When the going gets tough, the tough dig into a toolbox of tactics to keep them inspired and motivated to keep building their business.
We know it well: Entrepreneurship is a journey — a hard, lonely, crazymaking (and rewarding and fulfilling!) journey with many highs and lows. In fact, the lows can be especially frequent for women entrepreneurs. We still often face resistance to our leadership, whether from employees, suppliers or investors. We receive less funding than men and have less access to personal and professional networks to tap to drive growth.
Many women struggle to own their accomplishments, feel confident about their abilities and push past their comfort zones.
“There are a lot of tough days,” says Alexa Carlin of Women Empower Expo, an annual event for female entrepreneurs and leaders held in North America. But it’s worth it “because I’m doing something meaningful to me. Anything worth doing is going to be hard work.” On particularly rough days, she tries to remind herself of the bigger picture. “I envision what I’m working towards and know it is all within reach if I persevere.”
While you may feel like turning to drink, TV binge-watching or binge eating when you’re in the pits, resist! None of that will help you realize the big dreams you have for your business.
We asked our global network of women entrepreneurs to tell us how they pick themselves back up and move ahead. Here are their eight essential recommendations:
1. Be kind to yourself. Practice self-care.
On tough days, “I tune in more into what’s going on inside. Lack of inspiration, motivation, etc. is usually a sign that we are dealing with something else,” says Vanessa Rende, a Florida-based success coach and public speaker. Maybe you are afraid. Maybe you are exhausted. Maybe someone got under your skin. “Then do something to change your state [of mind]. Something that you know makes you happy, creative, inspired.”
[Explore more articles offering advice and tips for women entrepreneurs all along the entrepreneurial journey.]
Many of the women entrepreneurs we surveyed recommended mediating, doing yoga or Pilates, or even just taking deep breaths — whatever creates a sense of peace for you. You could take a bath or get a massage. You could go for a walk in the woods.
“I nap when necessary, because a good nap is sometimes just the boost I need to keep fighting,” says Jacqueline V. Twillie, founder of ZeroGap, a Dallas company that teaches leadership skills to women in male-dominated industries.
“Recently, I’ve had more bad days than good ones,” admits Kristin Marquet of FemFounder.co, a New York creative and business development agency that works with women. “So the way that I stayed inspired was to take a few days off to rest and recharge. It was the best way for me to clear my head and find the inspiration to continue growing.”
2. Recognize what you’ve already accomplished.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Entrepreneurship is hard. Take look at the road you have already travelled, recommends Radhika Shrivastava Adholeya, a gynecologist whose New Delhi telehealth company, Uniworld Health Solutions, delivers services to women in rural India. You’ll undoubtedly find much to be proud of.
Remember the recognition others have bestowed. “My appointment on the executive committee of the highest governing body of Indian football is my greatest inspiration,” says Anjali Shah of Mumbai-based Pifa Foundation for the Benefit of Sport, which provides soccer training to underprivileged boys and girls. Football in India, as elsewhere, is male-dominated. “I feel I can give women’s football in India so much more.”
Look at what you have contributed. Sharon Levy of Taking Tea InStyle, a New Jersey company that caters and hosts tea parties, reminds herself that she is “providing services to so many people that make them feel special, loved and empowered.”
Twillie of ZeroGap has a “gratitude jar” where she puts thank you notes she receives. “On days when I deal with trolls or just feel like it’s an overwhelming task, I pull out my gratitude jar and read notes or emails from clients that encourage me to keep going.
3. Remember that struggles are part of the journey, and a learning opportunity.
“I pacify myself by saying you win some and the other times you learn,” says Shah of Pifa Foundation, the Indian youth soccer training organization. “Just like you can’t win every game, you need to face tough days and learn from them. Then you can try to avoid making the same mistakes and let yourself move on to what’s next.”
4. Be thankful for what — and who — you have.
Martha Silcott, founder of U.K.-based FabLittleBag, a maker of eco-friendly tampon and pad disposal bags, keeps a list of what she’s grateful for. She also writes down on a Post-it Note “anything significant that is fab when it happens” and then puts it in a “good things that happen” box on her desk. On those inevitable rainy days, she has a look inside.
Other women say they stop for a moment to be grateful for the important people in their lives, at home and at work, who support them. “I count my blessings — my husband, kids, extended family … and my friends and my employees who have joined me in this journey,” says Dr. Sophia Yen, the CEO and founder of Pandia Health, an online portal that prescribes and delivers low-cost birth control pills.
And it can be surprisingly helpful to give back. Try directing some attention to your people. Employee development, “giving them feedback on their projects and introducing them to new skills keeps me engaged,” says Kia Simon of Sneaky Little Sister Films, a San Francisco motion graphics company that makes an effort to employ women graphic artists.
5. Reach out to people for support.
Tribes, of one sort or another, have been central to human survival for millennia. When times get tough, lean on your friends and family. Reconnect with your business partner. Reach out to a mentor or other women entrepreneurs.
