THE BLOG
10/14/2013 04:43 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Anna Phillips, CEO and Founder of The Lash Lounge

Anna Phillips founded The Lash Lounge in Texas in 2006. After working in IT, Anna worked at Google as a massage therapist. It was here that she realized both her passion for the beauty industry and her entrepreneurial spirit. The Lash Lounge is the first salon franchise dedicated to eyelashes and has seven open locations in Texas - three of which Anna owns and operates - and another set to open soon in Houston. Anna has established herself within the billion dollar beauty industry by focusing on one niche service.

How has your previous employment experience aided becoming a franchise owner?
My previous employment experience dates back to well before my legal work age of 16. I grew up on a farm and was no stranger to hard work, long days, and a do-what-you-have-to-do-to-get-the-job-done mentality. Although many of those jobs were neither my favorite nor something I particularly excelled at, I always worked hard and finished what I started. It wasn't until I got into corporate America and worked in the IT department at a large computer-based company that I started to really realize that I enjoyed helping people.

Unfortunately at the time (but looking back, it was fortunate for me), my job fell victim to the mass lay-offs which forced me to try out a completely different industry about which I had always dreamed. This newfound career quickly led me to become an independent massage therapist at Google, giving me the security of corporate America but the freedom to manage my own schedule and work style. In addition, working for Google gave me a glimpse into the possibility of what dreams could become when you follow your passion and work hard.

Although it was a big corporate company, the environment at Google was very collaborative and entrepreneurial at heart. I attribute a lot of my ambition to my experience working at Google and being able to make the switch successfully from the IT world to the beauty industry. This gave me the confidence to first take the leap towards opening up an eyelash dedicated salon when there was nothing like it around, and then to evolve my business into a franchise when again - there was nothing like it in the franchise world. My feelings were you'll never know what could be, unless you try...

How can you turn your passion into a career?
I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have been able to find my passion and turn it into a lucrative career. There are a small percentage of people who can say the same. Looking back on how I got to where I am with my business I realize a few things I had to determine and work at in order to develop my passion into a career.

The first was figuring out what truly made me feel fulfilled - money aside. What could I do for others that gave me that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? For me, that was taking care of others and helping them feel better about themselves.

The second was figuring out exactly what skills at which I could excel that could provide me with that fulfillment. And the third was working as hard as possible to create a name for myself in my newfound industry, being open to some changes and not giving up.

I started in the beauty industry in 1999 with massage therapy and it wasn't until 2006 that my eyelash business took off, and 2009 when I started franchising my business. I would have never imagined that this is the route my business would go, but at the end of the day, my passion is still fulfilled by helping our clients feel beautiful. Amazing careers that evolve from someone's passion almost always require a ridiculous amount of hard work, focus and willingness to adjust as needed in order to find that niche that nobody else has tapped into yet.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is a daily struggle for me. I think anyone who says they have it figured out must have a team of helpers in the background doing their laundry, taking care of their kids, cooking meals, and helping them with all of the little things that life demands at home.

I personally don't have a team of helpers, but I have a wonderful spouse who believes in me and picks up the slack at home while I am building my business. The most important thing I feel helps me to maintain some sort of balance is to focus solely on work when I am at work, and to focus entirely on my family when I'm at home. This allows me to give 100% of my attention and effort to the task at hand. I also make sure that I allot myself some sort of personal time each week so that I can make sure I am regenerated and ready to take care of everything else. This can be a massage, getting a work-out in, a long uninterrupted nap, or just some time to meditate or read. I have learned the hard way that you MUST take care of yourself and not feel guilty about it; otherwise you will quickly have nothing left to give to your business or others around you.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as CEO and founder of The Lash Lounge?
Challenges have come in many shapes and sizes. My role as CEO is multifaceted because I have my corporate salon locations that I continue to oversee the daily operations of, but I also lead my corporate team to run the franchise sales and franchisee support departments. Dividing my time between all the different areas that I am being pulled in was particularly tough in the beginning. I challenged myself to become more organized and be strategic in planning my quarterly and annual goals which has allowed me to be more focused on the tasks in front of me. The most rewarding part of being CEO of The Lash Lounge is when I am able to see my staff or franchisees make significant strides in their own abilities to reach their goals. It's all about making each part better to make the whole unit stronger.

