It was a warm Friday afternoon at the end of June when we spoke to Maren and Christopher of Boothby Therapy Services, their child therapy services company in New Hampshire that uses their surname. They’d prepared us for the fact that they might be a little late to our call. They needed time to dock their boat—cheekily named “Headquarters”—in Chesapeake Bay after a day of sailing.
To look at Maren and Christopher, even over a Zoom call window, is to see a husband and wife very much enjoying their lives together. Seated close to one another in the cabin of their boat— smiles lighting up their sunkissed faces as they gush at length about their business, their team and their lives—you’d almost never believe that they’d ever been anything but successful.
And, in part, that’s true. When Maren and Christopher started Boothby Therapy Services 20 years ago, business grew quickly. Too quickly, they said. With Maren operating as the sole service provider while also running and building the business with Christopher, there was little time for anything else. Their business became their lives.
After the first three years, with demand continuing to grow, Maren was pouring more and more of her time and energy into working in the business—until it wasn’t sustainable.
“Christopher just looked at me and said, ‘We're not living like this anymore. This is over.’”
“I wanted my wife back.”
And so they went to work on their business with their EMyth Coach, Ed Sinko. The result is a company of over 100 engaged and inspired employees that helps thousands of children in New Hampshire and Vermont every year, giving Maren and Christopher the freedom to split their time between their boat in the Northeast and their house in Nicaragua, where they support local children in receiving an education. We spoke with the Boothbys and their coach Ed about what it takes to truly systematize your business, and how to build a team that will give their whole hearts to your work in the process.
Listen to the full interview here, or read the edited transcript below.
EMyth: Can you tell us a little more about Boothby Therapy Services?
Maren Boothby: We’re in our 20th year of business and we’re the largest provider of related services to schools in the state of New Hampshire. We started with just me years ago. And after about three years, we had so much demand, we couldn't stop it all. So we decided to hire some other providers to work for us. We hired one, and 11 days later, we hired a second one—and then we hired a third. It grew from there.
Christopher Boothby: We found EMyth was at that critical moment where we were growing—in retrospect, perhaps too quickly. We were profitable, but we were reinvesting it so quickly into our own growth that we were placing ourselves at risk of growing too quickly and not being able to sustain.
EMyth: When you started coaching, was that first challenge on the financial side? Was it growth that you knew you needed help managing?
Maren: We found EMyth by referral. I was leaving the gym one day and the owner of the gym asked if I was still running my own business—how was I liking it? I said, "I like it, but it's exhausting." She said, "I just read this book and you've got to read it. It's called The E-Myth Revisited." Not long after that, I bought the book at the airport. I read the whole thing and I felt like it could have been written about me. I felt like it was my story, so I took it home and I gave it to Christopher.
At the time, it was a very big investment for us to do the EMyth Coaching Program. It was a big decision—and it was worth every penny. We've EMyth'ed the heck out of our business, and to some extent our marriage [laughs]. We weren't in crisis. We were just ... we were the pie makers, you know? We were struggling with doing every Technician role in the business. Those were really busy days. I worked full time as a Speech Pathologist [while also] trying to support my nine employees. EMyth opened our eyes to what systems really are. That's been one of the biggest takeaways.
[W]e were sitting in the kitchen and I was at the depths. Christopher just looked at me and said, 'We're not living like this anymore. This is over.' And I looked at him and said, 'What are we going to do?'Maren Boothby, Owner, Boothby Therapy Services
We said, 'We’re going to find some coaching. We’re going to go back to EMyth. We're going to find our way out of this or we're going to sell this company. We're not living like this anymore.'
EMyth: You paused coaching before coming back again to work with Ed [Sinko]. What was the motivation to come back and start with EMyth again?
Christopher: Too much growth, too much. [Maren] turned me loose and boy did I deliver.
Maren: I have a distinct memory of that too, because that was a low point. I had an employee who could no longer fill a position for one of my favorite and best clients, and I hadn't been able to staff it. So I decided to take the position [myself] three days a week.
