Building a Legacy: Women Business Leaders Shape Local Industries

As a direct result of their drive and work ethic, many women business leaders in the community have achieved great success over the years. They say there are a number of actions that have helped them to navigate challenges and attain favorable outcomes.

Making Their Mark

Successful entrepreneurship begins with understanding what matters. Jeana Goosmann, CEO and managing partner of Goosmann Law Firm, said being a leader means knowing what is worth it to you, to your business, to your clients and to your team. 

“You have to be confident to go all in on what you are setting out to do to achieve your goals,” Goosmann said. “As a business leader, you must be ready to take those risks that others are not willing to take. You must be bold and stand strong in your decisions so you can execute.”

Dr. Orlanda Whitfield, owner of Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn, simply states, stay true to yourself. 

“Your product, idea, and business is you,” Whitfield said. “There could be similar businesses or ideas, but your passion and dedication to your business is what sets you apart.”

To aspiring entrepreneurs, Whitfield cautions that there will be hard days, but it’s important to keep going and remain optimistic. When help or guidance is needed, having a mentor can also be a great source of support.

“It is important to build connections and network with other business owners,” Whitfield said. “It is also important for you to understand your ‘why.’ Why are you building this business? 

“My reason is to build a legacy. My goal is to take lessons from my grandmother to create a legacy for my granddaughters. Take the leap, have the courage to pursue your dreams. You are the magic you need to make it happen.”

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For Autumn Pruitt, owner of Hardy Coffee Co., the advice to other aspiring business owners is simple: don’t go it alone. In the first several years of business, she described a heads-down mentality.

“The work we did was in the four walls of the shop and while I connected well with my team and customers, I often felt very alone in the decisions I made and work I did as CEO,” Pruitt said. “Starting a business is really hard. Leadership is really hard. And if you think it’s not supposed to be, you can become pretty convinced that you’re doing it wrong.”

It wasn’t until she started connecting with other women in similar roles that some of that anxiety lifted.

“Sometimes these women had good advice, but most of the time it was simply spending time together and knowing we were solving similar problems,” Pruitt said. 

Trading Hats

Each and every day can look different for a business owner, which is why perseverance and patience are key to navigating unpredictability. 

Goosmann said her days are always a mashup between her CEO and attorney duties. 

“I meet with clients, help them identify their goals, make strategies to execute those goals and deliver by delegating to the right team members at the firm and following up,” Goosmann said. “For the firm, I am the visionary and regularly cast the vision for the firm’s goals for the next year, three years and 10 years. Our executive and leadership teams meet quarterly to review our initiatives and push toward our big goals.”

Goosmann holds regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports and coaches the team. She also reviews the dashboard, identifies issues and provides resources.

“I’m also our lead brand ambassador, do public relations and leadership recruiting,” Goosmann said.

Whitfield said her day begins early, but she enjoys the peace and quiet an early start offers. She uses the time to meditate and exercise before starting her workday. She creates a daily task list of things that need to be completed or followed up on. 

“I do these things before starting my full-time job,” Whitfield said. “I look for pop-up events we can attend and I check in with staff at our storefront to see if there are any special requests.”

In the evening, she heads to the commercial kitchen at No More Empty Pots with her sister Dionne, daughter, Tylona, and son, Fonta, where they make popcorn. 

Being very intentional with her time is important, which is why Whitfield is sure to schedule moments to read and learn during each day. 

“I believe as I grow my business will grow as well,” Whitfield said. “Some days are longer than others but I’m grateful.”

With so many team members, Pruitt said she is working to do less and lead more. She plans out ideal weeks, but each week can still be vastly different — which she said can be frustrating and/or enjoyable.

“Just last week, I had a quarterly planning meeting, a weekly meeting with my bookkeeper and one-on-one with all of my direct reports,” Pruitt said. “I also decorated a cake and took pictures of our Thanksgiving offerings to post online. I drafted the weekly newsletter, packaged coffee, made a catering delivery, placed orders for wholesale equipment and started sampling drinks for the winter drink menu. It’s a mixed bag.”

