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Being a woman in business is not for sissies: But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist either

May 19, 2011

I don’t have a Ph.D., sure, I have a B.S. in Business – But, honestly, it is NOT what prepared me for my business. I became a savvy business owner by doing it.

 I attended the School of HARD KNOCKS. I was a perfect 4.0. In fact, I graduated top in my class cum de laude or whatever you call it. That’s me – Vala Duh Torture Um – the one who gives the parting speech about how great the world is and how we are going to make a difference. Yup, that’s why I am giving all these talks all the time about being a woman in business. The women’s groups know I suffered and they can see that being a woman in construction is tough. They love me!  (Well, I love me anyway).

Hey – I’m the ToolBox TomGirl…what more can you want. I am the CEO/Founder of a woman owned and operated construction company. AND – I am still in business during a recession.

So let me give YOU some free advice about being a woman in business. It’s not about being super brainy; it’s about being savvy and being prepared. It’s about research BEFORE you start. And, it’s NOT always about having a million dollars in start-up money.

1. Get rid of the negative people in your life that tell you can’t do something that you are passionate about! You know who I mean. We all have them around us. If you can’t get rid of them – find a way to ignore them ….remember how the voices in the Charlie Brown series sounded “Blah, blah, — blah, blah, blah…. [Can you hear it?]. Well, tune them out. You MUST NOT listen to them. You can do ANYTHING you want to do.

2. Visit a Small Business Resource Center. They are located all over MD. My favorite is located at 1101 E. 33rd Street in Baltimore MD but I know they are everywhere. (Ask for Paul Taylor and tell him the lady with the pink boots sent you) I am sure each state has their own version of this (of course they won’t know the lady in the pink boots, unless you show them my blog and they become a fan of mine). The resource center will give you help with references, how to choose a business, writing a business plan, counseling, regulations for businesses, computers you can use to search information, seminars and workshops, marketing, lead you to loans, marketing, networks, etc. They rock!

3. Pick a business that you LOVE and have a PASSION for. You are going to be putting some much time and effort into this that you will be burned like a candle at both ends. Business ownership is NOT easy. But it is so freak ‘in rewarding! Don’t think that you are going to be able to walk in, take over, and work 9-5 each day and not worry about a thing. NOT. Again, business ownership is rewarding, but it is also very, very, very demanding of your time and energy. Choose your carefully.

4. Know your market. Be sure that there is a need for your service. Don’t choose a widget market if widgets are given away free in your area. Make sure you will have a customer base in the area where you will be doing business. Ask questions such as:
a. Who will my customers be?
b. What are their needs and desires?
c. Who is my competitor?
d. What makes me better than my competitor?
e. How will I promote my business?

5. Be sure to have good resources along with you. I STRONGLY suggest you have a business lawyer.  By this I don’t mean your cousin, sister, neighbor or best friend Harry (unless she/he is a BUSINESS lawyer -not a divorce lawyer). An Accountant and/or Bookkeeper, and someone who is also in business to run ideas by. The other person in business does not have to be in your same business but they need to know about running a business so you can discuss your frustrations and successes with them. Trust me – your family, non-business friends, and animals do NOT understand and will NOT give you the sympathy or kudos you are looking for (and so deserve). This can lead to some serious hurt feelings and long, lonesome nights (and a few glasses of wine – or was that “whine”?).  Either way – this is where business networking is important) – this leads to my last piece of advice.

Business networking is very important. But, don’t join every business networking group that comes your way. Go slowly. I made the mistake my first few years of advertising EVERYWHERE and joining ALL business networking groups. Wow….I was seen all OVER the place – everywhere except home. It cost me time and money. I have slowly backed off and settled on my priorities. Go as a guest. Scope out what works for you and what doesn’t. You don’t need it all. Really. You don’t have to be in every organization that has to do with your trade. And, you don’t have to attend every meeting, every month. You should attend as often as you can to get the most out of the organizational meetings but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. This is a commitment for YOU!  Remember that.

I am very passionate about giving back to the community also. When you start your business remember that you are here to give. Whatever your business is that you choose, find a way to make it useful for those around you and share it. Give a little away each year. Donations of time and money, Sponsor an event, host a dinner, a luncheon, share a bit of the wealth with those less fortunate. You will be surprised how good it makes you feel. Mentor someone who is trying to start their business or work with a youth group or talk to other women who are trying to start a business. Just do something to share your knowledge now that you are woman business owner.

You go girl.  Oh – and pick up that hammer and go build a better world!

  1. May 19, 2011 3:57 pm

    This is excellent advice–especially your last paragraph.

    Also, your point number one is one of the most imporant but hardest to get past–people who are working for a company and want to go out on their own often have this problem in two ways–one as you say from negativity and other by looking around and saying “I could never do this alone.”

    Have you thought about putting this on as a short seminar for a local business group? I think it could help a lot of people.

    • May 20, 2011 12:56 pm

      Thomas – I do this in presentations for some business groups now. I have spoken to various women’s groups over the past several years and have seen many women sit up straighter in their chairs as I am talking. It’s amazing to watch them transform right before my eyes. I don’t get invited to many men’s groups so I don’t know if men have the same insecurities as women but I tend to think it is the female that is told most often that we can’t do something. We are often the one who is told that we “can’t” or “shouldn’t”. I am sad to say that I still have people in my life (those that I still love and hang out with) that give me the advice to “go get a real job.” I know they mean well – but what do they think I do? I guess they see me as “working” because I am not employed by someone else. It’s a tough world being a business owner. You have to be able to take the heat. Thanks for the post.

  2. May 29, 2011 5:15 pm

    Great articles. Thanks for the tips and links!

  3. July 1, 2011 7:30 am

    Jo Ellen, Like you I’m rediscovering LinkedIn and I like the new style with a wall where you can have a conversation although then it’s unclear if it’s better to leave comments on LinkedIn or here on your blog. I’m a blogger so juggling both for now.

    I agree with all your points except the last one. I found my early lawyer & accountant worthless. Over time I realized an accountant is your #1 advisor and for years, I leaned on my insurance agent & other contractors for brainstorming about customer issues. The later don’t charge for their advice, they’re less arrogant and they know a whole lot more than any lawyer I’ve met. Maybe the real advice is take the time to find & build strong relationships with a network of peers, i.e. I just sent an email to 2 folks looking for a roofer recommendation and got back answers within 12 hours.

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