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Open letter to first-time female entrepreneurs

So many times we think we have our lives figured out and then life throws us a curve ball. You feel the urge to do something different, go somewhere different, or be someone different. You have a great idea for a new business, something that feels one hundred percent right, but you don’t know if taking the plunge into entrepreneurship is right for you.

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Is entrepreneurship right for you?

So many times we think we have our lives figured out and then life throws us a curve ball. You feel the urge to do something different, go somewhere different, or be someone different. You have a great idea for a new business, something that feels one hundred percent right, but you don’t know if taking the plunge into entrepreneurship is right for you.

It is. If you feel it in your gut, it is.

Some things in life are worth the risk. The absolute worst thing that can happen if you try is that it doesn’t completely work out and you come up with a new plan. The absolute worst thing that can happen if you don’t try and you place your dreams on the back burner is that you never know what could have been. Life is full of regrets that we cannot avoid; don’t let your dreams be one of them. If you think about your idea constantly, do something about it.

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Find balance in everything

The best advice I was ever given was by my favorite professor. He said, ‘find balance in everything” when we were discussing my career as a scholar and my future as a writer after graduation. Being younger, at first, I wondered what this meant, really. I mean, I was balanced. I worked full-time, went to college full-time and still managed to see my friends and family on the weekends. That felt like balance to me and it probably was at that particular point in my life. However, now that I’m older, I know exactly what he meant (and this is why he was and always will be my favorite professor: he gave students the knowledge, but let them find their own way to the answer).

By “finding balance” he meant don’t let one thing consume you. It’s so easy when you’re just starting out to keep your eye on the prize and not want to give up working on a project to do other things. Those other things are equally important.  Starting a new business can consume you. You’ll forget prior commitments. You’ll forget to eat. You’ll lose sleep. Don’t let it consume you. Instead, schedule breaks and stick to them. Pick a day or time to connect with family and friends. You don’t want to lose sight of “you” outside of work.

Take it step by step, and don’t be afraid to reach out

Starting a business is hard. There will be days you want to give up. You’ll wonder why you ever decided to do this. There will be days you cry. You’ll stress out and shut down. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Start with your idea. Do some research. Develop your plan. Talk to people who have been in similar situations. Use those social media channels to network with like-minded entrepreneurs.

Then, one day, you’ll see part of your plan working. You’ll make progress and you’ll realize you CAN do this. Along the way, if you find there is something that you can’t do, or don’t know how to do, ask for help. Help can come from a family member, mentor, friend, or expert.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, asking for help can often save you time and money. If you need a professional website and don’t have a great deal of experience, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I did this many times when I started as a freelance writer.

Believe that it’s possible

Prioritize what matters and don’t worry about what you can’t control. Stress is always the enemy. Believe in yourself. Believe in your idea, your team, your project and your goals. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t do it. You can. The risk of failure is minimal when you finally realize your dream. Every champion was once a contender. Every pro was once an amateur. Every expert was once a beginner. So dream big and start now.

#WhoRunTheWorld

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Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t settle for mediocrity, make a killer first impression

(OPINION EDITORIAL) You don’t get second chances on a first impression so you might as well make your first impression a positive, memorable one.

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It’s been said you only get one chance to make a first impression. This can set the tone for your entire relationship, so it’s important to make a positive impression.

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Whether you’re going for your first job interview or a seasoned veteran in the workforce, it can be daunting to meet someone new who may have your future in their hands. Let’s talk about things you can do to be remembered well.

1. Smile

Smiling puts people at ease. A first meeting can be extremely stressful, but when you smile it decreases your anxiety. Just make sure your smile is authentic. You don’t want to look cheesy or nervous.

2. A strong handshake

Don’t squeeze the other person’s hand too tight, but don’t hold it too limp. You should have a handshake that is somewhere between. There’s an art to a good handshake. Keep your right hand free so you don’t look like you’re fumbling. Stand up to shake someone’s hand. Make eye contact with the other person and smile. Shake from your elbow, not your wrist.

3. Speak clearly and warmly

When you meet someone, break the ice by telling them how nice it is to meet them. Speak with authority. Use a calm and steady voice.

4. Make eye contact

When you look someone in the eyes, it not only conveys confidence, it also demonstrates interest in what they have to say. Be careful it doesn’t come off as staring. Make sure to change your glance occasionally.

5. Watch your body language

Sit up straight. Don’t yawn. Sit still without fidgeting. Give the other person your attention. In fact, it’s a good idea to mirror their body language. It’s a subconscious way of building trust. Don’t draw attention to your flaws.

6. Present yourself well

You may not have an Armani suit, but you can make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Clean your shoes. Make sure your fingernails are well manicured.

7. Have confidence in yourself

You might be judged on things you cannot change, such as your gender, age or attractiveness. If someone is that shallow, you probably don’t want to work for or be in business with them.

Probably the one best thing you can do when you meet someone is to just be confident in your abilities and talents.

#ImpressionPositive

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