Women’s Entrepreneurship Panel Talks Grit & Grind of Starting a Business

A group of women business owners recently gathered at the Women’s Business Center of Ohio to discuss the grit and grind that goes into building a business.

Councilmember Liz Brown and the WBC organized the panel around feedback from the community. Hearing about the successes is great, but what about the rest? What about the failures and the hardship?

Five women with varying years of experience across a diverse range of industries offered advice and lessons learned. Panelists included:

  • Heather Whaling, Founder and President of Geben Communication
  • Joyce Johnson, Owner and President of CCI
  • Rae Reed, Founder and Executive Editor of WordUp
  • Renné Dismore, Owner of Nay’s Creative Ways / Pretzels with a Twist
  • Julie Wilkes, Owner of Seven Studios

The panelists discussed everything from creating opportunities for themselves to the role emotion plays in business. And while each woman’s experience is different, one lesson rung true across any business and any industry: entrepreneurship is not a go-it-alone affair.

Partners, mentors, resource providers, talking to other business owners – each played a role in helping this group of women reach business goals.

Dismore knew she wanted to pursue a food product, so she went straight to the source. She started setting up appointments with other businesses producing food products, then went to local store owners and asked, “What would it take for my product to get into your stores?”

In any kind of business, research, research, research,” Dismore says. 

Her research led her to ECDI and its robust suite of services, from the Women’s Business Center to the commercial kitchen at the Food Fort.

Wilkes also turned to the resources of ECDI to help develop her business. She felt as though she wasn’t an expert in everything and didn’t know if she had what it took to run a business. But instead of letting the fear cripple her, she realized there was a host of resources out there ready to help.

Resources that could help her develop a plan – a first step she strongly stresses the importance of.

Sometimes we get really excited about the idea of starting our business, and we just try to move forward as fast as we can, so I really encourage you to slow down and make sure you have a solid business plan before you do anything more,” she says. 

Reed spoke about creating her own opportunity during college. As a journalism student during the recession, no one was hiring. Instead, she opted to create her own print publication, Outloud Magazine. While the magazine failed, the connections and lessons learned propelled her to to new business venture WordUp.

Starting that publication actually gave me the platform to talk to women that I wouldn’t have ordinarily been around,” Reed says. 

Those connections led to relationships and mentorships with women that could provide guidance in a number of areas. For example, as a startup, she couldn’t afford a lawyer, so she found a mentor that was a lawyer.

It was because I just took the initiative to ask a question,” Reed says. “I did have a platform, but I can tell you it wouldn’t have mattered if I had the platform or not because there weren’t any closed doors.” 

A group of mentors is critical to any business owner, but Dismore and Whaling stressed the importance of finding the right group. Dismore surrounds herself with supporters that will be honest. Whaling cautions that not all advice is good advice.

More than any mentors or outside advice, a business owner has to trust themselves first.

Some people are not cut out to own a business and you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this what I really want?'” Johnson says. “And once you understand that, you have to learn to trust your gut.” 

Johnson explains that sometimes that means walking away from a contract – and thereby money – but having character as a business owner is more important.

Stand your ground,” she says. “If you’re gut’s telling you a certain thing, you have to pay attention to that.” 

It all can be overwhelming, so Johnson also recommends a business owner give themselves time to step away – to take some of the emotion out of the situation.

These women business owners found different ways to leverage emotion in business. Johnson takes an emotions out approach – it’s about survival and making a profit. Reed agreed that stepping away from a situation to work through it is beneficial.

Use that fire to fuel something else,” she says. 

In more creative fields, like writing, PR and in situations where a business owner can choose their clients, Reed and Whaling agreed that emotion can actually be a great motivator.

“Embracing that emotional connection or that feeling can actually push you to do better work,” Whaling says. 

For more information on the resources provided at the Women’s Business Center of Ohio, visit wbcohio.org.

Photo by Kelsi Rupersburg.