October is Women's Small Business Month. Keep an eye out each Monday for stories for, and about, women entrepreneurs.
There is no one magic formula for launching and maintaining a successful small business. In fact, according to the Small Business Authority, more than 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years. But the right combination of recruiting, networking and brand establishment can help entrepreneurs thrive in the face of a tough economic landscape.
At this year's Small Business Expo in New York City sponsored by an array of companies including Google, Microsoft, AOL Tech Guru and Hewlett Packard , women entrepreneurs unleashed their own secrets to success.
Sandi Webster, principal at Consultants 2 Go
Advice: Hire the Right People for Growth
Sandi Webster and her business partner were lucky enough to win a contest for women entrepreneurs called "Make Mine a Million $ Business," when they first launched Consultants 2 Go in 2002. The competition, which is funded Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence, Inc., helped them to grow their business to the $1 million threshold in just a few years, Webster said, and along the way, the duo picked up important tactics on hiring and firing.
Webster stressed the need for owners to reassess their staff periodically to make sure the current team will continue to be able to help improve the business.
To help evaluate their team, Webster and her partner drew a blank organization chart that listed titles and skill sets without names. Evaluating that helped them create goals for where they wanted to be in one year's time.
"Nine times out of 10 times you don't have the right people to help you (now), and get you there in a year," she said.
And don’t forget to assess yourself. Consider if you are the right CEO for the company. If not, supplement your skill set by getting a hiring board to help you pick the right people and do your job well.
Also, having a mentor with that you meet each week or every few weeks to report on your progress is a good way to gauge success. Being accountable only to yourself is an easy way to lose track of your goals.
Ellen Singer, financial representative with Northwestern Mutual
Advice: Find Your Networking Groove
Ellen Singer, financial representative, said when it comes to networking and spreading word of you company, pick events carefully.
"If you go to a networking event, it should be something you are interested in. You don't want to just go to networking events to gather business cards and talk at people. You want to be authentic."
Also choose events that are in the type of setting that you find yourself most comfortable in. If the event is a speed-networking style event, for example, you may feel to pressured to loosen up.
Singer also recommended setting goals for networking events. She said she likes to try to meet about four people at each event.
"When you are talking to somebody, be in discovery mode," Singer said. "Be curious and interested. It is about building rep or and understanding if this is a good fit for you."
Maria Seidman, founder of Yapp
Advice: Establish Your Brand
Maria Seidman left a comfy position at Warner Bros. to start her own business and soon realized the power of name-brand recognition.
"When I had given out my [Warner Bros.] card at networking events, people wanted to talk to me," Seidman recalled. "And when I went out on my own, it was a major adjustment to having my identity wrapped up in [Warner Bros.] to having my own identity."
Understanding the difference between being an entrepreneur and an employer, helped Seidman to create her own identity. At Yapp, the company's identity is about relishing in entrepreneurialism and the freedom that comes along with it.
"The secret to trying to have it all is running my own business," she said. "It's having a culture where you treat yourself and your employees as adults."
One of the major perks at her company is the emphasis on results, rather than face time. Seidman said she appreciates this now more than ever, since she has started a family of her own.
"Being able to be there for your family is a great lifestyle to be able to balance as a woman," she said. "You can access email anywhere you go now. All of my employees have families, so it's about managing to results."
Karen Jackson of Jackson Solutions
Advice: Know Your Corporate Culture
Establishing a corporate culture as early on as possible is Karen Jackson, CEO of Jackson Solutions, secret to effective management. While cultures at different companies can look very different, Jackson said its key to create an environment that works for you as the business owner.
"Create a corporate culture from day one that reflects who you are as an owner," she said. "Have that be your guiding light to grow. You have a better advantage over those who do this haphazardly."
This culture should establish behavioral norms that demonstrate how you will conduct business. It should also represent your values as CEO.
"This is a great way for everyone in the organization to understand what you stand for, and how they will be held accountable," Jackson said. "It also allows you to resolve difference that may come up. It's a great way to learn and to get better."
Having a desirable culture also makes the difference when recruiting top talent, Jackson said. At the consulting firm, for example, there is a "No Jerk" policy in place.
"We wouldn't hire someone who was a jerk," she said. "Our clients loved that about us, and it becomes a huge differentiator. As I hire people into the organization, I hire their values as well."