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EP 24 - Looking to the future in business, with Carolyn Jahnke

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From in-house legal to a small business owner, Carolyn Jahnke loves to help other small business owners with their contracts, trademarks, and LLC setup. She didn't start out her career thinking about being an entrepreneur but has found it to be the perfect fit for her and her family. Creating a virtual company at just the right time... she believes the potential for Athena Legal Solutions is even bigger than she realized. Leading the way with a different style of thinking, Carolyn shares what it has been like to create this business and help others in their businesses.


Jaime White00:00

Hello, and welcome to the Believe Crew Podcast; The Business is You. I'm Jamie White, Founder of Believe Crew and your host, let's jump right in. Today on the podcast, we have Carolyn Jahnke with Athena Legal Solutions. And Carolyn, as with all podcasts, can you tell us how you got into this business?

Carolyn Jahnke00:20

My journey to being a lawyer, I would say is very long and convoluted. This is like my third career. So I'll just hop to how I became the founding attorney of Athena Legal Solutions. So I worked in corporate in-house counsel for several years. And it was great. I got to experience lots of different things. But I was sick of burning out and spending 70 hours away from my kids and family, and not feeling like I was really making a difference in the world. So I took some time took a step back was like, Do I even want to do this stuff? And during that time, I had someone reach out to me and go, you could help me with some legal stuff. I was like, Sure. Happy to! She was a female president of a startup. And I was like, Yeah, I'd love to help you with exactly what I do. So do that. And then somebody else come in, like, somebody told me, you could maybe help me start a nonprofit, I'm like, I'd love to, that would be fun. And then I was like, Maybe I need to do something about this. And just kind of happened organically like that. But then I was like, Yeah, this is, I like this part of law, the part where I'm helping people who like, are making a difference every day. And like, I'm, it's not like I'm one of 20 lawyers serving this organization. I'm the only lawyer because they can't afford to go out and get a whole army of lawyers to help them figure things out. And it's really, you know, their whole family and their family's livelihood on, you know, that are on a line if this doesn't work out well. And so, here I am, three years later.

Jaime White02:04

So you started with the idea that, hey, I could probably help people. So how long was it before you started bringing in team members?

Carolyn Jahnke02:12

I brought in someone almost a year later. So I started the interviewing process, of course, took a long time, because it was COVID. Because I went into business in the November of 2019. But I hired someone in October of 2020. So probably in the summer, I started hiring. So of course, hiring during COVID was a very interesting and challenging thing unto itself. But yeah, I brought on another lawyer then. And in fact, we never met in person until November of 2021. So we've worked together an entire year without meeting in person because of COVID times.

Jaime White02:52

At what point did you start realizing like, actually, I think I'd like to even grow this even more? What does that like, take me through the journey a little bit.

Jaime White03:01

So like I said, I kind of started my business, haphazardly fell into it, right? Not a lot of business planning. I had the ability to do that.

Jaime White03:13

You have the technical skills? Yeah, absolutely.

Carolyn Jahnke03:15

I went and did a business planning class, because I've always that was my secret dream to be a CEO was, I wanted to be a CEO. That was my secret dream that I talked to with my coach. And I hardly told anybody. And so I did a business planning course, in February of 2020, where they forced me to come up with a five-year plan. And that five-year plan, they were like, You need to think about adding staff because that's the only way you grow a business is you add people. And I was already like, I got that because like I didn't name my law firm, the yaki law firm, like most lawyers, name their firms. So I picked something that was like purposefully kind of inspiring, but not my identity, so that it could be something that was more than me. And so it was truly through that business planning process that I saw what it could be. Now, making all of that happen is a whole other thing. But I saw what adding people could help me do and how that would work. And so it's always been a goal. I would say how I go about growing, it is evolving over time.

Jaime White04:22

So I want to go back to what you had mentioned there about how you kind of fell into it. You're not sure if that's the normal way? Like I think that thing that's normal, fairly normal, is that starting a business as the technician is fairly normal. Whether or not you move beyond the technician is the not normal piece in small business, right. A great step away.

