The road to entrepreneurship is different for everyone, and for women who have braved the path, it’s often a road of dizzying twists and hairpin turns. Many women navigate career, motherhood, family and gender-specific roadblocks and detours—such as limited funding and lack of support.
Yet the number of women-owned businesses is growing exponentially. The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) reporting that as of 2020, women owned 12.3 million or 42% of businesses in the United States.
Kathy Wall, president of The Media Matters, an advertising agency in Lexington, North Carolina, sat down with a few women entrepreneurs to talk about the passions and pitfalls of entrepreneurship. Emily Morrow Finkell, founder of Emily Morrow Home, and Kelly Kole and Joanne Kandrac of Kandrac & Kole Interior Design, have chartered paths that are sure to inspire those considering entrepreneurship.
Q. What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur?
Kandrac: Looking back and knowing you’ve started something from nothing. Kelly and I both have daughters, and it’s so great for them to see us, who have created something from nothing.
Kole: The ability to be my true authentic self, 24/7 and make no apologies for it. I loved my corporate life, but I did feel many times that I was being forced into a culture that expected certain dress, certain behavior, certain whatever. And you go along with it. But I was never my true self. When you’re allowed to be that, work is easier, your work is better, the end result is better and my stress level is a lot less. There’s something freeing in being your true, authentic self.
Finkell: I’ve had so many of my kids’ friends or even friends my age say, “You inspire me” and I’m like “What?!” I still don’t think I’ve “made it.” It is great to be able to do something that’s authentic and true to your skills and abilities and passions. It’s nice to know you’re inspiring somebody else. I just didn’t expect that to happen. That makes me feel happy.
Q. Have you been able to keep your priorities while growing your business?
Kandrac: Work/life balance has always been one of my top priorities. I’ve seen too many people work themselves to death. I’ve seen too many people feel guilty because they weren’t home with their kids. That’s another reason why Kelly and I have managed to keep things the way that they are, because we both have the same goals. We are both very hard workers, but we knew that we’d be able to have the work/life balance.
Kole: Once you’ve crashed and burned, and you’ve done it over and over again, you kind of say to yourself, I’m not doing this anymore. I probably work more hours now than I did in my corporate life, but they’re on my terms, and that makes a huge difference.
Q. What challenges or stumbling blocks have you had to overcome as a business owner?
Finkell: My obstacles have helped me improve things and refine things. For example, you hear about the need for cash with a new business. Just to have liquid cash. And I didn’t fully appreciate that need. That’s where your business relationships from your past chapters in life come into play. And sometimes you tap into resources that you didn’t know were resources. All of a sudden you figure out how critical these relationships you’ve maintained really are. But I look back at every obstacle and I learned something massive from them.
Q. Has networking played a role in growing your business?
Finkell: It’s everything. And I mean everything. Relationships are everything. People crisscross into your life at one point and you don’t know how much they are going to mean to you at another point. So always be nice and be a door opener.
Kandrac: Networking has been one of the things that we’ve done that I think has helped us the most in our business that was unexpected. Kelly and I have always jumped into industry events and design events and we’ve met designers from all over the country, and it’s been so great to have them to lean for things like advice or a product recommendation. We had a project in Chicago, and we had no idea where we were going to find all of the tradespeople for it, and designer we knew there literally handed us all of her people on a silver platter. We would have never been able to do such a great job on that project without having that information from her.
Q. How have you grown your business?
Kole: Joanne and I have a belief that we need to outsource everything but our souls. Joanne and I focus on what is making us money. If it’s not making us money, then we don’t do it. So, carrying a rug, or doing my taxes or hanging photos is not making me money, so that needs to be for someone else to do. There’s only so many hours in the day, and our income was actually stunted because we couldn’t get bigger and expand and take on bigger projects because we’re only two people with eight hours in a day.
Finkell: I think you only have so much mental energy and executive power in a day. I can only make so many decisions in a day, so I’m going to make really good decisions on the things I should be making decisions on, whether it’s product or design or messaging. But when it comes to something like accounting or bookkeeping, that’s not my stronghold. So find a great accounting firm to outsource that. Storyboards are essential to what I do in telling the design story, but I have wonderful interns that I can give opportunities to them. So as far as cutting and pasting, I’m done hot gluing my fingerprints to a storyboard.
Q. What’s your advice to someone interested in starting a business?
Kandrac: There is something to be said for sometimes just jumping in. You can try to plan and you can try to foresee things, but many times, you go in and things are not what they were. So I think you can overthink it. I think it’s great to be prepared and ask questions, but you don’t have to wait until your business plan is 100% ready, you have to just jump in and you learn as you go along. This is a second career for me. Just because you’ve gone to college for something, you can always start over. I think that’s a great message for other business people or younger people. All of the jobs and all of the things that I did prior to this have helped so much. So you need to appreciate where you are in every place.