What Is Working Spotlight is an ongoing series that aims to highlight the successes, challenges and unique lessons faced by different group of entrepreneurs. This April, What Is Working: Small Businesses will be talking to female small businesses owners. Below, our editors ask Jensen Wheeler Wolfe about her biggest challenges, proudest achievements and what the future looks like for women in business.
What, according to you, are the main challenges facing women small business owners today?
I work in the world of children's toys, yoga, and retail and in these areas there's a pretty equal share of men and women. Where the playing field is not so equal is overseas in China and Taiwan where I manufacture my mats. As a woman, I found it challenging to negotiate with sales people in the factories overseas. Now I have a trade rep who does this work for me (also a woman!) but for the first 2 years I did it myself.
How are women business owners different from men? What specific strengths do they bring to the table that business owners could do well to learn from?
I think women approach a business differently than men. I know I do. I'm a mom in New York City and I work out of my home. Last week I was taking care of a sick 7 yr. old, and inspecting a new sample from the factory with my trade rep via Skype. Some of my best ideas have come to me while sitting in a playground. I'm often making business calls while on a play date. Some men are not comfortable working this way or don't consider this a viable way to run a business. I was an actor and what appeals to me about entrepreneurship is putting together a business creatively and having my own clock. I'm also in the field daily - with kids, teaching yoga - and I hand deliver mats to my NYC stores. My customers feel connected and I give them an opportunity to voice their likes, desires and dislikes.
What inspired you to start your own business and what is the biggest challenge you've faced to date?
I had been at my magazine job for 10 years and knew it wasn't my future. I wanted to show my daughter that it's possible to have an idea, take action, and change your path. I've always loved yoga as a teacher and student so when I realized that no one was making mini mats for the tot market I saw an opportunity. I had no idea how to begin but once I found a manufacturer on alibaba.com the rest fell into place.
Working alone can be challenging and very isolating at times. I had not anticipated that. Sometimes I grab a friend and go for a walk.
Also challenging is the quiet times. It's great when the phone is ringing and orders are coming in, but when I'm not hearing from anyone it can be difficult to trust that I'm doing enough and all will work out in the end.
What's the one piece of advice you'd give to aspiring women business owners?
START! I think too many of us stay in question land and never strike out. You will have some answers and you'll make some mistakes. Begin and you will figure it out. Maybe you'll decide that entrepreneurship is not for you, but you won't know until you try. START.
What's the one achievement you're particularly proud of?
I'm amazed that I've been able to launch a business, double my profits and continue to grow without loans, investors or outside income. I put everything I make back into the business and am very careful.
How empowered do you feel by other young female business owners?
I read INC. and the NYT Small Business section and mingle with folks at trade shows and love to see what other women are doing. In yoga we talk about having a kula or community. As I've developed my business I've found this community of women. It's been great and supportive and helpful. I now have business owners that have become friends in Denmark, China, Canada and the U.S. I believe it's about helping each other succeed.