Hear from three women business owners as they share empowering experiences, insights and lessons from starting and growing their businesses.
Many women aspire to be their own boss, and increasingly they are acting on these entrepreneurial dreams.
In fact, women-owned businesses currently make up nearly 40% of the 28 million small businesses in the United States, finds SCORE, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to help small businesses succeed.
In honor of the growth of women-owned businesses, we spoke with three women small business owners to share some of their successes and lessons learned along the way.
Don’t be afraid to be the only woman in the room
Valerie Del was serving as a contractor herself in Charlotte, N.C. when she noticed a gap in the marketplace and realized that smaller contractors would benefit from help positioning themselves to get larger contracts. With that idea, she started her own company, D2 Construction Services, where she has helped advise on jobs of all sizes—from small renovations as low as $5,000 to $11 million projects for the military and government.
Del had always understood the power of finding groups she can relate to. When she went back to college to finish her degree, she found herself as the only woman of color in her department. She subsequently became involved with the National Association of Women In Construction. “It was important for me to have that support going into a field where there were very few people who looked like me,” she says.
In her line of work, stereotypes unfortunately persist. “I find many women in construction are not given the same respect as men,” Del says. “They might assume you are not as passionate and not as qualified, so I’ve found it’s critical not to differentiate yourself from men by avoiding certain tasks.”
For example, Del says she has no problem going from the boardroom to the job site. “I make sure I can do everything the guys do on every job.”
Form a business that meets a need you have
Alison Bernstein started The Suburban Jungle, a combination technology platform and advisory business that helps families find the right suburb because she saw an industry demand based on her personal experience.
“While I was at Columbia Business School and expecting my first child, I realized that trying to figure out specifically how and where to raise our family was a very broken, inefficient process,” she says. Bernstein added that in New York City alone, there are 500 towns, all within commuting distance to the city, each with its personality.
Today her company specializes in aiding would-be home buyers assess what she calls “things the consumer cannot Google.” Specifically, they help families dig down to find insights into each community they’re considering and then create a customized home search strategy based on their needs.
“The greatest challenge for women is to avoid being labeled by someone who is making assumptions about your capabilities. Instead, let your work speak for itself,” she says.
As a business leader, Bernstein appreciates that she can largely set her own hours, but that brings a challenge of its own, given that it is all too easy for work to consume down time. “In a world where everyone is always ‘on,’ plugged in and on-call, it is difficult to set boundaries. As a leader, my goal is to give my team control over their time and outcomes.”
Build trust by becoming an authority
As a model on the TV reality show “My Ride Rules,” Mialana Boutte’ DeSoleil, CEO of Nolah Elan Park Avenue and founder of NEstylemaze, was designing dresses on the side and considering how she could use the platform to launch her line. When the producers asked her instead to design swimwear, she jumped at the opportunity and quickly built a six-figure business from the exposure on national TV. She parlayed that into a successful eCommerce business where she sells her original designs online.
To DeSoleil, that’s a lesson in using any opportunity that presents itself to build your business. “It can be daunting to become an entrepreneur and take on the risks as you move away from a traditional job, so you have to draw on a strong well of courage and make bold moves.”
She believes women should elevate their profile by taking advantage of their network and using platforms such as social media or starting a blog to let their voices be heard. “In today’s marketplace, women should try to become an authoritative voice in their sphere of business,” she says. “Sales are about trust and people believing in your brand.”
As these women can attest, inspiration is all around us. Are you, a family member or a friend, a woman business owner looking for guidance or financial support? Contact your Santander Relationship Manager today to learn more about the resources we offer.
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