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Women at Work

October is “National Women’s Small Business Month.” Here’s some advice from two women who have been there and done that.

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by Julie Miner and Jaime Venditti

People always ask when we will get sick of talking to each other because we are always communicating. But what they don’t realize is that we’re a team that continually elevates each other’s vision into achievements.

Ten years ago, we were young women who had spent our careers in New York politics, alliance development, and public relations. However, we had grown tired of working for men who offered lower income as compared with less-qualified male colleagues and we were ready to be our own bosses. So, after months of developing spreadsheets and business plans, we jumped head-first into launching our own company, which was based out of our homes and we were the only employees.

We created a plan of action wherein success was the only option. We focused on getting out into the market and securing new business fast in the hopes that – one day soon – we could pay ourselves modest salaries and expand. Most importantly, we recognized we had a niche and believed in our skills and abilities.

Eventually, we carved out a lane for ourselves, hired staff, delivered for our clients, and helped some good causes and honest businesses seeking expertise and advice. Now, a full decade later, J Strategies is a multi-million-dollar company with over twenty employees, three offices in two states, and a suite of services available to clients up and down the east coast.

Despite our success, we have not forgotten where we started nor the hurdles we faced in doing so. As other women entrepreneurs know, we met some challenges when we launched. We had potential clients chuckle when we submitted proposals with price tags similar to our male counterparts. Despite our non-traditional office of young women in yoga pants working on laptops, we delivered creative, out-of-the-box solutions for clients. We looked for that level of problem-solving in employees and have recruited some of the hardest working, smartest, and tenacious professionals in New York. The firm now has both men and women, but we are proud to be one of the few majority-female firms.

October is “National Women’s Small Business Month,” a time to recognize and commend the more than 12 million American women entrepreneurs who fuel the future of our economy. We both wish there had been female mentors offering counsel in the beginning. So, in no particular order, here is advice to women in business looking to start something great:

  • Tune out negative voices. This is your passion, not theirs. So, don’t let the naysayers tell you what you can’t do. Follow your dream, but make sure you create a comprehensive business plan that expects the unexpected – you need to make sure you can overcome obstacles.
  • Don’t undervalue your services. Many service-oriented firms often make the mistake of offering what they do for less money because they are not confident their expertise is worth what the market dictates, especially as a start-up. First, you have to understand what that market rate is for services. Do homework. Make sure you know what others are getting for their time before you put a value on yours. Never underestimate your potential for growth or the value of what you bring to the table.
  • Choose Your Style. For far too long women have believed they have to mimic men in business or be overly aggressive toward other women to be taken seriously in the workplace. We both have dynamic personalities, and we do not hide them. A large part of our success is our ability to relate to others and be approachable. Women are often told to suffocate their nuances to be taken seriously. Own who you are and use it to drive results. You alone set the tone and culture for your business, nobody else.
  • Improving Yourself Never Stops. After ten years as business owners, we are always learning. With an office in Albany, another in New York City and one more in Boston, running a company which tripled in under a year was a challenge. So, we made it a priority to improve ourselves. We read, we listen to podcasts, we watch Ted Talks, we speak to entrepreneurs in similar circumstances to see how they did it. No one is done learning. Don’t think that you can stop just because you hung up a shingle.
  • Foster the Workforce That You Want. We decided to create a company that would actively tackle inherent bias and workforce discrimination. We created merit-based, fair pay structures, flexible schedules, and an environment that motivates every employee to reach higher. We invest in professional development that stresses communication and cultural competency. From this, we have cultivated a phenomenal team.

Being a small business owner is tough but being a woman who owns a small business can be even tougher. Pursue your passion but keep your eye on the prize and remain focused on your mission and success will follow. We hope what we have achieved will be the norm for the next generation of women and they will be writing about conquering something even greater.

Julie Miner is a Managing Partner and CEO, and Jaime Venditti is a Managing Partner and President of J Strategies, Inc., a New York and New England-based communications and government relations firm specializing in alliance development, media relations, lobbying, social media, brand reputation management and event planning and execution.

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