An Interview with Founder Alison Martin on Fostering an Inclusive Environment
Meet Alison Martin, a female entrepreneur and founder of Engage Mentoring. Inclusive workplaces start with inclusive leaders and the power of inclusive leaders is to help their people build the mindsets and behaviors that create belonging. Alison Martin has developed a first-to-market software for mentoring that offers a scalable platform to help companies eliminate the logistical challenges of mentorship and dramatically boost the organizational benefits realized from effective mentorship programs.
Mentoring can help leaders and individuals survive and thrive in the current tight labor market and foster an inclusive environment in their organizations.
Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us in your words, about your inspiring story? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
A: Sure! I believe we all have a story and I am always fascinated to hear how people got to where they are. I actually had a very challenged background. I was a runaway and legally emancipated at 17 and became a single mom at 18. Despite this, I was fortunate to be the first in my family to go to college and had a pretty successful early career. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Business Management at the age of 24. At the age of 29, I was appointed the Executive Director of a nonprofit and responsible for a multi-million dollar campaign and working with a 23-member board of directors. At the age of 34, I decided to start a nonprofit with the aim of helping women at all stages of their careers. In developing the nonprofit, we desired to construct a mentoring program, so I contracted a developer to create a software platform to serve the needs of the nonprofit and realized the software had other applications. Since 2015, my company has been primarily working with companies to provide mentoring opportunities to employees to help them develop as leaders.
What made you decide to go into business for yourself?
A: I was following a passion of mine. As I look back on my life and career, having mentors was so critical to my own development and I recognize I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for people who saw my potential and poured into me. The work I do today is something I was called to do.
When did you know it was time to become a full-time entrepreneur?
A: Honestly, I had gotten to a place where I didn’t look forward to going to work and didn’t feel like I was able to fully contribute my talents, so I decided to step out on my own. At the time, I decided to give myself a year to see if I could make it. That was more than twelve years ago and I have never looked back.
What are 3 podcasts you can’t imagine your day without? Why those three?
1. “Do the Work” by Sabrina Zohar which is about the journey and importance of inner healing as it relates to outer relationships.
2. “We Can Do Hard Things” with Glennon Doyle because it reminds me of the grit and tenacity it takes to be successful.
3. “The Mel Robbins Podcast” because Mel is always full of practical tips for self-improvement.
What are your top 3 mobile apps that help you stay organized and on top of your game?
Strides is my favorite app to track the habits I want to adhere to each and every day. I also love the “Yoga Studio” app for yoga anywhere. Finally, the “I am” app sends me motivational messages and reminders throughout the day.
How do you use social media in your business?
I primarily use LinkedIn because that is the best audience for our B2B products and resources.
What social media platform is the best for business growth and why?
We have the most success with LinkedIn. I have found it to be the best platform for sharing our expertise and engaging in meaningful dialogue with our audience.
How did you market your business when it was brand new?
Almost 100% of our business has come from referrals and this is even true to this day. We have found referrals from our existing clients are the best way to land new clients and have built our business on that.
We all face challenges, but looking back, what have been some of the biggest challenges and pitfalls you’ve had to navigate?
So many! I think the biggest challenge has been learning how to capture metrics to prove the ROI of our product. It has been a continuous process of improvement and continuous development of our software platform in order to meet the needs of our customer base.
Can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from your successes and failures in business?
I think the biggest lesson I have learned is to make sure you have the right people in the right seats. I have made the mistake of creating roles based on the skill sets of the people we had hired rather than honoring what the business truly needed.
What are the three most important habits to be a successful entrepreneur?
In my opinion, the three most important habits are spending time working on the business vs. in the business, exercising good work/life balance, and taking care of your people.
What is a typical day like for you?
I start my day with prayer, meditation, and reading before looking at my day ahead and my to-do list. Most of my meetings are on Zoom currently, although I am starting to be more intentional with in-person meetings. I work from home most of the time and enjoy the companionship of my puppy, Charlie, in between meetings throughout the day. We usually try to get out for a walk during the day because being in nature benefits us both. Most evenings are spent writing articles and catching up on administrative tasks and preparing my to-do list for the next day.
What routines do you follow each day?
As mentioned, my routines include daily reading, prayer, and meditation as well as yoga and being out in nature (weather permitting).
How do you prioritize self-care and well-being while managing the demands of your business?
Great question! The Strides app has helped with this tremendously and I have a pretty good handle on the daily habits that help me feel grounded and able to meet the demands of the day and minimize stress.
How do you boost your self-esteem in moments of doubt?
I remind myself I can do hard things.
What advice would you give your younger self when starting this journey?
I often reflect on the things I wish I had known when I first got started, but my advice would be to let go of fear. It took me a long time to recognize the areas I was holding myself back in because of fear.
What advice would you give to a new business owner?
Get a mentor. Find someone who has done what you are wanting to do successfully and shortcut your learning.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why?
Bootstrapping my business. I have funded my business thus far through customer acquisition. This is not for the faint of heart and not for everyone, but definitely consider this an accomplishment.
What initiatives or actions do you believe are crucial for fostering a more supportive and inclusive business environment for women?
I think it begins with intentionality. Making sure your leadership team is diverse is key to helping women see a path. Affording mentorship opportunities is also critical to help women see a path. Not just women mentoring women, but making sure access to relationships is a part of the culture for all employees.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?
I learned early on I needed to advocate for myself and make my career goals clear. I once had the experience of having to defend my desire to be promoted to a role that required travel based on the fact that I had children. I believe powerful assumptions are often made about a woman’s desire to advance in her career if we don’t speak up for ourselves.
Which female leader do you admire, and why?
There are so many, but I immediately think of Michelle Obama. Her books are excellent and I had the good fortune of getting to hear her speak live and was just blown away by her wisdom and her incredible spirit.
How do you leverage technology and innovation (like AI) to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving business landscape?
Our team does a good job of helping us stay relevant. We are just learning to harness the power of AI to aid in some of our marketing and messaging.
Can you share any specific examples of how you have successfully built and maintained strategic partnerships or collaborations?
We are actually at the very beginning of building channel partnerships with other B2B firms, so check back with me in a few months.
How do you set your business apart from others in your industry?
We are the only mentoring program that offers external mentoring, has full training and certification built into our software, and fully administers the program on behalf of our clients. We also have a “give back” program to allow college students to participate in our Aspiring Leaders program at no cost to the student or the educational institution.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that inspires you?
“Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.”
Want more inspiring interviews? Read about Angela Gargano’s Guide to Meaningful Entrepreneurship, or read Make Money Your Thing. An Interview With Kalee Boisvert, part of our interview series spotlighting successful women in business.
Melissa Stewart is the founder of SheOwnsIt.com. She is a Purveyor of Possibility, Entrepreneur Advocate and Coffee Addict. She believes that behind every successful woman is her story. What’s your story?