Experience: 9 years
Location: United States, Annapolis, Maryland
Entrepreneurship, specifically female entrepreneurship is something I am incredibly passionate about. Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience, I hope it is helpful to aspiring and current female entrepreneurs.
Since I was young, I constantly tried creating things, selling things and solving problems. I made jewelry and sold it, I picked blackberries and sold those, I even picked flowers out of people’s yards and tried to sell them!
So I suppose, a career in entrepreneurship was a natural fit later in life. I studied political science in college but ended up working in a totally different field – hotel marketing. I had the opportunity to oversee marketing for some beautiful luxury resort properties in Arizona and learned so much during my time as marketing manager.
I left a job as a hotel marketing manager in 2009, moved to the East coast and started a digital marketing company called Smith and 7, headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland. Although I had done a tremendous amount of research and reading about entrepreneurship, I still faced challenges.
I learned the hard way that not everyone is honest. I hired a web developer who charged me $3k and never finished my website. I thought I needed fancy brochures and business cards to appear professional. I spent a lot of money getting the business off the ground.
In retrospect, at the end of the day, I believe the most important thing was to focus on clients and achieving their goals. After a few years of building clients at my marketing agency, I was able to draw my entire salary from my company. My clients were happy, and I loved helping them with digital marketing and SEO. After years of testing and learning, I felt I had achieved success as an entrepreneur.
Like many entrepreneurs, I was ready for my next challenge. In 2011, I came up with the idea to create a digital bachelorette party planning site, called Bashelorette that would help women plan bachelorette parties online for free. Thinking I had already learned a tremendous amount about entrepreneurship, I thought it would be smooth sailing!
Like any new business, there were positives and negatives. As a female entering the startup world, I found it difficult to find investors, most of whom were male and lived in Silicon Valley or New York City. I had never raised venture capital, so the process required a lot of “grit,” and forced me to “learn on the fly.”
I successfully raised $25k from friends and family members and launched the site in 2013. Since then, I have auditioned for popular shows such as “Shark Tank” and even got to pitch Bashelorette on a show called “Elevator Pitch” created by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Needless to say, I learned a lot because there were a lot of unforeseen problems, challenges, and opportunities to improve the business.
Today, we have over 300k users and recently launched a new, improved website. The journey is ongoing, as I always seek to improve every aspect of the business model and user experience.
Below I have listed 5 things I wish someone told me when I was getting started as a female entrepreneur.
My advice to aspiring and current female entrepreneurs:
1. Never stop learning: The more you know, the more dangerous you are (in a good way). I recommend reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandburg. Many women lack confidence and are intimidated by their male peers, especially in the tech field. There is no excuse for not learning something, with so much free knowledge available through Google, libraries, etc. Earlier in the article, I mentioned that a web designer took $3k from me and never built my site. Well, I taught myself how to create WordPress websites, and practiced until I was able to create websites for clients. I turned a problem into a solution!
2. Get discouraged, but not for long: There is one thing about entrepreneurship that is guaranteed – there will be ups and downs. It’s impossible to not be emotionally invested in your business so some days can be tough. Let the down days discourage you briefly, but then determine what you learned and move on with a little more wisdom than you had previously.
3. Get a mentor: There are so many resources out there to connect with mentors. Personally, I prefer knowing someone or using a soft introduction to find a mentor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who inspire you or have achieved what you want to achieve! In fact, find a few mentors who have strengths in different areas/fields of expertise.
4. Focus on sales: Whether your business is service or product based, focus on making money. Sure you need a business plan (I recommend an abbreviated one with bullet points), but fancy brochures and office space are usually not necessary in the beginning. Can you start selling online before moving into retail space? Can you book 5 clients before renting an office? Read the “Lean Startup” – and do what it says. Don’t spend a ton of money while testing your idea. Focus on sales and delivering the products or services as promised.
5. Don’t let fear or envy overcome you: I have seen this so often. Entrepreneurs get scared, they see other businesses succeeding (or appearing to succeed), they get jealous, and try to copy competitors. Breathe, relax, keep learning and bust your butt. Keep an eye on the competition, but create your own, unique strategy. When the going gets tough, be a problem solver! I still bartend as a side job to make extra cash, so I don’t have to worry about cash flow if I lose a few clients for my marketing job. It’s okay to have a plan b (and you should!).
On a final note, being a female entrepreneur has been anything but an easy journey. I have only skimmed the surface of my experiences in this article, but I hope you find it helpful.
Take one day at a time, read as much as you can, and focus on short-term and long-term goals. Best of luck in your entrepreneurial endeavors!
– Courtney Smith, Founder of Smith and 7 Marketing Agency and Bashelorette