Sydney Biddle Barrows was born into a prominent American family, who came over on the Mayflower.
Her grandparents on her dad’s side of the family lived in a huge house in the poshest part of Philadelphia. But finances were tight growing up because her parents were divorced and she lived with her mother’s family, in New Jersey.
Her trust fund paid for her to attend a top boarding school as a child. But by the time she was 18, the trust fund had been completely used up. So, instead of attending an Ivy League university, she went to the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Her first job was in 1975, at an old department store.
She was fired from her next job because she refused to participate in a kickback scheme.
She needed money and when a friend confided that she was answering the phones at an escort service in Midtown Manhattan, she decided to join her.
She quickly realized that she could do a better job than her boss. She hated how he exploited the women who worked for him (as well as his terrible taste in clothes). And she began to imagine running her own escort service.
One day she simply walked out and launched her own service, called Cachet. The name was intended to filter out the kind of men who couldn’t pronounce it!
Women who wanted to work for her were told to attend an interview dressed as if their grandfather was taking them to lunch.
She called her employees “young ladies” and took them on trips to Saks and Macy’s. She told them to read Time and Newsweek. She told them to drink only wine or champagne. She told them to wear only elegant outer garments and risqué underwear.
To attract rich and powerful clients, she would place subtle adverts in the International Herald Tribune with the line, “We’re not for everyone.”
Cachet did so well that she added a new even more expensive option, called Finesse.
You’re always selling an experience
Sydney understood behavior and she understood psychology. In a business where her competition could charge almost nothing, she only had one price: very expensive.
Sydney understood that her customers weren’t paying for sex (they could get that for free). They were paying for an entire experience.
Sydney understood that she wasn’t in the sex business. She was in the fantasy business.
Cachet’s clients included high-powered business executives, foreign diplomats and Arab sheiks. It ran from 1979-1984, until the day the police broke down the door with a sledgehammer and Sydney was arrested.
She plead guilty to a misdemeanor and served no jail time. And then she wrote her story, The Mayflower Madam.
There is something so powerful about understanding the business that you’re really in, that it was called the outstanding business book of the year by Fortune magazine and it was added to the curriculum at Harvard Business School.
Don’t sell sex. And don’t be a coach.
Coaching is an extraordinary profession. You get to make a massive impact on people’s lives, businesses and relationships. You get to leave a real legacy and help your clients do the same.
But that doesn’t mean you need to call yourself a coach.
In fact, I put it to you that you’re not in the coaching business.
As Hugh MacLeod said, “Don’t be the best in the world at what you do. Be the only one in the world who does at you do.”
Instead of defining yourself by what you do, try describing what your clients need. Or explain a counterintuitive truth that you believe. Or tell people the title of the book you’re writing. Or share a secret fear of your top clients.
When someone asks what you do, get creative.
Here are some of the ways members of 4PC (my community of extraordinary leaders and coaches) answer that question:
- Mandy Lehto: “I was a director of an international investment bank with a PhD from Cambridge University, when my little child asked, ‘Mummy, are you going to get dead?’ I coach over-achieving (and often burnt out) high level executives.”
- Christopher Maher: “I’m a former Navy Seal and Olympic athlete. I’ve spent two decades studying Chinese medicine. My clients are entrepreneurs and even billionaires who want to strip away years of deep stress and trauma.”
- Shelley Paxton: “I’m the former CMO of Harley Davidson and my book, Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel’s Guide to Finding Your Best Life, will be published this year by Simon and Schuster.”
- Teo Alfero: “I’m a military veteran, the founder of a Wolf Sanctuary and a shaman. I’m also a CEO whisperer: I share the wisdom of years of working with wolves to help leaders awaken their intuition and live more authentically.”
- Townsend Wardlaw: “I’ve been a Vice President at a Fortune 500 company. I’ve helped hundreds of entrepreneurs grow and successfully exit their business. I help leaders answer the question that’s driven them their entire life: What’s next?”
- Danielle Macleod: “I was a director at Europe’s leading media company, where I was responsible for over 10,000 people. Now, I’m building a movement of 10,000 remarkable women.”
- Jen Gresham: “I’m a former leader at the High Performance Wing of the Air Force. I’m raising $100 million dollars to change the future of work. I coach leaders who have world-changing ‘Moonshot’ projects.”
- Mark Silverman: “Too many men and women have it all but still feel unfulfilled. I generated over $90 million in complex tech sales in the corporate world. I had the suits, the watches, the cars, the million dollar homes but something was still missing… I coach senior executives to Master Midlife, so they have success and fulfilment.”
- Helen Appleby: “I’m the former VP of a billion dollar corporation, so I know the challenges women face in the corporate world. I teach a course called, ‘The Unwritten Rules of Women’s Leadership’ to help women executives navigate corporate life with power and grace.”
- Jenny Calcoen leads our Source Team at 4PC: “I was the right-hand person to a family of billionaires. I worked for an asset management company that I took from $5 billion to over $6 billion of assets under management, in under 15 months. I’m an expert at creating things that don’t yet exist. What do you want to create?”
What business are you in?
I love sharing resources and books that I love. Please note that the links in this article are my affiliate links. If you prefer not to use my affiliate links you can search for any of these titles directly where ever you purchase your books.
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