Val Nelson of Northampton offers life and career coaching geared toward introverts

Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — In the often extrovert-centered business world, quieter people sometimes lose their sense of self. Business and life coach Val Nelson aims to help introverts follow their hearts as a way to ensure career success and work-life balance.

Nelson, 51, of Northampton, is The Black Swan Coach, the name of her career, business and life coaching business. She offers workshops, groups and one-on-one coaching for people who tend to be quieter — and who sometimes see their natural strengths as weaknesses in the business world.

“I think in our culture we’ve done a lot of encouraging ourselves to stuff some of ourselves at the workplace,” she said in a recent interview at her Northampton office. “I think people have been feeling that they have to wear an extrovert mask in order to be successful.”

Nelson said she was able to overcome her tendency to be “painfully shy” as a child and young adult by tapping into her passions.

“A lot of people think shyness and introversion are the same thing because they look the same,” she said. “Shyness is a fear of people judging you.”

While extroverts are more likely to think as they’re speaking, introverts have a tendency to think before speaking and prefer to wait for a pause in the conversation, Nelson said.

And much of her work is focused on tapping into the unrealized potential in people who have more introverted tendencies, some of whom might be shy.

Nelson’s journey

After working in management and marketing positions, Nelson first set up shop for herself in 2008 as a marketing and communications consultant for small businesses.

Many of her clients were solo service providers, like those in the health care field. Nelson said she realized that she felt energized with certain clients and not with others.

Some of Nelson’s favorite successes were when she was able to use her health marketing experience to work with practitioners who “when they thought about marketing, they thought ‘ick,’ ” she said.

“Introverts are cautious about putting themselves out there,” she said. “I was super-energized in those situations — they were getting results.”

In 2010 she hosted a workshop called “Networking Secrets from an Ex-Wallflower.” She still offers the workshop periodically, where she leads the group through strategies to tap into their own abilities to grow their network.

Today, Nelson’s coaching business includes one-on-one and group sessions called “The Introvert SOULpreneur Club,” which focuses on many of the same goals but in a group setting.

The groups allow people to form a community and support system around their common feature of being self-employed, Nelson said.

“It’s so isolating when you’re a solo professional often working from home,” she said.

She also writes a regular advice column for introverts published by and The Huffington Post and plans to deliver a presentation at TEDx Shelburne Falls next spring.

‘Guided visualization’

“Coaching isn’t pushing,” Nelson said. “It’s about drawing out what’s already in them ... tapping into their internal energy, clarity and confidence.”

Some of her coaching techniques include “guided visualization,” where she leads clients through their “inner journey,” to see what they hope for in life. She also uses mindfulness and helps people identify where they are carrying tension.

Coaching is supplemented through assessments and homework assignments, she said. Nelson helps people identify their ideal clients and marketing strategies. A big part of business success comes in identifying a niche, much like Nelson has done herself found in offering coaching geared toward introverts.

“One of their biggest areas of resistance is choosing a niche,” she said. “Usually your best niche has something to do with something you’ve overcome yourself.”

Finding a niche was a key way that accountant Cecile Lackie was able to grow her business.

Lackie, who works from her Easthampton home, first met Nelson at one of her workshops about five years ago.

“It was very powerful,” Lackie said.”I learned so much about introverts and extroverts and interaction with all kinds of people. It was phenomenal.”

As she continued working with Nelson though groups, Lackie said she was able to identify exactly where she wanted to focus her efforts. “I realized there was a certain aspect of accounting that I really loved to do,” she added.

That was cleaning up books and teaching. Today, Lackie often combines the two. And the refocus of her business allowed Lackie’s client base and work to grow “tremendously,” she said.

For example, a client may be referred to her from a tax accountant who is able to see that bookkeeping had been done incorrectly — a barrier to getting taxes filed.

“They may not realize the way they’re accounting for things, recording them, is incorrect,” Lackie said. “I teach people not just how to do it, but why do to it differently.”

She said being part of a person’s business success is a key reason why she loves teaching people the correct way to keep their records.

“When I work with somebody and all of a sudden they start smiling when they’re able to account of something in the books, or see the trends in their books that their business is growing ... that is very fulfilling for me that I have assisted people in their business growth,” Lackie said.

She joined one of Nelson’s groups that began this fall partly in an effort to discover how she can achieve further growth, Lackie said.

Nelson is successful in bringing out the best in her clients because of her skills at asking the right questions, Lackie explained.

“She can get to the core of an issue very, very quickly,” Lackie said. “She doesn’t have the answers — she simply asks great questions.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at


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