Women small business owners from around the world shared their stories of perseverance in a year of challenges, and what they still need to move forward at a virtual roundtable during Women’s History Month.
If you missed the QuickBooks Roundtable: How Women in Small Business Cope, Survive, and Thrive—no worries. We’ve aggregated the advice and insights from the event’s all-star panel of women business owners and experts. For those who did attend, we encourage you to read on, as it’s likely you’ll discover some new and helpful information you may have missed.
Hosted by La Toya Haynes, Intuit’s director of racial equity, and Molly Wood, host of Marketplace Tech and Make Me Smart, the roundtable provided a dynamic forum for the exchange of ideas, advice, and motivation among a diverse group of women business leaders.
At the center of the discussion were roundtable panelists and small business owners:
- LaJuanna Russell, president and CEO of Business Management Associates, Inc.
- Mariette F. Martinez, EA, educator and accounting professional guide/mentor at Master Your Books
- Vivian Duelli, small business owner of the recently launched DRIFT Yoga + Juice Bar in Seattle, Washington.
Panelists shared their unique stories of struggle and survival during this unprecedented time of economic turmoil and uncertainty, while also reminding the community that no one is alone. Women across industries, business types, roles, backgrounds, and geographic locations told us they all feel the weight of 2020’s challenges. And, while more challenges await, participants found solace in the fact that we are in this together and will continue to move forward on the road to recovery.
Over the course of the hour-long session, the panelists shared the personal impact of COVID-19 on their daily lives, and how it has blurred personal and professional lines. They also highlighted the need for very intentional planning and a strong community. The remainder of this blog highlights key questions asked of the participants, and the advice and ideas offered during the discussion.
Q: What was your biggest challenge over the past year and how did you overcome it?
For all the panelists, the sudden and drastic change in workforce logistics was a main challenge. The need to pivot quickly to virtual workspaces and reconfigure client support systems was overwhelming. Further, as a result of workforce shifts, the blurring of professional and personal lines presented yet another major challenge.
Russell felt upended at the onset of the pandemic. “We had to very quickly figure out how to work remotely. What equipment did staff need? How would we stay connected? How would we support clients effectively? I had to take a deep breath and just jump in. We went into planning mode and figured it out … just like everyone else had to.”
Martinez turned her attention outward to maintain professional sanity and cope with the chaos of rapid change. “I started asking: How can I help someone else? I wanted to turn my energy toward doing something positive, whether it was teaching other women how to use Zoom effectively or coaching on business models. This was how I coped with the upheaval and re-channeled the negative into positive energy.”
Wood recognized that the pandemic and economic chaos that followed hit women and women-owned businesses the hardest. She shared that, as a single mom, it marked a turning point for taking her life back. “This was the year I felt empowered to put my life on the calendar … to dedicate blocks of time to spend with my son and black out hours where I was not available. It made me realize that I should have put my life on the calendar all along.”
Attendees in the audience also shared various coping mechanisms they used during the past year, including:
- Taking more time for self-care: yoga, meditation, downtime, and family time.
- Mentoring others.
- Joining entrepreneur groups and women-led associations.
- Reaching out for mental health and well-being support.
The attendees also identified their biggest areas of concern and the actions and resources required to succeed:
- Learning QuickBooks®
- Guidance on where to find loans, grants, and other forms of funding.
- Childcare resources.
- Access to knowledge and time to absorb that knowledge.
- A network of like-minded professional women to mitigate feelings of isolation.
Here’s more from the roundtable discussion:
Q: What are the key areas of business to focus on for continued success moving forward?
In addition to being a business owner, Russell is also a member of the QuickBooks Small Business Council. She’s spoken with members of Congress about the need for policy changes. As such, she has emerged as a prominent expert at all levels of running a successful and sustainable small business.
“Access to capital is number one, and this starts with an understanding of how to build relationships with banks,” she said. “Business owners need to educate themselves and seek resources to help guide them in this area. Additionally, owners must also master the technologies that help them run their enterprises, like QuickBooks. As leaders, we shouldn’t be mired down in the administrative tasks. We have to delegate to appropriate staff so that we can focus on the bigger-picture tasks like building capital and adopting and using the right applications.”
Panelists also agreed that leaders must be intentional about leading. They must focus on the higher-level vision and leave the day-to-day work to staff. Leaders that spend their time leading are those who are experiencing success, even in the aftermath of 2020.
Russell stated, “I wake up every day as the president and owner of a business with the question: What can I do today that only I can do… that as the owner, only I should be doing?”
Duelli advocated for community. “We need dedicated groups, across industries and fields of expertise, where leaders can share ideas, and support and empower one another in a noncompetitive environment,” she said. “We should be helping each other plan and lifting each other up. Being part of a supportive, engaged community will help move us forward faster as we recover from the past year.”
In fact, Duelli was active in her local business community from the start. She reached out to similar businesses to bring owners together and share ideas to help fuel growth universally.
One attendee added to the chat channel, “We need to get a brave squad together to support each other.”
Q: What early mistakes did the panelists make in their careers and how did they overcome them?
Russell kicked off by offering some sage advice: “Early on I thought I needed to stay behind the scenes and run things. I hired a business development person who handled networking and prospecting. I soon learned that, as the owner, I needed to be out in front. After I took over business development, growth came quickly. I knew in my gut that being out front was the right thing, but I waited. It’s important to trust your instincts to do what’s right for the business.”
Martinez added insight on the changing mindset around growth, especially for solo business owners. “Solopreneurs often believe they have to stay small and do it all on their own. This model does not work over the long term. You have to build a strong workforce infrastructure to support continued growth. This doesn’t mean you have to build an empire with a massive staff. For me, it meant bringing in strategic partners, like Intuit®, so I have access to thousands of smart professionals that I can lean on while I live my passion.”
At the heart of it all is being intentional about the decisions you make. What route do you want to take—build an empire or a scalable solo-business? What additional talent is required to build your infrastructure or strategic partner network? How can I maintain my role as the visionary for my company and lead with intention?
Q: How do you grow a business when you are the product and/or have a partner? How do I grow via digital marketing and media relations?
The first question resonated with solopreneurs and macro-empire owners, because businesses are often launched based on an individual’s passion for the service or product they provide.
Martinez said, “The way this question is worded means that the business owner is already on the right track in terms of understanding their mission. You know who you are and why you do what you do. But the next step is to move away from thinking of yourself as a product. You are a human-centered entrepreneur delivering a service that has a positive impact on those you serve.”
Duelli advised participants to carefully think through leadership roles in the business as well. “When you share a business with a partner, keep communications open, set expectations, and define roles up front. This will help set the stage for a smooth operation.”
In reference to the question on using social media and marketing to grow business, Martinez added: “Take a step back and work on your messaging. Once you have the right message, then put it out in social channels and digital marketing efforts.”
Wood addressed the question on media coverage. “The key here is telling your story. While your product or service may be interesting, you are more interesting as the human behind it. Tell your story and be persistent in telling it over and over via social media channels, blogs, press releases … everywhere. Be constantly present online.”
Missed the event? We’ve got you covered! If you missed our roundtable discussion, watch it on-demand here: http://intuit.me/WHM-Roundtable. The discussion is packed with sound, proven advice and unique stories of perseverance. You won’t be disappointed.