory down once a year. And he can't even walk, he can't even move barely in this concrete cell behind the house. And we saw a lot of horrible abuses when we were there. So, it's kind of nice knowing, like, the elephants in your project, I think there was eight or ten of them, are not experiencing these things. And I think for the people that own them, they're very poor. So, this is kind of their way to make money and stuff like that. But, yeah, it was just very eye opening.
Moira: I would like to add that kind of link to this episode, serena, so I'll probably get that from you. For people who want to go and experience that and help the elephants, that would be great. Now, you ended up leaving the whole you sold your business. What was that experience like? Was that scary then, to get what you put into it?
Serena: Well, it was a very long process because the girl that I promoted within my business to cover my maternity leave replacement, my maternity to leave coverage, she resigned when my daughter was only about two months old, so that was very unexpected. This particular employee had been with me about six years at this time, so I really thought that she was all in. Like, we planned towards this for a couple of years. It wasn't like she was new. And even when I asked her to say I would be willing to match whatever she's being offered somewhere else, she was just like, it's a professional decision, not personal, and just really left me in a situation that made me concerned about the future of the business. I couldn't fathom. Like, how can I run the business and have an infinite home? So, I hired a mergers and acquisitions company to sell it, and then we went into lockdown. Even at this point, no one even knew code was really coming. It happened obviously very fast. So good luck selling an events company during COVID when you can't even run events, you can't even leave your house half the time. They did bring about different buyers, but again, concern was like, we have the overhead of the office, we have no way to know how long this is going to last for. And time kind of just kept moving on and probably about a year and a half in. I said to them, why don't you speak to other agencies? Like, I think that they would be better suited to bias than this couple that just want to have their own business or someone moving here from India. I saw that would be more opportunity, and they didn't get any traction. And then the one girl that I kept throughout the pandemic, and I primarily kept her because I had my young daughter at home, she ended up resigning at the beginning of last January. And I just basically said to the company I hired to sell it, my back is against the wall. I have no employees left, I have no office. Yes, I still have my staff and all that, but really the main source of value, I think any company is going to be our website because we still have a lot of leads, we have a lot of traffic that comes through it. So, can I get a mutual release? At least try to sell the website. And then over the following couple of weeks, I just had call after call after call with probably 14 or 15 agencies and basically got four offers and had it sold within two weeks. And we just passed, actually, the year anniversary on valentine's Day.
Moira: That's amazing.
Serena: Yeah, so it took long, and then it happened really fast. So, it was almost two years and then a couple of weeks.
Moira: You talked about the lady that left. And one thing you said in here is one thing I did know for sure was that nothing burns as badly as betrayal, especially from someone you trust. How did you deal with that betrayal and people leaving in that? Did you take it personally because you're the boss, but you're also it wasn't business for you. It was more like friends, too. Was there a line there?
Serena: We had a friendly relationship. I wouldn't say we were friends. I think there was always that distinction. But it was upsetting because it's like the first time in my life that I'm taking a step back for something personal and it's something so important. You know what I mean? It's not like I'm taking off to travel for a year. And I just looked at it like, okay, well, maybe she's making a negligible increase in pay even if I match it. I was just so shocked that she just wasn't even willing to stay, at least for like six months or a year or something like that. Because again, we had planned for this for almost a couple of years. We knew this was kind of like the trajectory we were going. And I did share with her a loss along the way and the fertility treatments we've been experiencing and just how important it was to know that I could depend on her, kind of if we have the outcome that we're hoping for, which is having our daughter. But what I think hurt the most was I was at the office a couple of months after she resigned, running updates and things like that. And basically, I came across information showing that she had been applying to jobs throughout my entire pregnancy. So that was very frustrating. So it's not like it was just a job that landed in her lap. Like, she'd been actively pursuing things for a very long period of time. And that's what was most upsetting, knowing that I could have made different decisions. I could have sold the business when I was early into my pregnancy if I didn't feel comfortable, I could have hired someone else. I could have structured things different. It could have been a very different experience, like in my mat leave and then no one knew code was coming. But obviously then all of that happened, and it just felt like it undermined everything that she had said. She kept on over and over like, I've got it covered, don't worry, and went down this whole path and through promoting her and introducing her to all the clients to make sure they know that she's a point person. And I know she was very actively pursuing other things the entire time. It's just like, why you really didn't feel like this is right for you or you didn't want to be committed. I just don't know why she could have just been honest and sat down and been like, okay, I'm hesitant about this, or how she was feeling. I felt like we had a strong enough relationship that she could have done that. And I think that's really what was so upsetting, more so than the fact that she left just, like, could have been so different if she had just been honest and upfront about things a lot sooner.
Moira: Is that why, as a realtor, that some of your values is transparency, integrity, and trust?
Serena: No, absolutely. I think you always want to treat people the way that you want to be treated, right? And I think that when you're a realtor, especially, we're bound by a code of ethics, and you have to look out for your clients’ best interests. So, all of that is, even if it's like something really small, you always have to be very honest with your clients. And as a realtor, there's also very massive financial consequences if you ever run into issues not doing those things. So, it has to align across the board, or you could find yourself in some pretty bad situations.
Moira: So, let's talk about that with you as a realtor. How did you develop that passion and get into that? See, another door closed for you was selling a business and this other door open. Was it during COVID that you thought, I'm going to write a book, I'm going to invest in land, I'm going to become a realtor. Was that all kind of there or just came up?
