Anyone that has been in a position that requires managing others or running a business can tell you that if there's one thing that will never go away, it's challenges. They show up when you least expect them bringing uncertainty to your career, testing your abilities (and your patience), but more importantly challenges help you grow.
I personally used these difficult times to reflect and use the obstacle as motivation to accomplish things that seem impossible. That's just me, though. Today, I've highlighted seven incredibly talented ladies that overcame challenges during the early phases of their business. These ladybosses illustrated how hard work, passion, and determination go a long way in making your dreams come true.
So how do they do it? Keep reading as female leaders explain the challenges, and lessons learned along the way.
1. Avoid isolating yourself from others.
“Throughout my career, my biggest challenge has been learning to deal with criticism--especially negative Yelp and Amazon reviews. When someone posts a 1-star review about the restaurant (or one of my books).... ouch. Even if it doesn't happen very often, it still hurts!" —Alexandra Franzen, Author, Copywriter, Writing Coach/Consultant, and Co-owner of pop-up brunch restaurant HunnyMilk.
Alexandra overcame this challenge by avoiding isolating herself. “Sitting alone in my bedroom, sobbing into my laptop, obsessing over the words that someone has posted online... nope. That doesn't help. I need to reach out to my community--friends, clients, colleagues--for encouragement, humor, and a healthy sense of perspective," Alexandra shares.
Reaching out--not drawing inward--is what helps Alexandra to move forward. She discusses this a great deal in her new book, You're Going to Survive, which is about how to deal with stressful, discouraging experiences at work.
2. Set specific office hours
Even though you run a business to have a flexible schedule, and to have the freedom that an office job can't provide, that doesn't mean that setting office hours won't work for you.
Especially if you have other obligations, for example, if you are a caretaker, you have small children, or your business is a side hustle. Any of these are going to require just as most time and attention as your business does. You'll have to master time management to make it work.
A gal that knows about this is Ashley Mason, owner of Dash of Social a social media consultancy for ladypreneurs, since a few months before launching her business, Ashley's mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma, grade IV brain cancer.
“These past 20 months have been a rollercoaster, and her doctors did tell us in April that she has less than a year left to live. I'm her caretaker three days per week, which is difficult to juggle with client calls and client work," said Ashley.
Ashley overcame this challenge in her business by having custom office hours to accommodate both her mom's schedule and her clients. Also, Ashley's clients are aware of her situation and support her 100 percent.
3. Trust yourself and your instincts
“One of the biggest lessons I've learned as an entrepreneur is to stop second guessing myself. My co-founder Christine and I never encountered any sexism while growing our business, and anytime us being women comes up it is always between us personally." —Helen Lee, Co-founder & COO, JOANY
Helen points out that sometimes we second guess ourselves and then look at our male counterparts who just say “yeah, let's do it" and they don't have that tendency to second guess. “In that way, it almost feels like sometimes we put the females stigma on ourselves. When that happens, we just need to look at each other and say “we've got this, we did our homework, and we know what we're doing."
“It's all about getting out of our own heads and trusting our instincts," Helen suggests.
4. Hire the right people
Paige Arnof Fenn.
When the time comes to expand your business take this new step slowly. “I started a global branding and marketing firm 16 years ago, and I learned that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you." —Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder of Mavens & Moguls.
She wished she would have fire people that were not a good fit for her business a lot sooner. “I spent more time managing my employees than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff, but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have," says Paige.
If you hire employees or freelancers to help you and you feel that's not working out, then let them go. Write down your own job description of your ideal (not perfect) employee that includes qualifications, the day-to-day tasks she will perform and the must-have skills to be successful.
Paige shares, “it is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so I learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!"
5. Not everyone is going to like you (and that's ok!)
“I have worked really hard to be comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to like me. As women, we are taught that we need everyone to like us and that we need to be pleasing to others." —Katie Willcox, CEO of Natural Model Management
Katie feels that model doesn't work for business. “It takes time to be ok with the fact that there will be plenty of people who dislike you and even want to see you fail. The challenge is to not give those individuals power by wasting your time worrying about what they think," shares Katie.
Katie's takeaway: “I have learned that when you are dealing with other people, every person has a reality that is very different from your own. We all see things from our view, and we tend to believe that view is the correct view. I have learned as the boss, understanding where others are coming from is important, but at the same time you have to do what is best for your business."
She has the following advice for other fempreneurs, “have the uncomfortable conversations, hold others accountable, and you always have to keep evolving and growing as a business, regardless of what people say or think about you."
6. Work-life balance, the struggle is real
Many women struggle with the concept of work-life balance and know that cracking the code on finding work-life balance while running a business is difficult, but even more so when you also have to take care of children.
“Explaining to my seven-year-old why I can't be there for every school event, volunteer activity and birthday party can be a challenge. I find myself torn between doing my best for the company, my team, and my customers versus the best for my family. While this family/job dynamic affects both genders, it hits females (especially females in positions of power) especially hard." —Dasha Moore, Owner and Chief Operating Officer of Solodev.
Dasha thinks that if anyone can do it, it's us, ladies. “I use the elements traditionally relegated to my gender to help me balance the unceasing hurdles of the work-life balance. Women are notoriously trustworthy planners, organizers, multitaskers, and negotiators – more so than our male counterparts," Dasha shares.
“Every morning I rise to the challenges of both womentrepreneurship and motherhood, wearing both hats with pride and embracing the challenges thrown my way as gifts rather than burdens," says Dasha.
Merin Guthrie. Photo Courtesy of Akil Bennett
7. Keep a positive attitude
“I think the biggest challenge is staying positive in the face of the everyday grind." —Merin Guthrie, CEO of Kit.
Merin points out that as an entrepreneur, you're always facing steep odds and you spend a lot of your time problem-solving. “At first, every little challenge seems like a major failure. You develop a thicker skin as you go along, but the real way you overcome that feeling of being slightly overwhelmed at all times is by developing a relentlessly positive attitude and always looking for ways to fix issues efficiently and then keep moving forward," says Merin.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk. Something as simple as that can help you see things more clearly. Another option is to jot down everything that's overwhelming you.
“It took me a while to figure out what issues were major issues and not get bogged down by the little things," shares Merin.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."