08/02/2011 09:43 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2011

Up Your Game

"And after spending two and a half years as your Secretary of State, traveling nearly 600,000 miles, I have reached one overarching conclusion: Simply put, we need to up our game."--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) held its annual conference in Washington, DC. In case are you not familiar with this group, the USGLC is a network of 400 businesses and NGOs; national security and foreign policy experts; and business, faith-based, academic and community leaders from around the country. This year's event was called "Investing in the Future," and the keynote speaker was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was, as always, incredibly inspirational and motivating. Her message was clear: That our international engagements directly affect the US economy, and, perhaps more specifically, "That a strong economy at home is vital to America's leadership in the world."

"Our foreign policy must be a force for economic renewal here at home," she told the audience of major business and political bigwigs.

"We all know that families are struggling to get back on their feet after the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. We all know we face genuine economic competition in more sectors, from more companies, from more places than ever before, whether it's from Indian pharmaceutical companies or Brazilian jet manufacturers."

She continued: "President Obama understands the stakes, and this Administration is hard at work to help America out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We need to double down on what we do well and add new tools and techniques to compete effectively in the 21st century to be strong at home and to lead abroad."

She's right. It's scary how quickly the competition is growing. But it's her words here -- her call to action -- that really struck me: "We need to up our game."


Now, I am not Secretary of State, but I am committed to helping women improve their own financial situations while helping the economy improve. And Hillary Clinton's words resonate for business owners as well as the entire nation. Indeed, there isn't a woman business owner who couldn't up her game.

Think about it. To stay relevant, women business owners must think strategically and always stay one step ahead of the current fad or technology. They need to stay focused on their goals, and not be deterred by obstacles. They must keep an open mind, be willing to listen to constructive criticism, and willing to improve themselves. They have to be ready to fight for their convictions, not be afraid to fail -- and to dust themselves off when they do fumble.

In short: To be successful, women business owners need to never give up, to be fearless, creative, innovate and strong. Always respond to unmet needs in the marketplace. Constant vigilance is exhausting, true, but it's also exhilarating and the only way to move forward.

I think of the women I know who are constantly pushing for more. Like Theresa Daytner, of Daytner Construction Group just outside Baltimore. She founded her business in 2003 with her husband as a commercial construction consulting company. Government work was never part of the original plan and her business was doing fine. But Theresa is not the type to sit still. She's constantly got her eyes and ears open for new trends and forecasts in her own industry and the larger marketplace. Sure enough, some seven years later, 90 percent of her $18 million revenue comes from federal contracts, up from 10 percent (of $1.5 million in annual revenues) just two years earlier. In the midst of a weak economy that has forced many in her industry to close, her business is booming!

Mary Ardapple, owner of Apple's Bakery in Peoria, IL, noticed her store was receiving more and more request for gluten free cookies back in 2007. Instead of keeping the cookies as a specialty item for her regular customers, she embraced the market potential and has since created an entire division featuring more than two dozen varieties of gluten free products -- from cookies and cakes to breadcrumbs for stuffing -- sold around the country.

Leah Brown was unrelenting in her pursuit of bigger clients and better contracts for her company, A10 Clinical Solutions. For every "NO" she found two more new ways to go back in search of a "YES." That perseverance and determination recently landed her business on The Inc. 5000 list of Top Ten Woman-Run Companies. A10 has experienced a 2,714 percent growth over the last three years and has no intention of slowing down.

Let me know how you're upping YOUR game so I can share your stories with Secretary Clinton in the coming weeks. As you may know, she helped launch our Make Mine a Million $ Business Program in 2006 and always likes to get progress reports.

And remember: Don't expect things to happen just because you're a woman and own a business. MAKE things happen. Be a leader. Up your game to change the game.