Storytelling with Jill Nelson for "30 Days - 30 Voices - Stories from America's LGBT Business Leaders" [Podcast] Skip to the content

Storytelling with Jill Nelson for "30 Days – 30 Voices – Stories from America’s LGBT Business Leaders" [Podcast]

Jill-Nelson-30gayvoicesExpert Interview with Jill Nelson of the INUS Group

Portland, OR | Vancouver, WA

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AUDIO TITLE:  30 Days, 30 Voices – Jill Nelson

Jenn T Grace:

Welcome to 30 Days, 30 Voices: Stories from America’s LGBT business leaders.

Intro:

You are listening to a special edition of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. Tune in for the next thirty days as we interview one business leader per day, each day in June to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride month. You’ll learn insights around business and marketing from those who know it best. And now your host. She’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

Hello and welcome. Thank you for tuning into this special Pride Month episode of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. Information about today’s guest and links mentioned in the show will be available on the website at www.JennTGrace.com/30days30voices. If you like what you hear in this interview, please be sure to tell a friend. And now, without further ado, let’s dive into the interview.

Okay let’s get started. I am excited to be talking with Jill Nelson today, founder of the INUS Group which works with individuals, teams and organizations to create powerful lives and dynamic relationships. She is also a community leader actively working towards LGBT equality issues through business, marriage equality and youth issues. She also spent over a decade as an ordained minister serving congregations in three different states. Jill, I have given the listeners a brief overview of who you are but why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your business and what your path looked like that led you to where you are today.

Jill Nelson:

Well I’d love to do that Jenn. I have what many might consider a very convoluted path. I started out many, many, many, many years ago- I’m not even going to elaborate how long ago because then you’d know how old I am. But my undergraduate degree was in Accounting, I started out with, and it didn’t take me long to realize I really didn’t enjoy Accounting and switched to business management. And over the course of the next fifteen or twenty years, I got an opportunity to really experience retail management, business consulting, working several different industries. Eventually reached the point where I felt as though business work was two dimensional. I didn’t feel as though I was really doing everything I wanted to make the world a better place, and that kind of led me into the ministry. I spent, you know as you noted in my introduction, a good ten or twelve years working with congregations wanting to help people really in touch with their whole life experience, not just their work experience. And help people then realize their full potential. But after twelve years in ministry I discovered that I missed business. I missed creating things. There were pieces of ministry that just didn’t resonate well for me, and I met someone who was a couple’s coach. Met them through a church group that I was co-facilitating for couples. And I discovered the world of coaching. And that opened up just an amazing, amazing world to me because it allowed me to work with people in all the parts of their lives, not just their spirituality, not just their work environment, not just their relationships; but to look at everything the way it interconnects and how things come together and help people create their whole lives. And that started me on the path of coaching. You know I went to a wonderful coaching program that gave me some really powerful insights into relationship systems, business systems and how people function within all the different systems of their daily lives. I found that to be so empowering and so fascinating that I began working with people one-on-one and working with couples. Eventually that got me back into the business world, and I discovered that what I really enjoy is being in a business environment, being even in a not-for-profit environment where I can work with individuals and teams and help them create the kind of world they want to create, create the kind of business they want to create, make the kind of changes that they want to make, and it’s very inspiring for me. So that’s what got me to the creation of INUS Group; an opportunity for me to really create a coaching and consulting company that brings all the pieces together for businesses, for the people running those businesses, for the people that those businesses touch in their everyday existence. Whether they’re for profit businesses, for benefit businesses, or not-for-profit organizations.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s a really interesting path, and I wouldn’t necessarily say convoluted as you did but definitely an interesting journey and that’s kind of what we talk about here is where- how your past experiences are impacting what you’re doing today. And we’ll talk about a couple of those things momentarily, but before we get into some more of the serious questions I would love to know just one fun fact about you that very people know or would expect.