Success Takes Time

Growth doesn’t happen overnight; instead, it’s an-going process. Goosmann, who started her firm in 2009, said the firm has now grown to become the largest women owned law firm in the Midwest. In 2015, the firm became certified by Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and became a member of the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF).

“My business is only as strong as the people I have on my team,” Goosmann said. “Our firm is comprised of hard-working talented attorneys and team members who are devoted to our mission to serve our clients. Goosmann Law helps business leaders win disputes, protect their wealth and do deals. We are legal for people who lead.”

Since opening the doors of Still Poppin in 2016, the business has increased its output and sales yearly. The goal is to continue to grow organically, according to Whitfield, who continuously looks for ways to connect with the business’ target market. 

Still Poppin’s fundraising program continues to grow, as well, which Whitfield said is rewarding because she enjoys helping teams and organizations reach their fundraising goals. 

“Our future outlook is bright,” Whitfield said. “We will continue to grow by opening a second location in Omaha and eventually a store in another city. We will take our time. It’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Since Pruitt and her husband, Luke, started the bakery piece of their business in 2010, it has grown exponentially. 

“It now also includes a coffee roasting lab, three cafes and one drive-thru in Omaha while serving wholesale accounts across the region,” Pruitt said. “We currently have 65 employees.”

Staying Relevant

Woman-owned small businesses are a vital part of Nebraska’s economic landscape, making up 43% of Nebraska’s 182,000 businesses. Women business owners have always faced traditional challenges, like lack of access to capital and balancing their businesses and family lives. 

Elizabeth Yearwood, economic development specialist/public information specialist for U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), said that even as businesses are starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges like inflation and supply chain disruptions are now hitting businesses hard. 

“It’s more important than ever for women entrepreneurs to take advantage of the free support and assistance that is available in Nebraska — support that the SBA and our resource partners are happy to provide,” Yearwood said.

BC Clark, president of Metro Omaha Women’s Business Center and owner of The Business Connection, said women of color are ramping up their skills to be successful in business. She has noticed more women seeking knowledge on QuickBooks, business planning, understanding financials and how to build credit. 

“I’m also seeing different businesses collaborating with each other and offering each other’s products and services to their clients,” Clark said.

There are various resources available to women business owners in Nebraska. There are two Women Business Centers (WBCs) in Nebraska — the Omaha-based GROW Nebraska WBC and the Grand Island based Center for Rural Affairs WBC. According to Yearwood, both of these organizations offer free business assistance to women entrepreneurs and business owners. This assistance is wide-ranging and can include receiving help with writing a business plan or developing a strategy to pivot the business by adding additional revenue streams.

Another resource from the SBA is an online learning platform geared towards women called Ascent.

“Ascent is a multi-media, self-paced approach towards small business education,” Yearwood said. “Ascent is designed for busy women entrepreneurs. Business ownership can be non-stop. Ascent offers an easy and convenient way for women to build the skills that they need to become even more successful.”

Yearwood said SBA also encourages women small business owners to take advantage of the certifications that can be beneficial to accessing government contracting opportunities.

Whether it’s lending business education, being a support system for those coming out of their roles as stay-at-home moms, offering the knowledge to own a business or providing a service to other organizations, Metro Omaha Women’s Business Center shows women how to wear confidence through their knowledge and skills. 

“If in a career, we show them there’s no ceiling, just go, do and be you and excel to the seat you desire,” Clark said. “We show them that they have the power to accept or make any changes they want to have a successful career.”

While every woman business owner has their own story and obstacles to overcome, they all share a common mission — fueling the business industry and paving the way for future generations.

How do women-owned businesses measure up on a national scale?

  • According to an economic survey performed by Gusto, before the pandemic, 28% of new business owners in the U.S. were women, in 2021, that number jumped to 49%. 
  • The U.S. Census Bureau 2018 Annual Business Survey found that the biggest share of women-owned businesses went to health care and social assistance sectors, at 19%. 
  • Women-owned firms make up 30% of all businesses in the U.S. and are generating $1.5 trillion in revenue, according to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report by American Express.