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Women entrepreneurs often find themselves battling gender inequality in financing, real estate negotiations, and many other aspects of building a successful small business. Rather than see these small business challenges as insurmountable, many consider them to be opportunities for growth and a chance to disprove both naysayers and discouraging platitudes like “it’s lonely at the top.”
Dianna Rose, CEO of Jars of Delight and an inaugural member of Yelp for Business x Luminary 2023 Fellowship, thinks it’s time for a reality check—one that lets entrepreneurs know they can find solidarity at any point in their journey, even when they think they walk alone.
“It’s so funny because I hear that term all the time—that it’s lonely at the top—but it’s lonely at the bottom. It’s lonely in the middle. It’s lonely on this entrepreneurial journey,” Dianna said. “When you’re starting out, there are so many things you don’t know, and sometimes your inhibitions make you afraid to ask. So it’s not just when you’re at the top.”
The road to entrepreneurship is well tread, but the footprints don’t travel single file. Where once the first-time small business owner was unlikely to seek mentors outside their industry, the modern entrepreneur recognizes the value of working with those from all walks of life in every industry.
According to Mirian Fried, owner of MF Strong, embracing this approach can open up a world of possibilities. “Sometimes it’s helpful to speak to people in other industries who are doing similar things or have similar goals,” she said. “It’s like you have that distance from your own little bubble, and then you can hear what they’re doing and get ideas that would work for you. Whereas if you had just stayed in your industry and only talked to people there, you may not have thought of these things.”
In addition to taking advice from peers, entrepreneurs are finding success by avidly seeking and implementing customer feedback. Irma Cedeno, founder of language learning company Diáfano, studies customer feedback and reviews to truly assess the needs of her customers, then comes up with solutions to fill those gaps. For example, when she saw a need for a company that taught multiple languages, she expanded her Spanish-only language lessons to include others like Italian, French, and Mandarin.
“I realized if I want to actually grow, if I want to scale, I need to make this a company of languages, not a company of Spanish. That just opened a whole array because, all of a sudden, I don’t have to just focus on targeting companies that could potentially need Spanish, but I could focus on many different companies,” she said.
Because of client feedback, she also created self-paced online classes for those with scheduling difficulties, and when clients started asking for more options, she took advice from a very successful entrepreneur.
“Other opportunities pop up. For example, sometimes clients ask for something else. And one of the things that they asked for was, ‘Hey, Irma, does your company offer proficiency testing?’ And I learned from Richard Branson, the answer is always ‘yes.’ And I have to say that offering language proficiency testing has been one of the easiest [things to do] and could be a very profitable revenue stream for us.”
While listening to customer feedback can be a boon to your business, it doesn’t mean making changes on a whim. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and get to the heart of what strategy will be the best for your business while addressing customer opinions or criticism.
In Dianna’s case, she was inundated with people asking if she was going to return to catering, as she had done mid-pandemic with her other business, The Essential Kitchen. However, the demand simply wasn’t at a level Dianna felt comfortable with. If she couldn’t cater at the moment, what could she do in the interim to bring her products to those who clearly wanted them?
The solution was smart, sustainable vending machines, which she launched at her corporate client locations. This move was not only completely in line with her brand and values, but it also enabled her to please her corporate clients and earn more revenue to help other small businesses in her community.
“My goal was to make it all make sense because you can be doing so many different things that you feel like everything is [pulling you] in a different direction. So I had to say to myself, Dianna, you have Jars of Delight. You have Essential Kitchen. How are you making this coalesce? And how can it all create a circular economy for both yourself internally and your community?”
Additional takeaways from the three fellows that could help other small businesses thrive include:
- Preparation is key to taking time off for a business owner. Plan ahead, delegate appropriately, and learn to view your business as a machine that can run in your absence.
- The entrepreneurial journey isn’t one you need to walk alone. Finding mentors and building a network of entrepreneurs within and outside of your own industry can spark fresh ideas for your own business ventures.
- Emotionally stepping away doesn’t mean not showing up. Businesses are personal, and criticism can sting. However, when business owners see reviews and feedback from customers, a level head will always find the nugget of wisdom in the critique that can help their business grow even stronger.
Listen to the episode below to hear Emily’s full conversation with Dianna, Miriam, and Irma, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.