[Explore more articles about finding support and guidance for your entrepreneurial journey.]
“I surround myself with people who believe in me: my boyfriend, advisors, best friends and some investors. I call them. Literally, they’re on speed dial,” says Allison Monaghan McGuire, who owns two New York companies, Walc, which makes a mapping app, and Monaghan McGuire, a consulting firm serving female entrepreneurs. “They are able to hold up a mirror to show me what I’m doing, to help stop me from beating myself up, and to put things in context. They all have startup experience so they know how commonly my experiences occur with other startups.”
“On rough days, Jane and I will take 20 to 30 minutes to go for a walk and talk through any challenges,” says Jenna Kerner, who is co-founder with Jane Fisher of online bra company Harper Wilde. “Typically when one of us is struggling, the other can help put things into perspective and pull back to see the bigger picture.”
[Related: Read about Harper Wilde’s startup story.]
“I reach out to the fierce women in my women business owner peer group (WPO), I reach out to individual mentors and I even connect with my 10,000 Small Business Goldman Sachs at Babson peers,” say Kirsten Curry, founder of Leading Retirement Solutions, which helps small businesses set up retirement plans. “I ask for their advice and guidance. I engage in brainstorming with them, seeking creative solutions to sticky issues. The collaboration that I get to engage in with my peers and mentors is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a business owner.”
6. Reconnect with your purpose and goals.
Most of the women we spoke with counseled taking a step back when times get tough and remembering why you chose the path you chose. If you’re like Dr. Uma Gautam, founder of HeadPro Consulting LLP, “women-centric” executive headhunting firm in Bangalore, you’ve used tools like vision boards and goal-setting exercises to clarify your business goals and how you’ll achieve them. Now’s the time to revisit them to reconnect with the purpose and specific goals that drove you in the first place.
Or find your center by stepping into the heart of the business. “I spend time working as bar staff, as a barista, at my own shop. It keeps me focused on our goals: serving others with excellence in coffee and customer service,” says Sarah Walsh of Caffè d’Amore Coffee Co. in Pittsburgh. She has worked hard to run a cafe that’s become a cozy community hub, where regulars stop by to yak with friends. “It’s pretty special. It’s the only thing I want to do with my life. Being able to employ others and invite them into modeling hospitality by loving coffee and people is profound.”
Quite a few of the women find meaning and purpose in work that improves the lives of other women. “I go into the community and see our members helping each other, and it definitely leaves me inspired and reminded why I do this,” says Paula Clark of Punky Moms, which organizes meetups for “alternative” parents and provides “parenting and raising hell” advice on its website.
“I think about why I built this company: to make women’s lives easier. I think about the women who we are helping who would otherwise not get birth control,” says Yen of Pandia Health. “I love that I am helping people, women, in becoming more financially conscious. Sometimes things get tough but… I look at all the women we’ve helped,” adds Anna Haotanto of The New Savvy, a financial, investments and career platform for women in Asia.
7. Read something good. Learn something new.
Find new inspiration from outside, many women advise. Learn something new about business or your field by reading or going to industry events. Indulge in inspiring books, articles, videos and podcasts, especially those that feature women who are thriving.
“When things are tough, I read books that inspire me to challenge the status quo,” says Rita Robert Otu of Beau Haven Farms, which empowers women in rural Nigeria by teaching them to grow, harvest and sell vitamin-rich cassava.
Brittany Rose, who calls her Virginia girl-focused business, More Than Cheer, “a personal-development company disguised as cheerleading,” responds by “drowning myself in personal development content and constant education. I am always listening to and reading material that will help me become a better business owner and person.”
“I read as much as I can about women leaders and business leaders — #girlboss and #mompreneur draws me in anytime. I also listen to as many podcasts as I can when I am around my house or driving,” adds Allison Blust-Zang of Absolute Pilates. “I love hearing stories of other female entrepreneurs.”
[Listen and subscribe to The Story Exchange Podcast dedicated to stories of inspiring women.]
One place to find out about good books for entrepreneurs, is the Read With Entrepreneurs Facebook group. Here at The Story Exchange, we have a huge archive of inspiring success stories of women entrepreneurs of every age and background, working in every industry and living all around the world.
8. Practice positive thinking, and look ahead.
Carlin of Women Empower Expo likes to binge on “positivity” by, say, watching motivational videos and visiting upbeat Instagram accounts. “It’s very important to continue to feed your mind with positive thoughts and messages, especially on rough days,” she says.
The alternative is demoralizing and doesn’t get you anywhere. “I tell myself, never to focus on negativity. The moment you focus on all the bad things, you lose power,” says Haotanto of The New Savvy. “Instead stay focused on your goals and dreams.”
At least three mornings a week, JuliAnne Murphy, a self-employed writer living on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, sits quietly and breathes. ”Then I visualize myself ‘arriving’ or ‘feeling’ on the other side of whatever my current goal is, and I see myself celebrating that success.”