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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Thriving Solo: The Power of Focus and Networking

Updated: May 22

It can be scary to eliminate clients by niching down in your business. Executive Performance Coach Nicole Coustier shares her experience in the power of focus and how she niched down on a serious level. We also get into the important topic: Networking and the power benefits it brings beyond sales.

Notes from the Show

Nicole Coustier was a long time consultant before the company she helped build was acquired by a multinational firm. Her solo career in executive performance coaching at Aulerian Coaching is the result of a pivot in the way she wanted to do business.

Working in the med tech industry for many many years led Nicole to continue her path in the field with coaching and consulting. She shares her journey through the process of focusing and niching to change the way she does business. Nicole explains that finding your niche is about focusing on a series of levels. For her, Med Tech was the industry she wanted to stay in, but more so, she focused on only new entry start up companies and, beyond that, only companies that were focused on AI and machine learning. This process of niching can be put to work in any industry, and like Nicole shares, it doesn't happen overnight; for her, it took about 2 to 3 years.

"What’s your goal?" This is the question that guides Nicole’s networking style. If you’re trying to develop your business through networking, it’s a numbers game. You need to be doing a lot of no pressure interactions to expand the network. Additionally, you need to create priorities for connections that may eventually lead to business. Nicole also makes a great point about the surprise value and unique resources that can come from connections beyond just sales.

During our conversation, we discuss tips on what may be holding business owners back in niching down and how to move forward. Nicole shares her networking phrase that gets the most responsive, "Hey, do you have a few minutes? I want to pick your brain.”. She also has ideas on how to utilize your existing network AND expand it using resources like networking apps or LinkedIn features.

You can connect with Nicole Coustier on LinkedIn.

What's Inside:

  • The important power of focus and niche.

  • The process of niching down.

  • Mastering the Art of Networking.

  • Using your network for value beyond sales.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to stop the noise. Today, my guest is Nicole Coustier, who is a med tech startup advisor and also an executive coach Nicole it's so good to have you here today.

Nicole Coustier 0:52

Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to it.

Susan Tatum 0:54

I am too we've got a lot to talk about. We're gonna get into the power of focus and net and niching. Yeah, and then also networking. And you have a very fascinating story to me about how you, you ended up where you are now. So can you just take a few minutes and and tell us about that?

Nicole Coustier 1:14

Sure. So, you know, I was a consultant for many, many years. And in fact, the consulting firm that I helped build got acquired by big multinational firm in 2017, I did the whole thing, like the long hours the travel all over the country, that the consultants life, I did that for a long time. And when that company got acquired, I knew that I didn't want to work for a big multinational firm. So I kind of took the money and ran and, and decided to do something else for a while. And I pivoted to getting certified as an executive coach, I built a coaching practice. And then over time, I, you know, just being in an industry for so long, there's just like all my people over that consulting industry and I, for years, I got new medical technologies covered by insurance companies. And so I was in med tech, deep, deep, deep in med tech for so many years. And even as I was building my coaching practice, the people that I would engage with, and the folks in my network, were all from that industry. And so it evolved over time where I was, I was coaching, and I was advising on med tech, or people who would come to me for guidance on med tech related issues, but they were startup founders, and they needed a lot of support and a lot of coaching. So those things ended up blending quite a bit. But the reality is I didn't want to be exactly the kind of consultant that I was for so many years. And besides there were so there's so many consulting companies out there. So I decided that I really wanted to niche down and I wanted to find what was the particular thing that I was interested in? And where did I see that people needed the most help? And that's how over time I got more and more specific about the people that I served. So

Susan Tatum 3:27

So in from, from med tech in general to the startup world

Nicole Coustier 3:31

not only the startup world, but so yes, absolutely. The way I like to think about niching is you niche, like three levels down. So so if you want to be in the med tech world, that's that's one niche, you can't consult with everybody. Right? Okay, so we're gonna we're gonna do med tech, but even within med tech, it was, well, early stage startups, right, who not well established companies, but early stage. And then even within that, I have a profound interest in, you know, AI and machine learning applications and med tech. So I got even more specific, right. And so it is that process of being a coach and an advisor to these particular people working on these particular things in this particular industry that has kind of continued to capture my imagination there.

Susan Tatum 4:33

You know, and I liked what you said about you refer to it as a process. So you didn't just say boom, this is my niche. And then you did. So you've been doing this five or six years now?

Nicole Coustier 4:45


Susan Tatum 4:46

Is that right?