Jill Nelson:

Well I think one fun fact is that despite the fact that I’ve lived the last thirty plus years in large, metropolitan areas, I actually grew up in the country. My parents had ten acres of land on the edge of a small Midwestern town, and I had the benefit of having my own horse. And you know when we were kids, the neighbor kids would play cowboys and Indians in the fields behind our house and it was like hundreds of acres. And we had real horses.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome.

Jill Nelson:

Yeah, so that was kind of a very unique way to grow up. I had a lot of freedom, and spent a lot of time just me, my horse out riding, there was a state park behind our house that had over 2,000 acres with horse trails. And I spent a lot of time, sometimes by myself just out enjoying nature. And I still love to be able to do that to get away, spend some time alone, to hike, to just be outdoors.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s good stuff, and of course your neck of the woods which is in the Portland, Oregon area, it seems like it’s the prime location for all of those activities.

Jill Nelson:

Yes, it’s just making the time to get away.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes, absolutely. So let’s talk about your business and what you’re doing now, and as I alluded to in the intro you are very active in the LGBT equality movement. So what is, or what was your ‘ah-ha’ moment when you realized that either being an entrepreneur was the way- it was the path for you, or when you realized that LGBT equality issues were something that you were meant to be doing in your life?

Jill Nelson:

Gosh. I have been involved in the LGBT community in some way or another long before I went into ministry. When I was in Des Moines, Iowa working on my MBA at Drake University, my girlfriend was head of the gay and lesbian group on campus. And you know back in the eighties I marched in my first Gay Pride Parade. So I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in my adult life really where I haven’t been an activist. I came out relatively early, especially for someone living in Iowa. And from Drake, you know I graduated, I moved down to Texas, I was active in the community down there. Then moved to Kansas City, was very active in the community there, marched in parades and did a lot of different work. And by the time I got into ministry I was in MCC which is a predominantly gay denomination. So as a minister I was active in some of the referendum work in Florida, we did a lot of door-to-door knocking in Miami Dade, and we were working for non-employment discrimination law. I did work with the aids community in that time period. I was- gosh I was involved with the Broward Gay and Lesbian Youth Group for several years as one of their adult advisors. I can’t imagine a time in my life when I’ve not been active and involved in the community. It’s not- it’s not even a question for me of ‘if,’ but ‘what.’ Where do I want to be involved? What issues are pressing? Where can I make the most difference?

Jenn T Grace:

Very interesting, and since you gave a little bit of a recap of where you have been, what is your current involvement in the community, specifically with PABA, if you want to elaborate on that a bit.

Jill Nelson:

Well I can. I am the Executive Director for the Portland Area Business Association, which is the LGBT Chamber of Commerce for the Portland, Oregon and the Vancouver, Washington areas. And for those of you who have been following the marriage equality movement, you know that we now can get legally married in the state of Washington. So that has seen a lot of my time and energy in the last year, and PABA has been privileged to play a part in that. But as a business chamber, a lot of the work that we do is to create general awareness to help people understand the impact that the LGBT community has economically, socially and to really create a space where we can work together to make a better world. To make equality just part of the fabric of our community. And I think that’s a critical role for PABA to be engaged in, in whatever ways that we can. So a lot of the work I do as Executive Director is simply to put a face on the LGBT business community, and to be a spokesperson about how important that part of our community is, and the overarching community.

Jenn T Grace:

So what inspires you and keeps you motivated to continue doing what you do each day? Knowing that you are actively involved in so many different areas. What is that motivated, underlying motivation that just keeps you moving?

Jill Nelson:

It comes down to impact. I like being able to see the impact of what I do, and that’s true in my business. You know when you work with a business owner and you help them really see out of the weeds of what’s happening right now. So it’s so easy in life for us to get buried, what is it, up to our neck in alligators shall we say. And to be able to work with a business owner or with a team and get them to step out of that overwhelmed space and to see the big picture and to chart a path that really creates for them what they want to create, and help them see that it’s possible to create that. They just need- they just need the roadmaps, they just need the stepping stones to be able to be the facilitator of that is most exciting, and I love seeing people succeed in that way. So for me, helping people create what they want and envision what they want to create is really empowering.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s great, and that’s one of those motivators for myself as well. So that’s interesting. My next question is along business advice. And as somebody who gives out business advice, I’m curious to know what is one piece, or maybe two or three depending, pieces of advice that you were given around business. Like what is that one thing that just resonates and stands in your head?

