Lessons I Learned Today 5/11/09 – Mothers’ Revenge

Here is a recap of highlights, quotes, and comments from articles and discussions posted on the Applied Entrepreneurship group site on LinkedIn.


This was a Mother’s Day Special. All the entrepreneurs featured in articles posted on May 11th are women.

The Women Presidents’ Organization, which helped compile the top-50 list from which these articles came, estimates that 45 percent of all privately held companies in North America are owned by women.


*Somebody at some point has to take that leap of faith with you – Arlene Dickinson

Being successful in any business takes perseverance, confidence and a bit of luck. “I think it’s really hard for entrepreneurs that are just starting out to get their idea in front of the right type of people. Any time as an entrepreneur, you can get in a room with experienced investors or entrepreneurs who have been very successful, I think that that’s an opportunity to test your own acumen and the validity of your idea, and you should take that opportunity.”

A good idea that provides real value can translate into business success. “For the young entrepreneur, the most essential requirement is a good idea. That’s still all it takes to find business success. Don’t lose heart. A good business plan will make its way eventually.”


*This Trailblazer Is No. 1 by Sara Wilson

“You just have to stand your ground and not let other people walk all over you.”  She focused instead on the opportunities that she knew lay hidden beneath the surface.

She immediately certified her business as a women’s business enterprise and was thereby able to open up her business to major contracting opportunities.


*Recipe for Growth: the Right People + Persistence by Eve Gumpel

Nina Vaca opened her first checking account with $300.

Description: IT staffing, consulting and vendor management firm for Fortune 500 companies.

Launched: 1996

2007 sales: $141 million

One of the biggest jobs a CEO has is to make sure that you have the right people on the bus.” Vaca says she’s always had an eye for talent. She sought out some of the best people she could find and convinced them that they could change the business direction, change the model and come out kicking.

The second criterion is persistence. “I’m just the kind of person that never takes no for an answer. I know that if the front door’s locked, I should try the back door, and if the back door’s locked, I can try a window or the garage.”

Six years ago she started developing her own proprietary solution, “really, initially, to absorb our internal growth. I think we grew one year from 50 to 500 people.” We have leveraged this proprietary software now.

“I do try to be both, in terms of a business executive and a good mother.”

I do whatever it takes. You have to be willing to make it happen.”

Vaca says the best thing she did to grow her business was join a variety of organizations. “You’ll know which one speaks to you,” she says. “I find that the chambers and the women’s business councils can serve as a very good venue for networking to find like-minded people who just naturally want to see you succeed.”


*Don’t Grow Too Fast by Eve Gumpel

After several years working in the industry she re-evaluated what she was doing. “I thought, I could do this on my own and carve out a niche and only do temporary housing placements, because it’s mainly phone work. So I decided to get my real estate broker’s license and start my own company.”

“You have to have the right people. You have to be really passionate about what you do, and I think that you have to have employees who are also passionate.”

The company had to change its business model to accomplish its goals. “I think the best advice is to follow your gut. If it doesn’t sit right with your gut, there’s something wrong with that.”

“Don’t grow too fast. Make sure that you have the people in place. Just make sure you’re ready. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.”

“You have to pick and choose who you want to be your customer. Some don’t fit your business model. We’ve started to do some work for customers and had to let them know that it wasn’t a good fit for us.”


*Stay Ahead of the Curve by Eve Gumpel

“What I tried to do was stay ahead of the curve and understand the market better than our competition,” she says. That way she has been able to present a value proposition to her clients. “It’s the long-term relationships that really bring in the business.”

You can’t lose sight of the family.” “Sometimes you have to give up something, because balance is important.”

“Know your market, No. 1. Really, really know your market and what’s your opportunity.” Know what differentiates you from other organizations, “and then be able to speak to that and market to that. What makes you unique? What makes you different? You have to have that in your hand.”


*Bring Integrity to Whatever You Do by Eve Gumpel

After 19 years in the staffing industry “I came to the point where I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ That was my inspiration. Just being able to provide something I thought would be better.”

“We did such a great job and built a reputation of being a real good partner.” That begins with integrity, she adds: “Doing what you say you’re going to do and providing a great product as well as service.”

“It’s really about the passion you have for what you’re doing. You can’t start your own business just for the monetary end of it. You really have to love what you’re doing.”

“Certainly, a sales and marketing plan is a must,” she says. “And the team you hire to surround you and help you build your business: Make sure they’ll represent your company with integrity and professionalism. But really, it’s about your passion for it. If you don’t love it, you’re not going to have much fun.”


*All in the Delivery by Eve Gumpel

“It takes time, a lot of persistence and a little bit of luck,” Poddar says. “I mean, basically, there’s no secret magic to it. It’s really all about acquiring the customers, delivering a quality service and making sure they keep coming back as repeat customers.”

