Back in 1997, when Julie Rodriguez and Diana Navarro started their company, Intune Technology, a San Francisco firm that conducts motivational workshops for small businesses and individuals, a meeting of a local Hispanic business advocacy group seemed like the ideal place to introduce their start-up and find support. "We went to [this meeting] not only to network, but also to look for mentoring-and we were invited by a colleague," Rodriguez recalls.
But what they got was a cold shoulder. When Rodriguez and Navarro first arrived at the meeting, the woman who headed the organization greeted them warmly, assuming they were college students there to listen and learn. But when their colleague arrived and formally introduced Rodriguez and Navarro as business partners of Intune Technology, the woman's demeanor quickly changed.
"Her openness changed to complete hostility," says Navarro. "She exclaimed: 'No, no, you can't present [your business] here today! You have to go through a committee first for approval.' And to our colleague's understanding, no other presenter had to go through the committee."
The issue here clearly wasn't racism or sexism (although Rodriguez and Navarro continually face both types of discrimination), but ageism. "We were the only ones who appeared young in that meeting," says Rodriguez. "At first, [the council head] believed we were nonthreatening young girls seeking information, and she was receptive to us. But when she learned we were business owners, holding our own, she closed all the doors."
Unshaken, Rodriguez and Navarro decided to network and find success through their own efforts. And three years later, the partners, both 30, continue to live out their passion to inspire other entrepreneurs facing similar obstacles. No matter what "ism" you face in starting your own business-racism, ageism, sexism-these three tips will keep you from getting discouraged.
1. Embrace the "ism." Don't waste your time and energy stewing over how people treat you. Instead, focus on the things you can control, like your attitude. Say to yourself, for example: "I find solace in reappropriating the 'isms' placed on me and turning them into a source of pride. It motivates me to win and to gain whatever experience and knowledge I need, quickly, to make my business a reality." When you embrace the "ism," whatever it is, you diffuse potentially negative feelings, keeping you focused on the activities that make you money.
2. Be flexible. "Be prepared to try different routes to your goal until you find the right formula that will lead to your success," advises Rodriguez. Suppose, for example, you're a woman in your 20s trying to raise start-up money from a group of all-male angel investors. You have the industry experience, drive and commitment to make your business fly, but the investors don't take you seriously.
It would be natural to get defensive and angry, but for the sake of your business, hold yourself back. Focus on solutions. Ask yourself: "Why don't investors treat me as a serious player? What can I do to change things?" Then you will begin to feel more power over the situation. Perhaps you've come across as being "too nice" or nervous or intimidated. One way to overcome these perceptions and boost your credibility to the investors, regardless of your age, gender or nationality, is to surround yourself with a strong board of advisors that can vouch for your venture.
3. Confirm your conviction. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being "absolute conviction," how much do you believe in your business and in yourself? If you didn't say "10," ask yourself: "Why not? What holds me back?" Write your answers on a sheet of paper, and brainstorm ways to boost your belief. Anything short of a "10" means you're susceptible to being swayed by people who tell you to abandon your dream.
"What we do to keep from getting discouraged," says Navarro, "is knowing that our inner drive, fire and passion cannot be quelled. In fact, the fire [inside us] is hotter than ever. We are all the more determined to succeed because we believe in what we do."
Sean M. Lyden is co-founder and CEO of PRessCafe.com Inc., an Atlanta-based b2b portal that connects small businesses to the right journalists-for free. The site is expected to launch imminently.
Intune Technology, (415) 346-8703, firstname.lastname@example.org.