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2014

Sick_Leave_body.jpgby Debbie Griffin.

 

Logic and science agree that sick people should avoid spreading their illness. Still, staying home remains an unrealistic option for some 40 million workers who have no access to paid sick leave, a phenomenon researchers dub ‘presenteeism.’

 

The perils of presenteeism? Workers with no paid sick leave often skip preventive health measures, which can ultimately lead to more time off the job for emergency care or for treatment of a more serious condition. What’s more, the habit of sick employees still coming into work can have a domino effect on customers of public-facing businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, child-care centers, and medical facilities. In 2008, for example, 500 people became violently ill when a restaurant employee came to work despite being infected with norovirus. The direct costs for this outbreak were estimated between $130,000 and $300,000, but a public-health incident like this can potentially cost a business millions through negative publicity, lost productivity, or medical bills.

 

Few laws mandate paid sick leave

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, among companies with 99 or fewer employees, a little more than half of workers have access to paid sick leave. This compares to about 65% of American workers overall who get paid time off for illness. The number of paid sick days a worker gets per year varies by organization, but the national average is eight. Employees may accrue or earn them with hours worked and/or time with the company, and the average U.S. worker takes 3.5 paid sick days per year.

 

Currently, no federal rules stipulate that employers must provide paid sick leave, but a few cities and states have recently passed legislation mandating it within their jurisdictions. In 2006, San Francisco passed the first citywide law for paid sick days, and since then cities like Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., have followed suit. Connecticut passed the nation’s first statewide law, effective Jan. 1, 2012, and other states, like New York and New Jersey, have introduced similar bills. Most existing and proposed laws don’t apply until a company reaches a certain minimum threshold for number of employees, anywhere from five to 50. Just recently, New York City altered its existing paid-sick leave law so that it would apply to businesses with five or more employees instead of the previous 15 or more; the action expanded coverage to some 500,000 additional workers.

 

Conversely, some states have proposed legislation to prevent cities from creating such ‘right-to-sick-leave’ laws, as opponents of the law fear it will promote absenteeism and force businesses to cut pay, hours, or jobs. A manager for the National Federation of Independent Businesses says his organization’s 330,000 members indicate in surveys that they don’t favor mandates because they would prefer to set their own individual policies.

 

Little buyer’s remorse

Though many small businesses might be leery of mandated paid sick leave, few end up opposing the policy once they have lived with it.

 

Eileen Appelbaum at the Center for Economic Policy and Research, and CUNY Professor Ruth Milkman surveyed employers 18 months after Connecticut passed its sick-leave law. They found that the majority of employers reported no effect on operations and cost increases totaling less than three percent. The researchers concluded that more than three-fourths of the state’s employers said they were “very supportive or somewhat supportive” of that state’s paid-sick-leave law.

 

Jennifer Piallat, owner of the San Francisco-based bistro Zazie, acknowledged that she had been dubious of the city’s new law mandating paid sick leave, fearing her employees would abuse it. “When I initially calculated the potential cost, it was under the assumption that every employee would take off all the days that they had earned,” she explained in a 2011 hearing about a similar California-wide law. But instead she said the reality pleasantly surprised her.

 

“My employees have used paid sick days responsibly and have not taken advantage of them,” Piallat explained. “They have used the time only when they have an actual medical need, which is less than the total amount of time that they accrue.” In fact, a follow-up study on the law’s impact in San Francisco found that employees used only an average of three out of five days ever year and a quarter of workers used zero days. In the end, Piallat concluded: “Paid sick days have helped my workforce be healthy and productive and have helped my bottom line.”

 

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Research finds many advantages, few downsides

As Piallat points out, there’s a synergy to the benefits paid sick leave provides to employees as well as businesses. Gordon Lafer, a political economist, noted in an Oct. 2013 report for the Economic Policy Institute that having no access to paid sick leave can expose employees to a huge financial risk: “A typical family of four with two working parents who have no paid sick leave will have wiped out its entire health-care budget for the year after just three days of missed work.” This kind of instability on the homefront can carry over to the workplace, resulting in increased anxiety and lowered morale.

 

These findings dovetail with those of a 2009 CEPR report, “Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick-Day Policies in 22 Countries,” that found having paid sick leave gives businesses an edge: “Firms that provide paid sick days and leave tend to have lower job turnover rates, lower recruitment and training costs, lower unnecessary absenteeism, and a higher level of productivity than firms that do not offer these kinds of benefits.”

