08/18/2014 10:17 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Shelly Fisher, President and CEO, Hope Paige Medical ID Marketplace

Shelly Fisher, a consummate entrepreneur, has over 25 years of business experience, having founded and operated two other companies before starting Hope Paige Medical ID Marketplace. She has been active in various organizations, including Ronald McDonald House Charities, Make a Wish Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Syracuse University, The Philadelphia Challenge Cup, and Relay for Life. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from Syracuse University and a Masters Degree in education from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have had many experiences in my 55 years, some good and some trying, that have blended together to shape me into a leader. When I was young I almost drowned getting caught under a sailboat. I had a brother, who in one second of a little league game lost part of his sight from an unnecessary accident. I have been married for almost 30 years and 3 wonderful children. I survived cancer and a tree falling on my car. Volunteered countless hours, ran 3 different companies, have special friends and family. I have sat with friends who have lost children. Watched how it takes every ounce of their strength to get up in the morning. I've celebrated life on so many levels with others.

What do all these things have to do with leadership? Each experience teaches you something new; you learn that nothing lasts forever. You try to make the most of every day. You spend more time with those you work with than anyone else. I want that time to be a positive experience; to have each day count; to make a difference.

I have always watched my father. Without a college education, he started his own business and built it into a very large and successful international corporation. One thing he always did was treat his employees as a family, as a team. My focus has always been on employee/customer satisfaction. If employees are happy that feeds through to the customer. I have learned by example and in the last 14 years, not one of our employees has left.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Hope Paige Medical ID Marketplace?
I have had varied experiences throughout my life from working at McDonalds, answering a 24 hour crisis intervention line, teaching in a women's prison, starting a fitness facility and selling it 15 years later. These varied experiences have shown me priceless lessons -
• How to really listen to people;
• Working at each level of the corporate ladder gives you a deep understanding of how hard entry level jobs really are;
• Recognizing that every single one of our customers, from big corporations to single individuals are equally important;
• Knowing that every single employee, no matter what his or her position, is equally important;
• Working with and balancing diverse personalities;
• Customer service is paramount to success;
• Your reputation is everything. It can take years to build and it can be lost overnight. So be very thoughtful in your decision making.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Hope Paige Medical ID Marketplace?
Each time a "refuse to wear a medical ID" young person wears one of ours, it allows our team to feel the difference we are making.

Just this month at a JDRF event, a 14-year-old young man who would only keep his ID in his back pack, picked up one of ours and immediately put it on his wrist to the shock of his mother. Moments like that are worth all of the hard work. People who wear medical bracelets often feel branded by their condition and don't want to wear an ID. It has always been our primary focus to make stylish and safe products that all people of all ages, but especially young people, love wearing. When we started 13 years ago there were no fashionable structured bracelets on the market. We know that our company has changed the way other companies make identification products and we have lead by example in changing our industry for the better.

Recently we sent Tom Hanks a few of our bracelets. He not only wrote a personal note to thank us and let us know how much he liked them but we see him wearing the bracelets on Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen and at other public events.

A current challenge we face is going head to head with high tech bracelets new to the market. A number of new marketing companies think for example, sporty QR codes that store the wearers information are an easy sell. The problem with many of those products is two fold, the bracelets are often not recognizable by first responders as a medical id and not everyone has a QR code reader on their phones. Many of these products require other technology to render them effective, such as strong phone reception. We take our customers safety seriously and won't put something trendy on the market just because it's a hot selling fad. First and most importantly we won't sell anything that isn't safe. Do we miss sales for not putting USB bracelets on the market that we know EMTs won't put in their computers? QR codes that might not work? Chips in bracelets that first responders don't have readers for? We might miss sales, but we will never provide "safety products" that aren't safe.

What advice would you give to women who are looking to start their own business?
Before you do anything, develop a business plan. If you aren't sure how to do one there are plenty of templates online. Even if you just go through each step in your mind, it will force you to think through areas you might normally overlook. You need to really research, examine and understand your market. What are you doing that is different than what is already available? Where is your pricing compared to other similar products? How will you get your message out in an information overloaded world?

Many information researchers suggest taking a niche market and putting all of your effort into penetrating that single market. In a smaller market you can gain identity, customers and recognition. Once you gain your footing in one market you can think about expanding. Take things in small focused steps so you don't spread yourself too thin.

Network: there are always women out there happy to share their experiences. There are also many terrific organizations for women in business (i.e. NAPW and groups on LinkedIn). Look into those memberships. On many levels they are very useful with plenty of people willing to mentor or help you along your way.

No one is perfect. Your world will not fall apart if you make a mistake.

Many times barriers you face are self-imposed in your own mind. It might be from past experiences or from how someone made you feel. Never give another individual that power over you or your life. Think about what the problems are, then write them down. List the steps you need to take to rid yourself of the issue. Step back and look at what you learned from that experience and why you won't let that same barrier stop you again. Then move forward.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try to set boundaries. It doesn't always work but at least I make a conscious effort to shut off my phone and my "work mind" as much as I can by 10:00 p.m. each night. When I don't follow my own advice, my husband looks at his watch and then at me as a reminder. Believe it or not, a long walk to clear your head and a long deep breath from time to time really helps to rebalance. Where ever you are right now, close your eyes, and take a long slow deep breath. It seems so simple but it really helps.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think some of the biggest issues go beyond the workplace. Women often try to be everything in every category. Often she is responsible for her parents or siblings. If married, she might run the activities and responsibilities of her household. For mothers, I think things are often the most complicated. How do you schedule meetings around your children's activities? Being in two places at the same time is always a big challenge for us all. Trying to keep all of these things in balance and be successful/focused in the workplace is a big challenge. This level of constant multitasking can take a toll on your energy. It's hard enough for anyone competing in the job market without all of those additional responsibilities.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I think anyone in a leadership position should try to mentor where they can. I have had amazing mentors in my life from teachers and family members, to doctors, friends and co-workers. Personally I believe in mentoring young people. We have had a large number of interns over the years in the office. It is really tough today to get a job without experience. But how do you get experience if no one will give you a job to get the experience? We try to employ as many students as we can, and work with them while they are with us to explore and learn as much as possible. Since we are a small business, I am able to give new projects and varied experiences to our team. With each new thing that is tried, a new skill is learned. One of the few things in life that can't ever be taken from you is your education and what you learn. Knowledge is power and as leaders we have the power and therefore the responsibility to help teach.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Great leadership to me is blazing a new trail, inspiring others, while trying to make the world a better place. Someone who is very much in the public eye right now is Robin Roberts. She broke down many barriers in her career history. Not only being the first African American broadcaster to be hired by ESPN, but recently shared her sexual orientation and wrote a book to help others. She gracefully did these things while letting the public share her experiences with cancer. Being a survivor myself, I was impressed with how she was able to be so open with the public while her future was so uncertain. I admire her strength, her character and the grace in how she handles her life in the public eye.

There are others that many admire in business settings as they had to work incredibly hard to get to where they are now: Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, Marissa Mayer CEO of Yahoo, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, Oprah... the list goes on.

Sheryl wrote a book about "leaning in." Arianna just basically wrote about "leaning out." One thing they both mention is balance. It's such an easy word to say, but one of the most difficult talents to master.

What are your hopes for the future of Hope Paige Medical ID Marketplace?
My hope is that the company continues long after I retire and upholds our mission: helping individuals as well as charities. If I built one message into the fabric of Hope Paige, that of inspiration, support and caring I feel like I was successful. No matter what the company does, it should always do its part in making a positive difference in the world.