Category: Entrepreneurship

Ask the Entrepreneur: Sherri McArdle

by Sherri McArdle

Q. What did you expect when you set out on the journey to start your own business?

Sherri: I’m not sure I had specific expectations but I did have specific goals. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to raise our two children. I also wanted to do work that I loved, to grow professionally and to generate a reasonable income.

My partner Jim Ramerman and I had very modest expectations when we started, but our desire to grow the business evolved over time.

Q.  Is being an entrepreneur everything you thought it would be?

Sherri: Co-owning a business has been very rewarding. It has been wonderful to develop a culture that reflects our collective values and one in which we can all take pride.

I’m inspired every day by the talent and courage of the people and organizations with whom we work. It has been delightful to bring together a talented team of colleagues. I really enjoy watching them exercise their creativity. I’m inspired by their dedication and the impact they have on each other and on our clients.

Q.  What kinds of challenges have you faced that are unique to women in entrepreneurship?

Sherri: Owning a business today is not for the faint of heart, regardless of gender. It requires great dedication, skill and willingness to take risk.

As a wife and mother, my business responsibilities have required me to make different choices and sacrifices in how I spend my time. I love my family and I love my work. Those are my top priorities.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are thinking of starting their own business?

Sherri: Know what’s important to you personally and professionally. What are you passionate about? What are your best skills and competencies? How will you bring out the best in people and yourself? What would you like your business to look like and to accomplish over time?

Most important in starting a business is a realistic plan. It needs to reflect the realities of the marketplace; required investments; and what it takes to build functional awareness of their brand.

Q. What skills have been the most important in getting you through the challenges you have faced?

Sherri: This list has changed over time. After 14 years of co-owning and growing an organization, I believe the capabilities I have consistently needed the most are:

  • Generating insight with limited data.
  • Maintaining a broad perspective.
  • Taking well-reasoned risk.
  • Being decisive
  • Being willing to sacrifice personally for the good of the organization.
  • Be patient and always encouraging with people, especially when there is a challenge.

Q. When you think about the future of your business, what keeps you up at night?

Sherri: I believe that great people and great results go hand in hand.

My top priority is the retention and satisfaction of our talented team. I continue to work hard to position them to do the best work possible for our clients; I also continually seek ways to nurture our unique culture.

Like many successful leaders I’ve known, I believe in investing in a clear and executable strategy and in developing myself and our people, especially during challenging times.

Ask the Entrepreneur: Lauren Dixon

by Lauren Dixon

Q. What did you expect when you set out on the journey to start your own business?

Lauren: When I started Dixon Schwabl 24 years ago, I sought to create an ad agency unlike any other in Rochester.  I interviewed leaders of area firms and asked them what they liked and disliked about agencies they worked with, and launched my business applying their candid feedback.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I needed to listen to these leaders and adapt my agency in response.  I started by hiring the best and brightest people I could find to join me on this journey, and sought to develop a workplace and culture that reflected the passion, energy, creativity, and drive of the advertising industry. This is reflected in our workplace environment with its three-turn slide from the second floor to the lobby, koi pond, fireplace, and individual temperature controls in offices.

Q.  Is being an entrepreneur everything you thought it would be?

Lauren: I have always valued the opportunity to create a “WOW” for clients and employees, and launching my own business allowed me to do just that.  I am constantly asking myself the question: “Is Dixon Schwabl ‘irresistibility attractive’ to each and every one of our employees?”  Entrepreneurs are always looking to implement exciting and innovative ideas, and I find this to be true even 24 years after launching Dixon Schwabl!

3. What kinds of challenges have you faced that are unique to women in entrepreneurship?

I think entrepreneurs—male and female—face similar challenges, particularly in today’s competitive global economy.  Dixon Schwabl creates a family-friendly work environment so all employees feel that they have the freedom to share in school or extracurricular activities, and have time outside of work.  If they want to go to a kindergarten play or high school sporting event, or even take care of a sick pet, they are free to do that without any worry.  There is a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie at Dixon Schwabl, and employees pitch in for each other all the time to ensure a seamless work environment.  Balance at work and at home is critical for today’s employees, and we strive to make it happen!

Q.  What advice would you give to women who are thinking of starting their own business?

Lauren: I would encourage women to think strategically, because during the initial year or two of starting a business, so much time is dedicated to getting the business off the ground and profitable, strategy can take a back seat.  Think about your long-term goals, and why you started the business in the first place.  Also, be sure you seek help to take care of the little things that can rapidly become big things!  I waited 14 years before hiring an executive assistant, and I honestly could have used some help from Day One!  Reflect on your core values, mission, and vision (if you don’t have these develop them) and don’t be afraid to seek outside help or consultancy to craft your strategy moving forward.

Q.  What skills have been the most important in getting you through the challenges you have faced?

Lauren: Listening is a fundamental skill applied to nearly every aspect of the workplace and incredibly important for entrepreneurs to embrace.  Asking questions of employees and then listening carefully to their responses is a key part of facing challenges.  Another critical part of running a business is hiring and retaining the very best people.  In the workplace, far too many managers perceive employees merely as a “supporting cast” for leaders—employees are partners and collaborative team players, and it is critical that businesses attract top talent.

Q: When you think about the future of your business, what keeps you up at night?