 

In a recent analysis of a proposed earned sick leave law in Illinois, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates the policy would cost employers about as much as a 10-cent-per-hour raise for each employee. This, however, is more than regained in the long run, since the study concludes a business providing paid sick time stands to save 24 cents per-employee per-hour. In addition, the BLS provides employer-cost data about sick leave in its 2013 report on employee compensation.

 

Champions of paid sick time emphasize that people should not have to come to work sick because they can’t afford to lose the pay or in some cases, fear discipline for missing time. They should not have to choose between job and health – their own, their children’s, or a family member’s. Though presenteeism persists, change seems imminent as experts and data agree that paid sick time not only protects public health and the economic stability of families, it also makes good business and economic sense.

 

Streamlining_E_Commerce_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Your product could be just what the customer wants, your offer irresistible, your guarantee ironclad—but if you make the online sales transaction hard or confusing, potential buyers could depart your website in lightning speed, possibly never to return. There's no secret to engaging customers from homepage to order page, but it does require a strategic plan that leads them step-by-step to the order button. The best sites share similar attributes, such as ease of use, clarity, and transparency. Here is what experts recommend for making your customers' e-commerce buying experience more profitable.

 

Make it easy

Small businesses can choose between two kinds of solutions for optimizing their e-commerce transactions. The first are ready-to-use programs—such as Bigcommerce and Shopify—that are equipped with best practices built in and let you set up a simple but effective online shopping experience.

 

"If you don't have to do anything that is totally unique to the way you sell your products or services, that's usually the most cost-effective way to start selling quickly," says Cindy Penchina, executive director of Hudson Fusion, a New York-based web design and marketing firm. These platforms can also be a big help when you're going for your secure certificates—part of an encryption protocol for your website that permits secure transactions, such as credit card processing—by making sure your code is in compliance, Penchina says.

 

The second option is to have a custom designed website. While it can be tailored to the specific needs of your business, Penchina stresses that ease of use should be a priority. Products on your website should be easy to find and organized in a way that makes sense to the way your buyers shop—especially when it comes to placing the order.

 

"You don't want to make people go from page to page to page and enter all kinds of information over and over again," Penchina says. "Anything that reduces the amount of time it takes the shopper to complete an order, such as having certain fields auto-fill for returning customers, is a good thing."

 

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The terms of your guarantee should be clearly spelled out and honored, and the customer should have multiple ways to contact you. Penchina also recommends coming up with a sensible, strategic cross-selling plan. For example, one of her clients who sells big pieces of machinery online will cross-sell complementary items, like batteries, on the same page as the original product. "It's not about being pushy," Penchina says. "Sometimes it's really a convenience [to show] what other part or piece the customer might need instead of making them look for it."

 

Simplify instructions

Taking a look at every part of your website, even seemingly "small" items, can sometimes reveal new ways to speed up and simplify the e-commerce process. For example, instructional commands such as Continue and Back.

 

"Continue doesn't make you think your order is submitted. Continue is like the next step," says Vladimir Khaykin, CEO of New York City-based Webmaster Studio. "Considering our busy lifestyle, we don't want to wait for an additional step in order to process something. I want to click one time and process the order, so the main button should say 'Process' or 'Submit.' I would replace the 'Back' button with 'Edit.'"

 

Khaykin also finds that a one-page checkout results in higher conversions than a multiple-page checkout form. Repeat customers should not have to reenter their information every time they shop. Instead, Khaykin says that customer information should already be in your database, so that customers can begin the buying process just by entering their email address and password.

 

Bold images on your website can reassure customers that their credit card information is secure on your checkout page. "You can display it with different seals," Khaykin says. "The seal comes from the security company that issues the security certificates. They give you the option to click on the seal and get a pop-up message box from the company showing that the website is validated under a 256-bit encryption [technique]. I would definitely design elements to show the user that the website is protected."

 

Automate your sales

Small business owners should choose an e-commerce platform that can grow with their business, help them run their operation more efficiently, and provide reliable technical support.

 

"I was looking for something that had an integrated solution, that wasn't just a payment processor or a merchant account," says Erin Blaskie, the co-founder of Ontario, Canada-based Next Dev Media, a full service digital agency. "I wanted something that could help me automate the entire sales process."

 

Blaskie chose 1ShoppingCart and has found it to be a "one-stop" solution for her business objectives. For example, she can set up a series of email marketing messages, or auto-responders, in advance that go out to her customer and prospect lists automatically.