Nicole Coustier 4:46


Susan Tatum 4:47

So you if I would have heard you say was that you started off in men's hack pretty much because that's what you were doing for the last five years, you know, whatever, so why not? And you liked it and then And then. So over what period of time, were you getting tighter and tighter on your focus?

Nicole Coustier 5:06

It was, it was about two years. So at a two to three years, because, you know, it was something where I had been able to take some skills and experience that I had running multiple divisions at a larger organisation that I kind of took into my own my own consultancy, right. So I think I was less kind of running around just trying random things. And I was more a little bit more focused on, you know, running experiments, right. So if I were to try this for three months, or six months, let's collect some data, see how that goes. If that's promising, okay, maybe just keep doing it another six months, versus trying certain things in a coach coaching niche that really wow, that didn't go anywhere? Just just despite all my effort, right? I'm not going to throw good money after bad. Let's stop that. And let's build. So yes, taking that experimental approach was really helpful.

Susan Tatum 6:09

I think that's fantastic. That's a great way to put it, that it's an experiment, because, you know, this is one of the things that I find that my clients and other folks that I talked to have a really hard time with focusing and niching down and there's, you know, there's the fear factor that, you know, I'm gonna miss something, but I, but to the there is, there is I think you can, there is a reason to not try to be too focused until you have spent some time in the market and talking to the market.

Nicole Coustier 6:42

100%. Right, yeah. And you need to collect data, right? And the date should be meaning, right? So a lot of times what I worry, especially in the coaching industry is people pick a niche, and then they just go, but at the end of a certain time period, how are you going to know that it's working or not working? What are the criteria that you're using? What are the performance metrics, right? So to be able to decide that upfront, helps you make a really, really informed decision, whatever it is six months from now, I use six months, but you may use a year, whatever it is, right? You have to be able to know.

Susan Tatum 7:22

Yeah, you anticipated my question, and because that was going to be like, tell me more about these experiments. So you're deciding, can you can you like, Give us an example?

Nicole Coustier 7:29

Yeah. So, uh, So originally, I started with what people were coming to me about, which was career related stuff, right. And so I was coming out of the consulting for 16 years. And then I made this pivot. And a lot of people in my network, were asking me to say more about that. How did you do it? What did you do? Can you help me? How do I position myself? I'm trying to get into a totally different industry. Right. So I was more responsive to what people in my network were already asking for. And then when I decided, well, let's see if this is really my niche and started marketing outward. What I found is your career coaches are a dime a dozen. Like they're just all over the place. Right. And so then I ran an experiment where I said, Okay, well, what about this concept of pivoting industries? Right, is that is that something? So I tried that for a few months. And the profile of person that I attracted was people who were getting out of academia and wanted to go into industry. So I got a few case studies under my belt there. But that also didn't go anywhere. Because people there are as many people knew what the academic mindset is very different than a commercial industry mindset. And that pivot when I talked to a lot of potential customers, they were unwilling to do the work required for that pivot. And they said, Well, I'm just going to double down on academia, then that's fine. Thanks. Yeah. And so I those are just a couple of examples. And ultimately, where I landed, was decision making, because on all of these things, you have very smart, very educated theory capable people who make decisions every day. But then they come to that one decision where they feel stuck. And I was curious about what is it about that one decision that causes people to stop in their tracks? And it turns out that that doesn't have to do with data. It doesn't have to do with facts it does, it has to do with the emotional aspects, that particular situation. Okay. When I started to drill down on that, and I heard a lot of people talking about this particular decision feels so high stakes, it feels like really high consequence. And that's, that's where I like, because everybody's got that.

Susan Tatum 10:27

Is there? Was there any commonality among the decision itself? Other than it was really important to the individual?

Nicole Coustier 10:34

No, no. So bidding. Yeah. So everybody has their own version of the hang up. Right. So in the startup world, right, it's the high consequence decision is how am I positioning myself in order to secure this funding so that I can get the next round of work done? Right. And it just feels like, you know, if I don't get this then blank, right, and there's, there's a lot of catastrophic thinking there. There's a lot of like, what people are making it mean about themselves and things like that. So, so but in other situations, less so it's maybe not, it isn't about, you know, getting that next round of funding? Maybe it's about hiring the right people in that individual may be really stuck on that.

Susan Tatum 11:24

Yeah, especially if they're a visionary, and they're trying to hire a number two, I mean, you gotta make it happen. percent. Yeah. Yeah, that can be really tough. I just, I love the idea of running these experiments. And it sounds to me like you are taking us a length of time, maybe it's three months, maybe it's a month, depending upon the experiment, but you're focusing on that particular thing, and not letting all of this other stuff get in the way.

