Younger women who grew up with technology and worked in the gig economy may be more comfortable with the pace and demands of entrepreneurship.
But the mid-career woman may want to do things differently than she can if she’s working for someone else.
“Age doesn’t matter as long as you want to dedicate the time and energy to start something from scratch,” said Lindsay McCutchen, who launched Career Start.
Of course, COVID has influenced this aspect of business, as it has reshaped everything; so, from the woman just starting her professional career to the woman with a mortgage and family, four entrepreneurs offer suggestions to the businesswoman who has decided that this is her time.
Tanvi Asher, owner and principal designer, Peppermint
After earning a master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, Tanvi Asher worked two years as a packaging engineer. When her contract wasn’t renewed, she set out on her own.
“Even though I make less now, I control my own hours,” the 39-year-old said. “This is my business. I can treat people the way I would like to be treated.”
Understand your market. Your business can’t be a vanity, so whether you are selling goods or offering a service, know what your customers want versus what you want.
Develop a plan. “Don’t just decide ‘I’m going to do this.’ What are the steps to doing it?” Asher wrote a plan that included one-, three- and five-year goals. “Giving yourself that framework allows you to focus on what it is you really need to get done from that list.”
Don’t panic when things don’t go according to that plan. “ … If plan A doesn’t work out there is a plan B, which is you could potentially go back to work.”
Expect to adjust. Whether it’s a pandemic or other crisis, things change fast. “It’s fight or flight. For me it was fight. I’m not going to give up.”
Melissa Geska, president, US Ceiling
Melissa Geska went to college to be a teacher. Her connections in the hospitality industry led her to construction, where she embraced the nontraditional environment.
“I felt really well-equipped because I wasn’t rigid in my thinking,” she said.
Recognize that opportunity may not look like what you expect. “Gifts come to us, and they don’t necessarily look like the way we anticipated. We need to recognize it’s OK to adapt.” There may be fear, but “whenever I felt most fearful, I realize this is what I’m meant to do.”
Work on yourself. “I’m a life learner. I’m a big advocate for therapy and coaching. I surround myself with a chance for self-improvement. That’s given me the chops to handle that adversity, to handle that fear and power through it.”
Do your homework. Take classes to fill gaps in your knowledge. “Ask questions, not that you may need the information immediately, but you’ll have it when you’re ready.”
Be authentic. Geska thought she’d have to be as hard as construction nails. “What I found over the years is the more I softened to become more like myself, the more I was well-received. I talk to women in other male dominated industries … and there’s a sense of pressure to feel more manlike to be successful. I would say the opposite. Show up as you are and don’t feel the need to change who you are.”
Jill Knittel, president of JK Executive Strategies
Jill Knittel heard more than once that she should have started JK Executive Strategies 10 years before she did in 2017. She had been vice president at other staffing firms and knew what she wanted to change.
“I didn’t necessarily have the confidence. … I didn’t feel ready. The real hard thing for me is to trust myself enough to say yeah, you know what you’re doing. This is all working the way it’s supposed to.”
Invest in your people. Knittel brings in a leadership coach to help staff develop skills.
Hire people who share your vision and for whom trusts is a two-way street. “My team, I feel, would walk on hot coals for me, and I them.” Hire for attitude and train for skills. But don’t hire “yes” people. “I want people to challenge me. I’m not always right.” She seeks feedback from each employee about what the company should keep doing, what it should jettison and what it should add.
Build a personal support system of friends and family. “It’s really lonely at the top. You could work 24/7. You have to be able to replenish yourself.”
Build a personal nest egg to minimize the financial stress on family as you’re trying to turn a profit. Knittel worked for companies rocked by market crashes in 2001 and 2008. “That taught me what I needed to do to make sure my company is strong enough to withstand a downturn.” Take accounting and financial classes to build knowledge and confidence.
Be willing to adjust your leadership style. COVID forced Knittel to step back from her work, work, work style and realize all that her team was going through. “You almost have to let all your employees do life their way. Personal life significantly intersects with work life way more than it did.”
Lindsay McCutchen, founder and CEO of Career Start
Lindsay McCutchen said she was raised to see opportunity everywhere. The world still is her oyster.
“I just realize it’s not everybody else’s. Everyone has their own vision on what work looks like, what entrepreneurship looks like, on what their life looks like. That’s what I figured out from the 24 to 39 age range, among a million other things as you grow.”
Identify tasks you like to do and find people to do the others. “Find out your superpower and do that.” But know that in the early days, you will be the IT person and the bookkeeper, even though your goal is to hire others for that work.
Be prepared to devote your life to your vision. “I had to make some sacrifices in other areas of my life. … It’s important that people think about how they want to live their life and then evaluate the time and energy that they will have to dedicate to the business and see if it fits. It’s OK if it doesn’t.”
Display your energy. The pandemic led some employees to shift focus and make decisions based on their feelings about work and life. “People like to attach to a purpose. Make sure that’s visible. You’re the CEO, you’re the spokesperson for that purpose and that passion and that vision. You’ve got to draw the crowd to that. Now is not the time to mute your voice.”
Get moving. “There is power in planning, but sometimes you need to get the key out, start the engine, and see 10 feet in front of you. … I’m not suggesting start without a plan. You’ve got to get the basics. But you’ve got to get in motion. Energy is contagious.”
Patti Singer is a freelance writer in Rochester covering various topics. Contact her at [email protected]
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