 

1ShoppingCart lets Blaskie set up an affiliate program that introduces her business services to the customer lists of non-competing businesses in exchange for a percentage of sales. She can also create custom products and up-sell them during the checkout process.

 

"I've sold tickets to live events. I've created e-books and audio programs and virtual online courses," Blaskie says. "I've really sold everything through 1ShoppingCart. Based on my experience with my clients, there really isn't anything I can't do."

 

Any solution that you choose should be backed by a knowledgeable and on-call technical team. "Choose a system early on based on what you need because it is an investment and you will recoup it using a system that really does work," Blaskie says.

StrategicPlan_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.


A business plan that’s just a plan is destined to remain in a desk drawer, say small business experts. Effective strategic planning isn’t a product; it’s an ongoing process, with benchmarking, accountability, and real-world forecasting factored in.


That’s how Walker Peek says his company, Residential Acoustics, has been able to grow by nearly 50 percent month over month since he and two friends started it a year ago. The Tampa-based company makes soundproofing curtains for people who live in noisy areas or who want to muffle sounds inside the home.


As CEO and vice president of product development, Peek says he lives by the adage: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” He tracks progress on company goals with 40 different key metrics, from website visitors to profit margins. Based on what the numbers tell him, Peek says he recalibrates the company’s plan regularly.


“One thing our plan did was make us accountable for our goals,” he says. Thanks to an aggressive approach, Peek says, the company just bought its first commercial-grade sewing machine, is moving into a factory space, and will hire employees to replace the independent contractor who had been sewing and shipping each curtain.


Finances first

Business coach Virginia Ginsburg of Swell Strategies says that’s the kind of finance-first thinking she urges entrepreneurs to adopt. Many simply think their great ideas will sell themselves.


“I’ve seen a lot of people not take the extra step of putting some numbers behind their beautiful idea,” Ginsburg says. “It leaves them ill prepared for what I call the business side of business.”


The most important part of a strategic plan, Ginsburg says, is crafting a strong financial model. It should detail all revenue streams and expenses so the business owner can see whether the company will be scalable and sustainable. And the model should be somewhat flexible so that you can reforecast as needed based on real-world results.


“It’s much more like test and revise, test and revise,” she says. “You should have guidelines and benchmarks more than a strict structure of what’s actually going to happen.”


Ginsburg guides her clients through a series of questions that flesh out their strategies for marketing, sales, costs, and revenues. The exercise helps address critical issues such as when you might expect to pay yourself from the business, or even whether your model is financially viable. “You should be as open-eyed as possible to the financial side of the business,” she adds.


A living document

Some entrepreneurs view the business plan merely as a tool to attract a lender or an investor, says Jim Stewart, founder and president of ProfitPath, a business consulting firm in Toronto. “They say, ‘Thank goodness that’s out of the way, let me go back to making money.’” Stewart says there are three reasons a business plan winds up collecting dust rather than driving growth:


  • People tend to believe that a formal document is outdated as soon as it’s printed.
  • The overall plan is missing detailed action steps, which means there’s no way to check progress toward a goal and no incentive to meet regularly for follow-up.
  • There’s no discipline to step back from the day-to-day tactical issues and review the company’s big picture, then update the plan with what has happened since it was developed.


Stewart advises companies to develop action steps within the overall plan to clarify who will do which tasks, with deadlines. A “champion” is assigned to each action plan so that everyone knows who is responsible for it.


Stewart says many folks believe that traditional business plans are too rigid for the ever-changing nature of today’s economy and technology. A strategic plan should flex with your business, he says, not hold it steady. “We can go back and give ourselves the power to make a change, if required,” he says.

 

Peek says he has reforecast many times in his first year—not changing his overall strategy, but rather fine-tuning it. For instance, early market research showed that Residential Acoustics customers ranked quick order turnaround as less important than custom fabric choices and effective soundproofing. So they focused on those priorities.


But in reality, quick turnaround was important. Peek says customers were calling within a few days of placing an order to see if it was finished yet because they were sleepless and desperate for relief. The owners realized they needed a new way of doing things and shifted their business model. Peek says investing in their own small factory not only speeds up the time it takes to fulfill orders, but it also drops their labor cost from $40 to $10 per curtain.


Stewart advises business owners to think about everything it will take to move the company forward in one, three, or five years. Then prioritize, link each item to an action plan and a budget, and allocate the resources to get it done. “If you can do those things, your plan will come alive, and you improve your odds of success dramatically,” Stewart says.