Nicole Coustier 11:53

That's right.

Susan Tatum 11:54

And I found that to be the fastest path to get an answer.

Nicole Coustier 11:57

a 100% because the point is the answer, right? After this timeframe, it's go or no go. Right. So how if the point is to make the decision on pursuing or pivoting, you have to be able to think in advance? Well, what are the data elements that I'll need in order to even make that decision?

Susan Tatum 12:20

Well, that is true

Nicole Coustier 12:21

you want to do is have the three months, the six months, the 12 months pass? And go? Well, I'm looking at this all all this data? And I don't I don't know what it means. Sorry, I don't know what it tells me or I don't know what to do.

Susan Tatum 12:34

Or why haven't I gotten anywhere? And it's a year later. Yeah,

Nicole Coustier 12:39

Right. Right.

Susan Tatum 12:40

You know, somebody said to me, I can't remember who it was, but And when we're on the topic of focusing or picking a niche, or whatever, and it was like, you know, what they said to me was, this is not a marriage decision that you can't, you can change your mind. And so I hope what the listeners are getting out of this is, pick something, focus on it for a little while, to your point, know how you're going to make a decision at the end of it. And, and just just do that, put all of your resources were of bandwidth, mental power, whatever, into that for a short period of time. And if it works, pursue it if it doesn't move on.

Nicole Coustier 13:16

right, right, and apply curiosity to the whole process, rather than achievement or, you know, fail or succeed or whatever. It's just, that's the whole point of the experiment, is the experiment will tell you what you need to know.

Susan Tatum 13:39

And there is no failing.

Nicole Coustier 13:43

No, no,

Susan Tatum 13:44

if you look at it that way. You went out to learn something and you learn something.

Nicole Coustier 13:46

That's right. And it's fine to start telling people that it's an experiment, right. I mean, that helped me out alleviate, a lot of the pressure that, you know, I'm exploring this, you know, I want to talk to you about it, I want to hear what you think I want you to do you want to be a data tester on this, like the concept of getting other people to participate in your experiment, and in your data gathering just puts a different spin on it, you know, psychologically and emotionally.

Susan Tatum 14:20

And I, it's the number one way to get conversations with good meaningful conversations with people, which is a great segue into talking about networking, or which one's item number two on the list of things that we're going to talk about. So you said to me when we first met that all of your most of your business comes from networking.

Nicole Coustier 14:41


Susan Tatum 14:42

this is a common theme that I'm seeing as I as I talk to more and more consultants that that's, that's where and I see it myself. That's where the good work is coming from this. So and if I remember correctly, you had said, you were doing networking, you're the consulting firm that you worked for, you were encouraged to build your own identity separate from the brand.

Nicole Coustier 15:08

That's right.

Susan Tatum 15:09

So talk to us about that. Because I think that's a big transition that folks have to go through when they come out of a corporate job, anything with a name brand, and then they're on their own

Nicole Coustier 15:18

a 100% I think there are a number of different term like buzzwords out there for this. So some people use the term intrapreneurship. You know, how do you build a brand identity within a larger organisation? How do you establish authority, thought leadership expertise within that larger organisation? And so yeah, absolutely, I was encouraged to do that. No, granted, I had been at the company for quite some time. But the thinking of the leadership and the company that I was in was, hey, if we can get Nicole to establish herself as a thought leader, as an expert, then we can say, look at this incredible expert that we have on our team. Right, it was win win. And so there was an incredible amount of support in, you know, if I wanted to get on the podium, they said, Great, get on the podium. If I wanted to publish articles, or like, please, please do it. Put, we want your name on the byline everywhere. And then in the bio, guess what she works for our organisation. And that was the stepping stone to once once the company was acquired, and I last typed, my name had some cachet in the industry.

Susan Tatum 16:46

So you didn't seal any? Any of that loss of the brand behind you?

Nicole Coustier 16:53

No, no. I mean, I might have felt different if I hadn't already been establishing my that, that intrapreneurship or my own brand for for a few years within New York

Susan Tatum 17:07

Right. Yeah. So what did you also tell me that you've had the opportunity to learn by a learn about networking? In your the consulting firm that you worked for with?

