4 Min ReadCareer 12 August 2020
We're living through an unprecedented time. It's scary, but I've been here.
I started my career working for design firms in 1993, then added a side venture in the mid-90s, a custom kid's bed linen business that I ran for 10 years. In the late 90s, I added a second moonlighting layer (because who needs a social life in their 20s): smaller, then bigger interior design projects in whatever waking hours I had. In 2004, I got an opportunity from one of those side clients to launch my own interior design firm. It took a nagging gut instinct to make the leap, but I'm grateful that I said yes.
My businesses have survived significant shakeups, including September 11th and the 2008 financial crisis, as well as years where nothing seems to go right. For someone who wasn't entrepreneurial minded in design school, here we are, 25 years later, with endless lessons and the ability to weather the storm.
While I haven't looked back since — well, maybe once or twice — I do wish someone had conveyed things to me that would have helped immensely in the beginning. There is no rule book (where would the fun be in that?) but the following thoughts are some of my tips for managing your own, female-owned business, in good times and bad.
It's moments of doubt where I recommend you continue to put the energy out there and hope that something comes back.
Find a Tribe
Being on your own, while rewarding, is lonely. There is no one to vent to, no one to get coffee with, and no one who understands. Join as many industry groups as you can. I found comfort in The Decorator's Club and Design Leadership Network. Together with two friends, I also started a no-name group of like-minded female designers, which meets regularly and has been an indispensable source of support for everyday needs ("anyone know a great *fill in the blank*") and crisis situations ("how are others reassuring their clients during COVID?"). Other valuable resources I've used include Ellevate Network and Female Founder Collective.
Don't Reject Networking
I'm an introvert. I love nothing more than hunkering down and enjoying peace and quiet. My first few years in business, I rejected networking events, hindered by social anxiety. I would get invitations, get dressed, reach the front door, turn around, and walk away. Please don't do this. The doors that these gatherings open are worth it and, once you're there, it's hardly so bad. Make a rule that you cannot leave until you introduce yourself to three people. After that, you can go home and get in your jammies.
Build Up Reserves
While getting my MBA, my team wrote a business plan for my developing business. I was adamant about having significant savings before taking on full-time staff and overhead. Once in the real world, I was so busy that I ignored my rule. Somehow, we have managed to survive for 16 years, bootstrapping the business.
This spring reminded me of the errors of my ways. I watched as many around me folded, and design firms fired staff because there were few reserves and clients retreated. This sent home a poignant reminder that I too need to have a comfortable cushion. Three to six months of expenses in reserves is now a promise to myself, and ensuring a line of credit is always available, even if you never use it, is a added layer of protection.
If I could go back in time, I'd make different decisions. Only now do I see I had a choice.
Believe in the Process
As a business owner, I've learned that, each decade, there is one year that is just… off. For whatever reason, your audience doesn't "need" you. These moments will feel dark, but I encourage you to remember that the process is cyclical. There have been moments when things are not going my way and I've panicked, believing the business was ending. It's moments of doubt where I recommend you continue to put the energy out there and hope that something comes back. It will.
Continue to Assess your Priorities
As a female business owner, there are additional obstacles I've overcome, and you will too. Learn to negotiate your worth early and figure out how to balance having a family, if you choose to have one. Determine if you want to spend five days working. Can you commit 60+ hours? 40? 30? If you feel like you are at a life stage where you need to spend more time at home, change your business to allow it. I believe your business serves you — not the other way around. As a woman, these considerations come up faster than they do for men. I was unable to take time off after having my daughters and instead pushed through. If I could go back in time, I'd make different decisions. Only now do I see I had a choice.
Learn to Streamline
During stressful times, it's crucial that we put our business hats on and look at our numbers. Fast. Figuring out how to pivot, cut, and strip to reach a better balance is key. It is not about being nice, it's about getting through. After calls with my circle of confidants, I learned that streamlining quickly is the best approach. It hurts to let staff and plans go. But you are not helping by holding on too long.
Figuring out how to pivot, cut, and strip to reach a better balance is key. It is not about being nice, it's about getting through.
Owning your own business, in good times and bad, is a roller coaster. I encourage anyone reading this, whether you're thinking about starting, are running a successful one, or struggling to survive, to continue pushing forward. A last note: it's great to hear advice, but know it's not necessary to accept all of it. You're in the driver's seat now, no one can keep pushing you forward like you can.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist