As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Gemma Bonham-Carter.
Gemma Bonham-Carter is an online course strategist and digital marketer who has helped over 5,000 entrepreneurs and hundreds of students launch and scale their businesses. She believes in simplicity, with a focus on building scalable, sustainable digital businesses with a long-term vision and effective strategies that don’t rely on traditional working hours or social media fame. With her two signature programs, Course Creator School and The Passive Project, Gemma coaches clients on how to monetize their ideas using online courses and digital products.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My career path has definitely not been a straightforward one! After getting both my undergraduate and master’s degrees in public health, I worked for various not-for-profit organizations in fields like global health research, sexual health, and local public health planning. But despite advancing up in that career ladder, I always had some kind of creative side hustle going on. After creating and monetizing a blog platform in the home decor niche, I was asked to speak at conferences to other bloggers and content creators around how I did it. The response was incredible! I loved answering questions and teaching, so I launched my first digital offer — a course for bloggers. And from that first program, I fell in love with the online education industry and digital marketing. I realized I was meant to be an educator, which was actually no surprise to anyone who knew me. I have now launched more than seven courses and digital offers, built a half-million dollar company, and helped over 6,000 students.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting story was simply how my business came to be. I didn’t have any intention of building an information-based business, creating educational resources, or providing coaching for entrepreneurs, but I continued to be asked to speak at conferences and events for bloggers and online entrepreneurs. It was after one of those events where I got a hand-written card in the mail from an attendee who told me how much my talk had impacted her that I finally saw this as a new path, that I saw the potential and that my natural skills and leadership qualities were all leading me here. And that one note sparked an idea, which led me to build out the business I have today. Funny how sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t really believe in mistakes. I think every wrong turn is just a lesson that we can learn from. What’s funny to me now is just looking back at all the different things I tried and businesses I started, which in some way or another, all helped shape what I eventually built. I have done everything from selling handmade crafts at local markets, to decorating weddings, to building websites for small businesses. You name it, I’ve tried it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have a rather unexpected person to thank for giving me the fire, drive, and sheer determination to build my business, and that is my daughter. When she was born, I knew I didn’t want to go back to my traditional nine-to-five career in public health. She was the catalyst for me to really make that leap. I wanted a thriving business that allowed me to be in control of how I spent my days, and that’s exactly what I built.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
For me, it comes down to breathing. Whether I’m about to lead a team meeting, give a presentation to hundreds of students, or hop on a coaching call with a client, I always start by taking some deep breaths beforehand. Just ten breaths takes me out of that “fight or flight” response that we can often have when we are stressed, overwhelmed, and busy, and brings me back down to the earth. It sounds simple, but it’s my best piece of advice!
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
One of the core values of my company is around inclusion, diversity, and creating a welcoming environment for clients and students of all races, sexual identity, and ability. There is a lot to learn — I think I will forever be learning and trying to more deeply understand systemic racism and how it’s built into our society, culture, and upbringing. Now, we regularly bring in experts in this space to learn from — for me, my team, and our student communities. I feel excited about the momentum of the movement that’s happening and see a lot of online business owners getting more vocal about their values and putting them into practice in their businesses. Wherever possible, I aim to use my platform to help raise the profile and voice of marginalized groups. I think together we can create a lot of really positive change.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think one of the things that I am actively trying to adjust in my business, and we have been working on this with our students and clients as well, is around accessibility. This can take a lot of different formats. It means being accessible in how we present our content online. For example, we just brought in an expert to speak on how to create a web presence that is available for those who experience disabilities of any kind. It also means being accessible in the pricing of our products. It means having things like scholarship opportunities.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive needs to be a visionary and see the direction of where the company is ultimately moving. You can have other leaders within that company, but they wouldn’t necessarily have the same vision and big picture thinking as the executive.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the myths of being a CEO of a half-million dollar company is the notion that you no longer do any of the “on the ground” work in the business or that you are now removed from the customer. I think it’s incredibly important to maintain touch with my audience and customers, to really hear and interact with them, so I can continue creating and building the best programs and products to help them succeed in their businesses. When CEOs start to get too out of touch with what’s currently happening in their industry, that’s when some of that magic gets lost.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There are so many barriers for women that we see everyday — being passed up for opportunities, a judgmental attitude toward women CEOs, a lack of respect, an immediate questioning of authority, and more. And what makes it more unfortunate, is all of those things can have a detrimental effect on a female CEO’s confidence.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought by this point in my business I would feel like I had it all figured out. But the truth is, as your company and your team grow, you are still the same person on the inside. Who you are at your core doesn’t change!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think that someone who is comfortable with being uncomfortable, knows how to take risks, can command attention, has a warm sensibility, and is someone people naturally want to follow makes a great executive.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think it’s really important to understand your team members, what their natural skill sets are, and what lights them up. If you can make sure someone is well matched to their position, you’ll have less friction, a better product, and a smoother workplace all around. I have also found it really helpful to have my team members take some personality tests, like the Enneagram and Myers Briggs, so that I can get a sense of their natural inclinations. It also allows us to navigate more challenging situations, or get them into a role that will be best suited for them.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My business revolves around educating, supporting, and mentoring others in creating their own businesses that they can use to change their lives and leave an impact. I believe in the ripple effect, and I know it’s a big one.
I also like to use my business as a vehicle for raising money and attention for causes I care about. We have donated thousands to organizations and movements that work in areas like poverty reduction, education for girls, homelessness, and anti-racism.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t worry about having the “end” figured out. The journey is fun.
2. Get visible. The sooner you get comfortable putting yourself out there, the faster the success will come.
3. Network. Don’t feel like you need to hide or reach a certain level of success before you can make friends in your industry.
4. Stay focused. Natural born entrepreneurs have a thousand ideas, but the ones who can stay focused on making ONE a success, see those results faster than those who are scattered.
5. Be you. Don’t get tempted to fall into what others are doing, or change who you are to fit a mold. Stay in your own lane and do what your gut and intuition tell you to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
One day I would love to have an arm of my business that supports marginalized women around the world who want to create and build a business. Offering loans, education, and mentorship to others around the world would be incredible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is short. You only get one chance. Break the rules!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them