Carolyn Jahnke04:42

Yes, yes. Because there are millions of small businesses that are owned by technicians who eventually like when they want to retire, there's nowhere to go because they have been the end of their very profitable, well-run businesses, but when you're the only person who can Do the work, it's hard to sell and get your value out of it. At the end, if you aren't thinking about having a sellable asset, it is basically you've decided to work really hard for yourself. And let's be honest, this whole entrepreneurship thing is a lot of work. And you're just eventually going to retire. And you're just gonna, like, walk away from everything you built. All that goodwill, all those clients, all of that.

Jaime White05:24

It's like building a house and then leaving the door open the windows open and walking away, and it can't sustain itself. Yeah, and I'm just really envisioning this and thinking about it. Because even as a technician, if somebody said, you know, I don't want to team like, totally fine, I still think that if we come from this perspective, what is going to be sellable at the end, like, let's acknowledge, you're going to have some assets, something, maybe it's a customer list, maybe it's a brand, maybe it's, you know, some tools or equipment or something like that, maybe it's a building, like there's different things that if we could acknowledge these things are actually part of what we've built, then there's a viable business here, right, or some type of a sellable product. And we don't have to just leave the windows, the doors open and walk away.

Carolyn Jahnke06:12

Right. And there are a million people who do what you do, not how you do it, but they do what you do, right? Or do it in a similar way. And to your point, those people, if you're on the tail end of your career, and someone's on the way coming up, would benefit greatly from purchasing your learnings, right? That this is the process that makes this work really well or this, you know, this is the form I have someone fill out. I mean, as a business owner, these are things that we all learn on our own, we're like, okay, so I probably need a form for intake, what's that look like? You tweak it over the years? And you find out, okay, this is the perfect one. But if I could just go buy that form from somebody? And, like, right, why wouldn't

Jaime White06:57

I decide, You know what, I'll tweak this a little bit. But otherwise, this looks good to me. I love thinking about this, from the perspective of being able to create value, beyond, you know, when we lay the hammer down, or when we decide, you know, what, my time here is no longer if we think about running our businesses, from the perspective of what have we sold in three to five years, 10 years, you know, put a number out there, and then shift the thinking, and like, what would you clean up? Probably, there's something I want to go back to you and going into business. And I'm curious what the transition was like for you from corporate to business, because I have no concept of what that's like, I've only been in business,

Carolyn Jahnke07:38

there's good and bad. And I would say it's also because I started my business in the middle of COVID. I think my experience was very different. Because all my kids were home from school. And that's not what it's normally like when you start your business, and you work from home. So that was a little crazy.

Jaime White 07:55

Did you find your max capacity? Were you like, I still got more room here.

Carolyn Jahnke 07:59

This is something that all mothers know. There's always more time. Like, when you started having kids, you're like, I have so much free time. What was I thinking? I thought I was super busy. And then you had another kid you're like, give me a word. Right? We can make it right. Yeah, there's always time, right? It's just a relative thing and how well you can manage it. Like once you're in the world, right of entrepreneurship, like it's a really welcoming community, like everybody is all how can I help you? How can I help you be successful? Because which is different than the corporate world completely, which is, you know, there's only one seat at the day. And so you have to fight for that one seat. But

Jaime White08:39

we're like, and how many people applying for it? Right?

Carolyn Jahnke08:43

And so it's just a really different, but even now, when I talk to people are like, Ah, I don't know, you know, is it really the right time to do this, it's like, there's never a right time for anything, like, you just have to decide you want to do it. And you need to have the confidence and the support and like, just the more we can normalize that and encourage those taking, like, I just think is so important.

Jaime White09:11

So I want to dig into this a little bit, because what I'm hearing you say is like when people come to you because they're thinking about starting a business, because that's really when they're like, Hey, do I need an LLC? Can you help me with the paperwork? Or maybe they have a partnership, that they're thinking about going into business, and you're gonna help them with the contracts? Or maybe they're gonna have 1099 vendors, and you're gonna help them with those contracts? All those sorts of things. They're coming to you at the point where they have not committed, is it often that when they come to you, it's kind of that commitment point. Like they put the money out there and then they're like, alright, we're in.