What advice can you offer small business owners who are seeking to become a franchisor?
The best advice is to make sure to duplicate your own business in another territory to see if it is just as successful. Often opening more than two stores is most helpful when you are trying to prove that your concept and system is lucrative and easy to follow no matter where you go. The other piece of invaluable advice I can give is to start documenting your step-by-step processes for everything you do from the minute you open your first location. Typically you are so focused on getting that business open and don't think about the potential of having more openings in the future that you forget to take notes on anything.

However, you will thank yourself over and over if you document what you have done, even if it is short-hand form. This will allow you to build upon it, make improvements, and develop solid systems and processes which you will need in order to have a successful franchise. When you feel you are ready to start embarking down the franchise path, find a great mentor who can show you the ropes and a reputable franchise attorney who will help you develop the necessary legal documents to make your business a legitimate franchise. I would make it a point to talk to a handful of franchisors who have been down the road ahead of you to find out what they did well, what they would do differently, and if it has all been worth it. At the very least, it will provide you with great knowledge of what to be prepared for as a franchisor.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Many women, myself included, are constantly searching for ways to balance home life with career. Traditional gender roles have told us that we must eventually choose: family or career. I think that is becoming less true as more women are striving for top level positions and an influx of men are becoming more active in the parenting role. I believe we are in the midst of a societal shift that hopefully will lead to a new idealism that women can in fact have a successful career and a happy family!

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I don't think anyone can argue that Sheryl Sandberg is a very intelligent woman. Lean In is a great call to action for women to "have a seat at the table" and be proactive in their careers. She is undoubtedly tough and places the responsibility of women's equality in the workplace in the hands of women. She challenges women to take bold action to position themselves as equals and leaders. Like all books, not every part (or the whole book) will be for every reader. There were parts that I cheered to when reading and others that I questioned. One fact that she didn't shed much light on, if at all, is the increase of female entrepreneurs in the last decade. I think it would have been great for her to encourage more women to become the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world! Most importantly, I think readers should keep in mind that this is one woman's journey and opinion. We must all right our own story.

As for the current women's equality movement, it has sparked an exciting conversation in this country that I think everyone should tune into. Our country has a well-defined history of equality struggles and none of us should be satisfied until all people are treated fairly, compensated indifferently and given equal opportunities.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I remember the first time someone asked me for business advice - I was blown away that they thought I could offer something of value to them. It really made me step up my game and make sure I was giving out sound and valuable information. I have found that becoming a mentor to someone else has in turn made me look at myself and my business under a microscope and make improvements in different areas. You cannot advise someone to do something that you, yourself are not willing to do on your own business. You have to be willing to practice what you preach.

On a personal side, I have found a lot of unexpected fulfillment out of being a mentor to someone who is breaking into a new business or working on expanding the business they have. It is really exciting for me to see someone who is also achieving their dreams and being able to help facilitate in any way I can.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have a couple amazing female entrepreneurs that I silently stalk on the internet to keep up with their lives and their success. They have all inspired me for different reasons and keep me intrigued with what they will come up with next. One of those women is Sara Blakely, the creator and founder of SPANX. I am most impressed with how she created a niche in a market that was already saturated with high-level brand names, worked her tail off to get noticed, and rose to the top of her industry. Her story is amazing and inspiring for anyone to read.

What are your hopes for the future of The Lash Lounge?
My vision for the future of my company is to expand our business model into a variety of concepts that allows us to put a Lash Lounge all over the US, not just the high-income areas. This will allow us to provide an opportunity for ownership to someone who might not have the means to open a full blown salon, but they definitely have the heart and the passion to be an amazing owner and the desire to work for themselves. I plan to create a system of "paying it forward" within my organization that provides the means to help others achieve their dreams and be successful. The culture of The Lash Lounge is unique, empowering, and progressive and I believe this is what resonates with our franchisees and our customers thereby building strong brand loyalty with us for years to come.