Surrounded by two dogs, three cats, a horse, a donkey, a pygmy goat, a goose, ducklings, chickens, roosters, peacocks, a flock of sheep and twin sons (Maximilian and Fineous), 32-year-old Tracy Porter hardly fits the traditional trailblazer image. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
Nine years ago, Porter and her husband, John, moved from Chicago to their 26-acre farm in Princeton, Wisconsin. Porter, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, watched her parents work together to build a business, and she knew she wanted that kind of life with her own husband someday.
Hence, in a chicken coop, she started Tracy Porter Inc., an exclusive line of home decorating items that includes dishes, linens, furniture and more-products that reminded her of her Grandma Lucy, her mom's mom, who lived with the family while Porter grew up. "She was a wonderful French woman," says Porter, "with a love of so many things that still influence me today, like antiques, textiles, millinery flowers and lace."
Those solid family influences and her hard work catapulted Porter out of the chicken coop and into the limelight. Today, Porter is so successful, with sales in the multimillions, she's written two books, appeared on Oprah and been dubbed the Martha Stewart of the Midwest. Sure, Porter has had setbacks. But they only made her stronger.
Her secret? "Believe in yourself. Even when everyone else is telling you no," she says.
Porter learned that lesson at a young age, when she graduated from high school and went to Paris to pursue a modeling career. At every turn, Porter's dream seemed doomed. "No, you're not pretty enough-you're not the right height; you're not the right type for this job" became a familiar refrain. "It's hard to hear 'no' as much as I did," she recalls.
And even though Porter ultimately gave up on modeling, she believes the experience forced her to have the tenacity to keep pushing onward and give herself credit when no one else would. Most important, she learned not to take things personally. "Sometimes," she explains, "['no' is] just about them and what they're looking for."
That attitude is the mark of a true trailblazer, according to Stever Robbins, president and founder of VentureCoach.com, a coaching firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his two years of coaching start-ups, Robbins has discovered a common thread among successful leaders and entrepreneurs: "I've never met anyone who's good at everything," he says. "That's why you have to be self-aware. Know thyself. Know what you're good at and what you're not."
Once you do, the key is to balance your strengths with the strengths of a trustworthy management team. The next step, says Robbins, is to let go. "Young entrepreneurs tend to tell their employees what to do rather than trust them to do it," says Robbins. "But to succeed, you have to develop the ability to let go."