Kim Stewart is a good listener. That’s critical to building a positive business culture that promotes diversity and inclusion, she says, and it’s a skill she’s sharing with fellow entrepreneurs through her new practice, Athena Coaching and Consulting.
Stewart moved to Colorado Springs from Iowa two years ago, with three decades in the nonprofit sector under her belt. In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she found herself out of work.
Several people suggested she should take the opportunity to start her own business. So in August, she started Athena.
She works mostly with owners of companies with 10-100 employees, helping them strategize, grow and reach their goals.
“The business leaders I work with may be very good leaders, but they might not know that much about structuring their business or aligning everything toward their vision for where they want to take their business,” Stewart said. “Those are the people who I’m super excited to work with.”
Stewart connects with the community through the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, where she serves on the program committee, and through the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce. She’s also a member of Leadership Pikes Peak’s Signature class of 2020.
She spoke with the Business Journal about Athena, how she draws on her nonprofit experience, and her plans for the future.
Talk about what you do with Athena Coaching and Consulting.
I offer coaching. That can be for any size business, but it tends to be something I do primarily with smaller businesses. So that’s business coaching on how to align their business, executive coaching on how to be a good leader, a good supervisor or a good executive, and then I also do wellness coaching. I believe that in order to be effective and a good leader, you need to also be mentally and physically healthy. So I work with executives and business leaders on helping them reach their health and wellness goals.
I also do consulting, and I prefer to do that with leadership teams. So usually a little bit bigger businesses will fall into that category really well. In that regard, I work with teams of business leaders to educate them on some really simple tools that they can implement in order to get all of their business processes and systems moving in the same direction toward a common goal.
I also offer other services, like helping with meeting facilitation, designing trainings and helping with staff development. But my two biggest projects are coaching and consulting.
What’s the No. 1 concern small business owners typically bring to you?
Generally they come to me because they have a goal. They want to grow by some percentage — let’s just say 30 percent. That’s usually the impetus. They have something they want to get to and they don’t know how to get there. Generally, in talking with them and listening to their situation, I learn that there’s what I call ‘issues behind the issues.’ They want to grow, but there’s usually an issue behind it. Sometimes it’s personnel issues, maybe there’s someone who’s creating some roadblocks, or they may have an inability to hold people accountable. Maybe they don’t have the right processes or the right systems, something like that. So that’s really the issue. Then we drill down on what those issues are and put into practice some simple tools to help them move past those issues and get to where they want to take their business.
What skills from the nonprofit sector are helping you in your new business?
Working in the nonprofit sector is being a business leader. It’s just a little bit different, so some people don’t think of it that way — but it’s absolutely running a business. On top of that, you’re also doing fundraising and managing a board and providing impact on critical social needs. My background from working in a nonprofit business where resources are really tight gives me a bit more creativity when it comes to problem-solving than other for-profit businesses might have to rely on.
Additionally, I have supervised people for over three decades, and what comes with that is a real keen sense of how you create a good structure for people to be successful, how you hold people accountable to that structure, how you reward, how you challenge people who need more challenges, how you help people along who might need more help getting where they’re going.
I bring a wealth of staff leadership, volunteer leadership and for about the past 10 years I also supervised executive directors in my roles that I had. So I helped execs in formulating whatever their vision is for their center and putting a plan into place for how they’re going to structure that, and then aligning action plans with their goals and where they’re going.
A third thing to add to that is, I’ve done massive amounts of work on developing listening skills and creating a training plan for how to train staff to be good listeners. And then creating this whole structure and using really intense, effective listening to help create positive cultures to help improve diversity, inclusion and equality, and to help with problem-solving. So that’s something that I’m super proud of and I think that it’s had a lot of impact on me personally, but also on my ability to help others.
What brought you to the Springs?
I’m originally from Iowa; my husband and I both are. We grew up there. I was in Illinois for about 10 years working in nonprofits with the YMCA, then I moved back to Iowa to be closer to my parents as they were getting older. Then we decided, we always vacation in Colorado, why not try living there. So we moved out here a little over two years ago. We just love it. My husband rides motorcycles, so he loves going up in the mountains. We ski, we bike, we love being outside. We enjoy hiking, all of that kind of stuff, so that’s been really great. We have two teenage children. They seem to enjoy it out here; they’re enjoying the outdoors with us. So that’s who I am. I’m very active. I love running and biking, just about anything you can do outside.
What are your other interests?
I actually have kind of a side hustle that I’ve had for several years now. It’s in home improvement. I have a Facebook page called “I Paint Stuff.” I paint things — like I’ll paint flowers on tables and refurbish furniture. We moved into an ugly house when we moved here because it was very rushed, so we’ve completely painted the entire interior and exterior. That’s something that I really enjoy, along with reading and art in general.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m still ramping up, so I have a website. It’s athena-coco.com. I built my current website myself, so I’m working with a professional to give it a facelift. I’m also taking some classes on how to grow your business and that sort of thing. Right now I’m in growth mode. I foresee I’ll be there for a year or two, until I get it to the point where I want it, and then I’ll look at next steps.
Another piece that I’m working on is developing a course on developing listening skills to promote diversity and inclusion. Teaching classes wasn’t necessarily the direction I intended to go, but I think it might be a nice piece to add to what I’m doing. So my more short-term goal is to get that going some time within the first quarter or second quarter of this year.