Chairman’s Briefing: Women’s Small Business Month

October 29, 2015

The Delta region is full of innovation, creativity, and hard work. No one exemplifies that better than our women small business owners and entrepreneurs. We strive to give the women in our region access to the resources they need to grow their small businesses and, in turn, grow our local economies. With the help of the Small Business Administration and the Economic Development Agency, we are making that a reality. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Julie Kirk are outstanding examples of women leading the way and shaping policies that assist small business owners and entrepreneurs across the country.

As Women’s Small Business Month comes to an end, the Delta Regional Authority wants to thank and highlight the work of some of our female Delta entrepreneurs and small business owners. We gathered some advice and insight from DEN fellows and small business leaders from our region about their experiences of starting a small business in the Delta region. We hope you can learn from these women; we sure have!

Chris Masingill
Federal Co-Chairman
Delta Regional Authority

 

Amelia Thomas, Founder of Just PlugIn, Montgomery, Alabama

Expand your inner circle and connect with other people who are entrepreneurs so you can bounce ideas off of them and gather solid advice from individuals who are qualified to give you advice. Also, consider who you share your dreams with, as people who do not understand your plight and mission will say things that may unintentionally discourage you. Finally, failure is okay in this life called entrepreneurship. We just want to fail fast so we can learn from it, pivot and try something different.

 

Claire Bruce, Founder of Sloan + Themis, Cape Girardeau, Missouri

As women in a creative field, it's easy for people to write our business off. Somehow creative businesses are seen as easier than jobs in other fields. It's not just men who hold this belief; it can be women too.  Creative businesses do all the things every business has to do like manage cash flow, meet production schedules, negotiate with vendors and buyers, do payroll, taxes, etc. We also have to be very disciplined to continually innovate on a very short cycle each season to keep our brand fresh.

People assume motherhood means I'll quit my business. I come from a long line of strong Southern working mamas who prove being a good mother and having a career are NOT mutually exclusive. It's tough, and it's also totally possible.

Know your numbers! All of your numbers! This includes your financials, your marketing stats, and your production statistics; everything in your business must be measured. Every second of everyday is a negotiation. Really it is. 

Be careful of who you ask for help. Make sure they get your brand and the industry you're in. If they don't, don't waste your time or theirs. Find people in your industry or related networks to mentor you. Networking is always a challenge because there just aren't many people in our area who run fashion labels. We've found that it's easier to build connections in the South than in a closer market like St. Louis. Southern business people are just more open, and they get our brand.

We've tried gaining access to outside capital and what we found was that there was very little interest in investing in a design company. So instead of spinning our wheels trying to get investors to hear us, we decided to "stick to our knitting" and continue to focus on acquiring new customers, driving sales and running a more efficient operation. And it's working! We're not closing ourselves off to outside help entirely. It's important to us to continue finding good mentors and team members.  

 

Ela A. Emami, Founder/CEO of Care2Manage, Memphis, Tennessee

My advice would be to not overwhelm your schedule with seminars and conferences. Learn what you feel you need, but at some point move on.

As women, our struggle differs from men, so we should have networks of support put in place to address these issues. Currently there are many entities that are striving to level the playing field. Small business loans, SBA, female-focused incubators, and organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners are there to support women business owners. Use them.

 

Jackie Smith, Owner of The Coffee Shoppe, Selma, Alabama

I would say most of my challenges are not the result of being a female business owner but rather a small business owner.  Naturally, there are limited resources, but on the other hand it gets lonely sometimes because small business owners have limited alliances and partnerships.  Often we're out there scrambling and trying to carve out our own little space in a world of corporate giants.  We rarely find or have the opportunity to form any type of real alliance or partnership.

Being a small business owner, you have the opportunity to create your own footprint and be authentic!  Owning my own business gave me the ability to establish a corporate culture and work environment based on my own values.  For me it was "over-the-top" customer service.  I was able to build customer service and customer satisfaction in to every aspect of what we do.  In addition, my employees appreciate me scheduling their work hours around field trips and baseball games.

The Coffee Shoppe has quickly become a pillar in the community and is known throughout the state of Alabama.  The Coffee Shoppe is Selma's gathering spot for great food, great coffee and more!  We have experienced success in so many ways, and I am most proud of what and how I'm able to give back to the people I serve!