Christopher: It was two hours from home—two hours, one way from home.
Maren: And our company was growing at the time. By then, we might've had 40 employees, maybe more than that. And Christopher was doing amazingly. He drove me back and forth to the school. He was a wonderful support, but we also had a massive consulting project that fall. Massive! It was too much. I was really run down and we were taking some time off. We were in Nicaragua for a week—we were sitting in the kitchen and I was at the depths. Christopher just looked at me and said, “We're not living like this anymore. This is over.” And I looked at him and said, “What are we going to do?”
We said, “We’re going to find some coaching. We’re going to go back to EMyth. We're going to find our way out of this or we're going to sell this company. We're not living like this anymore.” He was determined.
Christopher: And I originally didn't think Ed stood a chance [laughs]. But in reality, we really liked that Ed had also been through the process. I thought that he could understand our trials and travails as a business owner. And the biggest thing he did was listen, which was pretty amazing.
EMyth: What's changed in your business since you started working with Ed?
Maren: I have my life back.
Christopher: We've grown tremendously. We’re more profitable than we've ever been. We're more successful than we've ever been. But she's got more real life back. And like that moment in Nicaragua, where we were either going to sell the business or we were going to change how we operate the business … we're not perfect. We're not all the way there. But we are sitting in a boat in Maryland tonight. So we're better than we were.
EMyth: What does it look like to have your life back?
Maren: I remember in a coaching session with Ed, he said something about taking the weekend off. I actually started to cry at that point. I said, “I can't even imagine taking the weekend off. I can't even see that from where I'm standing.” And he said, “Well, can you take off part of Saturday?” Part of a day—that was the first goal.
And you know, we're still getting there. There are times when I'm still super busy, but it's more common that I have my weekends off than not. And I'm getting more towards my goal of working in my CEO role only, instead of in every role. And that’s been a big mindset shift.
EMyth: What had to change in the business so you could have that time back?
Maren: Several things—certainly my own mindset. But we've made a lot of investments and Ed's been very good about pushing us. One of the hard conversations is we had to really increase the compensation package for some of our managers. We made a significant investment there. Our company has about now 110 providers, and then a group of what we call “the Home Team.” Our Home Team and our Strategic Team are basically everyone who runs the business.
We added a bonus structure for our Home Team, which has been terrific—and they deserve it. We've done very well hiring. Our team is fantastic, so it's great to reward them with the bonus structure. We've also, just in the past two weeks, done something similar for the Strategic Team—we’ve made more of an investment in their compensation. And we've hired some additional positions that have been really important.
Christopher: From a finance standpoint—and EMyth has helped me get my head around this—you’ve got to invest in yourself. And that means taking it out of this one clenched fist—because by golly, we earned it, we worked hard—and redistribute those funds into another investment in us, in our future, in where we want to go and what we want to do. We had this little thing, this little germination of Maren E. Boothby Speech and Language Pathology Services, and we nurtured that thing. We worked nights and weekends and holidays, and it was our life. And when you work that hard, when you have that opportunity to finally be profitable and finally be able to say, “Hey, I have some independence,” it can be hard to reinvest that back into yourself. But for us, it's been worth it. And it's the process by which we're going to get to the finish line. We're going to get to the life that we want.
Maren: And we're almost there.
EMyth: What needed to change in your business so that you could trust those employees more?
Maren: Most of our Home Team has been with us for a really long time, like 12 years. So it actually wasn't a lack of trust. And our Strategic Team is so strong. I think it was more an issue of capacity. I've always been concerned about other people having a work-life balance. [Delegating] was hard for me. My first thought when I'm debating about delegating is, “Do they have capacity for this?”
So we’ve increased their capacity by hiring some positions below them. And now I've got members of my Strategic Team taking on things that they've never taken on before. I would also add that for the past two years, we’ve had [a goal] to increase our leadership through a leadership development program. So those individuals are more capable through their development.
