A Founder Shares 4 Lessons Motherhood Has Taught Her About Running a Business
If it seems that women-owned companies are everywhere, that's because they are indeed growing like crazy. A recent American Express report showed that while businesses overall grew 12 percent from 2007 to 2018, women-owned businesses grew at 58 percent during the same period.
While more women are starting their own businesses, those with children are often haunted by guilt. I personally experienced this when I started Whish. Was I traveling too much? Was I spending too little time with the kids? I tried making the most of our moments together, but I always worried it wasn’t enough.
One moment that broke my heart was when one of my sons, then 3, brought home a Mother’s Day project. It asked him, “What is your mommy’s favorite thing to do?” His answer? “Go to work.”
I was so sad that I cried. But, as I read the rest of his project, I realized he wasn’t upset at all. He was fine with my holding a job; it was just a part of our life. I was reading too much into his words and forgetting that being a business owner isn’t a liability; it’s an asset.
As a business owner, I get stressed, but I also have freedom. I attend field trips and school functions. I take my kids -- now 12 and 14 -- to school and pick them up in the afternoon. In fact, raising a family and raising a startup, I've found, use similar skill sets, and motherhood just might be one of the most valuable teachers for any woman striving for that corner office.
Here are some of those lessons motherhood has offered that have helped me run a successful venture:
1. Learn more from your losses than your wins.
Moms want everything to be perfect for their kids. Seeing a child struggle is agonizing, but it’s important to allow children to figure out how to deal with challenges and obstacles. Otherwise, they’ll always look for a superhero rather than become one.
Smith College seems to agree, as it has a “Failing Well” program that encourages the female student population to dare to fail. The goal of the program is to encourage young women to do the impossible without letting a fear of errors get in the way.
I remind myself all the time about getting past mistakes because they're the name of the game in business. After all, nothing is perfect. When we launched, we were promised a huge partnership with a nationally prestigious retailer. It seemed too easy. A few months after confirming the big deal, the economy fell off a cliff and the partnership fell through.
Today, years later, I know that what felt like a tragedy at the time was a blessing in disguise. It has taken many experiences over the years to learn how to make a retail relationship successful; because we didn’t have that experience initially, we dodged a bullet:That early a partnership probably would have been a disaster.
2. Don’t blow bad days out of proportion.
Some days just feel awful when you’re a mom. You can't see eye to eye with your children. You forget something important. Tantrums erupt. And what do you do? Often, many of us give in to the negativity and tell ourselves we're the worst parent on the planet. But it’s not healthy to consider every faux pas a catastrophe. You have to remind yourself that it’s just been one bad day.
Go ahead and apply those same skills to your role at the head of a corporation. After all, you’re going to make bad decisions and read some situations incorrectly. But that rarely spells the end of the world. Like a child’s growth, your company's development won't be built in one day. A bad decision today doesn’t mean the end of the world. Pick yourself up and try harder next time.
3. Listen to your kids, your colleagues and your customers.
I’m a control freak. Thoughts and agendas fly through my mind, making it difficult to listen. Yet listening is the most important thing you can do when you’re a mom. If you don’t concentrate on what your kids say, you will miss important details, such as what they care about and what they need. Every year, listening becomes more important and valuable, especially when children reach young adulthood and don’t share as freely.
In your business, give everyone the same listening courtesy, whether they’re employees, vendors, customers, stakeholders or partners. They all have valuable insights.
Plus, you’ll have better engagement with your workers, something a Gallup survey found is often lacking in the workplace. I experienced this recently when a customer wasn’t communicating much, so I set up a face-to-face meeting. I didn’t lead the conversation; I listened. I quickly found out what the customer was looking for and why that person hadn’t given specific feedback. Dominating a discussion is not a great strategy if you want to get to the heart of a problem.
4. Take a breath and take stock of what you’ve accomplished.
Sometimes, life sends you a few uninterrupted hours. It’s OK to use them for something simple such as watching television or making snacks with your kids. It’s often the ordinary moments that we treasure.
Work has its similar moments. During those times, stop and look around you. See how far you’ve come, and marvel at the talented, loyal team you’ve amassed. A million little things go into making a business hum; embrace them as tiny stepping-stones on the way to your objectives and vision.
Being a mother is never easy, nor is running your own business. But the life lessons you gain while raising your children can help you be a stellar head of your brand.