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Biz Ladies: Top 10 Things I Learned from The Female Business Leaders of Tomorrow

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For the past year, Erin Bagwell has been interviewing female entrepreneurs for her blog Feminist Wednesday. Inspired by their stories and messages, she knew she had to share them on a larger scale. So she teamed up with some of her favorite female videographers and began producing “Dream, Girl.” “Dream, Girl” is a documentary film redefining what it means to be a boss by telling the empowering stories of female entrepreneurs and CEOs. We asked Erin for the best bits of advice she gleaned from interviewing female founders, and to share how she has been inspired and enlightened by her discussions with these driven, dedicated ladies. Take a look at the trailer for her film “Dream, Girl” here. -Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

1. Let Your Passion Drive You

Late nights, early mornings, nearly every extra moment off the job for a female entrepreneur is spent thinking of ways to innovate and elevate your brand. Office hours never really stop when you own something, but your passion makes it easy to burn that candle a little longer.

2. No One Knows What They Are Doing (At Least In The Beginning…)

We have the vision, we see the finish line, and we want to know all the answers right from the beginning. Starting a company is a daunting prospect, especially if you don’t feel like you have every little detail figured out – but that’s ok, no one does! You just need to start…somewhere, anywhere! Pick up the pen, open up that browser, start small. If it doesn’t work, modify. Then modify again!

Our friends at Phin & Phebes started making their own ice cream because they wanted a winter hobby. They didn’t make a business plan or dive into meetings, they started by simply getting their hands dirty in the kitchen and creating. The business side of it came later. It’s important to start and allow yourself to try… and fail. Honestly, the early days are the best time to fail because you don’t have an audience or investors to disappoint! And even better, experimenting is the fun part!

3. Own Your Perspective

So many of the businesses I admire were built on their uniquely female perspective. Don’t shy away from being a woman in business – embrace it! 98% of companies in the U.S. are run by men, and a lot of those companies are trying to sell products to women based on what they think you want. Guess what – you don’t need anyone to translate for you. You need underwear that can handle your period? You create a synthetic fabric to do so (Dear Kate). You cried the first time you were in Babies “R” Us because you were so overwhelmed with all the options? You start a social media community to get recommendations from friends (weeSpring). Girls in third world countries aren’t getting the education they deserve? You start funding their dreams for them (She’s The First). The female perspective and experience has not yet flooded the market. The space is yours for the taking!

4. If You Want Something, Ask for It

Sometimes there is construction happening outside the window of an interview you waited six hours to film, and you have to climb outside and negotiate with a construction worker about the use of hammers so you can get the shot sans banging noises. Stuff happens, and it’s up to you to make things work. Don’t be afraid to be blunt and ask for exactly what you want. Start getting used to putting yourself out there to ask for advice, information, or to pause construction, because the worst someone can say is no, and the yeses you get make all the difference.

5. Be in Love with Your Brand

Your brand should be as welcoming to you as your favorite toasty beverage on a chilly fall day. It should be a point of pride that inspires, comforts, and maybe even makes you smile (my mascot for Feminist Wednesday is a purple beaver named Betty). You want it to be an extension of your personality that you are excited to see and work on every day. Ultimate #girlboss Sophia Amoruso created Nasty Gal based on her love of the Betty Davis song “Nasty Gal.” This global fashion empire exudes the song’s rebellious, sexy, and original message in all their products, people, voice, tone and imagery. Find that thread of inspiration that reflects your brand’s mission and weave it throughout your entire company!

6. Create a Mission & Hire Missionaries

If you want to create a sustaining company that has a meaningful, cult-like following, you need to project that image from every facet of your company, from your products to your people and everything in between. I heard Tony Hsieh from Zappos speak at an event last year and one of the questions he got was about what he does to monitor his employees’ social media accounts. His answer? He hires responsible people who reflect the message of the brand inside and outside the workplace. All the fat cat CEOs in the audience were totally baffled by this.