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Beyond SWOT

Strategic planning expert Steve Krupp promotes an “outside-in” method to planning. Krupp, the CEO of Decision Strategies International, says the traditional SWOT approach—analyzing the company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats—is no longer adequate. Instead, business owners have to become experts in the outside factors and uncertainties that can catch a company off guard: health care reform, emerging technologies, or new regulations, to name a few.


“Often small companies don’t fully anticipate all of the potential scenarios,” Krupp says. “You have to plan not just for one future but for multiple futures.”


What could disrupt your business tomorrow—and how can a solid strategic plan help you prepare for it?


Krupp recommends making time to scan widely for changing market conditions. Talk to your customers, your vendors, your distributors, and especially your competitors. Ask: How are their needs changing? What could blindside our business? What could cause our business to take off and grow much faster? Answer those questions, Krupp says, and your options will open up.


Stewart says it’s easy for business owners to forget the things they said they would do. Enlist a mentor or a board to help keep you accountable to your goals, he says. They can remind you to step back and make time for analysis when you’re entrenched in operations. Then you’ll be better equipped to follow a plan that’s strategic, instead of filed and forgotten.

QAnellmerlino_Body.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

Business writer Jennifer Hickey recently spoke with Nell Merlino, founder and president of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence (CMI), a non-profit organization that provides coaching and community support for women entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses. Merlino is also the author of Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way in Life, in Love and at Work, and the creative force behind “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.” Some excerpts:

 

JH: How did CMI evolve from an online micro-lender to a resource and education provider for women seeking to grow as entrepreneurs?

NM: Over time we saw a greater need for helping women grow their business, instead of just starting their business. There are already 8.5-million women-owned businesses in the country. While this is an impressive figure, the majority makes less than $50,000 in annual revenues. There were countless programs that helped women start up their business, but not one that exclusively helped women business owners focus on the growth of their business. Once we saw the success of Make Mine a Million $ Business (M3), which was piloted in 2005, we began to shift our focus to equipping women with the resources they need to reach millions in annual revenue through various conferences and competitions around the country.

 

JH: How do the various programs—Make Mine a Million $ Business (M3), Urban Rebound, and Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC)—and the services CMI offers complement and support one another?

NM: Although all of our programs target women business owners, they cater to different levels of business development. They include a competition component where women give two-minute pitches on their business and have the opportunity to be selected for our nine-month business accelerator program. The Urban Rebound program feeds into our M3 program because it helps women reach annual revenue to $250,000, so that they can focus on reaching the million-dollar mark. The Urban Rebound program is open to businesses in cities that remain challenged by higher unemployment, as a way to help those businesses grow so they can hire more people. 

 

There is a great disparity in growth and prosperity between men and women who go into business. It is a similar experience for women in the military, and that is why we decided to create our Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC) program. WVEC is a separate program that accepts women veterans and military spouses with businesses in good standing, regardless of revenue threshold, because we’ve seen that women veterans bring a different life experience to their business. So, we’ve created coaching groups through the business accelerator program for those on their way to reaching that million-dollar mark, for those who fall into the Urban Rebound category, and for those in the startup phase. It’s proven to be very important that these women are among other veteran or military spouses and at the same level of revenue growth, as they often have different needs. We hope and plan to integrate the awardees from all of our programs together, because we feel veteran and civilian women business owners have so much to learn from each other.

 

JH: What have you observed and encountered as a business owner that led to founding one that specifically targets female owned businesses?

NM: The Census tells a story of millions of women business owners throughout the country. Private and public institutions that seek to help small business owners typically focus on start-ups or on larger businesses seeking venture capital funding. Before CMI, there was no organization working with the women who had plateaued after having started their business. The programs we offer help women get the confidence and access to resources needed to grow companies that will sustain them and their families, as well as create jobs. Just as there are business organizations that help African-American, Asian, and Hispanic business owners, at CMI, we believe giving women their own space is an important element in the growth of their businesses.

 

QAnellmerlino_PQ.jpgJH: How has your work as an organizer and advocate for female empowerment shaped the trajectory of CMI?

NM: It became very clear to me that the missing piece to women’s equality was economic empowerment and the ability to support oneself and family that went beyond struggling to survive. There’s a lot of pent-up innovation and creativity in women that periodically changes how we think about products and services, such as Angie’s List, Spanx, and all the development there’s been in creating more nutritional, easier to prepare food products. Women are constantly developing products and services that solve all kinds of problems. I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface of what women in business are capable of. And one of the most important ways to continue the progress women have made is through business.

