First an engineer and then a stay at home Mom, Debra Fine experienced a life transformation that led to a new career. After shedding 70 pounds and experiencing a painful and complicated divorce, Debra found herself a single mother with two small children and no income. With a renewed sense of self awareness after the weight loss, Debra literally began to watch and listen to people and study their conversations. A self described awkward and dorky youngster who excelled at school but not with interpersonal skills, Debra evolved into her authentic self and found her pearl within.
A Shift in Fortune
Her reinvention started with listening. It occurred to Debra that before she lost the weight she wasn’t listening to herself and succumbed to all the naysayers in her life. With a new clarity of purpose, Debra was motivated to earn money to provide for her kids who were three and five at the time. She happened upon a job posting for Colorado Free University, an adult continuing education annex in Denver that was looking for a teacher to facilitate a course on small talk.
The formerly shy and tongue-tied “enginerd” was now going to teach others how to communicate effectively in a variety of situations from the board room to the office holiday party. Her first class enrolled 6 students and the next class attracted 20 students. Word spread and soon there was a waiting list to get into Debra’s small talk class. An enthusiastic student asked if she could condense the course into a 60 minute talk and present it at a conference she was organizing and Debra’s shift in fortune began.
Doing It All
That first public speaking engagement led to others and Debra also worked as a trainer to build her brand and make ends meet. Her scrappy nature and willingness to make face-to-face connections, as well as cold calls was the key to her success early on and still today. “If you are not willing to sell you, then you will not be successful.” according to Debra.
Even though her career as a public speaker and trainer was gaining momentum, Debra still had to juggle the realities of raising two small children on her own. She worked nights and weekends when she could have babysitters watch her kids and she made phone calls during their nap times to secure future engagements during the day.
After dealing with the reality of no income and a mere pittance for child support after the divorce, Debra learned valuable lessons about how to invest her earnings in her future. The kids were the number one priority and she was diligent about finding opportunities to promote her business for free.
A New Meaning to Boot Strapping
Subscribing to her philosophy of not spending money until you earn it, Debra was creative in finding ways to grow her business. She joined the Rotary Club 18 years ago and became very involved in the organization. She had passion, an interest, and the energy to serve the organization which empowered her to spread the word about her business. Debra has spoken at Rotary meetings nationwide and is currently the President Elect of her Rotary Chapter in Denver. By getting involved with an organization like Rotary, Debra became connected to decision makers who helped her move forward with her business plans.
Do What You Know
Debra learned early on that it’s best to start cultivating relationships with people and organizations you know. Today, her bread and butter engagements come from engineering companies, law and accounting firms as well as connections from analytical minded individuals she worked with during her tenure as an engineer.
Debra has credibility with this audience as an engineer and most analytical types are in serious need of small talk coaching so it makes for a perfect union. Developing this media hook and special sauce gave Debra a unique niche market in the industry that has served her very well. She established her Denver based company, The FINE Art of Small Talk to teach professionals of all stripes the knack of conversation.
She Speaks and She Writes
Soon people who heard Debra speak began asking if they could buy her book and in typical Fine fashion, she taught herself the ropes of self publishing. She learned the valuable lesson early on that if you know you can do something yourself – do it yourself! And so the writing journey began.
Self publishing is becoming very main stream today but when Debra first launched The Fine Art of Small Talk, she earned her way over the self publishing hurdles with grit and determination. Distribution was paramount for sales and Debra learned so much by doing it herself that her future plans include authoring a book on self publishing.
Ever tenacious, Debra published the book on her own after multiple rejections from national literary agents. She turned her negative responses into a positive by once again taking control and doing it herself. She began selling books at her speaking engagements and eventually through Amazon and steadily sales spiked. Soon the traditional publishing houses were calling with offers to reprint the book under their name for a lucrative contract. But Debra also learned the fine art of negotiation and did not take the first offer. She later secured a sizeable contract from Hyperion who remains her publisher to this day.
Results from a Risk Taker
Debra’s motivation in the beginning came from being broke and the absolute necessity to provide for her children. She got herself out there and made things happen and she did so by taking risks. The hunger to do something is a great motivator and Debra still finds that she has the passion to pursue her business because she really enjoys what she is doing even though she is financially solvent.
She has designed a career that is very flexible and targets speaking engagements to coincide with adventures she wants to pursue. When we spoke by phone, she had just returned from an Asian speaking tour and was able to coordinate a week of vacation as part of the trip to take advantage of the exotic locale.
A member of the National Speakers Association and the Colorado Chapter of the National Speakers Association, Debra receives high accolades from her clients, which include Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo Bank, Vail Associates, The US Treasury Department, Toyota, Lockheed Martin, and hundreds of associations including insurance, real estate, legal, financial, engineering, health care, and chambers of commerce and civic organizations across the country. In addition, she is a past member of the Advisory Council of the University of Colorado – School of Engineering.
Her risky self publishing venture led to a very successful career as a bestselling author. Debra’s books The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression and her newest book in the Fine Art series: The Fine Art of Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations, and Solve Conflicts at Work released in 2008. Debra’s recent media appearances include The Today Show, CNN, The Early Show, and NPR Morning Edition.
Are You Hungry?
Debra’s hunger for reinvention created a new person from the inside out as well as a new career. She is the epitome of self motivation and turned a very difficult situation into a thriving new career and unlocked her self confidence in the process.
The Denver Post calls her presentation style “A mixture of stand-up comic, therapist and teacher.” This savvy former engineer has turned the art of conversation into a career and that is indeed a Fine thing.
Debra’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Use what is free to promote your business or service.
- Become very involved in some organization where you can spend time and showcase your strengths.
- Get in front of decision makers who can help you move forward.
- Do it yourself, if you can.
- Don’t get yourself into debt.
“Every no is one step closer to a yes.” Tom Hopkins
Debra Fine www.debrafine.com
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression by Debra Fine (book or CD available)
The Fine Art of Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations, and Solve Conflicts at Work by Debra Fine
Colorado Free University http://www.freeu.com/