Business 03 January 2017
Carolyn Weiss, founder and president of Transgender Business Services, could not have asked for a more supportive work environment when she began her gender transition process in 2011.
At that time, Weiss was working for the City of Los Angeles and her boss hired a trans woman who specialized in trans awareness training for businesses, in order to give Weiss the support she needed and help her colleagues understand what she was going through. The experience was invaluable, for both Weiss – who like any one going through the difficulties of a gender transition process, needed all the support she could get - and her team. It inspired Weiss to set up her own consulting practice to give businesses the tools they need to in turn support employees who are transitioning, and provide knowledge to their staff.
“I realized, from my own experience, that training staff is critical to anyone's transition in the workplace and I wanted to try doing it myself," she says.
She launched her company in March with the intent of providing in-person training to employees of small-to-mid-sized businesses and has been working with a range of companies to help their staff “understand what trans gender people are about by demystifying the issues surrounding gender transition and breaking down the barriers."
Weiss has also trained nursing students, worked with mental health professionals and is scheduled to do a training program at a high school in her area in January.
And just a day after she launched her business, a local company that produces and markets e-learning courses and webinars contacted Weiss, asking her to partner on a video based on her training program material.
“Our intent is to try to get that out into the marketplace nationwide and instead of helping a few dozen businesses a year, we could use it to help hundreds across the country provide their staff with the training they need," she says.
But even if Weiss is encouraged by the openness of businesses, both large and small, to support their transgender employees and educate their workforce on transgender issues, her own, positive experience may be a unique story.
Many transgender people have a tough time in the workplace, she says, and they're often up against strong discrimination. Because of this, many are reluctant and afraid to transition while working for fear of losing their standing or their jobs.
That's exactly what happened to Ann Thomas.
She began transitioning slowly in 2000 but immediately ran into problems at work.
“I was working on an organic farm, the company was very conservative and told me not to do it but I did and I lost my job," Thomas says.
On a personal level, too, things were very tough for Thomas.
“I dressed kind of female during the week but during the weekend, I would have to dress male to see my kids. After my wife died in an accident in 2009, I went back to dressing 100% as male because my daughter had just lost her mom - she was 16, it was very hard and I had not come out to her as yet. It was the worst time in my life, though, and I felt like dying."
Thomas stuck to the course, though, and was finally able to transition three years ago and pursue new opportunities. After appearing in episodes of Glee (she sang with the transgender chorus featured in the show) and Transparent, she realized how keen the entertainment industry is in featuring transgender talent. While agencies do represent transgender individuals, there was a need, she says, for a dedicated enterprise, and so she set up Transgender Talent.
Just like any business that's getting off the ground, Thomas launched hers on a shoestring budget. Crowdfunding helped a bit, but she's still working a day job and “I'm hoping that I can land some bigger gigs for people from bigger businesses that would pay more," she says. “Overall, though, I have a very optimistic outlook for trans people in the entertainment industry, even if it's going to take another 10 or 20 years to change the rest of the nation."
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey carried out by National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Survey participants also said they also experience higher-than-average rates of violence and psychological distress, which many in the community fear may increase during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
Still, things are changing and business owners like Weiss and Thomas are hopeful for a better future for their community.
“The only time I can see when being a trans business owner would have problems with clientele is when they advertise, as I have, as a transgender-owned business," Weiss says.
“For me, it defines who I am and the services I provide but that is actually pretty rare, as far as I know. I could own a nail salon and no one would know until they got to know me, and by that time I would hope that it wouldn't matter."
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.