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Melissa Rouswell & Ali Everhard are two Texas-based entrepreneurial moms who met through their children’s school. One day while they were talking about how difficult it is to be a solo entrepreneur they realized they had a lot of advice and support to give one another. That’s when the idea for the Women’s Council of Entrepreneurs came into being, which provides education, support, and networking to other female business owners. While Covid-19 has posed many challenges for the duo, they’ve adapted their business model and moved all their events to the virtual space, which has now allowed them to reach a more national audience. Today Rouswell and Everhard are helping promote the women in their network through their new site Shopasmallbusiness.com and continuing to navigate virtual networking in a pandemic world.

Rouswell and Everhard’ story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

We met while volunteering at our children’s elementary school in 2013. We found that we had a lot in common as moms and business owners, even though we have very different backgrounds. 

Ali received her degree in photography from Columbia College Chicago and started her own successful wedding photography business shortly after having her first child and moving to Ohio.  She eventually transitioned to family photography and graphic design so she could spend more time with her three kids when the family moved to Texas in 2011.

Melissa worked in financial analysis in corporate America after graduating from Texas A&M but decided to stay home with her three girls in 2007.  She started several small businesses of her own from baking to bookkeeping. She started in direct sales with Traveling Vineyard in 2016 and soon built a national team, achieving elite leader status with the company.

We spent many hours chatting about our businesses and our different experiences. We decided that women solo-entrepreneurs would benefit from the community like the one that direct sales offered where they had webinars/workshops, support and a place to go for help. They created the Women’s Council of Entrepreneurs (WCE) to do just that and so much more! 

[Related: Serena Williams: ‘Champions for Black Female Founders Are Here to Stay’]

WCE is a place for women entrepreneurs that is focused on business development webinars and workshops that every entrepreneur needs to succeed. WCE gives all women an opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs and share experiences as well as a way to promote their own businesses. We also wanted to do something different than most networking groups – we wanted to connect our small businesses with the public- not just with our members. We felt like too many groups just swap the same $250 around and we wanted to be able to help small businesses find new customers and we recently launched ShopaSmallBusiness.com to do just that!

Shopasmallbusiness.com is a place where customers and shoppers can find over 135 small, women-owned businesses from across the nation and support them. These range from online boutiques to beauty services to wedding vendors as well as professional services for your business like CPAs and virtual assistants. 

Success is very different for everyone but for us is it helping our small business owners be successful. We feel like the Women’s Council has three missions. The first one is that we want to educate women business owners on things they need to know for their business. We want to make it easy to find information for their businesses so that they can focus on their core business activities. We bring amazing speakers to our workshops who are experts in their fields and offer topics that we hear our members are struggling with. This can range from product photography to learning about social media to how to set up an LLC for your business. When our entrepreneurs learn something new at a workshop and then put it into action, that is success and feels so amazing for us because we know that we were able to be a small part of that!

Our second mission is networking and getting to know our business owners. We love hearing their stories and getting to really know them. One of the best things is watching them connect with each other and being “real” about what is going on with their business. We hear them share struggles and have other members offer tips that have worked or just commiserating that they have been there. Many entrepreneurs are afraid they are the only ones who face certain struggles and hearing that other successful business owners are facing that same thing is exactly what they needed to hear.

Our third mission is probably the one we are most excited about right now and that is promoting our member businesses. We offer a lot of ways for our businesses to advertise and share about what they offer but we wanted to get them even more traffic and a way to increase sales. WWW.Shopasmallbusiness.com has been the answer and allows our member to get more marketing exposure for a very nominal amount and has been very successful in driving more traffic to our members’ websites. We love hearing that our members are getting new leads and referrals from our site! 

ShopaSmallBusiness.com has been something we have been working on since the very beginning. We always wanted to be a proponent of our members and really promote them to the public but we just weren’t sure exactly how to do that. We tried several different ways to promote our members – at first through a Facebook group and then a directory on our website but neither were as successful as we had hoped.  We found that moving to a focused website gave us more ability to promote our businesses, an ability to customize our SEO keywords and a new look and feel that really highlights the businesses and their owners. We know that COVID will change how people do business in the future and we want to make sure our small business owners are part of that!

Scaling our business has and always will be our biggest challenge. Like many other small businesses, COVID really changed things for us since we were an in-person networking and education business. It  essentially changed everything overnight, we had to cancel the last 6 months of our workshops and networking events for 2020 and pivot to something new. We decided to go virtual for everything as many others did which allowed us to expand our membership and workshops nationwide. This is something we had always wanted to do but were not sure exactly how to do it. Quarantine gave us the time to try out new things and offer virtual and recorded workshops that anyone could attend anywhere. Once it is safe to be back in person we will continue to offer virtual options as well as local gatherings. 

[Related: 5 Pandemic Pivots That Show the Resilience of Women Entrepreneurs]

Our families have been huge role models and we both come from strong entrepreneurial backgrounds and have seen the ups and downs associated with owning a small business. Ali’s great-grandfather owned a chocolate shop, and her grandfather owned a sausage shop and a tavern. However, the person that influenced her the most was her mom who opened her restaurant shortly after finishing her cancer treatments. She also looks to her dad for business advice who after retiring from Human Resources opened his own successful manufacturing company. Melissa also has a strong family history of entrepreneurs who taught her you are never too old to start your own business. She was inspired by her grandfather who founded a beauty care wholesale business after working for others for most of his life and her father who launched his commercial real estate business after a successful career in banking. Her sister started her own marketing firm right out of business school and has been an amazing resource for ideas in growing the Women’s Council of Entrepreneurs.

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