Carolyn Jahnke09:42

I think there are three schools of thoughts. There's the people who are fully committed and are just looking for the right lawyer, right. And so there's, I would say like that's, that's a third of the people. The other third are people who are pretty risk averse, but are confident they want to start a business And so they, they, they're talking to alert and they want to set it up, right? Because they want they're risk averse. And then there are the people who I would say Are they really want to do it, but they're not confident. It's that third group that you were talking about, it's like, Is this even possible? Can I do it? How do I? How do I even think about that? It just so many different conversations of well, you know, we have this going on in our lives right now, should I really be doing this? And, you know, I can't tell somebody if it's the right time for them. Right, I can talk them through what it's like, and my experiences and the experiences of my clients where they've had as they've grown, and I can connect them to people who might do similar things, or could help them, you know, people like you, right? Who can help them get through those mindset blocks, and really think about strategically about their business. But yeah, those are the ones that make me sad, particularly the ones who I know, end up deciding it's not for them.

Jaime White11:00

Because the doubts and fears one,

Carolyn Jahnke11:01

Yep, because they clearly had a dream. And they clearly felt passionately about it. But they just didn't have the confidence in themselves.

Jaime White11:10

This speaks to what I believe is often the issue when we're growing businesses, if we don't increase our upper limit, you know, our set points, what we believe about ourselves and low confidence, our values. I believe most entrepreneurs are dealing with that. Or they're like, Okay, I'm gonna bust through this wall anyway. kick myself in the butt here. I mean, there's different types. How are we gonna get to the next level?

Carolyn Jahnke 11:38

And they're not always they don't always consciously recognize them either. Right? Like, they know they want to join it, they know that, but they don't realize that there's actually something tripping them up in their thought process.

Jaime White11:50

Right. And you and I talked about something similar the other day where it was like, Do you ever have those moments? Or have to, like, pick yourself up off the floor? And like, Okay, I still got this. You're like, wait, are moments of doubts and fears? And you're like, Wait, you mean, before this call? And after this call? Like, I love that.

Carolyn Jahnke12:10

That rollercoaster?

Jaime White12:13

Yeah, it is a roller coaster. And it gets, it gets, You know, I don't know that we always buy a ticket to the ride that we're on. But it gets to that you kind of know what to expect a little bit like where I've started to notice, what are my breakthrough moments I in the past, maybe six months ago, not that long ago, I had my breakthrough moments would be complete meltdown days, like complete meltdown, you know, get everything off my calendar, I'm completely out of, you know, and commission, and my team knew that they were there for me, and you know, gave me that space. And then the next day, or within the next couple days, we'd have these breakthroughs. And so I had read someone else, say, you know, before a breakthrough, I get a little nauseous. And I was like, Well, I'm going to reprogram my body so that that's my new breakthrough. When I know that I'm a little nauseous instead of the complete meltdown for 24 hours. Sounds like I can see a breakthrough is coming. Yes,

Carolyn Jahnke13:14

I think there's something to that theory. Because when I went and signed up for that business planning course that I took, after I'd been in business for like, you know, two minutes, and had made like, $100, I, I use my credit my personal credit card, and I spent a couple $1,000. And I wanted to vomit the whole time as I did it. And they were like, this is totally normal. Like, you should be a little scared. Otherwise, you probably haven't thought it through. Like there should be. That's funny. Like, if you're just like, what's it? What's $2,000? I can just blow that. It means that you haven't thought about it, you aren't really being realistic about it. So, so I think there is like, what do you have that little bit of like?

Jaime White14:06


Carolyn Jahnke14:07

That means you're doing good things, you're pushing the boundaries. And as long as you've done your research, go for it.

Jaime White14:15

Well, in the same with when you think about pushing the boundaries, sometimes I know for myself, I was looking for external validation. So I wanted somebody else to tell me that my dream was possible or somebody else to tell me yes, I would pay for that. And

Carolyn Jahnke14:33

That's called a coach.

Jaime White14:34

Right, right, right. But yeah. But even more I wanted, like more external validation. Like, please show me that this is true. And then what just continue to come up is like, if this is my calling, then I need to have unwavering faith and step out in that fear zone. It was freaky, like so I just don't You know, showing up for my job every day was not the same.

Carolyn Jahnke15:05

Agree. And it's also interesting because I am very attuned to my fear. Because I know I have a lot of it, which people always say

Jaime White 15:15

Four letter F word.

