An entrepreneur who went from working as a bartender to running an online empire used a simple tool to get started

Marie Forleo brought her yellow legal pad everywhere.

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Marie Forleo brought her yellow legal pad everywhere.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Marie Forleo is a life and business coach with hundreds of thousands of followers, many of whom pay for her classes.
  • As she grew her business in the early 2000s, Forleo would bring a yellow legal notepad with her wherever she went to collect names for her weekly email newsletter, instead of spending money on advertising.
  • By taking the time to get to know people and understand their needs, Forleo said she was better equipped at helping them as a life and business coach.

Marie Forleo is a life and business coach with hundreds of thousands of followers, many of whom pay for her classes. But she didn’t use any advertising to build her client base in the beginning, she said on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This is Success.”

While building her coaching business in the early 2000s, Forleo was a jack-of-all-trades – she worked as a dance instructor, spent time at the New York Stock Exchange, bartended, and had a brief stint in ad sales.

Forleo said she would carry a yellow legal notepad with her everywhere to collect names for her email newsletter where she sent weekly tips to help others have a better life. She said nobody had heard of email newsletters at the time.

“I didn’t have money for advertising. I wouldn’t have even known how to do it. I was a one-woman show. So it was completely built through me with that yellow legal pad, every single place I went,” Forleo said.

When Forleo got more active in health and fitness, she would bring her yellow legal pad to her hip-hop class and tell clients about her coaching business after each class concluded, racking up names and email addresses.

“So I was doing everything I possibly could. It was like hand-to-hand combat to build those names,” Forleo said.

Forleo said her ground work and putting herself out there lead to her success today. She has hundreds of thousands of followers – 40,000 of whom pay for her $2,000 “B-School” class, which she started in 2010. Forleo also stars in her own show, YouTube channel, podcast, online lessons, and performances.

By taking the time to get to know people and understand what their needs are – tracking everything on her yellow legal notepad – Forleo said she was better equipped at helping them as a life and business coach.

“That doesn’t mean that there’s not hard moments, but once I left [a traditional career], I never really questioned was that the right move. I questioned whether I would eventually make it, if that makes sense,” she said. “If I was going to be successful enough to keep a roof over my head, but doing it always felt so right that that’s what propelled me forward.”