For startups, this is paramount. When you are getting something off the ground you need people who believe in your brand and want to further your message. You can’t micromanage their every move… you need people who you can trust to take your message and run with it. If a potential hire gives you the impression that they might dilute your brand or your message, they probably aren’t a good fit, and that’s a good thing! Historically, the most successful companies in America have a cult-like following and message, which is born from employees who live and breathe the company’s mission and inspire their customers to do the same.

7. Network Like a Monster & Be Responsive

When you are getting a business off the ground, chances are you’ll need staff, press, perhaps even funding. Never is it more important to put yourself out there and represent your brand. Reshma Saujani, the Founder of Girls Who Code, told us her number one tip for starting a company is to be authentic. If you be yourself and your brand messaging reflects this, it will be no problem to talk and network for hours with potential colleagues. You never know who might connect you to your next client or collaboration. Also, once you make a connection happen, be responsive. The most successful people I know always email me back within minutes of me sending them something, despite being the busiest people I know. I have no idea how they do it, but it’s something I think is important to learn from. These ladies are constantly hustling and networking and it’s important to use the brief window you have on someone’s radar to your advantage.

8. Support Your Fellow Entrepreneurs

As I mentioned before, it’s impossible to have it all figured out right from the get-go. This is where your fellow entrepreneur support system comes in. Mentors and peers alike can help you build your products and brand. When I first started thinking about creating the documentary “Dream, Girl” a friend connected me to Sarah Moshman, Emmy award-winning director of “The Empowerment Project.” She got on the phone with me to talk me through her production process, Kickstarter campaign, and personal experience making the documentary. This was something I will never forget, and will absolutely pass along. As long as men run 98% of all U.S. companies, women will almost always be one step behind. We need to have each other’s backs and help our peers move forward together.

9. Be Fearless… or Fake it

You need to be able to trust yourself to take risks, even if those risks make you uncomfortable. One of my favorite quotes about being fearless is from my friend Mariama Mounir Camara-Petrolawicz, the founder of There is No Limit Foundation and Mariama Fashion Production. She says “This is what I want and I will get there no matter what. You stick to it. It’s like a door – you come, you knock, if it doesn’t open, you break it!”

Sometimes you won’t feel fearless. Somehow I ended up on live TV last week, on the FOX Business show “Risk & Reward with Deirdre Bolton,” promoting female entrepreneurs and “Dream, Girl.” My father sent me the best email. He said “I’m sure you’ll do great today. It’s OK to be nervous.” And I was! I don’t think I’ve felt that nervous since singing Mariah Carey in my middle school talent show. Sometimes you just have to throw on a pair of heels and smile through it. No one can see the jittery moments or the nervous text messages you send beforehand – they just see the glossy end result. Break down that door and fake it til you make it!

10. Thinking About Starting a Company? Just do it already!

Seriously, start! Schedule a meeting! Make a business card! Tell your mom! No one is going to give you a green light or a yellow brick road, you need to make that road for yourself and get started. Before you do, I’ll give you one more dose of empowerment! Check out my trailer for “Dream, Girl” the documentary redefining what it means to be a boss here!

 

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7 Comments

Candace

Just what I needed! After dealing with some “man” who has been giving me every reason in the world why my ideas for my business project won’t work, (and why his will) this is more than a breath of fresh air as well as the kick up the butt that I needed! Thanks Erin!

JO

Crazy inspiring! I read a lot of business commentary, which is usually coming from a male point of view but Erin’s got a really fresh perspective on women in business. Men invented the world of work and the work place. I’ve never really fit into that box but I know as women, we can contribute something else to the mix. I’d like to thank Erin for talking to other women in business and for sharing her insights here. Jo, UK

Meghan Davis

This is one of the best articles I have ever read giving entrepreneurs courage and wisdom in their journeys to change the world!

Mary Maru

#4, #7 and #9 are great reminders to not let fear stop us from taking action on our dreams. And sometimes that fear is the fear of simply being ourselves. We can do this! Great article. Thanks for sharing the wisdom, Erin and Stephanie! And can’t wait to see your documentary completed, Erin!

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