By Erika Bailey, State Director, West Virginia Small Business Development Center
The Inspiration and Motivation behind West Virginia’s Business Leaders
In October, we commemorated National Women’s Small Business Month by connecting with five West Virginia women business owners to discuss their journeys to success.
We reached back out to those business leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities, role models and advice.
Challenges and Opportunities
All the women interviewed said they do not focus on obstacles or biases that business women may face that their male counterparts may not — although, Marble King president and CEO Beri Fox said, “it’s definitely there.”
Ziegenfelder Company’s CEO Lisa Allen, acknowledged that women may “need to demonstrate credibility where it’s just assumed in men — by men.” However, women executives may have the advantage in building relationships with business skills and acumen.
“These may be referred to as ‘soft skills,’” said Allen. “I promise you, they are hard value-added business skills.”
Yoga studio owner Emily Jones said, “When I started Lifespring Yoga in Charleston in 2012, the aspect of being a woman in business never crossed my mind. It didn’t then, nor did it when I opened a second studio in Teays Valley in 2016, nor the third in Kanawha City in 2017. That could be because of the type of business I’m in. It could be different in a male dominated industry such as oil and gas.”
U.S. Navy veteran Sierra Cox credited her Navy training equipping her to deal with difficulties, whether business or military.
“As a United States Naval Academy graduate and having served as a Surface Warfare Officer, I developed proven skill sets in leadership and the ability to accomplish the mission at hand,” she said. “My military service has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on my business through networking with fellow veterans and veteran programs. I am still learning about opportunities for women, such as the Farm Service Agency program for Minority and Women Farmers and Ranchers.”
Like many successful people, women in business benefit from seeing positive role models in action.
“I had and still have women role models, although they were not in the traditional business sense,” said Allen. “My mother and my grandmother are my role models. They were both active in nonprofit organizations and volunteer capacities. Their responsibilities were prioritizing, organizing, motivating, balancing budgets, and inspiring others to believe in themselves — all hard-core business skills.”
“My mother had two jobs, as a nurse and a teacher,” said Jones. “She was a fantastic role model who taught me to be accountable for myself and to be a person of action.”
“I have always seen women as extremely capable entrepreneurs and leaders in the workforce,” said Navy veteran-turned- farmer Cox. “I was raised with the belief that anything could be achieved with hard work and motivation. I still believe that is true.”
What advice would these seasoned business owners advise other up-and-coming women entrepreneurs?
- Know what you want. The hardest part of opening her first yoga studio, said yoga studio owner Jones, was having a clear vision of the direction she wanted the business to go. By the time she opened the second studio, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. “I could have saved some time and money if I’d had that clarity earlier!”
- Learn essential skills — and practice them. For example, said Ziegenfelder Company CEO Allen, “Learn all you can about leadership and apply it to every moment of your life. “
- Contact your local West Virginia Small Business Development Center. Jones and Cox of Wonder Valley Farm both consulted with business coaches through the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC). Jones credited WV SBDC Business Coach Terry Cyfers with helping her exchange a “seat-of-the-pants” approach for a facts-and-figures business strategy. Cox described Business Coach Marsa Myers as a brainstorming partner. The WV SBDC coach also helped Cox connect with people and capital resources to get Wonder Valley Farm up and growing.
- Find useful programs. Marble King CEO Fox has worked with the West Virginia Department of Tourism, Department of Commerce, Department of Culture and History, Development Office and West Virginia University’s Industrial Assessment Team. She has also served on the board of directors for the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.