That succinct phrase is one of the most important lessons entrepreneurs learn if they want to be successful. Alison Winter, the first president of Northern Trust of California, told it to me many years ago when I interviewed her for the first book I put together, Two Years Without Sleep: Working Moms Talk About Having a Baby and a Job.
Northern Trust was based in Chicago, as was Alison, and was planning on opening banks in California. The first was planned for San Francisco and several executives, all male, were being considered for the job of launching them. Alison decided she wanted it, so she asked. And kept asking. Guess what? She got the job.
It turned out to be a lot harder to launch the bank than she thought (isn’t it always!), since all she had to work with when she got to San Francisco was a rented office with one desk, one chair and a phone. She’d brought along her assistant, and the two of them did the rest.
So whenever I find myself reluctant to ask for something for my business or the SOE Foundation, I remember Alison’s words, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? The person you are asking says “no.” Nothing has been lost in process. But sometimes the person will say yes or can be persuaded to say yes. And it feels great!
More than twenty years ago, I interviewed hundreds of women for a trilogy of books I called The Working Women series. One of my goals was to let women share what they were experiencing in the workplace so they would know they were not alone. Another goal was to give women the opportunity to learn from one another. While the women in the books weren’t all CEOs, those who ran successful businesses then didn’t use the term “entrepreneur.” But entrepreneurs they were, and the challenges they faced were often daunting, yet most survived and prospered.
A few years after those books were published, I helped start a group in Santa Barbara called the Women’s Executive Network. Our bi-monthly meetings were a place where we could share the successes and challenges we faced and support each other, sometimes in very concrete ways. We often joke we are the feminine equivalent of the “old boys’ club.” But seventeen years later we are still going strong and learning from one another.
Sharing and learning is the reason why we have started the Lessons Learned blog. There are a lot of successful women entrepreneurs. At the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation (www.soefoundation.org) we know that, which is why we have been honoring them for the past three years. And they know a lot! So this blog is a way we can all share and learn on a larger scale.
I find it interesting that the traditional media as well as major financial companies are just now realizing how important women entrepreneurs are to the economy and that they might have been overlooking this very important market. American Express OPEN even called their report, published in April 2013, Growing Under the Radar: An Exploration of the Achievement of Million-Dollar Women-Owned Firms.
Additional studies have been done and, lo and behold, it is now clear that successful women entrepreneurs are a real phenomenon. Writer Geri Stengel recently brought a lot of the data and real life stories together in an article for Forbes under the headline of: 11 Reasons 2014 Will Be A Breakout Year For Women Entrepreneurs. Here’s the link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/geristengel/2014/01/08/11-reasons-2014-will-be-a-break-out-year-for-women-entrepreneurs/ . It is full of information and highly recommended.
One of the points in the story is that women entrepreneurs create their own “ecosystem” by networking just like men do. What a surprise! But there is one difference that has made the financial world aware of this “market”: recognition. In the past five years there are more and more awards for successful women, like our Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards. And women are no longer shy about publicizing their accomplishments. It’s about time.
This Lessons Learned blog was conceived as platform for women entrepreneurs to share their experiences in the hope that it will help others who might be facing similar situations. We are inviting all the past winners of the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards and all the other women entrepreneurs out there to send us stories they’d like to share. We hope you will. The link to send them in is below.
Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation
Publisher, Blue Point Books