When Izabela Wlodarska first moved to the UK, she had no idea the sort of leadership path she would end up on, or that the pandemic would inspire her to launch a business. Nearly two decades in retail fuelled her passion for working with people. Now, she’s embarking on a whole new mission – helping managers embrace conscious communication.
We sat down with her to have a chat about the path that led her to this point. Take a look at how her management experience and the time spent on our Catapult course allowed her to envision a whole new future as a portfolio professional.
We’d love to hear a bit about your background. What were you doing before you started your portfolio career?
I’m originally from Poland. I moved to the UK 17 years ago to join my then boyfriend (now husband). I didn’t really know what I was going to do or how long I was going to stay, so I tried out a few different jobs. I worked in retail for 13 years, starting off as a part-time sales assistant and quickly moved up to a managerial role.
Last year, I made the decision to start coaching and launched my own business as a communication coach. That’s when I stumbled across The Portfolio Collective and the Catapult course.
So what made you decide to make the change to a portfolio career?
Over the years in retail, it felt like something was missing. I liked working with people and I liked the buzzing and unpredictable environment but I knew there had to be something more.
I made the decision to leave after the first lockdown. Seeing what was happening in retail at the time, completely threw my values and beliefs. I needed the time to step back and look at myself – to disassociate myself from what was going on and see things from a different perspective.
I’m actually laughing now, thinking of what I’m doing as post-retail therapy. I use everything I’ve been through and everything it taught me to organise programmes that will hopefully support retail managers and middle chain managers facing these challenges in a difficult time.
Now that you’ve moved into quite a different space, what’s surprised you the most?
In retail, you don’t have much time to think; you act. It’s like you’re that hamster that’s always running on the wheel – it doesn’t stop. Suddenly, I was the hamster that jumped off the wheel, but the wheel was still going. I felt really lost. I’m sure I will be telling a different story soon, but I wish I would have thought that through a bit more and not been led by my emotions so much.
You really need to give yourself time to think and plan, and you need to check-in with yourself. I’m a people person and I love working with a team, but I made the decision to work on my own. I was suddenly doing everything myself on a limited budget – from putting the programme together to marketing.
The best decision I made was joining a coaching group – it gave me support and guidance so I could actually manage on my own. Being an entrepreneur is a completely different mindset.
Checking in and finding ways to hold yourself accountable is very important. But what about building the foundations of your business? You very recently completed our Catapult course. How did you find that process?
Catapult was the blueprint that I needed for my portfolio career. I can only regret that I stumbled upon it so late. If I had had this step-by-step guidance back in October last year, it would have saved me from a lot of unproductive time.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my coaching. I was a newly graduated business trainer with a little bit of strategy around running a workshop. But I had never been taught the business side of things.
Catapult was such a great holistic approach to setting up my business. It gave me the mindset I needed to make this fun and really helped me see things from a different point of view.
The part I enjoyed most was creating my why story. I thought I knew my why, but going through this process made me dig even deeper. I was discovering things I never considered and that changed my thinking on what I could do in the future.
You also took part in our Branding Masterclass. How did you find the process of telling your story and discovering your why in a different environment?
I knew there were a lot of emotions connected to my why. I just needed to know where it was coming from. My belief about working hard and always giving 100% came from my upbringing. I remember my grandmother telling post-war stories about what she’d been through and that’s why I wasn’t surprised that my dad grew up with a similar belief system.
I thought hard work was my asset. But then I realised I had been pushing my beliefs onto the people I work with. I couldn’t understand how people didn’t share the same values. I thought this was my biggest gift, but it turned out to be a struggle to get others to share it. It was a straight path to burnout. I lost my motivation, and thought maybe I needed to work for a different brand. But I quickly fell into the same mistakes at my new job. I didn’t want to let go of the experience, so I kept persisting. It was a vicious cycle.
It all changed when my husband convinced me to do a business training course. My approach to employees and people management completely shifted. I realised I needed to care more for people and less about results. It all started with my own awareness – in terms of leadership and communication. That was the key element that I was missing. I didn’t know what I wanted and I hadn’t checked-in with myself.
I love the idea of learning from other people’s mistakes and I think people can easily learn from my mistakes. For me, it all starts with communication – my communication towards myself and towards others. Applying the elements of the training I did was a game changer.
It’s inspiring to hear how you can help so many retail managers with coaching and training. There’s a big need for the work that you’re doing.
Simon Sinek actually refers to what I went through as ‘managers in transition’ because you transition from being a member of staff to being in charge. You have to be responsible for the people you work with, not do the work yourself. It took me a long time to figure this out. I was so eager to please people that I’d let them off and do the work myself. That was my path to burnout.
My work now focuses on supporting managers in transition. When people are promoted, they see an increase in money and power. Whatever the reasons are, they need to be willing to take the responsibility that comes with the job. From my experience, a lot of people are not.
So what are your next steps towards building this coaching business? What would be the dream scenario?
It’s a lot of fun letting your imagination go wild. Since Catapult, I realised I need to be really honest with myself. Even after sharing my story, I see the emotion and passion behind it, but there’s the business side I need to think about.
When I first ran with the idea of conscious communication coaching, I thought absolutely everyone needed this. I needed to not only narrow down my niche, but I was also looking for the authenticity in my messages. That’s why I focused on coaching in retail management.
Going forward, I want to clarify my messaging, who I am, what I am doing and how I can help. I’ve started my own company called Have An Impact. I want this to be a platform not only for myself as a communication coach but also a collaboration space for any coaches that want to work together and build bespoke training for our customers.
At the moment it’s just me, but this is the future I envision – a platform where I can invite coaches from multiple industries and backgrounds to come together and create the best possible experience for clients.
I’m also getting qualified as an NLP practitioner and I’ve already implemented a lot of that in my training.
What advice would you give someone just starting out on their portfolio career?
Check in with yourself, be authentic and remember not to be driven by your emotions. Even though the work environment can be uncertain, you can still do it – you can still run a side hustle and start a business over time, but remember to plan how you will support yourself financially.
If you don’t get the results you want, this is not failure. You’re probably much further than you would have been if you never started. It’s all about planning and experimentation. Trust yourself, but be prepared.
Feeling inspired by Izabela’s story? It’s never been easier to build and sustain a portfolio career – you just need the passion and skillset to get started.
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