Your first year in business is more about surviving than thriving. You’re just starting to build a brand, grow your customer base and figure out how in the world you’ll turn a profit. And if you lack startup business funding, you’ll probably be doing the jobs of several people all by yourself. But you’re not alone — thousands of CEOs have been in your shoes and some even made it to the other side.
Now add to that being a woman in a world that’s as patriarchal as ever and new challenges start to pile up. Finding a network of other successful women is an invaluable way to build a much-needed support system. And, depending on where you live, you could be in one of the cities with the most female entrepreneurs, which makes the task of meeting people that much easier.
Until you build that network, you can use resources at hand, like the internet, to connect with like-minded businesswomen. Just like you, these 10 female founders were once in your shoes. They’ve since been through it all and can now reflect on their time just starting out. Take a page or two out of their books by following their best piece of advice for women at the helm of their own companies for the very first time.
1. Find Role Models
“I’m a high-growth startup founder with two children under the age of five. It’s hard! But it’s not impossible,” said Abigail Besdin, co-founder and head of growth for Great Jones, a national property management company. “Earlier in my career I had real questions about how feasible it would be to build a business and a family at the same time, and there weren’t too many female founders out there to model myself on. I’m impressed by how much that’s changed in the last 5 to 10 years. I’d encourage anyone looking to start a business today to identify those role models—whether people you actually know personally or other more public figures—and keep them in mind for when things get tough and it all feels undoable. They’ll be a good reminder that if they can do it, you can and will, too.”
2. Get Organized
“I wish an experienced female mentor would have told me to get organized. I had no idea how much time I would be spending on my business in the beginning,” said Lydia McConnell, founder and creative director of Le Chic Miami, which sells hand-painted wooden earrings. “I wasted so much time the first year being unorganized and trying to remember everything I needed to do in my head. My business consumed me—it was all I was working on because I was working inefficiently. Now I write down everything I need to do in a to-do list and schedule when I am going to do it in my calendar. It has allowed me to get everything done and have a life outside my business.”
3. Be Brave, Not Perfect
“Starting a company can be scary and lonely, and the funnest and most rewarding thing you will do,” said Maxine Minter, co-founder and head of operations at Radvocate, a tech-enabled consumer advocacy startup. “Just keep taking steps towards the goal. Buy the domain name. Tell people about what you are building. Close your first customer. Don’t focus on doing these things perfectly, do them bravely. Focusing on perfect will lead to inaction. With each imperfect step, it will be harder and harder to turn around and walk away.”
4. Ask for Help
“Over the last 12 years, I’ve loved being able to watch what was once just a dream of mine become a real company that has helped millions of remote job seekers—but that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a lot of smart people, including my brother, Adam, who helped me launch the site in the beginning,” said Laura Spawn, CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, which connects job seekers with telecommute job openings. “As women in business, we have a lot to prove, and I especially felt that way knowing I started my business sort of ‘later in life.’ That thinking can sometimes lead us to feel like we need to tackle each and every problem ourselves—but that’s just not realistic, and your business will likely benefit from more hands on deck. For women entrepreneurs just starting out, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting more people involved and asking for help when you need it. That way, you can focus on what great entrepreneurs are best at: honing in on your mission and driving the big picture forward.”
5. Build a Community
“As exciting as entrepreneurship is, it can be a bit lonely at times,” said Krista Doyle, founder of The CoWork Space, an online community for women who work remotely. “Nobody really talks about that aspect of working for yourself. My advice for women entrepreneurs is to be proactive about finding a community of other women in your position to help offer connection, networking, and support while you’re going through all the ups and downs of creating your business.”
6. Own Your Success
“One issue I had to face and overcome as a female entrepreneur was taking ownership of my success,” said Katie Schmidt, owner, founder, and lead designer of Passion Lilie, an ethical clothing boutique. “Unfortunately, women are often taught to downplay our accomplishments so we seem less threatening or boastful. It’s important to realize that you don’t need to do this in order to succeed. Make a habit of recording hard evidence of your successes, so that no one (including you) can dismiss them. This practice is a great way to boost your confidence as a female business owner.”
7. Be Flexible
“In a male-dominated tech industry, what is important is what you bring to the table, regardless of your gender,” Leah Quesada, co-founder and head of marketing at Sumos.io, which helps keep smart home devices safe from hackers. “I bring to the table many years of corporate and international experiences, that is unique to the team. A confident and winning attitude helps a lot. In resource-strapped startups, having the ability to be flexible to work from basic to strategic type of work is needed—and so I do. The ability to continuously learn and be self-taught is quite important as tasks are defined as they come along. Once people see you for the value you bring, your gender or color or race matters very little.”
8. Conquer Imposter Syndrome
“First, and maybe most importantly, you deserve a seat at this table. Get out of that imposter syndrome mentality,” said Anika Goodwin, MD, co-founder and CEO of EYEmergencyMD, Inc., a company dedicated to eradicating preventable blindness by improving access to high-quality eye care. “You are a boss! Lift as you climb and use your village. I was fortunate enough to have a best friend who is a coding and billing expert. She helped give me instant credibility without the large expenditure of capital pre-funding. She is now head of my company’s coding and billing department. Enjoy the journey. It will be [a] wild, yet fulfilling ride.”
9. Find Balance in Parenthood and Your Career
“Being a woman in a career and a mother are two very different things when you plan a career,” said Alison Bernstein, founder and president of Suburban Jungle, a real estate and lifestyle advisory firm that helps young families move from urban to suburban locations. “Once you are a parent, your decisions and time are not totally your own—and therefore you need to focus on opportunity cost much more. Taking into account the travel demand of a position and the risk takes on a whole new meaning. I see so many women drop out of the workforce because of the difficulty in balancing and the guilt. This is tough to see and when I built this company I kept that in mind as I sought to hire talented moms, many of whom originally dropped out.”
10. Learn to Let Go
“I think the most important thing to really really understand when starting a business is to take whatever picture you have in your mind about how the journey is going to look and throw it out the window,” said Shari Stein Curry, CEO and co-founder of The Living Apothecary, an organic probiotic tea company. “You really need to have a solid idea you can get behind for a number of years and a true growth trajectory for it. Then be open to the experience as it unfolds. Really hone in on the beautiful feminine within, strap it to your soul and then just dig in, go after it, and get dirty. Oh and from a practical standpoint: multitask, delegate, organize, prioritize, and execute.”
The Bottom Line: Learn From Others
It doesn’t matter if you launched your business two weeks ago or two years ago, there are tough lessons to be learned. But if you take the time to listen to people who have been in similar circumstances, you could take your business to the next level without having to learn all those lessons the hard way.
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