Tips for women entrepreneurs

May 8, 2013

I attended the Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World conference today in New York. Shortly after my arrival, as an inspriational, 'ra-ra' type of welcome ensued (far too 'you go girl' for my cynical, British-born soul) I was worried. Was this going to be too airy, not serious, and overly populated with women who have fashion brands? There is nothing wrong with fashion and beauty - I do my share to support the industry - but sometimes I get frustrated, thinking it's all anyone thinks women care about. Until today, anti-fashion snob that I am, I'd never heard of Heather Thomson of Yummie shapewear, former designer to such stars as P Diddy and Jennifer Lopez. But I got a lot out of her talk. Here are some takeaways. Below you'll find a few more from two other talks by Amanda Steinberg and Simon Sinek.

  • "Luck and fate play a big role in success," she said. Thank God. I get sick of hearing that we all "make our own luck". It's true to a certain extent, but it doesn't cover the whole of that big, fat rollercoaster of life, with its major ups and downs. "Sometimes the timing is just off," she continued. "It'll come back around."
  • She was adamant that entrepreneurs need to protect their ideas. That means legally. "Your ideas are your money and your future," and if you don't protect them, your luck will certainly be challenged. She has 11 patents out on her designs for women's shapewear. And she's fighting Spanx in court.
  • She had terrible mentors (mentors being the holy grail for ambitious women, according to literature and anecdotal evidence), but she said they provided good lessons anyway. "My bad mentors became my what-not-to-do."
  • She was not at ease with the numbers side of her business to begin with, never having run a business previously. She had someone help her write her business plan and then listed the top five people she wanted to finance the business and knew had the money to do so. One of them said yes.

Simon Sinek talked about the hormones that drive our behaviors, and the need for female leadership. But he didn't mean leaders who are female. He meant leaders, male or female, who choose to lead in a 'female' way, i.e. with more compassion, using more traditionally female values. We run the risk of wading into stereotype territory here. But that's never stopped me before.

  • "[Business] shouldn't all be about short-term gains and competition," Sinek said, blaming men for the parlous state of the economy and the fact that so many people are hugely stressed in their jobs (due to bad, 'male' type management). "In business school we teach male leadership." That should change, he believes. There's actually a book out on the topic of female thinking right now, 'The Athena Doctrine'. The Daily Telegraph reviewer takes a fairly dim view of it

I think Sinek's ideas make sense in theory, but there hasn't been enough practice yet to enable us to know whether a more caring, sharing type of leadership style will produce a happier, more engaged workforce. I'd like to think it would, but sometimes the law of unintended consequences comes into play (did I mention I was cynical?)

Amanda Steinberg of Daily Worth is someone I've heard speak before and was keen to hear again. She's a no-nonsense breath of fresh air.

  • She said women need to stop saying things like "I'm bad with money". Essentially she was saying that if that's the tape you play over and over, that's what you'll be. But if you change the record (sorry, mixing musical metaphors here) you can change your approach to money, your whole thought process around it. Women also need to "stop saying 'I just want to make enough'". Again, if you say 'enough', enough is all you'll make.
  • Steinberg said women entrepreneurs tend to be unrealistic about what it takes to sell their business or idea, and that to close one deal, you start with 100 prospects, get that down to 20 leads, which leads to four opportunities, which in turn results in one deal. Maybe. Too many women come to her complaining about a lot of 'nos', only for her to find out 'a lot' means six rejections. 
  • Advice to women on being told 'no': take two hours to be emotional about it if you need to, feel the intense rejection and then move on. 
  • "Make sure you're serving a market that can afford to pay you," she said, citing the example of a woman who set herself up as a coach for the unemployed. 
  • Steinberg also has this piece in the Wall Street Journal about women and their 'rescue fantasies', which I highly recommend. "I don't want my daughter to think boys are the bank," she writes. 

It's really good.