Jill Nelson:

Well you know what, there’s two things. I’m going to talk first about some of the best advice I have ever been given, and that was the advice I got from my coach. Being a coach I of course believe strongly in coaching, and my coach has always encouraged me and reminded me of all that I’m capable of. So to be able to do that for other people I think is really important. One of the main pieces of advice I give to my clients is I remind them that the most important thing is to set themselves up for success. All too often we have a tendency to not do that for ourselves. We dream big, but we don’t put the pieces in place to make those dreams real. And we don’t think through all the key steps that need to happen. And the end result is that people set themselves up for failure. So I always tell my clients, ‘What is success for you? And how can we set you up so that you achieve that success?’ More than you’re capable of, not less than you’re capable of, but that sweet spot that you know you can do if you just reach a little bit. All too often we think about that we want to create amazing things and we equate amazing with impossible. Well when we do that we only set ourselves up for failure; we need to think of amazing in the context of what is possible and how do I cause it? So.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really valuable advice. Let’s see. So switching gears away from business now, I want to talk about marketing a little bit. As you may know, and as the listeners may know, this podcast is primarily geared around business and marketing advice, and with the specific niche of LGBT. So for listeners who are looking to market themselves to the LGBT community, do you have any specific advice to give them that you feel would empower them to be successful?

Jill Nelson:

Well first and foremost, be yourself. One of the key pieces of the LGBT community is being true to who you are, and being open and accepting about who you are. And my experience with most LGBT people is that they don’t like to work with people who are phony. They want to know you. They want to know what you’re like, what you care about. They want to know that you’re like them. So if you are also LGBT, well that’s just like a natural common denominator. But even for some of our straight allies, I would say don’t try to be gay, be yourself. Be honest about who you are and how you are in the world, and how important equality is to you in your context. And that’s going to open up more doors for you in the LGBT community I think than anything else.

Jenn T Grace:

I would absolutely agree to that, and one of the things that I’m continuously talking about either on my blog or on the podcast itself, is being authentic and being transparent. Because that is what the community is looking for, and at the end of the day if you’re a company and you’re being fully transparent in what you do, then it’s very easy to engage and do business with you. But if you’re running a company that is being shady or is doing things that are actually going against the LGBT community, and then kind of trying to cover it up, then that’s a sure fire way not to get business from the community.

Jill Nelson:

I agree wholeheartedly. There’s another thing that I would like to add as well, and that is work with people you enjoy. There’s a natural tendency in business to think that you have to work with everybody, and that you have to like everybody and everybody has to like you. And I don’t think that’s true. I think being a piece of niche marketing and finding your niche, is to find the people that you connect to naturally, the people that you attract, and the people that you enjoy. Because those are the people that you’re going to have the greatest rapport with and create the most amazing things with, and generate the best results with.

Jenn T Grace:

And at the end of the day if you’re spending all of your time, or the majority of your time, in business whether it’s your business or you’re working with somebody else; you want to surround yourself with people that you enjoy. Because it will just stress you out if you’re surrounding yourself with people who may not have the same beliefs as you, may just be those negative Nancies in the crowd. You know at the end of the day you want to make sure that you’re doing what’s best for you, and I completely agree with that whole statement you just made.

Jill Nelson:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So as an LGBT person, and as an LGBT business owner, how have you been able to leverage that status in the context of either selling your business, or selling yourself? Or being a certified business, or anything in that area. Have you really been able to leverage that status as an LGBT person?

