What do female entrepreneurs bring to the table? Quite a bit, as many writers have shown. We remember Mike Michalowicz writing about this very topic three years ago in Open Forum. He reasoned that women in business have a better sense of intuition, patience, and multi-tasking, and are better listeners and practitioners of social media. A year later, Stephanie Burns, CEO of Chic, agreed with the intuition assessment in her Forbes piece, and wrote about collaboration and tenacity as areas where she felt the woman entrepreneur soared.
Despite any perceived advantages, the fact remains: across gender, ethnicity, region and race, success in business takes time, and it is anything but easy. Entrepreneurship for the vast majority involves "sleepless nights, tough conversations and big decisions in the face of uncertainty," as Kelsey Recht wrote on her recent Huffpost piece. It requires more hard work beyond the hard work you just finished doing.
So how do women small business owners trail blaze a path and lay a foundation for the next generation of women, and entrepreneurs in general? This has been the question Jody Barrett has asked for some time. Her philosophy about rising and shining is the actual title of this post. She lives it. A serious proponent of education and community involvement, Barrett was inspired to launch her business by the memory of her parents -- both of whom died of Altheimer's. That memory undergirds and informs her efforts. In our time with her, she talked passionately about some of the things she did to grow her start-up, and, about many of the feasible measures any small business can use at the moment.
Photo by Jody Barrett
You advocate "being smart with social media". What does that mean?
I knew that the best way of getting some online buzz about my business was to ethically increase my social media footprint. So through a number of actions, including keyword targeting and social listening, I increased my numbers on Twitter in two months to almost 20,000, and that in turn allowed me to start growing other social networks too. But let's be clear: each business is very different. A restaurant may want to focus on Instagram. A car dealership might be best suited for Facebook. A fashion line would likely see great results from Pinterest. All of them might work for you. You just have to develop a plan around what you want, and where you want to go. And understand that small business plans are subject to change at any moment.
Every entrepreneur we know finds a way to give back. What's your take?
It is true that when you give more you get more. LinkedIn has a great platform that connects employees, businesses and causes to make a great impact in communities through mentoring, helping military veterans, and so on. There is also Giving Tuesday, which is the day after Cyber-Monday. However, it still provides a push to charitable activities throughout the year, so the cause marketing opportunities are endless. Don't let the "commerce chase" block your ability to develop and act on your passion for making a difference. Helping people has to be a part of any lasting success.
How do you identify people who advocate on your behalf?
In business, you'll have lots of people promising you this and that. Whether it's online or off, it is always great to know who is in your corner. Sometimes it's the people you least expect, and sometimes the people you thought were in support of you, were just along for the ride. When do you know someone supports you? When you start investing in actions. If you focus on what people do, you'll never be fooled by words. But no matter how many people knock you down in business and in life, your advocates are always there to help you up. If not in the beginning, you'll know whose who well before the end.
How do you network, and connect with different people?
Simple: I never let anything, and I mean anything, get in the way of me connecting with the right people. It is very easy to erect unnecessary barriers in your own way. But if you want a business, the way I do, that touches the world at large, that endures, and that is meaningful, why on earth would you ever let gender, ethnicity, region or race get in the way of reaching out to the people who could, as social entrepreneur Jeff Pulver says, change your life? It doesn't make sense. Do all the things to put your business in a good position. You'll thank yourself for it.
What should small businesses be doing more of?
Each business has a different path, different clientele and different needs. But no matter what your size, don't lose site of the things that made American Small Business the engine of our economy: occasional thank you letters, collaboration with firms and people from other industries, innovative thinking that sustained us through some dark periods, and most of all, not being afraid to fail. This last point is important. It is from failure that you learn the lesson, and when you learn it, you can apply it. Indeed, fail your way to big success.
What is the best part about being an entrepreneur?
Having a vision and jumping into the big global pool of commerce to make it happen. Being an entrepreneur is also about coming up with something different and unique, something that will inspire the consumer. I'm a small business owner, but I never allow my efforts to be confined in any way. Reading the markets, researching on the needs of different groups, and then launching your idea. You have to do it. I greatly admire the women and men who have built on the foundations of other's achievements. But I equally admire those who are willing to put themselves out there with an idea that no one has ever seen, or that is untested on the world stage. You have to believe in your idea when no one else will. Thus is the life of an entrepreneur.