#SWAAYthenarrative

7 Founders Get Real On Making The Right Moves

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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.

Alexandra Franzen.

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.

Ashley Mason.

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.

Helen Lee

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!)

Katie Willcox.

“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."

Dasha Moore.

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.

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.