A Business With a Big Heart: Meet Founder & CEO, Darla Torkelsen
Have you ever met someone and right away, you just… click? Something about that person resonates with you, and you feel an immediate, soulful connection. You’re drawn to them because you can sense something special. It’s a certain internal glow that you just can’t identify, even though you feel it. As irrational as it may sound, most of us rightly trust those “gut feelings."
Darla Torkelsen, MS, CCC-SLP, founder and CEO of SpeechTherapyPD.com, has experienced and trusted that feeling throughout her life, and it has driven the creation of her now flourishing company. I sat down with Darla today to learn the history of her business, and let me tell you: Darla has that glow. Furthermore, as irrational as it may sound to put “business” and “feelings” in the same sentence, Darla truly leads with her heart.
I’m sharing her story to give you a glimpse of just what makes her business, her practice, and the person so incredibly special.
Jill: Thanks for meeting with me today, Darla! So… how was SpeechTherapyPD.com born?
Darla: As an SLP for many years, I had worked in almost every setting. From EI to schools, from universities to sub-acute; from home health to private practice. I just couldn’t find my niche. I enjoyed the work, but I just couldn’t find my passion. At the same time, I was looking for ways to earn CEUs and maintain my license, and I saw a need for evidence-based courses. The idea was hatched to fill a void in the market, and soon after, I was fortunate to have the guidance of a business coach who asked me one simple question: “Where is your heart?” She helped me to take the answer to that question, and turn it into a vision with small, attainable steps for founding a business – and SpeechTherapyPD.com was born!
Jill: It’s clear you have a heart for speech therapy and for serving others. How did you marry those two concepts, and translate that into SpeechTherapyPD.com’s mission?
Darla: Figuring out where my heart was allowed me to unlock my passion and I took off with a new energy. I knew that I wanted to help clinicians by revolutionizing the online learning experience. I decided that our platform would: 1) Make PD practical and engaging, 2) Make it visual, and 3) Make it immediately applicable so that SLPs get meaningful strategies to put into practice.
Jill: Saying it like that makes it sound so simple, but I can’t even imagine how you begin to do that!
Darla: I realized that people learn and remember things that make them laugh. Emotional-readiness is an essential component of therapy – which I’m sure all SLPs understand. I wanted professional development to mirror that, so I search for presenters who are like-minded, and who can bring that engaging, heart-level understanding to the table. I wanted to create a network where therapists feel nurtured - rather than a factory for hoop-jumping-for-CEUs-without-substance.
Jill: How did you begin building your network of presenters?
Darla: Honestly, I experienced several almost miraculous meetings in the beginning that I knew were more than a coincidence. The people I met each touched me in a profound way, added pieces to the puzzle, and gave me the confidence that we were on the right track. Although many others helped along the way, I was particularly blessed to meet and collaborate with the wonderful (late) Pam Marshalla, as well as Char Boshart, who continues to be an amazing mentor. Each of these women are so smart and it absolutely intrigues me to talk to people who are so passionate about what they do! It’s contagious. I realized that I need to surround myself with people who are experts in their fields, and who exhibit a natural curiosity and love of life-long learning, who are passionate about their specialty area, and who have the humility to admit when research veers in a different direction.
Jill: You have assembled a very impressive group of presenters who certainly enrich the learning experience on many levels. So, in addition to the deep personal qualities of these presenters, how has research and innovation helped the growth of SpeechTherapyPD.com?
Darla: Like I mentioned, humility is key. There are so many people I know who hang on to the old ways, even in the face of new research. I value people who follow research and evidence but realize that it may eventually change. Having the humility to admit: “We have new information, so we need to change what we do” is huge. In terms of business, we continue to learn and grow, and to look for new avenues to connect with SLPs and deliver the most meaningful professional development experience possible. In addition to providing over 500 hours of on-demand, evidence-based video presentations, we have launched two free podcasts with more on the way.
We also host a CEU cruise every year, which allows our members to meet one another as well as presenters – and there’s just something energizing about learning on vacation! We also release between 1 and 3 new live courses each week, which allows us to stay current with research and incorporate feedback from our members in real-time. No other online CEU provider does that!
Lastly, we partner with University of the Pacific-University College to provide graduate-level credit for working professionals who want to climb the pay scale. And… we’re still growing!
Jill: You talked about meeting the late Pam Marshalla for the first time, and what an incredible inspiration she has been to you. You said, “She had a heart of gold, and she was incredibly smart. With every single bone in her body, she was all about helping kids and helping therapists in an effective way.” It seems like she had an amazing impact on the philosophy of SpeechTherapyPD.com.
Darla: Absolutely. She was just amazing, and she gave me so much support when I was first transitioning from SLP to business woman. I was not trained in business, but Pam reassured me that when your heart is in the right place, the rest will follow. I had to learn through failure, through hard-knocks, and making mistakes, but luckily, Pam and Char set the bar extremely high as two of our first presenters, and ever since then, I try to detect the same qualities in other presenters as we move forward.
Jill: Is there anything else you want our audience to know about SpeechTherapyPD.com?
Darla: I think I want people to know two things: First, we are member-driven and wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our amazing network of SLPs. We form a partnership with subscribers that is mutually beneficial – we end up helping one another to grow. I want to send a huge THANK YOU to our subscribers! Second, we might not get it right every time, but we’re committed to constant improvement. If our members -or future members - have suggestions to enhance the user-experience, we take that feedback to heart.
In summary...It's hard to encapsulate the passion and energy that Darla radiates when it comes to bringing out the best in others. It’s so refreshing to hear about a business that recognizes the value that emotional awareness can add to the customer experience! I want to thank Darla for taking the time to meet with me, and I’m so excited to see what the future has in store for SpeechTherapyPD.com!