What does it mean to me to be a “Woman Owned Business”?

In 2008 I became a woman owned business. I left my full-time job as a Creative Director at a local Spartanburg PR agency. I left intending on starting a new full-time job. The universe had other plans. I had a passion for NFP organizations and thought I’d learn fundraising. A job I now believe I would have been terrible at!

On my last day at the agency I received a phone call as I walked from the parking lot on Broad St. to the office. The position had been pulled. My boss already knew and she graciously offered me a position even though we had already hired my replacement. Yeah. No.

So with the support of husband I made the agonizing decision to try freelancing. After all, I can always change my mind.

Ten Years in the Making.

After nearly ten years (this September will mark my first decade in business) I have incorporated as an LLC, increased my client roster several times over and built relationships that absolutely cross the client / friend line. I’ve raised up a son and have a daughter who is a work in progress. My marriage has somehow survived and we continue to plan for our future together.

What does this have to do with the price of beans? I’m a woman. I own a business. For some reason, even in 2018, this is out of the ordinary. Women are still marginalized in many societies, even ours. I am regularly not taken seriously by my male counterparts. My male clients are more likely to bale on me than my female clients. They are also more likely to complain about the price of my services, even when I’m way below market. Why is this? I hate to think it’s because they value me less because of my gender, but I’m a pessimist. With 20 years experience in my field, exceptional services at half what other indie designers charge. I’m not sure what else it could be.

Maybe they figure a woman owned business can’t possibly do the work because they raise kids, or have to have dinner on the table by the time their husband’s get home. Maybe we’re just too attractive to take seriously. Husband does tell me on a regular basis how distracting my hotness is. I digress.

Perhaps no one has informed them of the shift that’s been happening for, oh, the last 170 years.

What ever the reason for their pessimism toward a woman owned business, it doesn’t matter. I have learned to let those people go. The men who sit down to meet with me and never get past, “you look stunning” or “I didn’t expect you to be so … you know”. Come on man. Or when they’re right there, ready to sign on and I get that email about the male designer 100 miles away they found on some job board who is going to charge twice as much and not offer as comprehensive a service who’s “just a better fit”. Is that because their genitalia match? Sorry. Not sorry.

Get to the point Heather.

Being a woman who happens to own a business shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is. Which is why it’s such a big deal. A recent study states that South Carolina is 4th in the nation for woman owned businesses. As a matter of fact, four of the top five are southern states. I’m kind of in awe.

The women’s movement never really ended. We’re still fighting to be seen as more than window dressing. Still tearing one another down over our appearance. Not thin enough, or curvy enough or “hot” enough. We’re expected to be all of the things all of the time. Beautiful, strong, lady-like, outspoken. Put together, attractive, pleasing, moms, wives, professionals.

And we’re fucking doing it. That’s why this means so much to me. I’m doing this. At 40 years old I’m happier in my body and with my life than I ever was at 20. My daughter has already begun flexing her feminist muscles, telling anyone who asks that she doesn’t need a boyfriend. That she will live alone and not have kids. That she will build an animal shelter. None of these things are societies ideal qualities in a woman. Now, she may completely change her mind in the next 10-20 years. The beauty of that is that she knows she can do that because I did that.

She’s learning about feminism and independence from watching me. So when I talk about why being a “woman owned business” is so important, this is what I say:

I am teaching women to own businesses and follow their hearts, serving as a roll model for younger women who are on the threshold of taking that leap. Today I met with a 28 year old single mom. After talking for over an hour about her vision and being a single mom and what she wants to get out of our relationship she looked me in the eyes and said, “Wow. You’re my roll model.” I simply told her my story, which was very similar to her own.

She’s terrified. And justifiably so. She’s quit her job to start a business and is planning a possible move to NYC with $3,000 in the bank! That’s enormously huge! I realized that even if she doesn’t have the funds to hire me, I’ve already made a huge difference in her perspective. She didn’t leave any less overwhelmed or any more sure of her decisions. She did gain another person who believes in her. Another woman who believes in her and she knows that I will be here to encourage her even if she doesn’t pay me.

What women business owners need.

I believe what we need is simple. We need one another (men and women) to reach out to offer support. It’s that simple. Just someone to listen to our struggles, celebrate our successes and validate us without trying to convince us that maybe we just can’t do it. We can do it. We have done it and we will continue to do it. We’ve been doing this our entire existence. There is no start date and no end date. Our journey will take us to a place where none of us questions our worth or ability. I don’t know when that will be, but I know my daughter will be one of those kick-ass leaders who helps get us there because she learned it from me.

You can read more about the growing number of women owned business here.