Jill Nelson:

I don’t know if leverage is quite the right word, but there certainly is an advantage in some way, and I think it goes back to what we talked about in the question before, about being yourself. I have been out for so long. You know I’m in my fifties now and I’ve been out since I was twenty; that I don’t know how not to be out. I don’t even filter anymore, should I say something about my family, should I say something about my wife, should I say something about my daughter. It just doesn’t even come up for me. So there’s a way in which- that first of all that’s so freeing that you don’t- I don’t have to filter, and I don’t want to filter. And once you step into that kind of a space you naturally select the people you’re going to interact with. So it might be that my LGBT status really defines who I engage with, and if that’s an advantage, well then that’s an advantage. I find people that I have common experiences with, I have common areas of connection with, and that creates some really great opportunities for me. I don’t want to be everything to everyone. There are people, there are businesses that I work really well with, and there are businesses that I don’t work really well with and that’s okay. There are other coaching and consulting companies out there in the world that probably would be very good matches for them, and I’d be more than happy to make recommendations. So you know when it comes to LGBT certification, I think that that has just been one more door into a world that I function very comfortably in. Because I’m- as a certified business, meeting often with other certified businesses, and those are the kinds of businesses I enjoy working with. I enjoy working with businesses who want to work toward equality and who want to engage with certified businesses. So those- to me the certification, whether it’s a woman-owned business or an LGBT-owned business, or a minority-owned business; simply says that that organization cares about equality. They care about diversity. And that’s already a common, shared ground that we have. So it’s easier than to engage with an organization like that.

Jenn T Grace:

That is such a great way to frame certification, because that’s something that is talked about this blog and podcast quite frequently, is you know what exactly LGBT certification is, or any other minority designation for that matter. And that’s such a great way to frame it, so thank you for that.

Jill Nelson:

You’re welcome.

Jenn T Grace:

So let’s see. As we’re nearing the end of our interview, I have a couple more questions, and one is around tools. Is there a specific business book, or a program, or any type of business tool that’s just really transformed the way that you do business?

Jill Nelson:

Well there are three things I’m going to talk about. One is a book that I read pretty early on in the business coaching part of my career. And that’s, ‘The EMyth.’ If you can’t afford a business coach, and if you can’t afford a lot of things and you want to start a business, read ‘The EMyth’ first. Because it puts so much of the dynamics and the challenges of being entrepreneurial in context. And I often recommend it to my clients and people who are thinking about starting their own business. And a lot of the clients I work with very often are business start-ups, small businesses, you know in the first five years of either existence and ten employees or less. I think the other thing that really has been helpful for me is the coach’s training that I took in relationship and organizational systems. Because very often we have a tendency to look at the details and miss the big picture, and the coaching training I received really helped me look at the whole system and look at the big picture, and look at how things work together. And that has been- that has given me a wonderful toolkit to work with. Individuals and business partners and teams. And then I think the third tool is one that I developed myself called ‘AIM’ that I use when I’m working with my clients to move beyond just creating SMART goals, to implementing and achieving and reaching SMART goals; and that’s been a real helpful tool for me, not only to give to my clients but to keep myself on track. I find myself constantly having to do the elements of ‘AIM’ which is Assess and Implement and Measure. And very often in the hands-on day-to-day work of running a business, or running an organization, you forget that that process has to constantly be going on, you have to constantly be assessing what’s happening and figuring out how best to implement your goals, and then really taking the time to measure results. And when we don’t do those things that are critical business activities, or critical organizational activities, we tend to veer off course. We tend to not achieve the things we want to achieve or reach the goals we want to reach. And that’s just been a really powerful tool for me that I continue to find new ways to apply.

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely. And I remember when you shared the AIM process with me, it’s absolutely valuable, and I don’t know if that’s something you’d be willing to share with the audience, but every one of these interviews has a blog post that goes with it that I provide links to information that’s talked about, or resources that are available. So if that’s something you’re willing to share I can throw that up there as well.

Jill Nelson:

I certainly can do that, yes.

Jenn T Grace:

Excellent. And when you were talking about ‘The EMyth,’ that’s a book that seems to come up in conversation with a lot of people that I’ve talked with. And I personally have not yet read it but it did make me think of a book that you recommended to somebody else who then recommended it to me, and I believe it may be somebody who is a member of your chamber; or has some sort of involvement, and that is ‘Evolutionaries Transformational Leadership.’

