Fiona Gilligan will tell you she is a typical entrepreneur; an abrupt catalyst in her life lead to an opportunity to start her own business, despite no formal business background or training.
But Fiona Gilligan is anything but typical. First, she is female. Second, she sold her business after 12 years to a Canadian firm in the trauma industry. And although we read about these types of deals everyday, they rarely happen to entrepreneurs, and even more rarely to women.
I have had an amazing career doing good and making a lot of money doing it
Fiona worked tirelessly to build her trauma and crisis counselling business The Trauma Management Group. By working hard, having a passion for her work, and acute business savvy, she built the company up to 250 consultants and became the dominant leader in Canada for trauma counselling.
I don't know how not to be an entrepreneur
More importantly, Fiona was able to disrupt the market and change the rules of the industry; something typical of entrepreneurs. In Fiona's case, she abhorred the thought of providing immediate, 24/7, mobile crisis management to people in need, and then presenting them with an invoice. Instead she brokered an agreement to send the invoicing directly to the Insurance companies; alleviating the burden invoicing placed on victims. "I could not build a business model around victims receiving bills," Fiona explains. "And I took the 10% loss on those families that didn't have insurance. My only concern at the time was to stabilize people, get them back to work or ensure they were surrounded by a support network and never isolated," she adds.
I didn't know anything when I started in business
Additionally, Fiona brought immediate 24/7 mobile crisis management to the industry, something that had not been done before. "Doing business this way meant I became good at working at a high and intense pace. I was always on," Fiona reveals. "But being young is the best time to make your first million," she encourages. Without the constraints of a spouse or children Fiona believes you are able to focus solely on the business. "My workday started hours before anyone else," Fiona adds. "It was the price of doing business."
I live my life like it's the only one I have
At 30 years old Fiona had a successful trauma management company and shortly thereafter met her ex-husband. She had her first child at 37, her second at 39 and had sold the company by the time she turned 43. "Choose your life partner well," Fiona advises. " Fun and exciting doesn't do diapers at 3am. It doesn't support your work and your success. I couldn't be the breeder and the bread winner," she confides. Divorced since 2005, Fiona is now a single parent raising her 10 and 12 year old girls.
I didn't come from money
After the sale of her company, and her divorce, Fiona retreated to the Laurentians for 3 years with her girls to ski, relax and enjoy life. But she quickly grew bored. "I moved back to Ottawa to pursue other business opportunities and speaking engagements. I love speaking - it's the best combination of doing good and making money," she announces.
Making money is more beneficial than being given money
Always an entrepreneur, she now also sees the necessity of being an advocate for female business owners and entrepreneurs . "My mission at this time in my life is to get my girls to the next level. To use my knowledge to help my girls see being an entrepreneur as a viable career option." And, she adds "to find love."
It's not just her own daughters she wants to inspire and reach. I have been a witness to her efforts and passion to reach the average girl on the street. Fiona wants to encourage these women to build their own careers, one that allows them to be financially independent, to have a network around them to rely on and to build their own ecosystem. "I want to inspire, inform and teach women, " she enthuses. "To reach those girls and women with no business experience, no money, no luck and no connections. To give these women the confidence, self-esteem and ability to do it on their own. Essentially, educating girls to save them. It's the Girl Rising movement." she adds.
Life is the best teacher of business, not a MBA
"This is the essence of Female Founders," Fiona adds. "And one of the motivating factors for my book Confessions of a GirlPreneur. I want to bring together groups of successful business women to mentor and influence women and girls about being an entrepreneur and starting their own business. My book includes stories about life, love, business and babies."
If you think you don't have the right education or enough money to start a business, Fiona explains, "the bootstrap model is the right model for business success. It makes you learn every aspect of your business - office space, human resources, software, management - all of it. And you learn from your mistakes. Life is the best teacher of business, not a MBA. And doing these jobs is essential as your company grows; you know the requirements for these positions." And she adds, " It's important not to have ego as an entrepreneur."
When you give back, you get more
Currently running Arranmore Holdings, a real estate and property development company, and moments away from moving into her newly constructed home, Fiona will never rest on her laurels. "I don't know how not to be an entrepreneur," she laughs.