Serena: No, it started back in 2012 when I hired my very first business coach. One of the biggest takeaways was just to start using some of our retained earnings for investment. And at the time, she's like, business owners normally operate on three months, and you have like, a year and a half. And at the time, I was always very conservative. I never took out more money than I needed. And she's just like, even if you're comfortable to leave, say, six months, then you can at least put all that money into something. So, I ended up buying my first rental property in 2013, using in part, some money on a short term loan from the business, and then did really well with that. Like, doubled my money in four years and was able to basically pay off my mortgage at home and then other things. So, I was like, mortgage free at 35. And then learned through a client of ours real estate education platform, started learning about all these other ways that you can invest in real estate to develop passive income and all kinds of different things. Like, it's more, far more than you would think when you think, oh, I'm just going to buy a house and be a landlord. There's so many other ways that you can be investing. So, I'd already gone down that path. I had enough passive income coming in the year before I had my daughter that I could cut my payback in half from the company. And then COVID happened. So, I didn't want to take any money out of the company just to make sure that we could survive it and was able to go into more other investments and stuff just to earn a little bit more. And then probably two or three months into lockdown, decided, you know what, I may as well sign up for a real estate license. It's complementary to all the other investments that I have. And no one at this point knows how long COVID is is going to last for. It could be a year, it could be ten years. So, I was trying to think about what my career could look like if we couldn't go back to having events and stuff like that. So, it took about ten months to get my license. And I knew coming out of it, like, I wouldn't be able to start working right away because my daughter was still very small, and we didn't want to put her into daycare before she was closer to two years old. So, it was a bit like of a slow transition into it. But it's been nice because I do have passive income. It's not like I've had to be working fast and furiously to build that side. I've been able to build it the way I want, build my brand, work on marketing and all of that stuff. So, it's been a bit of a slow entry into it, but I'm still working on it.
Moira: For people to learn more about passive income and real estate investing and putting money into areas you learn through your business coach, is there other areas that you would recommend that people could learn more about that?
Serena: Sure, yeah. I mean, there's definitely like a lot of real estate education platforms and masterminds out there. There's even a lot of groups on Facebook and a lot of people on those will have different mastermind calls where real estate investors get together to talk about different strategies and share resources and contacts and stuff like that. Even a lot of the investing I did, it started out through this one company, but then just by getting to know all these different investors, it's led to so many things. Like, I see deals almost every single day and now I've actually, like, I'll refer other people to those deals so that they can earn passive income. So I think it's really a lot of who you know and things like that. And I do actually talk about specifically what I did in the book towards the end. And obviously for anyone that has other questions, I find that whenever I do these podcasts, oftentimes people reach out, like, I want to have passive income, how do I do that? Obviously, I can go into a little bit more detail with them on who to talk to and it really depends on their objectives and their circumstances. Like if they have a very high paying government job, they may want to handle it different than how I did because I do keep any real estate earnings in a business and my personal real estate corporation so I can earn other money passively, personally. So just really you got to consider where they're coming from and what that looks like.
Moira: Very cool. So I'd like you to read a passage from your book. I know you've picked one out just to inspire our listeners to live their best life.
Serena: Okay, so what I'm going to do, I'm going to read the first couple of paragraphs and then I'm going to end with the quote that I start the book with because I think it ties together nicely. So chapter one is called Falling Apart. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but it tarnished. At least that's what my stepmother told me when I was just six years old. Given the way that things went when she came into our lives, I'd have to say that I agree with her. As an adult, I try to look back on my time this time in my life objectively. While I wouldn't wish what happened to me on anyone, the challenges I experienced made me stronger and contributed to who I am today, as cliche as that may sound. And here's a quote from booker T. Washington. I've learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as the obstacles which they have overcome while trying to succeed.
Moira: Perfect. That was one of my questions I was going to say to you. How do you define success? I do have booker T. Washington. We just didn't get to that. So that's the way you do define success?
Serena: Yeah, I do think so.
Moira: Very cool. Thank you. So what's next on the horizon for you, serena, and your family?
Serena: Yeah, so I've been really fortunate, I think, just again, going back to the passive income, that because I had that flexibility, I decided to take last summer off, having my business summer is always event season and very busy, and I was like, for the first time, I don't have this on my plate. So even in the prior two summers during COVID like, events were kind of opening up during that time. So the summers were quite busy still. So we took the time off, had the opportunity to travel. I went on trips in November, December, and January. So I really just live in a good life and just coming out of COVID being able to do some of those things. But now I'm back to work. The plan is not to be going anywhere for a while. My daughter's been more stable and consistent in her daycare and things like that. So I'm working on building the real estate side of my business when it comes to servicing clients. And then I've also joined a Mastermind to try to figure out what my next investment should look like. And that may involve multi family properties or short term rentals. So I'm just trying to get as much information as possible regarding some of those things. And I'm surrounded by these investors that are acquiring like, crazy opportunities. Like, one company, for example, has acquired 10 million in real estate last year. Their goal is 50 million this year.
Serena: And they don't even use their own money. Like, they raise other people's money to do it. So I'm surrounded by these people using these really interesting strategies, really smart strategies, and just kind of building not only their personal wealth, but, like, the legacy, like, something that's going to provide for their families for generations to come. So I think for me, yes, I can kind of be comfortable with the passive income I have, but I'm trying to figure out those next moves in terms of, like, how I can leave that same legacy to my daughter and then potentially grandchildren and things like that.
Moira: That's wonderful. I also like the idea when you have investments in that that you can give back to, like, the elephants or give back to, you know, we're in Nova Scotia now and we love it here. And I felt like we came home when we moved here a year and a half ago and the people are just amazing. The community there is community and I want to give back to people here also just in my community.
Moira: I'm just sharing with the audience that serena will be gifting to the first five people who subscribe rate and share her episode today, a copy of her book accidental Entrepreneur, all the links to how you can claim the gift and also to serena. If you have questions to reach out to her will be below in the show notes. serena, thank you so much for sharing from your heart and soul your wisdom on turning tragedy into triumph to embrace the destiny and entrepreneurship. namaste.
Serena: Thank you.
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