Jill Nelson:

Yes, Carmen- I’m drawing a blank on her last name. And she has spoken at our chamber, she is in the Portland area- she’s not a chamber member, but she’s a wonderful ally to the community and a really great consultant. She’s done some really good work and it is an excellent book.

Jenn T Grace:

And I actually have it on my Kindle right in front of me, I will butcher her last name if I even attempt to say it. But I will include it in the links. But when I read that book, it truly changed me. And I don’t say that often about things that I read because I read a lot of books, and I’m constantly trying to improve myself. But there was something about that book that just made me feel like I wasn’t the only person who was crazy enough to have that mentality of really striving in chaotic environments. So you know what I like to do best is take something that’s kind of a mess and put it together, build the structure, build the foundation, grow it to a point and then kind of just walk away. And you know that’s my time when I get bored, that’s my time to leave. And that book really outlines that type of personality, and I am so incredibly grateful that it was recommended by you.

Jill Nelson:

Yes, it’s a great book and I can see the way that you work, that that book really does resonate with how you function in the world, and the particular gifts that you bring to a work environment; you’re very good at moving the evolutionary process along, and bringing value and meaning out of chaos.

Jenn T Grace:

Thank you for that. So the last question I have, is what is one thing in your business right now that is just super exciting for you?

Jill Nelson:

I love working with boards. Board of directors. And I think it’s probably one of the secret reasons why I got involved with PABA. In so many different environments in the not-for-profit world, the church environment, I have ended up serving on and working with boards of directors. And I’m finding myself- from the position I’m in now, having the opportunity to do some consulting work with boards. And I really enjoy it. They’re a type of team that very often comes together and doesn’t get the guidance, the structure, the systems that they need to perform at optimal levels. And unfortunately that has such a negative impact on organizations that a good board can truly make an organization. And an ill-equipped or an uninformed board can literally destroy an organization. So I think one of the things that I’m enjoying the most right now is being able to work with boards, work with leadership teams; I just find group dynamics very interesting and while they’re challenging, they’re very powerful and very effective. Moreso than one person can be alone. I think there’s just such a great potential in creating effective functioning teams and boards.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s great to have people such as yourself out there who feel that way towards boards, because I find that boards can be a sense of- a place of frustration for some people, and also a place to grow and really develop their leadership skills. And I find that people in your line of work are really valuable to make sure that those boards are functioning at their peak performance. So that’s fantastic. So before I let you go, first I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day; I’m sure you are super busy. But I would love to give you the chance to give yourself one last plug, and let people know where they can find you.

Jill Nelson:

Oh my goodness. Well you can find PABA on Facebook as well as on our website which is www.PABA.com. You can find INUS Group at www.INUSGroup.com. And I think also my Twitter handle is @INUSGroup, you can find me there. You can find me under Jill Nelson on LinkedIn. I’m pretty much all over the place.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s a good strategy.

Jill Nelson:

Yeah, I try. So- and I’m always willing to talk with people, if you’re interested in learning more about what I do, you can email me at Jill.Nelson@paba.com or J.Nelson@INUSGroup.com; both will get to me.

Jenn T Grace:

Excellent thank you again so much, I appreciate you taking your time out of your day for this and hope to talk with you soon.

Jill Nelson:

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

Jenn T Grace:

Thank you again for listening to this special Pride Month episode of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. To see a full lineup of the thirty guests featured throughout this series, visit www.JennTGrace.com/30days30voices. And if you liked what you heard here, consider leaving a review in iTunes or telling a friend or colleague. You can do both of these easily by visiting www.JennTGrace.com/iTunes.

Thanks again, and stay tuned for the next interview by another amazing LGBT business leader.

Want to see who else is being interviewed for this Pride month project? Check it out here – 30 days – 30 voices – Stories from America’s LGBT Business Leaders

This podcast episode originally aired in June 2013

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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