The number-one requirement when starting your own business is to follow your passion; tenacity and a can-do attitude are close runners-up. When you’re a female entrepreneur, persistence is another critical component to success.
“Be prepared to work hard,” said Tracy Armstrong, owner and co-owner of North Pittsburgh Greeting Company and Working Hands Handyman Service, respectively. “Owning your own business is not for the faint of heart.”
In addition to being persistent and passionate about what you do, Armstrong said you must be extremely outgoing and have self-confidence. “The one-to-one touch is lacking these days,” she said. “I think that’s why my business does extremely well. Sure, I’m coming to your door with free things, but I’m also welcoming you to the community, which is an added touch.”
Stephanie Rhoads, an orthodontist with her own practice in Cranberry Township, said she agrees with offering personalized service to connect with your customers. For her, that meant attending community events to get to know her neighbors when she first opened her doors in December 2013. From the time she built out the space for her new offices—Rhoads Orthodontic Specialist—in September, until the day she opened, she and her staff attended every community and social event in the region.
“It gave us the opportunity to really get to know people and for them to know us,” she said. “When people met me and my team, it gave them the insight into our personalities and how our office works.”
The one-on-one care and personal touch that Rhoads shows her patients extends beyond the initial get-to-know-her phase. She’s been known to attend concerts, plays and sporting events for her patients to foster relationships. “Building relationships is a huge part of what I do. I want people to know they can trust me, so I invest time in them,” she said.
Gretchen Fieser, the owner of Lucky Paws Pet Resort in Freedom, said she 100 percent agrees with pursuing your dreams as a woman entrepreneur. After 13 years with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, Fieser cashed out her 401(k) and bought Lucky Paws Pet Resort from founder and former owner Susan Walker. While she didn’t start the business herself, Fieser still faced the same learning curve when assuming sole responsibility for its ongoing success.
“I had some excellent mentors when I took over, including the former owner and several trusted family members,” she said. “I love having my own business. It’s sometimes a little frightening, but all the decisions you make are yours, not anyone else’s.”
Once a rarity, women entrepreneurs continue to grow in Pennsylvania and across the nation. According to data from the most recent U.S. Census, women-owned companies make up just under 20 percent of employers in the U.S. Most women-owned firms are in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors, followed by real estate, rental, and leasing businesses.
All three local business owners said that self-confidence takes you far when you decide to go into business for yourself. “You have to be extremely outgoing and have loads of confidence,” said Armstrong.
Rhoads agreed, adding, “Just take the plunge. It’s really easy to get lost in all the details. Just dive in and go for it and be super-confident in what you’re providing.”
Confidence helps women business owners be more successful, but establishing a work-life balance can be one of the biggest challenges they face along the journey. “If you’re a wife or a mom, you need work-life balance skills,” said Armstrong.
Fieser agreed, noting that what she chose to do for her life’s work wouldn’t be ideal for a mother with young children. “It’s a 24/7/365 days-a-year job. To be successful at it, I put the dogs and cats first,” she said.
Some of the other challenges the women said they faced included learning about all the moving parts associated with running their own businesses. What jobs need to be done (and who should do them)? Are people in the right roles to help the business succeed? What are the short- and long-term goals?
“These were all things I needed to figure out,” said Fieser. “Thankfully, I had trusted people to help me every step of the way.” Rhoads agreed, saying she spent a lot of time “finding out all the things I didn’t know I needed to do.”
Securing financing to start a business also can be difficult. Rhoads said she was fortunate in that many banks have start-up loans for healthcare fields. “It would have been harder without banks familiar with dentistry and healthcare,” she said.
Fieser cashed in her 401(k), and Armstrong used the money she had from selling a previous business. Armstrong also mentioned a program at the University of Pittsburgh for women entrepreneurs that offers small business loans as a helpful resource.
Even after securing financing, there are things women must learn to do to keep their businesses afloat, said Armstrong.
“You’d better understand marketing and how to promote your business,” she advised. “And you must be social-media savvy. I’m not talking about liking and sharing graphics from other sites, either. I’m talking about creating your own original photos and graphics and learning how to engage your customers on social media.”
Women who do not know the ins and outs of marketing can consider working with a professional who does and can help them promote their businesses.
One piece of parting advice Fieser offered was not to wake up regretting that you didn’t pursue your dream. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “That’s something a lot of people ask me about. I promise the time and energy you invest pays off if it’s something you really want to do.”