THE BLOG
01/08/2015 11:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From Cleaning Toilets to Delivering Donuts: 12 Highly Successful Businesswomen Share Their Unconventional Advice

I never thought I'd be a business owner. After six years of studying U.S. history, I was certain my life would consist of spending my days tucked away in special collections, carefully sorting through a box of Civil War letters. However, life has a funny way of taking you down twists and turns, and as I write this I've survived my first year of being self-employed as a professional finance writer (see, I told you life has twists!).

In the past year, I've been inspired by other female business owners, women who are creative, tenacious, giving, and unique. Whether they juggle motherhood with work or are just starting on their unique endeavors, women have so much to offer the business world.

Many people don't realize how challenging it is to be an entrepreneur, especially as a woman when being aggressive or strong isn't exactly how others think we're "supposed to act." Still, I've found that even with its difficult moments, entrepreneurship is an exciting and rewarding way to spend a career.

Below are several pieces of unconventional advice from 12 successful businesswomen, including two young budding businesswomen who are featured at the bottom of the post. Enjoy, and be inspired.

Nicole Schmoll

Copywriter

Founder, Ink Harmony

"Pony up your people skills. Go into business for yourself and you'll quickly realize that closing the deal often comes down to your ability to make a good impression. But what people don't tell you is that people lie. I've had too many potential clients to count, including my very first one, tell me 'I'm definitely going to hire you,' only to never come through. I've learned the hard way not to count a deal as done until the check comes in the mail and to never stop going after new business, even when I'm so busy there's not enough hours in the day to get all my work done."

Also, think outside the box (even when your breakthrough idea involves a box of donuts). When I started my advertising business, I knew local ad agencies would be my main client base, so I went after them hard with what I knew would get their attention -- a box of donuts from a really good local baker.

I personally visited a dozen agencies and used a dozen donuts to get my foot in the door with those who had the power to hire me. I had to go beyond the standard cold call, get dressed up, print some posters and business cards and put myself in front of the people I wanted to meet. To this day, one of my largest and longest-running clients was hooked with a box of donuts."

Jackie Nellis

Specialty Shop Owner

Leapin' Lizards

"Be prepared to recreate yourself in an urgent time frame. The times of opening your door and people running in to buy your product or use your services are gone.

You need to be able to attract the customer that exists today, not yesterday, and be prepared for the customer of tomorrow. In the last year I have come to rely on social media to move sale merchandise, an in-store website, and creative sales and marketing that truly has saved my business. Actually, this has made owning a store more rewarding because I am learning new selling techniques on a daily basis."

Kelly Whalen

Professional Blogger and Consultant

The Centsible Life and Splash Creative Media

"It may sound odd to say, but sometimes the best decision you can make is to say 'no'. While it may seem counter intuitive choosing not to take on new clients or 'fire' clients who are difficult to work with, it can lead to higher productivity and a better quality of life. I've said no to several potential clients this year and in doing so it has opened doors to opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise had to say no to."

Joylynn Breaux

Birth Photographer

Cher Bebe Birth Stories

"Sometimes you have to ignore the direction others will tell you to go. When I decided to become a birth photographer, I was skeptical that a family would invite a stranger to photograph a moment as intimate as birth, but I had to believe in myself. Many people thought I was crazy for focusing my business on such a small market, but I knew there were families that saw value in birth photography. Now, two years and 62 beautiful babies later, I'm glad I took the risk."

Kali Hawlk

Content Marketer

Hawlk Nest Media

"Be tenacious. Don't be afraid to get angry when things get tough! Just make sure you direct that energy to something productive. Don't let it turn into a negative emotion that distracts you from your big dream. Focus and get stuff done. Get down in the trenches and fight for your goals, your business, and yourself. That means trying again and again, not letting 'no' get you down, and taking initiative to get stuff done instead of waiting for direction or permission."

Kayla S.

Freelance Writer and Virtual Assistant

Shoeaholic No More

"Until you've reached the point where you can financially afford to pursue your business full time, use your paid vacation time to continue building your business. This may not sound like the most fun use of your time, but it will help you reach your dreams that much faster."

Jennifer Bodin

Entrepreneur

Pure Barre New Orleans and HealthHard.com

"Many people think they're just going to open a business, step back and watch the money roll in. But you can't manage and run a business if you don't know how to operate it from the ground up. From processing payroll to cleaning the toilets, you should be enthusiastically involved in daily operations, especially in the beginning, to educate yourself on how to successfully run your business and meet the demands of your customers."

Heather Walsh Crosetto

Head Conservator and Owner

Heather Walsh Restorations

"Forget striving for the perfect balance. What is important is to stay present in the moment you are living and apply yourself fully to the task at hand. Sometimes you will need to be more focused on your family. Other times, you will be all business, and sometimes you just need a little 'me' time. Whatever the reasons, life will be constantly fluid and out of your control. Still, along with all the struggles, risks, rewards, and uncertainty of being a business owner, there is the freedom to choose how to spend your time and energy at any given moment. I believe by being flexible, while maintaining the focus on your long term goals, the balance will just fall into place."

Shannon McLay

Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author

Next-Gen Financial

"Don't make all of your business choices about money. I am thankful that I never had business partners who were worried about my bottom line because it allowed me to make choices based on my gut rather than my balance sheet. I call this my 'karma line item' in my business. I don't know how or when it will pay off, but it always does. My first client in my new practice could not afford to pay my annual fees; however, she really wanted to work with me. After thinking it through, I decided to create a plan that would work for her budget. This client has since led to five other clients for me."

Andrea Genevieve Michnik

Social Media Marketer and Entrepreneur

AndreaGenevieve.com and Hello Sunday Apparel

"You don't need a serious/formal business plan. I always thought I needed to have one in order to validate my business or idea. However, both of the businesses I have now started grew out of necessity. Essentially, people requested a skill or product I created, and I met that need. It's been just about a year that I've had both my social media marketing consultant business and my Etsy shop, neither of which have any strategic plan for the future other than to keep doing what I'm doing, while finding better ways to serve my clients needs."

Ava Schalow

Designer and Budding Entrepreneur (Age 8)

Ooh La La & Co.

"When I decided to turn my hobby into a business, my mission was to have fun and make people happy. I know if I'm having fun and my customers are happy, I will be a success. My advice is that you have to have fun and you have to always believe you can do it!"

Mayhem

Designer and Budding Entrepreneur (Age 4)

Fashion by Mayhem

"I just make up ideas in my head and do what I like to do."

Are you an aspiring female entrepreneur or a seasoned pro? Share some of your own unconventional advice in the comment section.

Catherine Alford is a professional finance writer and a mother of boy/girl twins. Read more of her work at BudgetBlonde.com.