Lauren: When Dixon Schwabl developed its new mission, vision, and strategy for 2010-2013, we sought to develop “buckets of passion” that each and every employee would be able to embrace to build a successful and strong path forward for the company.  In part, this strategy has helped me avoid many of the worries I had early on in my company’s history.  Knowing that Dixon Schwabl has a firm foundation, dedicated leadership, and inspired employees is reassuring even in the most uncertain and challenging of times.  I think that for entrepreneurs, it is important to have a strong and strategic foundation to avoid—or at least dilute!—those moments of uncertainty and sleeplessness!


Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs!

Looking for some inspiration?  Check out this blog which features 15 inspiring women entrepreneurs.

Ask the Entrepreneurs!

This month we’ll be doing personal interviews with our entrepreneurs.  We’ll kick off this  month with Yvonne DiVita…see what she has to say about being a women entrepreneur!

Q.  What did you expect when you set out on the journey to start your own business?

Yvonne: Well, I expected to be my own boss and to help people improve business by…learning to communicate better. I noticed, back then, that too many people weren’t trained in writing for the web. My goal was to help them understand the difference between writing for a print publication and writing for the web.

Q.  Is being an entrepreneur everything you thought it would be?

Yvonne: Yes. It really has helped me grow exponentially – my own writing has improved and I find that I learn as much or more from my clients, as I teach them. It’s a win-win partnership.

Q.  What kinds of challenges have you faced that are unique to women in entrepreneurship?

Yvonne: One area that has not actually changed much is financing. Women still don’t get the funds they need to improve and grow their businesses. I’ve had to bootstrap most of what I do, and while I’ve managed to succeed, I often think about how much further ahead I’d be if a bank or lender had taken a chance on me. Also, there is a perception that women aren’t as serious about their work, as men are. It’s as if we’re just “playing” at being a successful business person. When, in fact, we aren’t. Women are strong in entrepreneurship – we’re good managers, we value technology, and we partner with others to provide a wide range of resources, not just within our business, but externally, also.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are thinking of starting their own business?

Yvonne: I’d say go for it. I’d say, don’t waste a lot  of time trying to ‘plan’… yes, planning is important, but if you try to plan for every contingency, you’ll lag behind. Learn as you go. Be prepared to stumble and fall. Get up, try again, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Find someone, a significant other (mine rocks! I could not do any of this without Tom), a sibling, a best friend, or just an admirer, and share your worries with that person – they’ll help identify true issues and minor inconveniences.

Q.  What skills have been the most important in getting you through the challenges you have faced?

Yvonne: Like many entrepreneurs, tenacity has helped me the most. Even in the face of doom (how am I going to pay those bills? what about new clients, old clients, any clients – how do I get them, where are they?), I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone and succeeded. I spend a lot of time reading to learn more about what I need to know, that I don’t actually know. And, mentoring. I’ve been fortunate to have a great mentor in Bruce Peters of CEOHQ and from a client, Lee Thayer, both who are focused on leadership. Another thing that’s been very influential is my gut feeling about people. When I’ve had second thoughts, things have not gone well. When I’ve been confident, things have gone fantastically.

Q.  When you think about the future of your business, what keeps you up at night?

Yvonne: I don’t stay up much. I do wonder where my business is going, short-term. I wonder if I should begin thinking of selling – so I can retire. Then, I  wonder what I’ll do when I do retire. Truth: I’ll probably start another business.

 

New Year, New Rules: Make the Choice for Love

by Marita Greenidge

Last year December I made a very big decision; I resigned from the executive management team of the venture capital fund I was working with and I removed myself from the management team of a sales company I had recently started.

Why did I make these decisions?

I wanted to focus my energy on a lost dream, a dream that was slowly dying as I begun to live the dreams of others. I’ve long known I hated accounting and finance but there I was assisting with the management of a VC fund. I’ve long known I hated sales but there I was starting a sales company. In working on these two ventures I had little time left for the one thing I really loved and was most passionate about – marketing.  It was beginning to take a toll on my happiness. I returned to Barbados to start and build an amazing marketing firm but here I was doing everything but. I decided it was time to give my marketing company a fair shot.

To help you understand how much I had lost focus, my marketing company had no business plan and therefore no marketing plan. I was not actively seeking clients and even when some potential clients approached me, I turned them down because I had no time or additional resources to dedicate to their projects. I had become an oddity of sorts; a business with one major client. I was like an employee! Could I really call myself an entrepreneur when I was completely dependent on one client and in no way seeking to expand my business? Furthermore, I started my sales company to offer a centralized sales resource to this client.

Slowly I was becoming more immersed in someone else’s dream and losing my own. The truth really hit home one day when someone asked, “So how did you go about marketing your company?” I didn’t have a response because I hadn’t done anything.

I’m not fond of making New Year’s resolutions; I believe you don’t need a new year to make a big change; you just change. But I decided that 2011 was going to be a different year, it was going to be the year I focused on doing the things I was most passionate about. Since making that declaration last year, I worked on my business plan and am now actively marketing my company. I’m beginning to see the returns as well and I am a lot happier. I am also in a better position to provide a much better marketing service to the venture capital fund.

When you are not doing the things you love, it can sap a lot of your energy and slowly change your outlook on life. I hope this year you are doing work you love.