Guest Post from Capital One
October was National Women’s Small Business Month, and in light of the challenges of this year, there was no better time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women business owners. To keep the momentum going, we’re celebrating those who rally around and advocate for small businesses—something that’s in Spring’s DNA.
We sat down with two women business owners in the Spring network, author and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd of Spring merchant AppleOne, and Rachel Merkle, Spring member, and founder of digital marketing agency, District M Creative, for an inspiring discussion about women in business.
Read on for their takes on how far women business owners have come, where we’re headed, and why together is the best way forward.
2020 has been full of unprecedented challenges, which can make it difficult to focus on blessings. But for Janice Bryant Howroyd, it’s more reason than ever to practice gratitude—a ritual she makes time for each and every morning. “We may not be able to control how days are presented to us, but we do have control over how we receive them,” she says. As the first black woman to run a billion-dollar business in the U.S., it’s a lesson she learned at a young age that’s shaped her career ever since.
As a mentor to many, she says attitude and gratitude are critical to getting through the struggles of the pandemic, no matter who you are. “This is the first time in history that everyone on earth is collectively concerned about the same thing. We’re all solving for the same problem at the same time, and we’ve got to hold on to that.
“There’s nothing new in life—you’re just going through it for the first time.”
– Janice Bryant Howroyd
Rachel Merkle, a certified WBE and mother, taps that gratitude every single day she’s able to both do what she loves on her own terms and be home with her daughter. Focusing on the “why” of her business has kept her grounded and grateful—and the real measure of success. “Being able to go to the park in the middle of the day, to be with my daughter and do what I love—that is success.”
She’s also setting her sights on her next measure of success, especially during these difficult times: helping other women find the same success. “That’s my next big milestone,” she says. “I’m thankful for my success and the resources I’ve established, and I want to share those with other women who want to build their careers.”
The pandemic has been an inflection point for many small business owners—and an opportunity to reevaluate, recenter, and be even more strategic about the future. Howroyd says it’s a pivotal moment to clearly define their businesses so they have a clear framework to determine what’s next.
Pre-COVID, her team was asking a strategic question: “Will what got us here get us there?” She advises every WBE to ask themselves the same as they navigate the crisis and plan for what’s next—whether it’s growth, downsizing, or a big pivot.
“We’re not just going through this, we’re growing through this.”
– Janice Bryant Howroyd
For Merkle, growing with intention is key. “When you’re first starting out, you take everything that comes your way. Then, you move into a more ‘conscious growth’ phase,” she says. That growth should always align with values and priorities, which she adds can be a tough call when revenue has slowed. “This may mean not taking every opportunity that comes your way. Or, turning down clients that aren’t the right fit.” But at the end of the day, the clients you’ll end up with are fulfilling and represent your values.
Howroyd agrees, and says now is the time to double down on values and make tough decisions. “Women need to ask: ‘Who are my clients? What projects do I accept? How do both of these represent my values?’ There’s an intelligence required as a business owner in terms of clients you accept or reject. We can do good and do well at the same time,” she says, “and find opportunities that help uplift our values.”
Merkle also emphasizes the power of a good referral—something that networks like WBENC can provide. “My best clients come from my favorite clients,” Markel says, “When you’re trying to be very careful with and conscious of your growth, it’s the best way to go.”
In a time when many are forced to downsize, it can be tempting to set things like talent and culture aside. But both women feel strongly about who they hire. Merkle notes, “I’m really passionate about having women work for me—whether it’s moms who have stepped away from full-time jobs or those who want to turn a side hustle into a career.” Howroyd says maintaining a values-based culture can also go a long way to attracting success and great talent. “At AppleOne, we hear talent saying they want to work for companies that represent how they live and what they value in life,” Howroyd says.
When growth is back on the table, it’s advice to both live and hire by.
“We as women do a great job of taking care of each other and everybody else. But we don’t always do the best job taking care of ourselves.”
– Janice Bryant Howroyd
Howroyd says it’s important for women business owners to remember to care for themselves. She suggests creating a recipe for how to stay healthy. “There’s no formula, but there are important ingredients, and you have to write your own recipe.” This can include exercise, sleep, connecting with peers online, and knowing when to disconnect.
For Merkle, the big ingredients are unplugging, maintaining boundaries with clients, and “realizing you can’t be all the things.” Her tip: she bakes communication preferences right into her contract.
“I fiercely protect my time. No texting, and no after hours calls,” she says, adding that setting boundaries for communication isn’t a weakness for her clients, it’s a strength. “It’s a two-way street, and it benefits us both.”
Balancing childcare and working from home is a reality for many right now, so it’s important to draw those lines. She adds, “Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean a client can treat you as small. You can’t always be available.”
She also reminds business owners to recharge—meaning, close the laptop and shut down the phone. “We as human beings need to disconnect every once in a while, especially from work,” she says, noting how constant notifications on a phone can be mentally draining.
Howroyd uses the acronym REAL to remind women to “get in the real” with themselves. She says these four things can help leaders square up with their situation, their options, and themselves.
R — Resources. What resources do you have?
E — Engage. How are you engaging those resources?
A — Attitude. How is your attitude helping or hurting, based on the above?
L— The life and love you give your business, and yourself.
#Sheroes in 2020 and Beyond
Looking toward the future, both women have advice to share.
“This is an important time for women in business to ensure that we’re not just paying it forward, we’re paying attention to our accounts and our business,” says Howroyd. This may mean a pivot, downsizing, closing a segment of the business, or other tough decisions. “If we’re smart and make quick, well-defined decisions, we can save our businesses, or position ourselves to start over again.” She adds that mentors and communities like WBENC can be valuable allies and resources when making these decisions.
“Knowledge married with experience yields wisdom, and that’s what you’ve got in WBENC,” says Howroyd. “There are so many WBOs in WBENC, which makes it a great opportunity to talk to each other, especially young and aspiring WBOs,” she says.
Merkle says a solid mentor and network can be priceless, especially when you’re just starting out. She recalls, “You spend a lot of time looking at others and wondering, “How did she get there?” She shares her own legal and financial resources with peers learning the ropes, and lessons she gained through her participation in Capital One’s Sage program.
“You can let go of a plan and still hold on to your dream.”
– Janice Bryant Howroyd
Merkle has one tenet that helped her grow her business before COVID, and is one she leans even more heavily on now. “Always be diversified, in your service offerings and your clients, and the markets you target. Embrace innovation, keep an eye on what’s next, and don’t assume anything is a given.”
At the end of the day, overcoming challenges is nothing new to women entrepreneurs—the challenges just look a little differently today. Howroyd reflects, “Women have often had to be sheroes in silence, and do Olympic-sized things just to get equal outcomes. But we have a lot more going for us today than ever before.” And even though October 2020 is over, she and others will continue celebrating National Women’s Small Business Month—because that’s the culture of women-owned business communities around the world.
“Within the WBENC community is a network of women of distinction championing one another. That is the culture of WBENC, and the foundation for how we’ll all grow stronger through this.”
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