Christopher: I used to think sometimes that Maren would take on [that Technician work] because she was fearful of giving it away, where for me, the delegation piece has always been easier. But I actually think that for her, it was a matter of if she could be certain that it would be done as well as if she did it herself. And the answer to that is systems, right? So having the systems in place that people could follow every time has made a big difference.
The other critical piece is just culturally getting the EMyth Philosophy throughout the whole organization. Once a month, we go through [what EMyth calls] our Strategic Plan and all the different aspects that should have been completed for the month. And there are systems within [each of] those Key Indicators. So in order to achieve this month's goal, we've got our Head Clinician writing systems. We've got our Sales and Marketing Team writing systems. We've got our HR Department writing systems. It's structured so that everybody is a convert now, and everybody can be a partner in creating systems.
EMyth: How do you get that philosophy throughout the organization and get a full team on board?
Maren: I think it's consistency. EMyth’s Philosophy really speaks to both of us. So everything we do is based on these Principles that we've learned over the past 12 years. And it's just constantly going back to saying, “When there's a problem, it's a systems problem, not a person problem.” Or, “How do we find the right candidate? Let's write an ideal candidate profile.” It's throughout everything we do. It's the consistency—being very specific in our values, being very direct in stating our vision and mission, and talking about those things frequently sets the tone for everything.
Christopher: One word for you: alignment. It’s everything from the hiring process to satisfaction goals with our employees and our school partners. Are they aligned with who we are as a company, our values, our mission, our vision? Are we going to get there together? Pretty critical.
I have tremendous pride in Maren. There's only one CEO of the company, and a long time ago, we decided correctly that that should be Maren. I think her own journey is significant, both as a woman and as a CEO. And I'm very proud to see that she's willing to invest in the leadership of the people that we've brought on to help run the company, to help lead the company, to guide the company.
EMyth: Ed, you’ve walked this journey with Christopher and Maren. As their Coach, what have been the key components that have made such a difference?
Ed Sinko: They're both extremely hardworking people, and they've channeled that hard work into the strategic side of their company— they are very clear on a value set, a brand promise both for their therapists as well as a customers, the vision, strategic objective, and the concept of quantification. They worked hard to create that, and then create the actionable strategies necessary and communicate it all to their people. It's a seamless plan that involves everyone.
They have their team development meetings, and everyone is constantly developing themselves. And it starts with [Maren and Christopher]. They're willing to be vulnerable, to look at and have the hard conversations together in our sessions. There's this challenge when you work with a partnership—it's looking at Boothby as the client, it's looking at Christopher as the client, and it’s looking at Maren as the client, and asking, “How can you look at all of it objectively and bring the best solution, creating a synergy between the individuals and the company?”
Maren's is that journey of being a Technician and working so hard to build what you’ve built, and then you get to this place where you're faced with, “Wow, we've created this. Now how do [we] delegate even the strategic work?” They have more documented systems than probably any other client that I have. Once you have that, that's your foundation, that's what gets your house in order.
It's this continuum of challenging themselves to overcome their barriers, to really get to where they want to go. They're doing that beautifully. It's hard—it's a different kind of hard work. I can't do anything but applaud their strength and their vulnerability and their work ethic to really accomplish it. And the kindness and the generosity. Their people really believe in Boothby Therapy. There's this culture that happens from their leadership, and it's just done beautifully.
From a finance standpoint ... you’ve got to invest in yourself. And that means taking it out of this one clenched fist—because by golly, we earned it, we worked hard—and redistribute those funds into another investment in us, in our future, in where we want to go and what we want to do.Christopher Boothby, Owner, Boothby Therapy Services
EMyth: Tell us about your Primary Aim and what that means to you.
Maren: My Primary Aim is that I want to make a positive difference in my immediate communities in small and significant ways. And by small and significant, sometimes that means holding the door for someone, complimenting them on an outfit they're wearing, bringing them a little treat. Those are small things. I was able to surprise one of my employees by bringing her a pint of ice cream when she was in the middle of quarantine. I went to her favorite ice cream shop. That's small, but she loved it. That was so fun for me. It gives me pleasure and joy.
