Entrepreneurs were not made for a cookie-cutter life: They take chances, stare down adversity and let confidence be their guide.
Having a handle on soft skills also helps female go-getters outpace the pack. Not all are born communicators or empathizers, but successful women business owners, like their male counterparts, cultivate emotional intelligence.
A willingness to seek advice is another trait women entrepreneurs share.
“Women seem to be more open to suggestion, more open to potentially shifting their approach (than men),” says Lina LaMattina, assistant professor and director of business programs at Genesee Community College, which has degree and certificate programs in entrepreneurship. “Everybody can have great ideas, but are those great ideas doable? Can you translate a concept into physical reality? … To do that, sometimes you have to tweak things.”
Having a thick skin also helps. When Laurie Broccolo started attending landscaping conventions in the 1980s, equipment vendors ignored her or avoided eye contact if she asked a question; seminar speakers peppered their presentations with crude remarks.
“It was annoying, but it was really more laughable,” says Broccolo, owner and CEO of Broccolo Tree and Lawn Care in Penfield. “You have to let things go.”
Instead of rethinking her career path, Broccolo went on to launch her firm in 1990. Prior to striking out on her own, she was tapped to be president of a local turf grass association, which threw her into a leadership role she had not planned on.
When the opportunity came along to expand her services from strictly landscape maintenance to design and installations, Broccolo had cold feet. A change of heart led her to open a retail garden center on Penfield Road nearly four years ago, and it is now an integral part of the business.
Though male peers gave her a hard time early in her career, employing male-female work crews has paid off for her business, Broccolo says.
“It’s a generalization … but the guys are strong. They want to get in; they want to get the job done, physically move on,” says Broccolo, who has 25 full-time employees. “The women are going to take care of more of the details and slow down … make sure that we’ve covered everything (and) talked to the customer.”
Women business owners who connect well with customers are more likely to succeed, says Heather Saffer, founder and president of Dollop Gourmet Inc., a frosting company.
“Women also are really great listeners, and I think that’s really important,” Saffer adds.
In 2009, just six credits shy of earning a psychology degree, Saffer was working at a car dealership and mulling her next move. After stopping by a bakery that sold cookies slathered in artificial frosting, she taught herself how to bake and opened Dollop, a cupcake bar in Penfield.
In 2012, Saffer showcased her talent on “Cupcakes Wars,” a Food Network reality competition, and won. The following year, she signed a publishing deal with Adams Media and wrote “The Dollop Book of Frosting.”
Anticipating that the cupcake bubble was about to burst, Saffer sold her shop in 2012 to focus on frosting. Armed with gluten-free and non-GMO flavors ranging from Firebomb to Madagascar vanilla, she crisscrosses the country to maintain relationships with the 600 stores that carry her products.
To stay balanced, Saffer works out and unwinds with Donald, her Welsh Corgi-mix. And she consults with peers in the industry for advice.
“(Entrepreneurship) is definitely very stressful,” says Saffer, who does not have employees. “I think (it helps) having someone to vent to—not necessarily giving you advice—but just being able to vent as things go wrong and as you constantly put out fires.”
Besides being open to advice, women tend to be good multitaskers, says Nan Miller, owner and president of Nan Miller Gallery in Brighton. The quality has come in handy over the course of Miller’s 45-year career selling art, which began after a family friend asked her to help run an art fundraising event.
To survive in any business, women must embrace new ideas, Miller says. She did that in 2014 when she moved her gallery from 10,000 square feet in Winton Place to a space a quarter of the size with higher visibility on Monroe Avenue.
“You have to realize that life is constantly changing, and you have to move forward and evolve with the times,” she says.
Sometimes the only way a woman can discover if she has the right stuff for entrepreneurship is to dive in. Sitima Fowler left an engineering position at General Motors Co. to join her husband’s IT business.
“What I did not know is how to make that phone ring,” says Fowler, co-CEO of Capstone Information Technologies Inc. “So, for me, the sales and marketing piece was (what) I was really lacking.”
Fowler hired a consultant to teach her marketing and asked other entrepreneurs for advice on how to develop a sales process.
Efforts to grow Capstone have gone well. In 2015, the company made the Rochester Top 100 list for the third consecutive year and moved to a cubicle-free, collaboration-friendly headquarters in Pittsford.
To succeed, entrepreneurs need to trust their instincts—and follow through, Fowler says.
“I think it’s OK to think bigger and go for it,” she adds. “I also think that it’s OK for women to be tough and know what they want.”
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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