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Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is on November 19—meaning this is the best time to celebrate influential females in the small business space.
The number of women-owned small businesses is at an all-time high. To honor the female entrepreneurs who are changing the face of small business with innovative and valuable companies, we picked their brains for advice for other women setting forth with their own small businesses.
We want to know, “What do you wish you had known before you started your business?”
Here’s what 35 female entrepreneurs had to say.
“I have started a number of businesses, and although external factors change, there are many consistencies in the challenges women face. One thing that I wish I had known was just how important it is to have a support system comprised of smart people who will challenge me (non-family and friends), support from a spouse, and a peer-to-peer advisory group. This comprehensive support system would have made a tremendous difference in how quickly I grew my business.”
—Kathy McShane, CEO of Ladies Launch Club
“The one thing I wish I had acted upon earlier was the power of asking for help from people with more expertise than I had. The most accomplished and brilliant people are often eager to help if you share your passion with them. You simply have to be open to the momentary feeling of vulnerability in asking for the insights and help you need. You’ll be surprised by how this improves your business.”
—Stephanie Sprangers, CEO and Founder of Glamhive
“In growing a business, there are many tough decisions to be made, and everyone stumbles sometimes. I’d advise other women entrepreneurs to not be afraid to share your thought process and mistakes. It’s hard at first, but by doing so, you empower your colleagues to better understand your company vision and develop their own skills.”
—Rashmi Melgiri, Co-founder of CoverWallet
“What I wish I knew before I started my business was to start with the end in mind and don’t be afraid to say no to projects that don’t help you reach that end goal. This might mean that you pass up some easy money or opportunities that fall in your lap. It will feel counter intuitive to do so, but the cost of devoting time to clients, projects or partnerships that detract from your bold vision can be devastating.”
—Jen Devore Richter, Co-author of Amplify Your Business
“Here’s my piece of advice: Partner up with as many other female entrepreneurs as possible. No one prepares you for the emotional side of jumping into the unknown. I joined a handful of local and virtual networking groups, which gave me the needed resources, suggestions, and moral support. My favorite part of the whole journey came from the epiphany that I have so many amazing women at my fingertips who are willing to share their experience and expertise.”
—Elyse Kaye, CEO and Founder of Bloom Bras and AHA Product Solutions
“Even though I started my business 9 years ago, I still wish I had a degree in accounting! I cannot stress the importance of knowing and understanding the numbers enough. From understanding profit margins and cash flow to your overhead costs, your business is nothing without a solid understanding of the numbers. Business is truly a numbers game!”
—Christy Cook, Founder and CEO of Teach My
“Instead of largely going it alone this first year, in retrospect I should have reached out for more help and networked in the community more. I was so busy making the business happen that I felt like I didn’t have time to reach out to others. In hindsight, that would have made me more productive, broadened my relationships in the community and with potential new advertisers, and lightened my workload a bit! I think women often, mistakenly, have a difficult time asking for help.”
—Nancy Dewar, Publisher of 406 Bark
“I wish I’d known that building a business doesn’t make for an overnight success. Five years into the entrepreneurial hustle, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted, and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. But if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. I could be the poster child for the saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.’ No matter what … this has been the most rewarding journey of my life. And in the end, I’m going to have a magical story to tell. My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be brave and follow your instincts. You can’t cheat the grind, but if you give it your all, you can trust that the payoff will be worth it.”
—Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd
“I wish someone told me that I could just be me and not have to act like ‘one of the boys.’ Being authentic has helped me grow my business and audience.”
—Syama Meagher, CEO of Scaling Retail
“I wish I knew that the sooner I thought of my business as a business—instead of thinking of my business as an extension of myself—the more quickly I could have scaled.”
—Adrienne Garland, Owner of She Leads Media
“I wish I knew that I didn’t need to discount my services just to gain market share. I wish I had just trusted that I was as good as the established companies right off the bat—rather than having to build confidence as I went along.”
—Justine Akley, Founder of JumpStart
“What I wish I had known? I wish I had really understood the importance of search engine optimization and the changing Google algorithms. Startups and small businesses can benefit so much at low-to-no-cost by understanding the fine points of SEO. That is invaluable in finding a cost-effective way to build out a brand.”
—Elizabeth Avery, Founder of Solo Trekker 4 U
“Get ready and comfortable to say ‘no.’ Say no to low-paying projects. Say no to poor prospects. Say no to getting your brain picked for free. Say no to clients who do not respect how you work or do not value your time or your expertise. Say no to opportunities that aren’t a fit for you. When you say no to those who do not value your work, product, and service, you will get to say yes to those who do.