And then there are more significant things that are important to us too. The immediate communities [could be] our community in Nicaragua or our New Hampshire community, or our professional community of Speech and Language Pathologists, occupational therapists, schools, psychologists, and other related service providers. That's where I want to make my impact. And I believe in lots of other worthy causes, but I want to put our focus in those immediate communities. That's the heart of my Primary Aim.
Christopher: Maren has [helped me] open that clenched hand. We’ve found opportunities to contribute to several worthwhile causes—whether it's theater and the arts, which is something we really believe in, whether it’s downtown revitalization plans [or] an ongoing investment in youth education and development in rural Nicaragua. Those are the opportunities for us to have lasting impact, to be able to help a kid in Nicaragua go to university.
Our whole thing is helping children succeed—that's what Boothby Therapy’s done since 2000. We used to think of it as our own personal lever on the world. You know, that the world is on one end and there's the two of us scrambling on the other end of this big lever, trying to move it a tiny little bit. As we've grown, we can do more because we've got great people doing it every single day—they've got a caseload of kids and they’re helping children succeed. So it's an outcome that we've been able to achieve with the help of so many others.
EMyth: You’re partners in business and in life—and that's not always easy for either one of those. How have you managed that?
Christopher: I want to find this guy that says you're supposed to separate your business from your life, that you're supposed to become a different person when you cross that threshold—are you kidding? This is my life. This is what I do. This is everything. I like to call us the 20-year overnight success story.
One of the most important things we did looking back [is giving] somebody the final say. That's the CEO. Ultimately [Maren] has the final say and that comes with a lot of baggage. She can make a decision that’s unpopular with her husband, who also happens to be [at different times] the Director of Marketing, the Director of Sales, the Chief Financial Officer, so it can be stressful. But it's been tremendously rewarding. We've created something out of our basement, out of thin air, out of a dream of a woman who came home on a Wednesday night and was ticked off because someone told her how to do therapy services.
Maren: This company is really the product of the synergy between the two of us. One of the things that makes the company strong is how different we are [from each other]. People see the yin and the yang, the push and pull between us. We have a joke about Christopher's decision-making...
Christopher: Ready. Fire. Aim.
Maren: [Laughs] That’s his decision making strategy.
Christopher: Maren’s is ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, fire. She does fire, but it takes her a little while.
Maren: Let me tell you, that makes it tough sometimes, but because [we’re] different, because [we] have a different way of approaching things, we’re strong. I believe that's true. I alone wouldn’t be as good a CEO if I didn't have Christopher's support balancing me and vice versa.
EMyth: We have a fair amount of clients who are partners. Ed, as a Coach, how do you work with them?
Ed: By listening to both perspectives and not weighing in in a judgmental way, but just weighing in objectively and challenging each perspective to some level, to create a synergistic result between the two. It’s ultimately to benefit both of them, to benefit Boothby Therapy. It starts with trying to understand where each of them are coming from as individuals, and then being able to challenge it, because some perspectives become limiting beliefs.
Christopher: What Ed just said is critical. The guy in the mirror is undefeated, absolutely undefeated. Ed challenges our thoughts and opinions and values after listening to both sides. We've taken advantage of that. We haven't run from that. We've run towards that. A great example was when we were looking for a Chief Operating Officer (COO), and we’d hired a Technician, a person with a clinical background, and we got to the point where that obviously wasn’t working. So we began to look for another person, and our conversation with Ed was truly meaningful. He broke it down and said, “Look, do you really need somebody who knows what a Speech Language Pathologist is? Or do you really need somebody who can help you run your business?” That made all the difference in terms of growth and development. [We were] able to bring on a COO who’s transformed our margin analysis, transformed our hiring process, our liability, our cash flow. We're so much stronger because Ed didn't just nod his head like a docile guy in the mirror and say, “Yeah, go ahead and do what you think you should do.” He challenged it.