Carolyn Jahnke 15:15

Right? Like, yeah, I have so much fear, like so much insecurity and doubt. But one of the things because I have two coaches, not just one, I have two, one of my coaches. I have one that's very mindset focused, and I have one that's business-focused, like, tactically get the stuff done in your business. But my mindset coach, as I was thinking about leaving and starting my own business, and what I wanted to do, we talked all the time, like, she's always like, what do you want, and like, I don't want to make a fear-based decision. I want like, I don't want to do something because it's safe. Or like, I know, it's I, I want to do something because it actually hits all the things I want to achieve. Not because it's safe, and not because I'm afraid of all of the other options. And still working with her three years later, I still have to tell myself, I'm making a fear-based decision. Like as I'm talking to her, I was like, just like, what's prompting this is like, fear.

Jaime White 16:19

Right? Right. Being able to acknowledge it is definitely a huge step. Like being able to, you know, we can get through it faster, at least by acknowledging it. This is a huge thing. I worked with a coach for 18 months on things like fear and my value, and what were the voices in my head and my self-talk. And he really helped me recognize even when other people were operating out of fear and like how to speak to it differently. And so it is not, you know, independent, it's not exclusive to entrepreneurs. I mean, it's happening in businesses, when we're trying to build teams. I mean, I feel like I think everybody needs a coach. At all levels, like I would like it to be available at all levels.

Carolyn Jahnke 17:02

They do. And I also think in the corporate world, it's one of those things that they tend to only give certain people. Yeah. But really, every manager should have coaches. Yes. Because to be a really good manager, you have to coach your team, as you lead them. But you also have to coach them in a how to be even better versions of themselves so that they're contributing in a way that's the most valuable. Yeah, I mean, coaching is a game changer, I highly encourage everyone who, who is starting a business or is has ever thought about it, like, go get a coach, you'll be shocked at the will just the realization you're like, Oh, that's it trend or, you know, I seem yet to make that kind of decision often. Or that you'll just start to realize that you just become more self-aware, right, which can then when you're more self-aware, you can be better.

Jaime White 17:58

Make different choices about it instead of just respond. Like, I like what I heard recently, someone was saying, you know, there's always another level of growth, especially when you're in business, but even personally, there's always another level. And the conversation was, you know, between two business owners, and the one was saying, you know, I'd like to not react as often as I do. And I think that's what I've found, through mindset coaching and mindset work and dealing with trauma and healing from the past is that I'm not reacting, I can respond. And then if the other person is reacting, well, guess what? It's on them. This isn't my problem.

Carolyn Jahnke 18:39

Yeah, I took a great. One of my first coaching things, which is how I got into having a coach was this class, and it was, think, pause, act. Think about what you want to have happen, then you pause so that you're not doing that immediate response, and then you act so that you're doing it in an intentional manner. And I just think that's a really beautiful way. It's hard, right?

Jaime White 19:05

The fun part now that we do so much coaching in our house, our kids don't let us get away with anything anymore, either. And they can start to hear because the language has shifted in our house. And they can hear when we're operating on fear, and they can hear when they're like, that is actually not the same belief I have. So I don't want you putting that on me. You know, you're like, wait, what?

Carolyn Jahnke 19:28

Yeah, no, it's so true. There's just something beautiful about talking to kids about businesses, though, like having them hear the conversations of how you make decisions and you evaluate, you know, what you want to do and what you don't want to do or what you're trying to achieve and, and what the sacrifices you're willing to make for those things, right? We have very much family conversations about it because our decisions impact them, you know, and they're likely like, what their life looks like, right? Yeah. So I just I think it just helps them be better prepared, you know, for when they're humans versus like, I know why parents tend to have all those conversations behind closed doors when I was a kid. Right. And so you never saw. You saw the results you never saw the habbit.

Jaime White20:17

What was the actual? Yeah, yeah. So when you think about someone getting into business today, what is something that you would love for them to know?

Carolyn Jahnke 20:26

It is easier and harder than you think?

Jaime White 20:31

I love that.