“Just take the leap,” they advise. “You just have to plunge right into it and have fun. If we knew [before starting Polaris] what we know now, we probably couldn’t have done it.” The pair also advises diversifying your client base so the loss of a customer won’t scuttle your business.

“Execute the plan with all due confidence while always remembering that redirecting or modifying it is not always a matter of coming to a full stop, re-planning and re-executing, but more often something that has to be done on the fly.”


*A Woman With a Mission (Statement) by Eve Gumpel

“We live by our mission statement. If you can’t live by your mission statement, then there’s no reason for you to even be in the business.”

1. Have a strategic plan, understand why you opened the business in that sector–what you can do different from everybody else competing in that sector.

2. Stay focused on what you said you would do.

3. Make sure that you sell properly, that you cost the product properly and that you deliver.

4. You have to let go and trust other people. Find the right people that you need to bring into your organization. If you have people working for you, trust them, grow them and give them responsibility so you don’t have to try to do everything.

5. Complement yourself with the folks that you hire–have their strong points be your weakness.


*There’s No Easy Path to Success by Eve Gumpel

Began: 1978

2003 sales: $33.9 million

2007 sales: $172.8 million

How much did it cost to start the business? Serlin used $200 and a Budget truck she rented using her Sears card. “My Sears credit card was the only thing that was still viable,” she says.

How did you grow your business so rapidly? “Every business can be a success; it just takes hard work, long hours and there is no easy way out. You have to be better than all your competition. It’s starting with nothing and reinventing it every day.”

Marsha Serlin describes her inspiration in a single word: “Survival.” She was a single mom with two kids and a houseplant-installation business that didn’t cover her bills. Among her customers, however, was a man who owned a scrap-metal business. He was young and successful–and he was always home. So Serlin asked him to “teach me everything you know in 24 hours.”

Don’t do anything small. If you expect superior results, you’ll get them.

Borrow as much money as you can, and make sure you have great terms with your bank.

Never give up.

React faster than everyone else, and cut your losses.

If your gut tells you not to do something, don’t do it. “Women are very intuitive, and women do such a great job of knowing when to get in or get out of something.”

Serlin says her mantra was “just do it” long before Nike ever conceived the tagline. “No conversation, no excuses. If you’re swift, everything seems to work better. When you belabor something, it just doesn’t work.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. “You will fail once in a while. It’s OK as long as you win more than you lose.”

Women somehow think it’s not OK to talk about money. Profit is what really drives a company, so you have to focus on profitability. Nobody should expect you to be a not-for-profit.

“We’ve been invited to this recession. I get the invitation. But I just don’t go.”


What I Think

I think these are some pretty amazing stories about the success of women entrepreneurs. Most, if not all of them, are mothers who had small children as they were starting their second careers as entrepreneurs. Many of them started as administrative assistants or secretaries for the owner or manager of the company. They worked years in a lower level position and suddenly the light bulb went off.

They realized they could do the job of running the company just as well as their boss had, if not better. Watching how things were run, undoubtedly gave them a confidence in their ability to fix the mistakes, ramp up the enterprise, and go after more and bigger business.

Clearly, many of these women faced huge hurdles, in terms of lack of executive or management experience. They also faced the dual role of mother and boss. Some handled that better than others, but many were able to achieve a balance in their lives, which included success in their family life and success in their business ventures.

As Arlene Dickinson said, “Being successful in any business takes perseverance, confidence and a bit of luck.” Aside from these three common threads, each of these successful women entrepreneurs seemed to know both their customers and their market better than much of their competition. They may have worked a little harder, but their success seems to have been worth it to all of them.

There are both advantages and disadvantages for women entrepreneurs. Some of these ladies took advantage of programs, such as woman owned business certification, to level the playing field. Some did not. Some created unique software applications, which gave them a competitive advantage. Some did not. Some had substantial monies saved to invest in jump-starting their new business, while others found a way to get started with little money or by borrowing enough to go forward.

All of them worked extremely hard and refused to be stopped. They found a way to reach their goal. They were amazing successful and are an inspiration to any aspiring entrepreneur.

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If you enjoyed my impression of these articles, why don’t you read them for yourself and see what you and I missed or hit? Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, business, Business interruption, crisis, etc., Business life cycle, Buying a business, Family business issues, Financial security, Financing a business, Franchise, Green business, Growing a business, Innovation, Intellectual property, Minority Business Enterprise, Perseverance, Personal happiness, Planning for a business, Recession strategies, Running a business, Selling a business, Social networking & media, Starting a business, Succession Planning, technology, Thinking about a new business, Women Business Enterprise

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