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MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT MICHELLE COYLE DISCUSSES THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED BY QUEER ENTREPRENEURS


Michelle Coyle, owner of boutique management consulting and executive coaching firm, BGSD Strategies, specializes in helping queer-owned businesses grow.

While queer business owners experience many of the same challenges as other entrepreneurs, they also encounter additional difficulties.

“Navigating through life as a queer person, we have to think about things other people don’t,” Coyle says. “We have to think about basic safety walking down the street.”

These added challenges, Coyle explains, means queer business owners are often dealing with past and present trauma that prevents them from fully diving into their businesses.

“We don’t cross the line of being psychiatrists or therapists,” Coyle says, “But if you were bullied as a kid and that is stopping you from putting yourself out there, we have to talk through that.”

Coyle works with clients all over the country. Some of them live in more conservative rural areas and are just now coming out in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

“Because it’s so terrifying where they live,” she explains, “So that is going to add that layer of complexity to anything, and if nothing else, just take up a certain amount of your psychological capacity.”

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When working with a client, Coyle’s goal is to not only determine the problem with a business, but also the root of that problem.

“We talk through what’s going on with them,” she says, “because a lot of times it’s stuff coming up from childhood…A lot of times [we’re limiting ourselves due to] experiences we had or stories we told ourselves from childhood that we’re still telling ourselves thirty years later.”

Most of the time, Coyle says, her clients are hesitating to push their business to the next level due to fear. Sometimes this fear is related to being queer, but other times it is the same kind of fear that afflicts most entrepreneurs—fear of failing, of disappointing their parents, or fear of hiring someone to take on the work they cannot do themselves.

Sometimes, Coyle says, it is even fear of success, as with success comes fame and with fame comes criticism.

“A lot of stuff will come down to mindset issues,” she says. “So we do mindset work with entrepreneurs.”

Entrepreneurs often end up in what Coyle calls a “mental rut,” irrationally telling themselves they can’t do something or that something is impossible. Coyle works on helping them change that narrative in their heads.

For some queer entrepreneurs, though, Coyle knows that coming out and running their business as their authentic selves is still not safe.

“I’m not discounting that a lot of these people are still in dangerous situations, but we have to look at, are you truly in danger right now or is it your childhood brain? We examine the facts as they really are today, and if you really are in danger, we’ll protect you.”

She may, for example, help a client who is not comfortable opening a business in their own town find different marketing and sales opportunities online.

Coyle is also careful to never tell someone if and when they should come out, whether to investors or anyone else.

People place a different level of importance on whether they want investors to share their values, Coyle says, and she supports them no matter what.

“When we talk about leadership,” she says, “We talk about authenticity and transparency and we talk about how much easier it can be, even though it’s scary, to attract the right people we want to attract. If you’re scared to come out to somebody, is that the person you want investing in your business or should we do more work to find somebody you’re not afraid to come out to?”

According to Coyle, helping clients learn to value who they are is as important as teaching them the business skills. “Making money is a side effect of how we treat ourselves,” she says, “and how we let others treat us and what kind of boundaries we are setting, and what kind of expectations.”

One of the biggest lessons she teaches her clients is to not fear failure. “I’m constantly telling my clients, entrepreneurs fail every day [in small ways]. “The only way to really fail is to quit doing this.”

Michelle Coyle is the Founder and President of BGSD Strategies.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on February 18th, 2020.