When entrepreneurial women get together to share their stories of business ownership, you can almost guarantee the room will be a-buzz with positive energy. And that’s exactly what happened when I had the privilege of joining two fellow business owners behind the podium at a recent Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth breakfast event.
Our theme for the morning presentation was Enterprising Women, a self-selected title coined from a book written by Virginia G. Drachman named, Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business (2002, University of North Carolina Press). We’d been looking for a catchy phrase to describe our topic when this title leaped out at us from our conference room bookshelf, and it stuck!
The morning of our presentation, thirty or so attendees filled their coffee cups and settled into their seats at a local Portsmouth-area restaurant. The majority of the audience was comprised of women, but we did see a few men scattered here and there around the room.
With the goal of keeping our delivery casual and interactive, we decided not to prepare formal remarks. Instead, we gave a great deal of thought to a few ideas we hoped to cover. I took the middle chair, bookmarked by Anneliese Brosch, owner of Cape Ann SUP, a paddleboarding studio in Essex, MA, and Mariah Morgan, founder of Stout Heart, a branding and web firm, and our office neighbor here in Portsmouth, NH.
Anneliese served as moderator, posing new questions periodically to keep our conversation flowing. The topics we covered included how we got started in our businesses, the origin of our company brands and what those brands represent, types of challenges we face as women business owners and where we see our companies going into the future.
Initially, during our early planning meetings, I was concerned that my fellow presenters and I didn’t share enough characteristics in common beyond the fact that we each own and operate a business. We span three decades in age, came to entrepreneurship via vastly different career paths, and each brought our own unique observations about running a company to the discussion. But the truth is, this didn’t present a problem at all.
In contrast to my peers, I launched my media planning + buying firm later in my career, after my oldest headed off to college and I already had spent over twenty years working as media director at other agencies. For me, there came a point when I could no longer ignore the voice inside telling me I should make a go of it on my own. Four years and a few months later, I can’t imagine my life any other way.
After a lot of digging beneath the surface, listening to each other’s stories and spending time together we realized we had more in common than we had originally thought. A sense of like-mindedness began to emerge during our initial conversations. We all demonstrated determination, a commitment to excellence, flexibility, confidence, a willingness to take risks, and a desire to keep learning more about ourselves and our respective disciplines. We welcomed each other’s ideas, displayed patience and an even temperament (well, most of the time), and the three of us placed a high value on giving back to others.
Clearly, we were well-matched, despite my earlier hesitations.
One of my favorite parts of the morning happened when we opened up the floor to audience questions. It was evident that our audience had found many parallels between our stories and their own. They seemed to trust that we would be honest about the highs and lows of business ownership. One woman asked us how we knew we were ready to take the leap. Another wanted to know what it felt like to run a business while simultaneously trying to do our best as parents or caregivers at home.
When our talk was over, I felt proud of the courage and generosity of spirit demonstrated by our panel of three. I came away confident that we had offered much-needed encouragement to the people who showed up to hear our stories.
Women’s lives are complicated, intricate webs of commitment and responsibility and I am acutely aware that as a woman I am often guilty of prioritizing others before myself, with all the consequences that that behavior entails. Hopefully, by shedding some light into our personal and corporate journeys, we made it clear to our listeners that entrepreneurship isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Regardless of our age, marital status, number of degrees, years in the workforce, and whether or not we raise children, there should be no limits to what we can achieve if we believe in ourselves, and each other.