Let’s be honest: 2020 was bad for (most) business.

And women have disproportionately suffered the brunt of multiple burdens — running companies and careers, homeschooling children, taking care of elderly family members.

But out of a global pandemic that has rocked every aspect of daily life, there have been pockets of hope, flashes of genius and, of course, lots of pivoting. We checked in with some of our fearless female founders to see what guidance they have for their fellow entrepreneurs as we (thankfully) head into a New Year. 

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Below is a condensed version of their best advice, in their own words. Bring it on, 2021!

Karen Rosenblum, Founder, Spain Less Traveled

Karen Rosenblum runs Spain Less Traveled, a boutique travel company. (Courtesy Karen Rosenblum)
Karen Rosenblum runs Spain Less Traveled, a boutique travel company. (Courtesy Karen Rosenblum)

“Starting a business is a lot more work than many people think it is. Sure, you are your own boss and have flexibility, but you will also be working around the clock from time to time. That is why it is so important to carve aside time for yourself, to do things that you love to do, and away from the computer or office. This is as important when starting out as it is when you have a full-blown business. Burnout is real, and specifically setting aside YOU time is essential. Go on a vacation (perhaps to Spain once it is safe to travel again). Take a day off. Don’t work every single weekend.  

Don’t listen to the naysayers. There will be many people who will want to tell you that you can’t do it for various bogus reasons. If you are an expert, have knowledge and experience in the field you are starting a business then you CAN do it. Don’t let anyone try to keep you from chasing your dreams.”  

Aleksandra Scepanovic, Co-Founder, Ideal Properties Group

Aleksandra Scepanovic is co-founder of Ideal Properties Group in New York City.
Aleksandra Scepanovic is co-founder of Ideal Properties Group in New York City.

“Throw away your standard end-of-year business textbooks and prepare for 2021. For female entrepreneurs, 2021 will be the year that continues to test our endurance and our ability to change channels. We will need to excel in finding alternatives to doubt. We will need to find strength to stay alert, fluid, and ready for action and adaptation. 2021 will require of us a gentler, stronger, personally engaged, customer-centric leader who pedals faster and prioritizes out-of-the-box solutions, tailored to their exact moments in time.”

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Agatha Kulaga, Co-Founder, Ovenly

Agatha Kulaga is pressing full steam ahead with Ovenly.
Agatha Kulaga is pressing full steam ahead with Ovenly.

“It’s so important to focus your energy on what you can change and learn how to effectively manage the things that you cannot change. The day to day unpredictability of operating a business during a pandemic has also reinforced a few crucial things:

Always know your numbers and have easy access to critical financial information about your company at all times. During a crisis, this can make or break your business.

Don’t belabor every decision. Sometimes you need to come to a decision quickly and improvise from there.

In order to properly take care of your team, you also need to take care of yourself.

Hold space for vulnerability, including with the people you lead/manage, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” 

Laura Hart, Founder and CEO, Robofun

“Join or form a group of business owners who meet (on Zoom) regularly. Or make your own, if you know even just two or three business owners. It is best if they are in different industries than your field so you are not in any way competing. 

Make sure you take care of yourself by taking breaks. It is easy to be a workaholic, but that will not make you more productive or effective. Take days away. Take a week away. Restore your enthusiasm and energy for what you’re doing.

Find a way (or a place) to work where you are not interrupted and can think deeply about the challenges you are confronting. When you need to pivot, you’ll probably know that before the rest of your staff. Another female business owner once commented that running a business is a bit like breastfeeding 100 people at the same time. At times, it can feel like you are constantly pouring out ideas and directions, and not leaving anything left for yourself. Having a quiet space you can go to work can increase your ability to make good decisions.”

[Related: These Women-Owned Camps Are Helping Kids Make the Most of Summer]

Cynthia Cummins, Founder and Realtor, Kindred SF Homes

“Warning: Surfing metaphor ahead! Looking back, I can’t think of any advance planning that could’ve helped me meet the challenges of the most horrible year ever. Except maybe to expect the unexpected. As the leader of a female-owned business and as a human being, I had to muster all the curiosity, self-compassion and discernment in my toolbelt to meet 2020’s parade of challenge and opportunity. Being an entrepreneur required a whole new level of entrepreneurship! 

Looking ahead, my advice to my sisters in business (and to myself) is to be grateful for all the lessons of 2020 (good, bad or ugly) and to commit to the personal practices and self care that will empower you to enter the ocean of 2021 without fear. If you can’t ride the waves, at least you’ll be able to breathe as you float to the surface and prepare to paddle out again. As the Zen proverb goes: ‘Let go or be dragged.'”