EMyth: We heard how powerful Primary Aim is for [Maren and Christopher]. Ed, for someone who hasn't been in the Program, can you explain what a Primary Aim is?
Ed: Primary Aim is the point of the Program, ultimately. And if you talk about lift your business, love your life, to be able to [do that], you have to be clear on what you want. What's meaningful? Where do your passions and purpose lie? If you can't get that clarity for yourself, you’ll fail to become the leader that your organization needs you to be. So you have to be brutally honest with yourself, get very clear on your core values. Your core values translate into the company values hands down. There's no shortcut to that.
Then, translate that into language that makes sense for your company. When you have that clarity, you become authentic. Leadership requires authenticity.
So that clarity of self has to translate. When you're looking at your Primary Aim, you're also going through an exercise of personal goals. What's important to me? What are we trying to achieve in health, income, professional development, retirement—all these things that translate into how we lead directionally or into our strategic objective or vision?
If you don't know where you want to go in life, how can you lead a business someplace when it could be completely misaligned with you?
EMyth: How has COVID impacted your business?
Maren: We were hearing about COVID, and I said to Christopher, “This is going to be a thing. This is going to be a problem.” We started commenting to other people about how concerned we were about this. Then suddenly the light went off. I said, “We need to get hot preparing for this because it's coming.” I had other people telling me, “Well, I hope you're wrong,” or, “I don't think so.” I'm actually a classic over-reactor, but I think that's a good thing for us.
Christopher: She’s a classic over-preparer and overachiever. So you put those two things in order and, by golly, COVID is not getting in the way of [our] success story.
We also leveraged the systems that we had in place. Crisis happens. Unknowns happen. Isn't it nice to be able to have the structure to stand on? Our mission hasn't changed, our vision hasn't changed—we're gonna roll up our sleeves and we're going to find a new way to do it. We had some outstanding contributions from all the members of our team. Everybody worked more. Everybody bought in. This wasn't just the “save Maren and Christopher” show. Everybody was at risk. We're all impacted collectively.
So I think it was the ultimate expression of everything we’d built, everything we had put down on paper, everything that we had tried to live, everything that we had done to get us into this moment—to [be able to] say, “We're not having people fall through the cracks. We're not going to cut people off of their health insurance. Everybody's good.” And even if that costs us some money, everybody's going to be good. And when you share that with people, I think they rise. They say, well, if I'm going to be good, I'm going to do my part too. And I'm going to help children succeed. And I'm going to work extra hard at this new teletherapy thing that I've never heard of. And they do it. They achieve.
EMyth: Have you pivoted to all video?
Maren: Yes. And we had two things that really were critical to our success. The first was that we saw it coming and we realized we needed to get everybody ready to do telepractice. And before it got bad in the U.S., every employee [already] had a professional Zoom account and had been trained on how to use Zoom for telepractice. That was an initial step, but it was done. It was done before the schools closed. That was huge. People knew the plan. They had the tool. That was the first thing.
The other thing was fortunate.—unlike other states like Massachusetts that didn't mandate remote right away, our governor mandated that there would be remote education happening immediately. So again, we’re already ready, we're already talking to our clients about what platform they're going to use, what the permissions are going to look like.
We actually created a system for how to deliver services via telepractice and sent this out to some of our clients, with attachments, letters that they could use as templates to send home to parents. And so we were ready. We jumped right in. That was such a blessing because our people could keep working.
Christopher: There's so much fear, you know? So for our school partners to be able to hear us say, “Hey, can we share our system with you? Because we got this,”—it's a different conversation then. You almost hear the exhale. Same thing with employees. As long as they knew they were good in all regards—financially, clinically, with their benefits—I think that allowed them to think, allowed them to function and produce and innovate in a way that, if they were still really anxious, they wouldn't have been able to.
Ed: What I hear is key—proactivity. Maren had her detectors out there ahead of the curve. And why were you able to do that? Because you were in your role as CEO. And then what do you do with that information? You leveraged your systems. You have your house in order. Your systems are in place. You can then pivot and be prepared.