It took me years to learn how to say ‘no’ without fear. When I left my job to be a consultant, I said yes to a lot of things that compromised how I do business and how much I value my time and skills. I did this out of fear that I would not survive on my own. Well, I did. I did because as soon as I started saying no, I sought out opportunities and clients that I’d like to say yes to.”
—Angélique Pivoine, Owner of Good Thinking Agency
“When I was young, there weren’t many role models of successful women business owners. I didn’t really see it as an option. The skills I learned working in the corporate world the first half of my career are valuable, but if I had it to over again, I would have started a business for myself much sooner. Owning a business allows you to go as far and as fast as your capabilities allow.”
—Pat Harden, Owner of Harden Partners
“When I started my business all I had was an idea—no money. I did everything myself, the graphics, the marketing, the content creation … everything! It wasn’t until I joined a group with other female entrepreneurs that I realized that I didn’t have to do it all alone. There are services you may have to pay for. But if you can move past the fear of asking for help, you may find that you can barter services or find a way to get things done in a better, more cost-effective manner. Do not do business alone—partner with others.”
—Elle Clarke, CEO of Elle Clarke Media Group
“I wish I knew how difficult it was going to be to manage my financials and revenue. I dramatically underestimated my profit margin for the first year in business and went into debt because of it. Having a solid business plan with a conservative estimates would have prevented that. My lack of experience operating a business really hurt the way I ran it from the beginning. My best advice for those who want to start a business is to really learn about the industry you’re entering. Know it inside and out before you get your toes wet.”
—Lisa Chu, Owner of Black N Bianco Kids Apparel
“I wish I knew that many people will think that you are just working on a hobby and may not take your business efforts seriously. You will have to continually be your own cheerleader. No one will be as excited about your business as you are.”
—Tenelle Bailey, Owner of Marketing by Branded
“After almost 3 years into my business, I really wish I had been more strategic about spending money. As a small business owner in the digital space, lots of testing is needed before you can expand your brand. When I think about all the money that has been wasted on testing and trying things just to see if they work, it brings me near to tears. When you do know what you need and are ready to scale, you’ll need significant sums of money to take your business to the next level. There is so much talk out there about whether you should wait until you have the perfect product versus putting whatever you have out there.
I have learned through experience that whatever you put out into the world will need to be refined and changed in some way once it reaches the market. So no, it does not need to be perfect. It will be changed many times before you get it right. Save your money for those big changes.”
—Ursula Lauriston, Editor of Capitol Standard Magazine
“I have been an entrepreneur the last 14 years, and I wish I knew the importance and power of relationships when I was just starting up. You can absolutely build a business on your own, but when you collaborate or partner with others, you will fast track what you’re doing. I set aside time every day to make sure I am reaching out and connecting to other business owners. I have a ‘Dream 50’ of 50 different people or businesses I would love to work with and get in front of their audience. I am not just looking at ways that their business can benefit mine, but looking to see how we can both have a mutually beneficial relationship. Finding a win-win for both parties involved is key.”
—Stacy Tuschl, Entrepreneurial Coach
“Know your numbers! It isn’t just a mantra thrown around by investors on TV. If I had known how important it was to truly understand my financial statements it would have changed everything about my business. Unless you have good data on cost of goods sold it is impossible to price your product properly. For years I was making decisions and pricing product based on what seemed reasonable. Once I started making choices based on hard numbers, I became profitable!
Learning your numbers isn’t easy without a mentor. I found a fabulous mentor affiliated with the Small Business Development Center. His office is located at a local college is supported by the Small Business Administration. The services of his office are free! They offer lots of classes and one-on-one guidance. Avail yourselves of this resource!”
—Julie Shipley, Owner of The Soup Shop
“Some business owners are blessed to have family and friends who support and purchase every product. But for the most part, they won’t. I wish I had known this upfront, as it would have saved me some emotional turmoil. Family and friends love you, but they can only see you as the daughter they grew to know until the world begins to recognize you as the awesome business woman you are. Strangers will build your business!”
—Ashley Lounds Brooks, Creator of Live By Faith Brand
“I wish I had known to treat my business like a business from the get-go. The purpose of a business is to exchange your goods or services for a customer’s money. If you aren’t making money, you’re running a glorified hobby. But I struggled for quite some time to balance doing what I do best, actually making money, and taking care of the drudgery of being a business owner—quarterly taxes and tracking receipts, for example. So I would swing between giving away my services for free or desperately taking whatever I could get. I wasn’t consistent in my practices and didn’t have systems or support in place to run my business effectively.
So how did I do that? First, I got clear on where I wanted my business to be in 1, 3, and 5 years. Then I worked backward to set revenue, profit, and customer goals to work toward. I also gave myself permission to not be perfect and to be open to possibilities and opportunities I wouldn’t expect. I’m still solidifying my business, but the simple task of treating my business like a business has made the most difference.”