Carolyn Jahnke 20:32

Oh, my word. It's both right. It is both it is both. It is not as scary as it seems. But it is hard. It is not for the emotionally and mentally weak. Because it is a roller coaster, like every five minutes you feel it's the best day ever, to people hate me and nothing I do is valuable. So you really have to be able to push through that. But it's worth it. It's and I think that's ultimately why so many people do it right? It's worth all of that struggle. Because I'm the captain of my destiny. I get to do something that I'm passionate about. That's changing the world. One of my favorite statistics is 90% of small business owners give back to their community 90%

Jaime White 21:17

Wow, that's huge.

Carolyn Jahnke21:18

These are people who day in day out make their community a better place. Like why wouldn't you want to be part of that group?

Jaime White21:24

Right? Think about all the signs that are at the hockey rink, or the baseball diamond or the you know, softball or whatever. They're all small, mostly small business owners, and I know trying to get money from the big companies. It's not that easy. Right? So the small business owners are the ones giving the $250/$500 to sponsor the local teams. I mean, you're 100% Right. I love that statistic. I didn't know that.

Carolyn Jahnke21:46

Yeah. So I mean, I like it's worth it, go, if you feel a calling to do it, educate yourself, like, don't just go off and do it crazy, like educate yourself. But it's worth it. It's so worth it. Because you're part of such a wonderful community. And you need to find a community. If you don't have right, you need to find a community.

Jaime White22:07

Right? Because otherwise it can be lonely. And like we already know, it's going to be hard. So let's take away the lonely piece. I mean, that should be the easiest piece to take away. I can't take away whether or not some things are going to be difficult for you. But we can create a community and surround ourselves with like minded people, even if it's in podcasts, even if it's in, you know, monthly connections or calls or, you know, hiring people that are on your team, like somehow create a team.

Carolyn Jahnke22:33

Yeah. Or just someone who texts you to say, Hey, how'd it go today? Or you said you were gonna get this done? Did you get it done? Like, can you remind me? And then I'll remind you, I because we are always more accountable when somebody's checking up on them. You just need that, because it's it's so critical. You should never do this alone. Never ever. It's too hard.

Jaime White23:01

Yeah, that I do agree with and I know, like, I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. And so you know, game night might also be someone who's getting some business advice along the way, or someone's sharing a struggle. And so that was normal for me growing up. And I think it's important to have some non-family members in the mix. That's something that we didn't, you know, look to find as strong. I realized today that would have been a little bit better to have a stronger model.

Carolyn Jahnke23:29

Again, that independent third party, kind of right back do have we because everybody approaches things slightly differently. I mean, that's why it works to have such a big, diverse group of people, right? And entrepreneurship, and you don't freak out about it, is because everybody's slightly different. And I always find that I can learn something valuable. After I've talked to them that I was like, Oh, I hadn't thought about approaching it that way, like, oh, how would make this so much easier? You know, and then the other half might be, I would never, ever do my business that way. But right, there's always so nugget in there that you can get from talking to other business owners.

Jaime White24:06

Well, I've really enjoyed our conversation. And I'm wondering if there's anything else left that you feel it has been left unsaid that you'd like to express?

Carolyn Jahnke24:13

Oh, okay. I think the two biggest mistakes I see in business, so my little lawyer soapbox is people who don't use contracts with their people that they hire, whether they're hiring our contractor or an employee. The Department of Workforce Development in Wisconsin is going after people. This is like they're trying to find money after they give out so much unemployment. And if you don't have a contract that explains that someone's an independent contractor, not an employee, you can owe 10s to 20s of 1000s of if not more, in back taxes. And that is that could completely shut down a business. Right?

Jaime White24:56

Right. That'd be devastating.

Carolyn Jahnke24:57

The second thing is that If you feel strongly about your brand, and you have a company that is super brand important, and you've invested in a trademark, which is not a cheap thing to have, you have to use it appropriately and monitor it. So many people are like I got the trademark, and then they don't do anything. Well, the USPTO can actually revoke your registration if you don't actually stop other people from using it. So you're not out there watching what others are doing. And if you don't use your circle are appropriately because sometimes people won't even like update their mark and put the circle R when they get it. It's meaningless then if you don't do it, because you you're not using it. So no one's on notice. And so it's me it's completely meaningless. And so you've wasted your investment.

Jaime White25:46

Good conversation and good tips for us. Thank you so much.

Jaime White25:51

Thank you. This was wonderful.


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