Hear directly from women entrepreneurs who have found success - they share advice, challenges, insights and what they wish they knew when they started out.
Business owners have no shortage of inspiring stories to share: the journey to starting their business, the challenges they overcame, the growth they’ve experienced, and the lives they’ve impacted. For women specifically, their stories can be even more unique and impactful as they navigate various challenges specific to their gender—from less access to capital to misperceptions about their skill set.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, I spoke with a few female business owners to hear their insights and advice for other women looking to open their own businesses. In addition to being featured throughout the month on my podcast, Behind the Review, here is an exclusive look at their stories, struggles, and successes.
I’ll let Stephanie Shearer, co-owner of Trunk Nouveau, set the stage. “When I opened my first boutique, friends and family thought it was ‘cute.’ Twenty-two years and six businesses later, they still think it’s ‘cute.’ I’ve never heard anyone say that it’s ‘cute’ that Elon Musk started a business. The business community at large, including banks, lenders and policy, still do not take a women’s role in business seriously.”
What is one of the biggest challenges women face today when it comes to starting or running a business?
“Access to working capital and psyching themselves out too easily.”
- Viviana Langhoff, founder and CEO of Adornment + Theory
“Overcoming fear of investing the capital. It's not [necessarily] that women don't have capital or access to it—we often have a fear of taking a risk to invest it, especially into a business. There is data to show that men are more likely to be risk takers.”
- Jami Stigliano, founder and CEO of DivaDance
Capital is always a big theme when we talk about challenges women face—not only how to get it but also how to go about investing it. For many women, finding the capital to start their business can be a major barrier to entry. We’ve heard for years about how women don’t get the same access and investment that males get. A 2020 study from CrunchBase shows that women only receive around 2.8 percent of total startup investment, though they make up nearly 40 percent of all entrepreneurs. And on top of that, even when they have access to capital, they are often hesitant to risk it.
Finding balance and managing expectations were other common threads.
“Balancing being the best mom and wife I aspire to be, while also trying to be the best businesswoman I know I am capable of being. I want to give everything I can to my family as well as the team who works for us, but I also understand that I can’t always do both. There are sacrifices that I continue to make for both sides, and it can be frustrating to feel like you are letting one or the other down. As a female and a mother, I think we have extra challenges in life and business—things that men don’t normally have to face or think about when it comes to having a career. I was pregnant and had a two year old while trying to begin my business. When we finally opened, I found myself pumping in the storage closet every few hours for the first six months our business was open.”
- Misty Akers, co-founder of The Candle Pour
“Removing your personal feelings from the equation because when it comes to your business, it’s about doing what’s best for the business. However, removing the personal is difficult because it is personal. You put so much of yourself into it which makes it a difficult dance. Also learning when to let go for something greater. It’s always a risk/reward, push/pull, and having the stomach to confidently decision through all of it is part of it.”
- Alex Bradberry, founder of The Sparkle Bar
It’s no surprise that it’s called a balancing act. It’s not easy to achieve, can feel like a lot of pretending, and may be knocked off course at any moment. Finding balance between your personal life and business is challenging, and most people would say that it's nearly impossible to do it perfectly, if at all.
It’s more complex than just juggling your work and personal lives, though. As Alex mentioned, it’s also about identifying and separating your personal wants and needs with what’s best for the business, which is easier said than done. It can be hard to detach from your business to envision what might make sense in the long run, but know that you’re not alone—everyone is trying to strike that balance.
What advice do you have for aspiring female business owners?
“Go with your gut. Intuitively, you know what’s right.”
- Dani Everson, co-owner of Clementine's Salon and Skincare
Doubt can keep us from trying new things and putting a real stake in the ground—especially when it comes to something as big as starting a business. You may not always have all the answers, but in those times, you can seek the advice of the people you trust and those with experience. First, you have to trust yourself to know the best way forward.
“You are the only one who will toot your own horn, so strap on that proverbial trumpet, and blast it to the mountain tops! Why do we as women always feel guilty for our success? Most men will proudly tout their successes, but as women we often whisper ours. So strike that superhero pose, girl, and do not be afraid to speak—loud and proud.”
- Stephanie Shearer
“Be patient, and only hire people who share your vision and enthusiasm for your business. You can't do it all, so make sure to surround yourself with a team who understands the expectations and can carry them out as well or better than you.”
- Misty Akers
“Progress, not perfection. Don't wait for everything to be ideal. Just take steps and don't stop working toward your vision. You can slow down or take breaks, but don't stop moving forward.”
- Jami Stigliano
In the words of these successful businesswomen, be your own cheerleader, surround yourself with people who have the same values as you (don’t compromise on hiring), and always be moving forward.
What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
“I love the empowerment of being my own boss. I am not good at following rules—even my own—so it's pretty cool to be the architect of the ceilings that I then shatter.”
- Stephanie Shearer
Being a business owner means something different for everyone. People have different motivations, inspirations, and reasons for doing what they do. With that, it’s important to take the time to recognize what's rewarding about being a business owner. It can be easy to focus on the overall challenges and successes, but it’s important to also talk about the best parts of each day.
“Ownership of my own time. I can spend my days and energy in ways that align with my goals and dreams versus working for someone else on the clock from 9-6 every day. When I had my traditional career, I was constantly working for the weekend and my vacation days. As a business owner, every day is mine to make.”
- Jami Stigliano
“What I love most about being a business owner is that, while it’s a roller coaster you need to buckle up for, I have choice. I get to create a life around a business that I love, creating experiences with a team I enjoy, with clients. I feel grateful we get to create space for women that didn't exist before, while attempting to design the life of my dreams for my girls. There is no glass ceiling on my unicorn dreaming.“
- Alex Bradberry
These women have all had incredible experiences leading them to where they are today. They’ve each found success in different industries, and their stories and insights can serve as inspiration to fellow female entrepreneurs, including this advice for those just getting started.
What's the one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
“How exhausted I would be the first year.”
- Vivanna Langhoff
“How important a good accountant is.”
- Dani Everson