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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 10, 2016 2 years ago

Gone girl

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Traci Bild stepped down as CEO of Bild & Co. in 2013 to write a book. She wanted to chase her passion. She instead learned a major life lesson.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Executive Summary
Company. Bild & Co. Industry. Health care consulting Key. Rediscovering passion can take some big detours.


Tampa health care entrepreneur Traci Bild is a huge believer in setting goals and maintaining a positive mindset.

But in using her drive and ambition to accomplish a major publishing and marketing feat, outside of her initial business success, Bild lost her way — a million-dollar mistake. Now, in the mold of “be careful what you wish for,” Bild's story of lost passion and redemption is a cautionary tale for other go-getting entrepreneurs and executives.

“You believe the grass is greener on the other side,” Bild says. “But I almost lost my grass.”

'Hunger of growing'
Bild was CEO of Bild & Co., a Tampa-based senior living and health care consulting firm that doubled revenues every year for four years with Bild at the helm from 2009 to 2013. It grew from $1 million to $3.5 million in annual revenues in two-and-a-half years.

But the 45-year-old CEO was burnt out. “I wasn't challenged anymore,” she admits. “I was bored and I missed the hunger of growing.”

As she deliberated whom to hire as her chief operating officer to support the growth, Bild recalls a couple leaders at the firm started to worry about titles. The team environment felt like it was slowly crumbling. “People were losing sight of who we were,” she says. “It started to squash my passion for my own business.”

At the same time, Bild wanted to pursue another passion: teaching women how they could embrace being both a mother and a successful businesswoman, and how they could pursue their life's passion. She had toyed with the idea for a book, “Get Your Girl Back,” for at least 10 years. In 2013, Bild a mother of two kids, was ready to do something with it.

Bild groomed someone to take over as CEO of her company and she stepped down. She maintained 100% ownership of the business.

“Get Your Girl Back” was Bild's third book. But it was the hardest one to write because the story was so personal. She hired a coach to help her get over the anxiety of sharing her private life, all her mistakes and failures.

The publishing process took almost a year. Bild's agent in New York told her she had to get on a national television show and find a celebrity forward for her book to score a publisher. Though she accomplished both, Bild decided to self-publish. “We got to No. 11 on Amazon not knowing what we were doing,” she says.

The first six months after she turned in the book were great. Bild was booked with speaking engagements to prep for her book release. Organizations and companies nationwide hired her for talks and presentations on the Get Your Girl Back movement.

Surprisingly, the day she was interviewed for the Today Show was a turning point for Bild. Sitting with hosts Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb, talking about “Get Your Girl Back,” and how Bild got her girl back, should have been a banner-day success.

Turns out Bild didn't enjoy the publicity. She missed her company. She missed her clients.

“Over the course of the year, I knew something was massively wrong,” she says.

There were also more tangible problems. Bild & Co.'s bank accounts ran low. The company's profit and loss statement was a mess. Perhaps worst of all, the company lost its identity, Bild says. What she built as a “rebel entrepreneurship” culture, she says, turned corporate with more of a “policy and procedure mindset.”

“I'm a strong woman; I know how to make things happen,” Bild says. But during this time, she felt powerless. “I lost my girl when I was trying to help the world find theirs.”

Back to the grind
Last August, on the day Bild's book was released, she was on vacation with her cousin's family in Cape Cod. It was there she decided she needed to reassume her role as CEO of Bild & Co. “I need to save this company,” she says.

Bild came back in full force. She turned departments around, which included letting go of some employees. She split the company into three divisions: sales and service training, client marketing, and mystery shopping, to help measure customer experience for clients. Bild & Co. works mostly with long-term care providers such as assisted-living facilities and memory care centers.

She made 90-day visions and focused on executing. After two years of poor earnings, Bild and her new chief operating officer, Jennifer Dixon, turned the company around in six months. The CEO Bild hired when she departed for the book, Seth Garber, left the firm. “We greatly appreciate his service to the company,” Bild says in a statement last summer.

Her book, “Get Your Girl Back,” meanwhile continues to sell in the top 1,000 on Amazon, despite Bild stepping back from promoting it. In the last couple weeks she decided to hire a firm to place Facebook ads to continue the success. Bild accepts Get Your Girl Back speaking engagements about once a quarter, but is selective about the organizations.

And Bild & Co., which dropped from $3.5 million to $2.2 million in annual revenues, is on track to hit around $3 million this year, Bild says.

Bild has tried to convince herself she wants to keep the business small. Yet she's recognized she can't help herself. Her five-year vision is to reach $10 million in annual sales.

“It's in my blood. I love the challenge,” she says. “I love growing companies.”


Lessons Learned

Tampa health care entrepreneur Traci Bild left her firm to write a book about woman empowerment. She missed the business and quickly got back in it. Here are some lessons she learned about what she calls her “million-dollar mistake.”

Greener grass: Radical changes have downsides. Now, when Bild feels anxious, she's learned to be mindful of how thankful she is for her employees, for the business and its national presence.

Must balance: Be strategic about growth. “Bigger is not always better,” Bild says. A good leader knows how to make time for life and a good work/life balance.

Master mind: Bild is part of Mastermind group, a peer-to-peer mentoring organization based on concept from “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill. Members challenge each other to become better executives and better people, Bild says, and like other executive groups, direct sales aren't allowed.

Remain active: Bild realized she disconnected herself from the business toward the end of her first CEO stint. “CEOs are never walking the floor — they're removed,” she says. This time around, Bild won't let herself lose touch of client interactions, playing all the roles from troubleshooting to selling.

Vision critical: Be hyper-specific about what motivates and drives you. “When you hit rock bottom and when you're trying to figure out how to claw out of the pit of hell, I really had to do a lot of soul searching and work on my business,” Bild says. Finding clarity on “who we are, what we serve and what my goal was,” says Bild, was how she regained control of her company.

Reputation management: Bild was honest with her clients about her departure and return. She went out and met with them and admitted, “Look I was fried,” she'd tell them. “I'm back and never stepping away again.”

Step away: Bild now escapes the day-to-day for at least an hour each week to be objective and evaluate her strengths, weaknesses and gaps. That's advice she learned from the book “The E-myth,” by Michael Gerber.

Get help: Bild cold-called a CEO of a hospitality training firm she admired. She told him she respected his business and wanted to pick his brain about how he brought it global. “You have to have the courage to reach out and model,” after other businesses that are successful, Bild says. “You're all facing the same challenges.”

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