—Jacqueline Shaulis, CEO of Awesome Enterprises and Creator of Mistress of Her Domain
“I wish I had heard this advice before starting my business: You define your success and you define your failure. If you decide to close your business or adjust how you do things to fit your life, don’t let anyone make you feel like a failure. Entrepreneurship is about molding your business to be what you want it to be, not someone else.”
—Victory Ram, Owner of Be Victorious Prep and First Impressions Solutions
“I think the biggest advice I can give to female entrepreneurs is just to go and sell. Most people think that you have to have everything set in place first before you start your own business, like a business model, investment, employees, products, and so on. Essentially, all you need first is an idea and then after that test your idea by selling it. The rest you can do as you go.”
—Dea Rezkitha, Co-Founder of No-Location
“Now that we have been in business for five years, I can say with certainty that there are some things I wish I knew going into the business.
Know your strength and weakness. Simply put, we cannot do it all by ourselves. The sooner we realize the things we are not good at, the sooner we can find someone who can help our company grow. Stay focused. When I started my business, I wanted to do it all—sell to 3rd party channels, be on every newspaper, get to know everyone, etc. Ultimately this didn’t work. By staying focused on the few things that mattered, our business grew a lot faster.”
—Vienne Cheung, Founder of VienneMilano
“Get crystal clear on your unique, meaningful message. If you don’t discover what you want to add to the world and specifically provide a solution, your message won’t land or magnetize your ideal customers. Next, come out of hiding. Once you’ve got your message, you’ve got to be willing to shout out from the mountain tops. You’ve got to be willing to be ‘out there.’ Nothing is more attractive to customers than sharing your personal story. It’s essential to do the inner work that allows us to be transparent and authentic with our audience.”
—Nicole Casanova, Owner and Founder of Polished Professional Development
“I started my business 3 years ago and wish that I had not done it alone. I am lucky to have a supportive partner, but working on your own day in and day out can be hard. You need someone to share the highs and lows.”
—Flora Pringles, Owner of Cracked Candy
“’Go with your gut’ is probably the best piece of advice I could have given myself and that I would give others. Especially as women, we have gut instincts, and we tend to let others talk us out of listening to it. But for the most part, those gut reactions were correct.”
—Angie Scott, COO and Co-Founder of Search Influence
“What I wish I had known before starting my business are the habitual techniques that shift people away from an employee mindset and towards the entrepreneurial mindset. I spent too many years being my own employee rather than building my empire.”
—Shirley George Frazier, Owner of Gift Basket Business
“I started my business with the goal of having more work-life balance so I could spend more time with my family. After I started my company I didn’t realize how hard it would be to still juggle work and family the first couple of years. In fact, I was working as many hours as I was when I was working in a corporate job for someone else, and there were still pulls and tugs between my family and my business.
My advice to other entrepreneurs: Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel! The first couple of years are hard, but if you can get your business up and running, hire a few quality employees and trust them enough to delegate, you’ll be able to achieve a more sustainable, long-term lifestyle.”
—Erika Taylor Montgomery, CEO and Chief Publicist of Three Girls Media
“Carry your passion with you. As a woman in any industry, you have to have thick skin and a strong sense of self. I’ve found that women sometimes—more so than men—are afraid to take chances, and being secure and confident with yourself is sometimes the extra boost you need. For me, as a female in the tech industry, where you do not see many females at the forefront, the key to success for women entrepreneurs lies in being passionate about your dreams and believing in yourself.”
—Ayrin Islam, CEO and Co-Founder of RingID
“My mantra as I do my job each day is, ‘It’s not all about you.’ So, my advice looking back is this: Build your team as soon as possible. As long as you are your business, you’ll stall your growth. The most valuable piece of advice that helped me grow my business into what it is today is how to hire quality people.”
—Kathleen Tomes, President of Brilliant PR and Marketing
“When you start your own business or work for a new company, you have to remind yourself why you started. We all came from bigger companies where we didn’t have to start from scratch with every deal. But we aren’t here because we thought it was going to be easier. We knew it was going to be hard, but it’s something that we believe in. So when things get difficult, it’s important to remember why you took that leap of faith to begin with. The values and the reasons why you chose this path have to be what drive you every day through the ups and downs.”
–Shannon Marrs, Founder and Paige Greene and Lizzie Shepherd, Leaders of Chirp Research
There you have it—valuable pieces of small business wisdom straight from female entrepreneurs just like yourself.
We hope that this advice is exactly what you need to take a leap of faith for your business, or guide you through the unknowns of starting your own company.