 

JH: According the 2010 Census, women make up almost half of all small business owners, yet less than three percent reach or exceed $1 million in revenues, compared with six percent for men. Could you describe some of the obstacles women-owned businesses face that may account for this disparity and how have the programs and services CMI offers helped to overcome them?

NM: The first obstacle that we try to help women overcome is the awareness that it is possible for them to grow their business. We focus heavily on introducing women in our programs to other women who have successfully made it to the million-dollar mark so that they can realize that those women started just like them, stuck at a plateau. Another obstacle that we help women overcome is the lack of confidence about how to grow their business, after they’ve realized that it’s possible. Women who participate in CMI programs become a part of a community of women who are trying to reach the same goal, and that is a very powerful resource for them. I think it’s particularly helpful for women to have colleagues to talk to that are interested in each other’s success. I truly believe that is why 32 percent of the women who participate in CMI programs reach the million-dollar level and have the skills to keep growing. We’re trying to change the notion that financial and business success means you have to step on others to get there. At CMI, we encourage women to build a sustainable, thriving business that also incorporates their visions for their family, community, and the world.

 

JH: What advice would you offer a female entrepreneur thinking about attending a CMI event?

NM: The first step is to apply. By filing out the application, it forces you to think about how you would scale your business. In the process of enrolling in CMI and getting into a competition, you start to plan and set larger goals for your business. And by the time you’ve finished the business accelerator program, you have a solid business plan. Beyond learning about the CMI programs, you learn things that can be used the very next day in your business. You start thinking about what you can do to improve your business and often find someone to do business with. Even if you’re not chosen for a program, you can come back and apply again. Isolation is the enemy of success. Simply stepping out and engaging with others is the first step in realizing the full potential of your business. I love what Diana Nyad said after her swim from Cuba to Florida. She said:  “[Swimming] looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.” The very same thing is true for small business owners.

WomenEntr_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

It’s been a promising year for women in America. Female flag officers are now at the helm of two U.S. service academies, Facebook doyenne Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has inspired many to change their approach to work, and the number of moms who are their family’s breadwinner hit a record high.

 

Yet there’s much work to be done when it comes to entrepreneurship. Each month, men are still twice as likely to open a business than women, according to Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity data. A recent Dow Jones VentureSource report says just 1.3 percent of privately held companies had a female founder in the 15 years ending in 2012.

 

So, thinking of that last number, just who makes up that 1.3 percent? How are they succeeding? Here, we talk with a few women who’ve made that leap, striking out on their own to take that entrepreneurial journey and their advice to women who are considering or have already started down their own business paths.

 

 

“We are all stronger than we think we are.”

Cristina DeVito, CEO of Mudderella

 

What is it about sloshing through waist-deep mud, then a chest-high icy bath known as Winter’s Eve, just after slogging through 7 miles of obstacles that’s somehow empowering? “It’s more of a competition against yourself,” says Cristina DeVito, who left the traditional confines of Harvard Business School and Bain & Co. to plunge into the world of extreme fitness challenges. “You have to understand what success means to you. Set a goal and go for it.”

 

She’s leading this upstart, which puts on women-only meetups that are chock full of grueling and dirty physical challenges. (Think of the hard-core Tough Mudder—where DeVito once did a stint—for those lacking the Y chromosome.) At these events, kicking off across the U.S. and Canada and scheduled to expand to Australia and U.K. next year, DeVito says there are many parallels to the business world. One common theme: People want to rise to the challenge. “Out there, this inspires others to do things they didn’t think they could do. It’s not just the team you go out there with, and your support network, it’s the team you create on the course, too—even if it means overcoming any obstacle with strangers.”

 

 

“The pressure you put on yourself is far greater than any real pressure.”

Meg Gill, owner & president of Golden Road Brewery


As a teen athlete and Yale captain, Meg Gill poured herself into swimming, broke pool records, and even set her sights on the Olympic trials. But a car accident in 2009—from a case of vertigo after swimming a relay across Lake Tahoe—put her in a personal and career dry dock for months, and got her to thinking about her other passion: beer. By 2011, the 26-year-old Gill and a partner launched Golden Road Brewery, a Los Angeles craft-beer operation, which gave her claim to another title: the youngest brewery owner in America.