Nicole Coustier 17:15

Yeah, I, I was what I would call her wife read this, this term? The Reluctant networker. I was always told that I was good at it. And yet, it felt awkward. It was not my favourite thing. I tended to avoid it, unless it was absolutely necessary. chip business, or I had a you know, I was at a conference, what am I going to do? There is no other point to the conference, except to talk to people. Right. Okay. Well, yeah, so that was the way I learned. And, you know, I'll be honest, I, that my, the saving grace, so to speak, was that I had different styles that I could model off of.

Susan Tatum 18:08

meaning people, people that you knew that you could, or you were watching, what were they, tell us more about that?

Nicole Coustier 18:15

Yeah. So when you're doing this thing for the first time, and you have no experience doing it, or very little, this is just a human nature thing, you tend to look at people who are doing it and copy them just as a first pass, because your your frame of reference is zero or close to zero. So do what other people are doing. And the model that I had initially was headed was a person who had a very different personality than I did very different. And it felt unsuccessful

Susan Tatum 18:57

for you?

Nicole Coustier 28:58

He was following his model. And he was phenomenal. He was phenomenal. And I was acting out the behaviours that I saw in how he was being really successful. And I was not so much successful. Okay, but to be able to have other people that I could look at and see how they approached it. You know, there, there are a lot of differences sometimes and how men approach this versus women and to have female leaders and models in in networking that I could, again, experiment. Oh, go to this well, that I'll try her method. Ah, that feels a little bit more comfortable that you'd be getting more results from that. So I was I was lucky in that.

Susan Tatum 19:43

I, you know, I think when we try to do we, if it's an honest mistake, I mean, it makes sense to try to model after somebody else. But if they, as you said, have a completely different personality, then it feels it feels authentic to us. Yeah. And that's going to come off to the person that you're talking To say that you're not being authentic.

Nicole Coustier 20:02

that's right

Susan Tatum 20:03

So that's a sign that that pass. Yeah. And I think we all have to remember that sometimes what other people are doing is not working?

Nicole Coustier 20:11


Susan Tatum 20:12

If you're following the wrong person, good luck.

Nicole Coustier 20:14

Such a good point. Yeah. How do we know we can see the behaviour? But it's a separate question about whether we actually can observe the results, or we're not in their shoes. So we don't know the full picture. We are just this third party observer.

Susan Tatum 20:30

Yeah, I think you know that what pops in my mind with that is a lot like that with posting on LinkedIn isn't it? when we get too wrapped up and seeing these people that have got all these 10s of 1000s of followers? Or, you know, and we think, oh, gosh, they must be just killing it. And they're really not, they just have a bunch of followers?

Nicole Coustier 20:49

That's right. It's, you know, Does, does the number of followers actually translate to engagement? And does that engagement translate into the engagement that you want? Right? It like there are all these layers and these factors to consider? Absolutely.

Susan Tatum 21:07

So tell. Tell us more about your, your style of networking? Or how at how you go about doing it?

Nicole Coustier 21:14

Yeah, so to some degree, it depends on what your your goal is, right. So for example, if your goal is business development, you you want business, from your networking, this is a numbers game, to some degree, right. And so whether excuse me, whether I'm on LinkedIn, or on these networking apps, where I matched with people, it's not a thing that I do, like once a month, that that's not going to, that's not going to give me enough opportunity, right. So of the number of people that I can potentially engage, there's a small percentage that would where there's an A needs and an offer match. And then of those, there's a smaller percentage, where we would move to a proposal phase or an initial engagement phase. So it's, it's like, it's just a numbers game. So if you're trying to get business from networking, you need to be doing it. You know, I meet random people on networking apps at least three times a week. So I'm meeting at least three new people a week, and I'm just exploring what they're doing. How, what are some of the challenges that they're, they're dealing with and working on, we're doing brainstorming, I'm getting to know them, it's actually super no pressure, pressure, I just do it to break up my day and hear what other people are working on. That's it. And so that's kind of expanding the network. But even people within my network, we're all busy. We're all busy. But if it's a priority, to eventually get business from these people, you have to be top of mind, you know, so to be able to have three or four meetings a week with people in your network, just to touch base, what are you working on? Can I help you with anything? I wanted to tell you about this new thing I'm doing whatever it might be? How's family? Especially if you've known them for a long time, right?

