Celebrating women in retailing this October, National Women in Small Business Month is breaking ground in showcasing amazing women-run businesses large and small. Just twenty-five years ago, women owned only 10 percent of businesses in the United States. Although that number has risen to 30 percent today, women have a long way to go in the business world. With increased mentoring, funding, and training opportunities, future women entrepreneurs will have a better chance at overcoming hurdles and achieving greater success.
In helping each other, women entrepreneurs encourage each other to succeed rather than to outshine one another. Countless obstacles in the business world can be swept away with advice such as these tips we’ve gathered from strong empowering women entrepreneurs sharing their expertise and experiences.
Love What You Sell
President and Founder of Headbands for Hope Jessica Ekstrom pours her whole heart into selling headbands to fund research for childhood cancer. She underscores the importance of loving what you do: “I learned that you can do anything if you have the passion for it. If you’re working on something you truly believe in, there shouldn’t be any problem that is too big to fight through.”
Jamie James, maker of the sophisticated and practical cell phone wallet case Cellfolio, echoes this imperative to be passionate about what you sell: “I have learned that you have to truly love your product and believe in what you are selling. My website reflects who I am. The products embody my personal style and spirit – utility and sophistication are the hallmarks of my product. ”
Never Back Down
Christy Cook, owner and founder of Teach My award-winning learning kits for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, learned that “Women in retail need to have a thick skin! Generally, women are too nice! We need to be prepared to take criticism, learn from it, grow and move on! Also, be careful of fraudsters! Women tend to be too trusting.”
Maker of bicycle chain jewelry for Chainspirations, Paula MacMann advises, “Don’t be shy about promoting your company. Become involved in your community and events that are at least somewhat related to your business. This will gain exposure for you and create a basis for customer relationships. Have a passion for what you do. It will be the driving force in making things happen! People will feel your passion and want to share a part of it.”
Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson of Best Friends for Life, a maker of thoughtful cancer patient care packages, stresses, “Stay focused on your mission; wish for kindness in those who are helping you; but never be naïve.”
CEO of Dwellable vacation rentals Brenda Spoonemore speaks the hard truth: “There is no such thing as balance. If you’re in your office, you aren’t home with the kids. What you need to understand is what works for you and your family, and that equation might change week to week or just year to year. Don’t let the pressures of society inform you—you really are the best judge of your family circumstances and when you take decisions, know that nothing is forever. ‘Superwoman’ or ‘the perfect Mom’ is just a construct of the media. What’s important is to know your ‘just right’ situation. For me flexibility has been a key, knowing that if I want to be there for homework or a school play or whatever event it might be, that I can work late into the night to ‘catch up’. Keeping all the plates in the air is just plain hard, but equally immensely rewarding as you get to enjoy both personal and professional successes. Not everyone gets that.”
Nicki Maynard, CEO of Nicki’s Diapers found that listening to her customer’s feedback helped her be flexible in developing her cloth diapers and other baby products: “Many thought since I was young (I started my business at age 24) and a women that I didn’t know what I was doing. Plus being in the baby industry made it even worse. I just believed in what I was doing and really got to know my customers and what they wanted. My business was built on requests from my customers. In many businesses customers ask but the business doesn’t really listen. I found that listening was the key to my success.”
Leverage Social Media
Tagela Walker-Craft, President of Simply Necessary, Inc., maker of the versatile GoPillow! Portable pillow and blanket, says “Social media provides me with a way to reach an unlimited number of potential customers and business associates. Social media also allows me to interact with customers and receive immediate feedback about the GoPillow!”
Women’s contemporary apparel design company Jolie & Elizabeth’s own Jolie Bensen and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey gush over the power of social networking: “Social Media is a bigger and better tool than we can realize. You can instagram pictures of your latest shipments, tweet a 50% off sale- it’s easy, effortless and practically free PR. Utilize it to your advantage. Owning a boutique requires your own taste level and style so create that and stick with it. Social Media provides direct feedback from your customers. Embrace it.”
Christy Cook shares her favorite business tool: “Hootsuite is my favorite tool! Not for owls! It is an amazing way to schedule tweets, so your business can always have a presence on Twitter, even when you are not in front of the computer!”
Be Yourself, Be Unique
RAINRAPS waterproof, versatile, and compact wrap creators Rachel Teyssier and Stacy Struminger were ingenious in finding their niche, “I think that a lot of companies are competing with a large market within their categories. Our major drive was due to the fact that we knew we had a unique product. We were not competing with anyone, unless you count the umbrella.”
Kat of Kat’s Boutique for women’s clothing, shoes and skincare lines says, “To make my online store stand out from the crowd I found a niche that I cared about and centered all of my products and marketing around that niche.”
Follow Your Dreams
Jessica Ekstrom can’t say enough about never giving up on your dreams to make a difference in this world: “Go for it and don’t look back! I started my company in college when I was just about to turn 20. Now, one year later, I look back and am so grateful that I had the courage and support to just pour everything I had and make Headbands of Hope what it is today. If I started the company and let myself get consumed with doubts, then my hesitations would have turned detrimental to my company. When people doubted that I could create this while still in college, I couldn’t help but be amused because I knew of all the great university resources at my disposal. I met with the business school, the design school, and the computer and graphics departments. Take full advantage of the resources and opportunities available to you. One of my favorite quotes is by Richard Branson, ‘The people who think they’re crazy enough to change the world, are the ones that do.’ This quote speaks volumes to me. I feel that you have to have a little ‘crazy’ in you to really make a difference. If you believe you can do it, then there’s nothing that should get in your way. It takes that extra kick of passion (that craziness) to help you jump the hurdles and reach further. But it’s up to you to find what makes you ‘crazy’!”
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com shares, “It’s not easy. Being an entrepreneur – whether female or male – is hard work. It takes dedication and hard work. It takes commitment. When everyone else is working 9 – 5, you’ll often have to burn the midnight oil. But if you are dedicated and you love what you are doing, it’s not work. It really isn’t. It’s about building something that is your own. I saw a quote that said, ‘Build your own dream. If not, you’ll work to build someone else’s.’ If you really want to build your own dream, you have to be relentless and you have to have a great attitude in the process.”
Thank you to each one of these inspiring women leaning the way for more women entrepreneurs to succeed in retail and beyond.
Image used with permission from Jolie & Elizabeth.