 

WomenEntr_PQ.jpgNow with 100 employees, Gill says her life is more business-focused. Still, after a recent swim at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center, she takes comfort, in a quote on the wall from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” As she reflects on her past week, “I know, looking at that [quote], that I did everything I could to be the best I could be and it’s not about measurements of money, or what other people say or think,” Gill says. “It’s about knowing internally that dedication, drive, and passion are taking you to your potential.”

 

 

“Give 110 percent of yourself to your career before you have kids, then keep your options open.”

Cindy Slansky, founder of GreenPaxx

 

Where do people like Cindy Slansky get the energy? A Queens, New York-raised child of Italian immigrants, she rose early in sales at the Limited Co. before leaving to pursue something she felt would be more fulfilling: a job as a nurse practitioner. Then came a family, which at one point involved four children under the age of 5, training for a marathon, and a step into entrepreneurship inspired by keeping

her family healthy. Her inventions: a nontoxic adjustable silicone cover to fit nearly any cup, a reusable straw to match, and a line of other products that are friendly to kids and the environment. Within a year of the launch from her Long Island, New York, home, GreenPaxx Cool Cups were on shelves at Bed Bath & Beyond.

 

In February, Slansky landed in front of ABC’s Shark Tank panel on The View. But when decision time came from the entrepreneurial kingmakers, the frequently volatile Mark Cuban erupted on the topic of women “having it all,” as the way to delivering his “no” to funding her venture. (You can watch the exchange here.) “It was a hard thing for me to hear,” Slansky says. “I don’t think it was malicious, and he’s someone I admire. But really, it is difficult mentally to put your mind in two different places at the same time. If you have deadlines at work, your kids don’t get that.” Her time-machine message to her earlier self: Invest in business while you’re younger. Her impulse to start her own business came through her children, but getting it off the ground came slowly, in unpredictable moments Slansky had to take advantage of. “I would literally get up to check on the baby in the middle of the night,” she recalls “and I’d be on the phone to China.”

 

 

“Your gut instinct can be much more valuable to you than an MBA.”

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO & owner of FlexJobs.com

 

When Sara Sutton Fell set out on her first startup in the Internet’s mid-’90s heyday, she and her co-founder were both in their early twenties and sought out advice from established businesspeople. “We had no business experience really—we were in it for the passion of the idea,” she says. While much of the feedback was worthwhile, they got some pretty firm opinions from generally older men in traditional fields, who had set, structured beliefs about how things worked. “I think we were so active in soliciting information that we undervalued our own instincts,” Sutton Fell says. It was something that undermined their confidence as they went on, as what their gut told them conflicted with traditional approaches. “It was a hard lesson learned,” she says. (Who came out on top? Their pioneering job-search service sold in the mid-eight figures.)

 

Sutton Fell has moved on to her second successful company now, which leads the market for telecommuting- and flexible-job searches—and is based out of her Boulder, Colo., home. And this time around, she says she’s stayed much more true to what her instincts are telling her. “You’ll always have people—often more ‘educated,’ more ‘experienced,’ and in my case, often men—telling you how to do things, what the better way is, how it’s usually done,” she says. “But if you see a different way, trust that. Research it, look at it critically, but give it real value in your discussions and strategy choices.”

 

 

“Find the courage to confront fear that first time, or first few times. It changes everything.”

Jacqueline Corbelli, founder and CEO of BrightLine

 

Jacquie Corbelli got her steely resolve by helping major corporations implement big changes through their organizations. “I learned quickly, sometimes the hard way, the value of clarity of vision, structure, discipline, focus, and riding out periods of uncertainty and risk,” the New Yorker says. All of those elements were crucial when she went out on her own in 2003 to launch BrightLine iTV, an interactive-television marketing and advertising firm. (Ever had a “Get This Recipe” button pop up on your screen while you’re watching a show? It’s likely from her shop’s technology.)  It wasn’t ever easy, particularly in a male-dominated field, where Corbelli says the tendency of many women is to defer to men, sometimes even if those guys are wrong.

 

And that’s where fortitude comes into play. “Finding that initial courage doesn’t go away if you don’t let it, it breeds more courage,” she says. “And pretty soon you don't feel like you’re walking on a ledge anymore, you’re testing the bounds of your intuitive and intellectual ability to create and continually enhance value.” Her advice to those cutting their own path: “Make the merits of your effort, the results you produce, impossible to ignore. It’s the most straightforward way to ensure you don’t give less than you’ve got, and you don't ever simply defer—regardless of gender.”

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