by Laura Walton
I am a female entrepreneur working at a startup founded by men in an industry—finance—dominated by men (The startup is StreetShares, and we fund small business loans across the U.S.). If you’re anything like me, the fact that female entrepreneurship is on the rise is a source of great encouragement—it means the gender gap is closing in one other public arena.
According to the Small Business Administration, women make up 35% of all small business owners in the U.S.—or one out of every ten women. The 2014 Diane Report of female entrepreneurs reported that companies with women on the executive team have an economic impact of $3 trillion annually and have provided approximately 16% of all U.S. employment.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are five lessons I am learning, and we can all learn, from historic (and present) female entrepreneurs who challenged the system and made innovative breakthroughs for others to follow:
1. Coco Chanel: Pursue your strengths, not your sort-ofs
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”
Founder of the iconic brand, Chanel came from humble beginnings with aspirations of a career onstage. When she realized her mediocre singing voice prevented her from becoming a star, Chanel channeled her determination, ambition and energy into her true talent: sewing. Chanel opened a boutique and left behind the designer legacies of Jersey fabric and The Little Black Dress.
Like Chanel, don’t get hung up on your sort-of talents. Recognize your strengths and channel your energies and ambitions in the right direction.
2. Margaret Thatcher: Work your ass off
“I do not know anyone who has gotten to the top without hard work. This is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but it will get you pretty near.”
There’s a reason they call her the Iron Lady—Thatcher was uncompromising in her politics and leadership style. She knew exactly what she wanted from a young age and fought for it with tenacity. Through her hard work, Thatcher became the first woman to lead a major Western democracy and singlehandedly reshaped England’s politics, economy, institutions and foreign policy—all while maintaining a fabulous up-do.
If you want to achieve something, you go after it with uncompromising tenacity and a resolve to not quit until it’s accomplished.
3. J.K. Rowling: Failure is inevitable
“It is impossible to live without failing with something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”
Rowling was convinced the only thing she wanted was to write novels, but without her “epic failure of divorce, losing her job, being a lone parent and being as poor as possible without being homeless”, she would never have had the determination to pursue what truly mattered to her. Rock bottom became the foundation for her life and she came out wiser and stronger. Today, Rowling is the U.K.’s bestselling living author.
Every failure is an opportunity for growth. Learn to be patient with your mistakes. Your failures can be the catalyst for your future success if you are willing to grow from them.
4. Marie Curie: Replace your fears with knowledge
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
Curie was the first in many fields: the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and the first physicist and chemist to pioneer research on radioactivity. Curie devoted her life to research for the betterment of society and founded the Curie Institutes in Paris, which remain major centers of medical research today.
As an entrepreneur, you have to face a lot of firsts—your first business transaction, your first angry customer, your first marketing campaign. Uncharted territory makes us all uncomfortable, but making our fears the fuel behind researching and planning is a much better use for it.
5. Helena Rubinstein: Craft your business image
“Beauty is power.”
Founder of the makeup brand, Helena Rubinstein Inc., Rubinstein was one of the world’s richest women and an iconic leader in art, fashion and design. Rubinstein was aware of how greatly a company’s public image affected sales, so she used luxurious packaging, attractive beauticians in uniforms and celebrity endorsements to sell her products.
Your business image today is just as important. Don’t neglect crafting a voice, look and feel for your brand—these are the things that keep you personable, relatable and appealing to clients and investors.
Bonus – Mindy Kaling: Write your own story
“…Write your own part. It is the only way I’ve gotten anywhere. It is much harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands. It forces you to think about what your strengths really are, and once you find them, you can showcase them and no one can stop you.”
Kaling is the antithesis of every Hollywood stereotype, as Aaron Orendorff wrote in his article on Entrepreneur. After auditioning for plays and musicals, she realized that her best bet for getting the role she wanted was to create it herself—which she did. The two woman show she wrote and starred in, Matt & Ben, helped land her a job as the only female writer for The Office. She now writes, stars in and produces her own show, The Mindy Project.
But hey, that’s what you’re doing already as an entrepreneur, right? If you’re anything like me, you’re already writing your own part. So if you don’t like the script or it seems to be headed in the wrong direction, pivot. Don’t get caught up in trying to be like everyone else—you know your strengths and should play to them. That’s why we became entrepreneurs in the first place.
Laura is the content creator, social media whiz, public relations guru, officer manager and all around badass at StreetShares.
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