Thirty years on Wall Street has taught me a few things about being a woman in the business world that I'd like to share with the next generation of multicultural women who want to start and scale a business. In the early days of my career, I had my own personal missteps amidst numerous victories.
I always vowed that when I reached senior management, and people came to me for advice, I would provide them with the tools, strategies and pearls of wisdom honed by my own experience. That's why it is such an honor to be chair of the National Women's Business Council and have an independent platform from which to share my pearls of wisdom. Here are five of my “Carla's Pearls:"
1. Build Your “Relationship Currency"
Starting out as a woman in the male-dominated industry of investment banking, I thought working hard was enough, but quickly realized it was not only hard work, but the people who leveraged their relationships were actually the ones able to climb the fastest. My advice to young professionals and entrepreneurs is, don't over invest in your performance because it really is the 'relationship currency' that gets you the next great assignment, a piece of business that generates visibility or the ability to have access to someone that can make the difference. Relationship currency comes from spending time with people inside and outside your organization that can positively impact your career or business. Some of the most important relationship currency I amassed in my journey to becoming a major decision-maker has been from mentors and sponsors.
First, understand the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor. Your mentor needs to know you very well and be willing to give you unaltered feedback in a direct way, while also understanding your work context, and always have your BEST interest at heart. My advice to anyone, and particularly women of color is, do not be confined to choosing someone that looks like you or that works in your organization. As long as you believe that the person knows you really well, and you are able to give them the “good, bad and the ugly" of whatever your concern or situation may be, then they can be an effective mentor for you. Your sponsor is the person who will use their social and political currency to advance your career or professional decisions being made about you behind closed doors within your organization. You need to identify the person who has a seat at the decision-making table, who has the power and influence to get to an affirmative decision on your behalf. If you are an entrepreneur, then your sponsor can be the person who is using their personal connections to introduce you to sources of capital, new customers or even new suppliers.
2. Expand Your Network Far and Wide
Always be thinking of every person you already know and new ones you meet in terms of how they can help you grow your professional network. You must build your network far beyond mentors and sponsors. Make sure that you are constantly taking time to connect with new people, and also maintain existing relationships in and out of the office. Even if it's just to say “hi, how was your weekend?" or “let's catch up over coffee," these light touches can give you the basis to start building intentional relationships that can be meaningful to you and your business. The key to success is the follow-up with people.
Consider individuals such as family, friends, employees, co-workers, customers and service providers that not only know who you are, but are also connected to other people who might turn out to be helpful to you. You'll be surprised at the network of people that are available to you that you already know – your doctor, your peer or a former teacher for example. You have to start talking to people about what you are planning to do, what you need, etc.
Entrepreneurs of color should especially over invest in building relationships in order to have access to the people that could make the difference in having the capital needed to scale or the customer that could change your business in an exponential way.
3. Seek Out All Available Resources
Take the time to learn what resources are available to you. During my travels across the country as Chair of the National Women's Business Council, I found that city-by-city, there are economic development, small business and even financial resources that are not used because many people are not aware they even exist as options.
To potential, current and future small business owners and entrepreneurs, start by going to the NWBC website (www.nwbc.org) to see what resources are in your city. You can also check the state or mayor's website and the SBA website for additional resource partners in your area such as the Women's Business Centers. With a few clicks, you will find resources in your area that you should fully leverage before making the extraordinary effort to go beyond your geographical boundaries. These resources are so important because of the challenges faced by women when it comes to securing capital funding, a particularly daunting challenge for multicultural women-owned businesses.
Consider the company you are currently working at as a tremendous resource as well. Try to work for a business that is in the same sector as the company that you want to start or that is very similar to your prospective business model.
You can learn how your company put their business together, how they obtained capital financing, how they attracted customers, etc. You want to achieve the highest level of success possible, and you cannot do it on your own. Emulate the people around you working towards similar goals.
4. Consider Many Options for Raising Capital
While working, save, save, save! You want to have your own capital to put into your business. If you have a great idea, but have no capital, it will be easy for investors to have disproportionate leverage in your business.
A growing and optimal arena where women have proven to excel in raising capital is crowdfunding. Although more men use seed crowdfunding, research shows that women are more successful in this growing funding arena.
