Since 2014, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO) has recognized female entrepreneurs and their community contributions each November 19. Over the organization’s nine-year existence, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day has grown to be celebrated as a movement across more than 144 countries.
‘I Wish I Had Known’
Close to home, female entrepreneurs in the Midlands are sharing their insights, challenges and obstacles alike to lift and empower others in the community in advance of the upcoming celebration.
“One of the things that I wish I had known before entering the industry is the importance of systems and automation,” said Leressa M. Joiner, founder and racial equity consultant at the coaching and consulting firm that shares her name. “In the coaching and consulting industry, client relationships are at the core. So, automating administrative tasks can be a game changer.”
Embracing these administrative tools, Joiner noted, allows one to focus on what matters: serving clients, developing expertise and business growth.
“It’s an investment that pays off in terms of time, energy and the potential for long-term success in this field,” she said.
Additionally, Joiner wishes she had known the profound impact that having a supportive community in her personal and professional life could have.
“Building a network of like-minded individuals who share your vision and values is invaluable,” she explained. “It’s not just about what you know; it’s about who you know and the relationships you nurture along the way.”
Speaker and author Nicole Bianchi wished she had known about the power of resiliency.
“It’s easy to underestimate the obstacles and setbacks you may encounter, but having the bravery and determination to persist, adapt and bounce back from failures is an invaluable trait for any entrepreneur,” she said.
This trait was the inspiration for her first book, “Small Brave Moves.”
“Bravery is an acquired behavior and it takes practice,” she said. “For me, I put in the practice. It was being bullied by a bad boss that inspired me to get it together as a young student, and to then graduate and change the face of leadership, which is my life’s inspiration and my life’s work.”
Photographer and Creative Director Ariel Panowicz of Ariel Panowicz Creative said valuable insight she wish she had when starting in the industry would be “that it’s OK to have your unique style and approach.”
She also emphasized the power of reaching out directly to those who inspire you and asking them to meet for coffee.
“Having authentic conversations with people in your community will open your world up to so much,” Panowicz said. “Omaha is a special community. If you love on Omaha, they will love you back. Support others in the way that you want to be supported.”
She underscored connections with others in the community as a top entrepreneurial attribute.
“Meet with everyone you can,” Panowicz said. “Talk to them about your ideas. Ask for their input and learn as much as you can about the community you are wanting to serve.”
Lead with kindness, she continued, and assure people feel comfortable when in your presence.
“Assume the best in people, always, even when it feels hard,” she said.
Joiner isolated two key resources, Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center (GNWBC), and the Nebraska Enterprise Fund (NEF), as providing info and support from help with creating a business plan to connections with other female entrepreneurs.
She indicated attributes of resiliency, adaptability and a commitment to lifelong learning are critical.
“Resilience has helped me navigate challenges, adaptability has allowed me to stay relevant in a constantly changing landscape, and a commitment to learning has fueled my growth and innovation,” she said.
Wisdom to Persevere By
Joiner said the leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) industry has been shaped by established norms and expectations that intentionally or otherwise perpetuate stereotypes and biases that “can make it challenging for someone who looks like me to be recognized for my expertise and capabilities.”
“Overcoming these barriers means constantly challenging assumptions and stereotypes that might suggest that I don’t fit the mold of a traditional leader or consultant in this field,” she said.
In sharing such challenges, Joiner said she hopes to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs – particularly those women of color – to use their voice.
“Never pass up an opportunity to take the mic, not as a way to prove that they are an expert, but to share their lived and learned experiences with those who could benefit from hearing from a person with a perspective that may be vastly different than their own,” she said.
Bianchi acknowledged Greater Omaha Chamber’s Leadership Omaha program, Stanford’s Executive Education and Hudson Institute of Coaching as great platforms for navigating entrepreneurship.
Resilience in the face of inevitable failures and roadblocks again topped the list of attributes that have contributed to Bianchi’s success in entrepreneurship and industrywide – allowing one to “persevere and learn from these experiences.” Bianchi also said being courageous, pursuing mentors, and being willing to network have helped her succeed.
“Courage is essential for pushing boundaries and driving innovation,” she said. “It’s essential to seek guidance and support from those who have walked a similar path, as their insights can be instrumental in your growth.”
When asked about barriers she has overcome, Bianchi referenced pushing past the notion of “making it” as the first college graduate and scholarship recipient in her family.
“A few tough situations kicked me into gear and I became the hardest, most focused worker you’ve ever seen,” she said. “Studying full-time and working two jobs is an insane lifestyle. So, when I was headhunted, I actually told them — as a student mind you – ‘I have only an hour for you at 6 a.m.”
They met her at 6 a.m. and she got the job.
“I learned right out of the gate that being clear, focused and on time, and clear about where you want to go and what you want to do is a huge asset,” she said.
“Self-doubt” has been Panowicz’s biggest barrier.
“Especially as women, we tend to feel like we aren’t doing enough,” she said. “We get trapped in the comparison game and we greatly overthink, well, just about everything. Learning to walk through the fears of starting and owning your own business can be really challenging at times.”
Her antidote to the doubts?
“Reminding myself every day that I am capable,” she said.
“For a long time, I was made to feel like I had to act a certain way in certain rooms to be taken seriously as a businesswoman,” she recalled. “The sooner I realized I can carve my own path and make what feels true to me happen, the sooner the world felt more open to me and the sooner I was able to find my community. No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.”