Women business owners: Be persistent, find mentors, be vulnerable

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 682 views 

Bill Sabo, director of the Arkansas Small and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, speaks prior to the panel discussion. Those on the panel (left to right) are Faith Meyers, owner of New Me Fitness, Debra Young, BancorpSouth vice president and relationship manager, Dr. Latesha Settlage, dean of the UAFS College of Business and Industry and panel moderator, Gina Jackson, general manager at Brick City, and Darneisha Airhart, owner of SoRadiant Concepts.

Advice from women business owners offered Thursday (April 28) during a panel discussion in Fort Smith included being “vulnerable” and being “your own advocate” to push beyond the rejections that come with launching and making viable a business.

The panel discussion was held at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Center for Economic Development located in downtown Fort Smith. Panelists were Darneisha Airhart, owner of SoRadiant Concepts, Gina Jackson, general manager at Brick City, Faith Meyers, owner of New Me Fitness, and Debra Young, BancorpSouth vice president and relationship manager. Dr. Latesha Settlage, dean of the UAFS College of Business and Industry was the panel moderator.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017 – the latest published data. Women-owned firms make up 39% of all privately held firms and contribute 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues.

Meyers, whose fitness company focuses on those who have had bariatric surgery as part of a weight control plan, said one of the biggest challenges of the business that opened earlier this year was finding the right space. She began to see owning a business as a possible path to financial success instead of having a job and working several side jobs. Possibly the biggest challenge is staying focused on a business vision.

“There are a lot of ‘no’s’ when you do this, so you have to be persistent. You have to be your own advocate and push past the rejection,” she said.

Jackson, who said she has more than 20 years in retail management, works with numerous small business owners who rent retail space at Brick City in Fort Smith. She said Brick City now has 92 business owners in the building and has space for around 125.

Her advice to small business owners is to begin with manageable steps. For example, instead of a lengthy business plan, consider a “powerful” concept/vision on one page that guides the business in its early days. She also advises those renting at Brick City to consider a small space until their product proves popular, and then begin expanding in phases. And being willing to change direction is necessary to success, she said.

“I would stress that you be super duper vulnerable. Being vulnerable is not weakness … because being vulnerable allows you to learn and to change,” Jackson said.

She said the difference between retail business owners who succeed and those who fail often comes down to those who focus on details. She said such details include doing enough research to price correctly, to have “a great social media plan,” and to know about a target market and how best to focus resources on reaching that market.

Airhart, a business owner with many hats, including author, life coach and cultural enrichment program instructor, said she began her business in 2013 and the process has been “very long.” She said she didn’t always believe in herself, but the key to success so far has been stay focused on what motivated her.

“Don’t really expect a lot from other people. Don’t expect a lot of people to get it, and don’t expect a lot of people to assist you. … You’re going to have to walk alone for a lot of it. You might just have to walk it out until it comes, and then one day you’ll say, ‘I got this,’” Airhart said.

She said if she could do one thing different in the early days it would be to find mentors and be more willing to ask for help.

Following are other panel discussions planned by the Arkansas Small and Technology Development Center located within the UAFS Center for Economic Development. All events are free and will be held at the center in downtown Fort Smith.

• 5:30 p.m.; May 12
Black small business panel

• 5:30 p.m.; May 26
Hispanic small business panel

• Reboot (event for Veterans)
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Topics at the day long in-person course include business fundamentals, accessing startup capital and contract opportunities.