Leanne Shear was balancing work as a freelance writer and running coach/fitness trainer when an editor from Daily Candy, a popular daily email newsletter, reached out with an interest in profiling her.
When the piece came out, “I had a thousand coaching inquiries overnight,” reflected Shear.
That moment in the spotlight led Shear to the two women who eventually became her business partners. One, an old friend from college that she hadn’t spoken to in years, reached out to say she wanted to leave the corporate world and start something new. The other was a woman who became Shear’s coaching client as a result of the Daily Candy piece.
Together, the three women founded Uplift Studios, a women-only fitness studio and “female society” in New York City. They did a round of friends and family fundraising in the summer of 2011, signed their lease that fall, and opened for business in April 2012.
That’s where this story takes an unexpected turn.
Three years down the road, the co-founders’ visions for the future of the business — and personal lives — started to diverge.
“I started getting more passionate about the female society aspect of the business, outside of just fitness,” said Shear. “They didn’t share that at all.”
Uplift Studios offers small group fitness classes and personal training, in addition to events. They’ve covered everything from careers to difficult topics like miscarriage and infertility, mental health, and violence against women.
Shear and her co-founders spent six months negotiating the details of how to extricate two of them from the company and what that would look like.
“It was a really tough time,” said Shear. “We were very close friends. But we always said from day one the business would come first. We weren’t friends starting a business, we came together for the business.”
By the start of 2016, Shear was running the business on her own — but her co-founders still held some equity and decision making rights.
“I carried a lot of guilt with me into this negotiation,” said Shear. “I had such a close personal relationship with these two women, and I felt really guilty because [in the beginning] when they were pouring time and energy into growing the business, I had to hustle with personal training clients to make money to pay my rent.”
While the end result wasn’t perfect, it was “a massive learning experience.”
“I always felt like I was deferring to them every quarter, holding on to that fear that I couldn’t do it on my own,” said Shear. “It’s been a big turning point for me, running this business on my own and enacting my vision. That gives me hope and confidence that when I do have to negotiate again, I’ll be ready.”
Shear continues to push her business forward. Her next move is into philanthropy; she’s launching team challenges that raise money for breast cancer treatment.
“In retrospect, I just was a fucking wimp. I really was. Is that because I’m a woman? I consider myself a strong woman, but I’ve gotten a lot stronger and it’s a direct result of negotiating for myself.”
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.