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Lara Casey has cultivated a multimillion-dollar business that she says has helped more than 50,000 women achieve their goals and dreams. As CEO of Chapel Hill-based Cultivate What Matters, Casey, 39, created the company’s popular PowerSheets Intentional Goal Planner, Bible journals and other faith-based merchandise and has authored two books. Cultivate What Matters has 10 employees, customers in 65 countries, and has amassed nearly 150,000 followers on its Instagram and Facebook pages.
Casey also leads an annual conference that empowers attendees to set personal and career goals called the Making Things Happen Conference, which hit its 10-year milestone in March. The list price for next year’s two-day conference is $2,195. Her new sold-out event, Cultivate Your Year Live, kicks off Dec. 9, with about 250 attendees.
“I think the unique thing about us is we don’t just sell a product,” Casey says. “We walk with you every step of the way. So when someone buys a product from our shop, through our newsletters, through our content that we put out, we really are coaches. We’re helping people along their journey.”
Casey, who is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and also studied at Yale University, started and ran Southern Weddings magazine for more than a decade before ending publication in 2018 to focus on Cultivate What Matters. She and her husband, Ari, have three children and live in Chapel Hill.
She talked about her work in an interview edited for clarity and brevity.
What inspired you to start your own company?
My story is not typical. I have a degree [that involves] music and theater, and I thought that was what I was going to do when I got out of college. [Instead], I fell in love with the world of wedding planning. It was very similar to what I had done in school in a lot of ways. … All of these things that I’d seen in theater with music and finding the words to tell somebody’s story. You get to use all these things to bring it together and create this magical celebration of a marriage.
Fast forward a year, I got married and a year later, [my husband] was deployed with the Marines. I was very nervous for him during that time. I really needed a project to keep my mind occupied. And so late one night, I got on my little 13-inch PC and I thought to myself, “What if I made a wedding magazine?”
This was way back before anyone was doing wedding magazines besides the bigger publishers like Brides magazine or Martha Stewart Living. There were no small independent magazine publishers. But I thought to myself, “What if we made a little magazine and put it in local grocery stores or churches or, you know, give it away for free?” That night, I mocked up a wedding magazine cover. That started Southern Weddings magazine.
I don’t have a degree in journalism or publishing, but what I did have was such a deep passion to help couples plan a meaningful beginning to married life and a really deep desire to bring beauty into this world. And in my own tiny little way, I just felt like I was bringing a little bit of light to the world. And it really caught on.
I certainly didn’t do any of it perfectly. That led to me starting a blog about goals and about how I took an idea and made it happen. That also led to people asking me for business advice and eventually led to someone reaching out to me and saying, “Hey, would you ever turn all this stuff that you write about on your blog about goals into a book?”
And that’s when I wrote my first book, Make It Happen. … I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing now and helping women to cultivate what matters and focus on their goals. And it really all came from having an imperfect story along the way.
Did you raise money to start the company?
I think people can look at a business like ours and think, “Oh, that happened really fast.” But it didn’t. It happened very, very slowly. … We’re a debt-free company, and every penny that was made in the beginning went right back into the business. We didn’t have any new loans or any startup money. We just really did take it slow. And that kind of carries through into all the decision-making that we have. There are all kinds of big growth tactics that [my team and I] could have used along the years and extended ourselves beyond our means, but it was more important to us to do it slowly.
What is your favorite part about running your own company?
Getting to be at home with my kids all the time. That’s my favorite part. We are in the process of construction on our new office building, but I mostly work from home. I’m doing podcast recordings here, and I home-school my daughter. And I think that is just one of the biggest gifts. I wouldn’t call it flexibility because it’s intentionally a lot to juggle. But I think it’s a gift to be able to be a part of a company like this. A big small business is what I call it. But also, I get to be home for the things that really matter and then share that with others.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I believe that almost anyone can find success in something if you are committed to the long haul. I think about people that I graduated from college with who were not the best in our class, and yet they had the most persistence and the most dedication and that got them over a lot of rejection and a lot of hurdles. And now those people are the most successful people.
And I think that’s something that I feel like God blessed me with: perseverance through difficult things. But that’s my biggest advice. None of this existed when I started my business. Instagram wasn’t a thing. Facebook wasn’t even a thing. It’s easy to look at the internet and especially other business owners and think that success should or could happen quickly. We hear that a lot from people. But I think real success, it takes root slowly. And it’s worth it.