Susan Tatum 23:19

you use the word eventually, eventually leading to business. And I think that's a that is a a key word. Because if we focus too much on finding somebody that's got in an existing opportunity, we will miss a lot of very good people to talk to, and some of whom will become really good clients. And, you know, the way that I, the way that I look at calls that I have with folks is if day, maybe there'll be a client, maybe there'll be a referral partner, maybe there'll be a strategic partner, maybe they'll just be interesting, and have some good ideas to contribute to my thinking, and all of those are a win to me, that's a that's a good way to spend time

Nicole Coustier 24:06

a 100% And you just never know, until you have the conversation. Right? And so, you know, I met, I met somebody who, uh, through one of these networking apps, who was a music producer, who's based out of Nashville, I mean, there is no overlap, right industries or whatever. And he gave me a resource about hiring super efficient, beautiful way of hiring interns. And I was, you know, exploring hiring interns for the first time this summer. And, you know, whatever, I was gonna Google it and figure it out and get somebody and he's like, No, the system is beautiful resources where I get all my interns throughout the year. And I did that and who could have predicted that when you read that guy's book profile, my initial reaction would be, and this probably wasted time.

Susan Tatum 25:05

Yes. And how often are we wrong about that? What you mentioned networking apps. And I assume you're not talking about dating apps? What are you? What are you talking about when you say, a networking app?

Nicole Coustier 25:20

So there are resources out there, like one that I've used on and off for a number of years is called Lunch Club. And the idea is you fill out a profile, there's an AI algorithm that, you know, matches you with people based on your goals, and, you know, keywords in your profile, things like that. And based on your feedback, so every time I meet somebody, they, they may be lovely people, and it might have been a beautiful conversation, but to be able to provide feedback and say, that wasn't a good match for me. Yeah, given that I'm trying to drum up business, you get to so provided, so you have to train the algorithm a little bit so that it can improve your matches. But there there are things like that out there.

Susan Tatum 26:14

I have no idea.

Nicole Coustier 26:15

And yeah, yeah, it again, experiment, right. you know, you have to see what works for you. Well, so

Susan Tatum 26:20

somebody's looking for that. What do you what do you just Google networking apps? If you have social networking apps or something like that?

Nicole Coustier 26:27

Yeah. And reviews. And again, this is, you know, talk to people in your network? How do you meet people that engage with people, I also, I invest in Sales Navigator LinkedIn. And I will run searches for people, I'll reach out to them. And I'll say, Oh, I just noticed that there's some overlap, I would love to meet you and talk to you for 20 minutes, you know, no rush, no pressure, otherwise, I'll just follow you. I'm interested in what you're doing. And yeah, people will break up their day just to talk to somebody new and, you know, it's 20 minutes, it's no pressure. So there's a very kind of manual process around that as all that as well. But it, you know, be it has to be deliberate. And it has when your schedule,

Susan Tatum 27:15

I think that starting with your existing network, or a networking app, where you're there for that particular reason is the is the I find it the easier way for people that are new to networking to get started, because you've got friendlies in here. Right. And there's already a trust factor and, and they will, they will talk to you if especially if you go to them for help. Or research or anything like that people or I find her are pretty good to do that.

Nicole Coustier 27:46

Yeah. The the, the one phrase that has always gotten the biggest return in response is, hey, do you have a few minutes? I want to pick your brain on something. People respond to that like crazy, right? There's a tip. Yeah, there's an element to I don't I don't know if there's something in the in the brain or it's about human nature. When when somebody wants your opinion on something, or somebody is approaching you as knowing more than they do. There's, there's this or the or just the ask for help.

Susan Tatum 28:18

Right. It's an ego. It's an ego boost. I mean, there are there, there are psychologists and the neuroscientists have said, There was a study that was done at Harvard, I think, in 2016, or something that found that when we talk about ourselves, we get this like, dopamine, sort of

Nicole Coustier 28:34

Yeah, right. Yeah. That one line has been the biggest response rate from anything within the existing network. Yeah.

Susan Tatum 28:46

I'll have to experiment with that one. Yeah. Well, there's I have lots more to ask about. But we're running out of time. And this has been great. I, I've got two pages of notes from it. And I hope the listeners will get the same thing from it for anybody that wants to follow up with you. What's the best way to do that?

Nicole Coustier 29:05

LinkedIn is is the easiest way I have websites and people can find find me participating in various things in the startup world. But LinkedIn is kind of that single point of contact. And the only Nicole Christine on there, so they should be able to find me.

Susan Tatum 29:22

And that's c o u s t i e r

Nicole Coustier 29:24

You got it.

Susan Tatum 29:26

Thanks so much for being here.

Nicole Coustier 29:28

Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was a fun conversation.

Susan Tatum 29:29

fun and educational.

Nicole Coustier 29:33

How wonderful.

Susan Tatum 29:34

have a great day.

Nicole Coustier 29:35

You too, Susan.



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