“We know we run better businesses than men, we just need the revenue to prove it.” Those words of encouragement, delivered in good humor by Melinda Emerson, better known to her 236,000 Twitter followers as @SmallBizLady, were among many that drew applause from an audience of nearly 300 women business owners at the American Express global headquarters in New York on Friday.
The diverse group of female entrepreneurs had gathered for “OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp,” an all day-summit that kicked off a national series of live and online events hosted by American Express OPEN, the financial services company’s small business division, that promises to teach women entrepreneurs “the fundamental pillars for successful ventures: confidence, competence, and connections.”
OPEN executives say they shaped the program based on needs identified in a recent “mindset survey” of 300 female owners of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The data reveal that, while most women surveyed ranked themselves as “excellent” in at least one area of their abilities, and 59 percent feel confident that their business will grow in the next 6 months, a minority of women consider themselves excellent at making decisions, managing finances, making a sale, negotiating, retaining talent, or hiring and firing. Eighty-five percent of women surveyed rarely or never seek business advice from a formal board.
To boost confidence, competence, and connections, the day’s agenda featured a high-powered and high-energy line up of speakers, including Angie Hicks of
Angie’s List, fashion designer Tory Burch, former Ogilvy & Mather CEO Charlotte Beers, former CNN business anchor Valerie Morris, and Today Show financial editor Jean Chatzky. Several entrepreneurs with proven track records offered experience-based advice for their sister small business owners.
Zipcar and Buzzcar founder Robin Chase urged fellow entrepreneurs to be intellectually honest and “really clear about what’s working and what’s not;” to run “a learning organization” in order to “see failures and spot opportunity really fast;” to “be clear on what is the thing you need to do to get to the next stage of success” so as not to churn through limited financial resources; and to be mindful of posture and presentation: “When you’re out selling, you’re up!” she said.
Celebrity makeup artist Mally Roncal, who has become a star in her own right selling her line of more than 1,000 Mally Beauty products on QVC since 2005, said that when it comes to exuding confidence, which she does infectiously, “I’m all about fake it till you make it. If you don’t have confidence, just pretend it will be fine. I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now,” she laughed.
Gina Bianchini, founder of the community platform Mightybell, which is the AmEx OPEN platform of choice for keeping BootCamp participants connected, attributes her passion for communities to growing up in Cupertino, Calif., birthplace of Apple, where homebrew computing clubs thrived. “Failing together is a lot more fun than failing by yourself,” she said she learned. The image of the “lone wolf visionary” Silicon Valley entrepreneur is a myth, she said: “Entrepreneurship is a team sport and the power and resilience and courage of running your own business is so much easier when you can pick up the phone or send a text or use Mightybell to utilize the team to help you navigate opportunities and challenges and think bigger and navigate challenges.”
Janet Kraus, a serial entrepreneur and Harvard Business School lecturer who frequently coaches female entrepreneurs, said, “What I experience with women is that they never accept that they might be making it. Men say, ‘I’m faking it till I make it and I’m making it tomorrow.’ We feel that someone is going to pull back the curtain and we’ll be exposed.”
Kraus recommended to the women in the room that if “you have that little voice talking to you all the time, one day write down everything it says to you.” Then, she said, ask yourself if you would say those same unkind things to a friend. “You need to tell yourself affirmative things. Constantly reinforce yourself,” Kraus said.
Find out if OPEN CEO BootCamp is coming to a city near you or watch the full three-and-a-half-hour kickoff event online at OPEN forum.