Supporting women in business is the main goal of NAWBO and their NYC chapter president, Elizabeth Foster. She came on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to discuss the tools the organization provides to women and the community that they’ve built together.
Kate Delaney: I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from “Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. We're here at the 2019 Bank of America, Women Business Owner Spotlight and wow, we have a great guest with us. Elizabeth Foster, Gregg, I mean, I'm telling you, people beat the drum for this woman. All I did was tweet something out, and the people are all over me.
Gregg Stebben: It helps that she is the President of NAWBO NYC. Elizabeth, welcome. And I think first, let's talk about NAWBO, and then we want to get into your career. Tell us about NAWBO. Not everyone's familiar with it.
Elizabeth Foster: NAWBO is a National Association of Women Business Owners. That's what it stands for. It actually came into creation in 1975, when a woman business owner could not get a loan without a male family member co-signing. And what happened, there was a woman that went into a bank, she had no male family member. The bank manager said, I'm really sorry. These are the rules. Isn't there somebody? She had a 17 year-old-son, and the bank manager said he'll do.
Gregg Stebben: Are you serious?
Elizabeth Foster: I'm serious.
Gregg Stebben: So I want to interject, that I think a year ago, this was a very big anniversary for NAWBO, or maybe it was two years ago, you'll correct me, but we just celebrated the 30th anniversary of making those rules go away. Correct?
Elizabeth Foster: Correct.
Gregg Stebben: So only 30 years ago?
Elizabeth Foster: Well actually yeah, it's actually less than 30 years ago. NAWBO started in '75, and what happened was, this event happened in '75, and she went out, she said, no, you're not going to have my son as a guarantor. And basically what happened was that she got together with a group of other businesswomen and she said, we need to do something about this.
So she was a woman of action, and she met with other women of action, and they got together and they created NAWBO. Then, it took them 13 years, 13 years, till 1988, which was 30 years ago last-
Gregg Stebben: I knew there was a 30 year anniversary. Listen to Gregg’s interview about the 30th anniversary of HR 5050 on “The Heartbeat of Main Street”
Elizabeth Foster: That was the one. Yeah. And it's crazy. I'm like, seriously? It took you 13 years to pass a bill to say that women had the equal rights? 1988? I'm like, shame on you.
Gregg Stebben: A creditworthy woman.
Kate Delaney: That's just sad.
Gregg Stebben: If you were not creditworthy, that's another conversation. But you could have the greatest credit, and you still couldn't get a loan because you were a woman.
Elizabeth Foster: Correct, correct.
Kate Delaney: And obviously you have a beautiful accent, so we know that you were born and raised in England, I'm guessing, and I bet you had that entrepreneurial spirit as a young woman. And I know that you got into the fragrance business. How did that start? Tell us about your journey.
Elizabeth Foster: You're right. I'm not a native New Yorker. I was born in Bath, and grew up there, and then went to London as soon as I could, basically. And I started…I had a few jobs doing this and that, whatever. And then I found a product, and I really wanted to...it kind of came to me as there was something, and this is a skill that I have: I kind of look at something, and then I'll say, well, if you just did this, and if you did this, and if you did this, then you could make a whole different product, and it would be, oh, so much better.
Gregg Stebben: So you're good at leveraging assets.
Elizabeth Foster: Correct. So that's exactly what I did. And the product was an aroma therapy-based product, and I knew a lot about aromatherapy anyway, just out of personal interest. So that was something that was very near and dear to my heart.
And we just basically started on the kitchen table. We started at very, very, very humble beginnings. And then, within two years, we had a billion-pound turnover, which is kind of cool actually.
Kate Delaney: So your journey, I mean this has to be more than near and dear to your heart, to see women thriving in entrepreneurial spaces all over the place, right?
Elizabeth Foster: Yeah. Well, very much so. And actually going back to me being here as well. So I've been here for five years now, and I was kind of "fresh off the boat." And I met a woman at an event and I'm like, where do I meet some smart savvy businesswomen? And she's like, you need to go to NAWBO. I'm like-
Gregg Stebben: What's NAWBO?
Elizabeth Foster: What's NAWBO? So she said, she told me what it was, and I'm like, huh, I can give that a go. And then you know, I think the thing is, that you need to be open as well. You need to be understanding and give things a go. So from that point of view, that's what I did. I was open, I went along, and I found my tribe.
I found those women that were smart and savvy, and I do consider myself that as well. And I fit in, and it was great. And then they obviously saw potential in me, and they're like, “Hey, you want to come hang out with us?”
Gregg Stebben: Well, so I want to make an observation here. You earlier used the phrase, I think you referred to yourself, as a “woman of action,” right?
Elizabeth Foster: Correct.
Gregg Stebben: And what's interesting is, you moved to an entirely new, not just to a new city, but to a new city in a new country five years ago, and you're now the President of NAWBO NYC. My guess is, they saw in you a woman of action, and you saw in them a lot of women of action, and I'm bringing that up just to really say to other women who are not familiar with NAWBO, if you want to meet like-minded, savvy businesswomen, women of action, NAWBO's the place to go, whether you're in New York City or not.
Elizabeth Foster: Absolutely, yeah. We've got 60 chapters around the country, and even if you're in the middle of nowhere, we have virtual membership too, so you can still connect with us women, no matter where you are in America.
Kate Delaney: What do you think is the most difficult thing that women entrepreneurs go through? What stops some of them from achieving what they could possibly achieve?
Elizabeth Foster: That's a very good question, and I think there's various answers to that. I think that often for women it's actually confidence. I hate to say that. We still don't believe in ourselves enough. And when we don't believe in ourselves, others don't necessarily believe in us. So I think that level of, you've got to just go there, you've got to put yourself out there. That’s what you know…don't hold back.
And if you struggle with that, if that's something that you know you struggle with, then get some support. Get a coach, get a whatever you need, even just a friend, like a good strong friend.
Gregg Stebben: And I would imagine also…again, not to spend the whole interview plugging NAWBO, but if one of the things you need is confidence, go be with other women who are being successful.
Elizabeth Foster: Correct.
Gregg Stebben: They'll tell you what you're great at and support you in the things that you need to grow in.
Elizabeth Foster: That's exactly the case. Exactly. And no, we're not just plugging NAWBO, but they are a great organization. So, hey.
Kate Delaney: So we have one last question for you.
Gregg Stebben: You haven't even told us about your business.
Elizabeth Foster: That's because I'm such a good advocate for NAWBO.
Gregg Stebben: You are, but you should tell us about your business.
Elizabeth Foster: I can do that. I'm the founder of Maison Visionnaire, and what we did is, we invented the reed diffusers.,So it's a home fragrance business. What we did, is we brought art to fragrance, and we made it a whole experience for your home. So instead of, I'm sure you've seen them, you know the jars with the oil and the sticks. Well, I'm sorry, but they're not very beautiful, and they're not creative, and they're kind of ugly, and you want to hide them away because you want the fragrance, and you want the benefits.
So I decided to make it beautiful. So it's a wooden art piece that has been carved, and that acts as a diffuser, but it's also beautiful to look at. And it also, it's a fusion that accentuates the home. So we also have a product behind it. It's a CDF, a composite diffusion fiber, which kind of acts like the fragrance engine, so to speak. It really pumps out the fragrance, and it's totally natural. So, that's what I'm doing here. That's my business.
Gregg Stebben: And the website for it?
Elizabeth Foster: MaisonVisionnaire.com.
Gregg Stebben: Spell it for us.
Elizabeth Foster: M-A-I-S-O-N-V-I-S-I-O-N-N-A-I-R-E .com.
Narrator: For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.