The other key is communication. Effective communication. You did it company-wide, you did it individually. Every one of those things are a representation of effective and strong leadership. And when you think about what Christopher was saying too, you're in the unknown. Whether it's COVID-19 or the next recession or the next version of whatever it is, an entrepreneur is always in this place. This just shined the light so brightly on who's actually prepared to handle a crisis and who isn't.
Somebody shared with me something Warren Buffet said: “When the tide goes out, you know who's skinny dipping.” [Laughs] It's to say, how prepared are you for what's to come? This is preparation. This is the hard work of business development to be able to manage this and any other crisis. And in a sense, it doesn't have to be a crisis, it could just simply be growth. Because when you're growing, you're going into the unknown. You've never been there before.
We've created something out of our basement, out of thin air, out of a dream of a woman who came home on a Wednesday night and was ticked off because someone told her how to do therapy services.Christopher Boothby, Owner, Boothby Therapy Services
EMyth: So today, what’s your future for your business and your life?
Christopher: From a business standpoint we haven't even touched the surface for what the company can become, if we want to go there. But I think we also need to balance that with having worked so hard to try to get to a point where we can enjoy that life. Both of us can enjoy that life. We don’t want to have too much exciting new growth that puts us right back where we just climbed out of.
Maren: We're not going back there. I am really happy with where the company is. Obviously you get challenges that come up, you see things you could do better. But the core stuff is right where it needs to be. So much is going well. Christopher's right, there's a lot of opportunity for growth. We had 24% growth last year, which was crazy. It was beyond what we expected, but we want to continue to meet the demands and the needs of our clients. This year we’re aiming to hire six additional FTEs, and I bet we're going to be [hiring] at at least nine. So the company will continue to grow. It allows us to fund some additional benefits. We learned from our employees in a survey that the compensation package was really important. So we've added sick time for the first time. We've had very strong increases in our wage pool the last three years, so that allows us to attract more good candidates. Personally, we're working towards keeping me in my CEO role and we're making significant progress.
Hopefully next winter we'll be on this boat in The Bahamas, running the company from there. We have successfully run the company from Nicaragua for months at a time. We're actually living full time on our boat now other than when we’re in Nicaragua. And other than occasionally having a problem with not enough Wi-Fi [laughs], it's going really well. So that's exciting. I mean, it's pretty cool. We’re docked outside of this happening joint in the middle of nowhere in the Chesapeake Bay. It's Friday night. After this, we're probably gonna sit outside and watch the people go by and have a glass of wine.
Christopher: And, let’s be honest, talk about our business. The thing is Maren doesn't want to stop working. I don't want to stop working either. You hear about these old retirement ideas where you get put out to pasture at 62 or something. Are you dreaming? I'm almost there! I want to continue to work. I want to continue to be meaningful and contribute and have an impact.
I wanted my wife back and I wanted my life back. And I can't live my life—the life I want to live—without her. So this is important work. I hate to say when Ed is right, it's embarrassing [laughs]. Being able to reinvest in the business has been a common theme coming out of his mouth for a couple of years. It took me a while to get there. It took me a while to hear and process it, but now we're contributing back into the business significantly.
Maren: Everyone at the company knows my two favorite questions. They come from the Primary Aim: What do you want? How do you get what you want? And you've got your big I wants and that's great. Sometimes you have to break them down to smaller I wants. We wanted more time together to do things we enjoy. Part of getting that was to build more structure and capacity into our Strategic Team and our Home Team. That meant reinvesting some money to make that happen. It has—and it's exciting.
EMyth: The other thing you're getting from your Primary Aim is now you're on the deck of your boat in the Chesapeake Bay having a Friday night together.
Maren: Yeah, and guess what? Tomorrow when it's beautiful, I'm not going to be sitting at my computer, watching the world go by. I'm going to be sitting in the sun next to Christopher. And that's what it's about.
Christopher: That's a win right there.