This is most likely due to women creating larger and closer social networks, which I can't stress enough is the true key. Remember that 'relationship currency!' It will help you towards crowdfunding success. Women crowdfunding campaigns have higher success rates in comparison to men, averaging to be 4.6% more successful than their male counterparts in funding a campaign.
As your business starts to grow, don't forget about human capital early. Remember to add human capital so that you have the capacity to handle the growth. I have seen so many entrepreneurs who had to walk away from a valuable business and customers simply because they had no capacity to execute the business.
5. Help Each Other Out
I am a firm believer that our young girls need our help early on with exposure to financial literacy education to inspire greater interest in finance careers and to better equip young women as budding entrepreneurs.
My grandmother, who was the first female entrepreneur that I knew, would often let me count the money from her business and by the time that I was in 8th grade, I was helping her with her bookkeeping. It gave me an early interest in money and finance and as I got older and then became exposed to Wall Street, I was all in!
In the end, women need to band together, just as they are with other social issues. Through the creation of a community, there is a place where women can exchange their ideas and their challenges. Your family, friends, mentors, employees, co-workers and customers not only know who you are, but are also connected to other people who might turn out to be helpful to you and your business. You'll be surprised at the resources that are available from the people that you already know. Be an advocate for yourself and for others to create positive outcomes for women entrepreneurs and business owners.
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It isn't always easy to stay on top of your finances, especially when you have developed unhealthy spending habits over the years. However, as you begin to realize the many benefits of having healthy finances, it can become something you want to make a conscious effort to improve. When your finances are in a good place, you often have access to better opportunities whether it be a mortgage loan, greater credit line or business loan. On that note, here is how you can become an expert at managing your finances in case you need a few tips.
Learn to Use Technology
The good thing about managing finances in the technological age is that you don't have to do it alone. There are so many apps available that will help you pay bills on time and track your expenses. For instance, some apps force you to live within your actual income and tell you what to do when you need to balance your budget.
If you need an app that will help you get better at saving, then some will set aside your spare change for you. Also, don't be afraid to use more simple tools such as your smartphone calendar to set reminders about payments if you don't automate them.
Seek Legal Advice
Sometimes, being an expert at something means understanding that you can't possibly know it all. This is why you have professionals around you that can help fill in the gaps where you're lacking. Consider hiring a legal firm to help with any challenges that are beyond you. Lexington Law is a good firm as they could help remove negative items from your credit report. Read this Lexington Law Review (Our #1 Credit Repair Service of 2019) to find out more about how they could help improve your finances.
You can't do better than what you know when it comes to managing finances. You should, therefore, invest your time in learning more about finances and how to manage them. Think about what your goals for your finances are and what knowledge gaps you need to fill.
For example, if you want to invest in the stock market so that you can improve your net worth, then you may need to learn more about investing to do so successfully. To boost your knowledge, try reading articles on credible blogs that share finance information from professionals. Also, be weary of content from finance-driven companies as it could be biased.
Work on Growing Your Income
As a self-proclaimed finance guru, you know that the more sources of income that you have, the better. Work on increasing your streams of income so that you have more money to meet your targets whether it's to save for a property or put larger sums towards retirement. One way to do so would be by getting extra income by doing social media marketing for businesses or creating tutorials on YouTube. If you own a property, renting out rooms is a great way to make passive income.
Live Within Your Means
It can be difficult to live within your means when you live in a society that is always presenting you with things to buy. However, being more conscious about the things that you purchase could help you realize that most are wants rather than needs. To live within your means, always take time to think about a purchase as opposed to impulse spending. You should always get good at bargain hunting as many times you can find items of similar quality at a cheaper price.
Learn How to Manage Debt
Debt doesn't have to be a bad thing if you understand how it works and how to manage it. It can be a tool for credit building when you understand the fundamentals. For instance, if you take out a loan or credit card, always be mindful of your interest rates.
By paying the amount of money you borrowed back in full before the due date, you won't have to pay interest on what you borrowed. If you can't pay back in full, paying more than the minimum payment will ensure you incur less interest. For the most part, the secret to good debt management is never spending more than you can afford to pay back.
Managing finances is a life skill that can help improve your quality of life. By following the mentioned tips and taking your finances more seriously, you're more likely to master the art of healthy finances.