During my career, one thing I’ve learned is that advice from experienced people you admire is invaluable. So, this week, I decided to ask nine smart women who run their own businesses to share what they’ve figured out over the years…
Give yourself permission to hire personal help or splurge on a luxury. Identify the one thing outside work or your relationships that brings you nagging annoying stress. I don’t mean real stress like bad health or how you are going to pay the predicted 300K tuition for your kid’s future college, I mean that nagging stuff that makes you in a slightly less good mood every single day. Examples: you have no jeans that really fit, every drawer in your house is a “junk drawer,” your car is peppered with child snack crumbs—or it could simply be that you’ve been using cheap root color to cover your grays and it bums you out every time you look in the mirror. My philosophy is pick the one that is the most annoying to you and give yourself permission to hire someone to help you fix this. This kind of stress takes up some much-needed brain space and makes you less productive throughout the day, not to mention less happy. I’m not saying you need to or can pay someone to get rid of all of your problems, but sometimes staring at small fixable problems on a daily basis can be strangely detrimental to your happiness.
Flexible protocol is your friend. I went for years without protocol because what normal creative person wants to enforce rules on other people they like? But protocol (with flexibility) makes everybody less stressed out. For instance, I didn’t have a payroll system for independent contractors that I hired—they emailed an invoice whenever they felt like it and I paid it whenever I remembered to. Sometimes they would wait for months to invoice and sometimes I would accidentally wait for months to pay. It was stressful for both parties. So now we have Tsheets (a hourly wage app) that keeps tracks of hours in and out every day on your phone and every two weeks sends an invoice. Or if it’s someone who is less regular, I now pay the 5th and 20th of every month so they know the have to get their invoices in before that day in order to get paid in that period.
AMANDA HESSER AND MERRILL STUBBS, FOOD52:
Amanda and Merrill are the co-founders of Food52. Their latest book, Genius Recipes, is available for pre-sale, and their podcast, Burnt Toast, can be found on iTunes.
If you told a story about your career, would it be interesting and surprising? If not, think about the path you’re carving. You spend a large part of your life working—make it a story you want to tell.
Eliminate the word “just” from your vocabulary—as in “Just checking on this!” You’ll immediately feel more confident.
RONY VARDI, CATBIRD:
Rony founded her jewelry brand, Catbird, in 2004. Eleven years later, she has 47 employees to help her run her two brick-and-mortar stores, online shop and signature jewelry collection. Brooklyn-based Catbird has been credited with launching trends like dainty earrings and thin stacking rings.
Approach difficult conversations head on. Realize that it’s undoubtedly difficult for the other person too and put it out there, right up front: “This might be a difficult conversation, so let’s work this out together.” Also, for years I didn’t have a private place to meet with employees, so I got into the habit of having “walking meetings.” We would walk around the neighborhood and talk, and I found that the other person seemed to be more relaxed. It feels less like an attack and can encourage the feeling that you really are trying to work things out together.
Be flexible. It’s great—and important—to start with a vision but don’t be so in love with your vision that you can’t bend. For example, at Catbird, we ventured into other avenues (shoes, scarves, clothes), but we realized that other brands were doing those things better than we ever could. Whether it’s your neighborhood, competing stores or new apps, remain hyperaware of the changes around you and how they will affect your business, and be ready and willing to shift. We tell this to our kids—be like the reed in the wind, not like the oak. No offense, oak.
ANNE SERRANO-MCCLAIN, MCMC FRAGRANCES:
Anne is a perfumer and co-founder of Brooklyn-based fragrance company MCMC Fragrances, which she runs with her sister, Katie. She formulates all MCMC perfumes by hand in their Brooklyn studio.
Just show up. Every day. Owning your own business, you sometimes feel like there’s too much to do. You have big goals, and there are a million little steps to get there. But you just have to show up. Every day. Sometimes people ask me how MCMC Fragrances got where it is today, and I shrug and say, “luck.” Maybe I don’t want to sound too proud or boastful. But the truth is, it took work. I like to keep an actual handwritten to-do list. I update it every few weeks. I have one column on the left for longer term tasks, and on the rest of the page I write down every thing I need to do that comes to mind. Then I strike them off with a big pink marker for satisfaction.
I don’t let fear get the best of me. When you have your own business, there’s so much you don’t understand how to do. How do I get a barcode for my product? How do I make my blog link to my website? Can I even pull off this big project? I usually say yes first, and figure it out later. I don’t let any opportunity slip away. I study hard and learn to do it, even if that means learning the hard way.
There’s never going to be a perfect balance. There’s only the balance of right now. When I first started MCMC Fragrances I was 28 years old and unmarried. I worked all day, all night, and all weekend—and I loved it. Now I’ll be celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary and I have a two-year-old. I work 9:30 to 4:30 Monday through Thursday, and it’s never enough, but I cherish the time with my family, cooking dinner for them and watching my toddler grow up. Soon this schedule will change again, and there will be a new balance. When I feel behind at work, I tell myself, “Everything in due time.”
DEB PERELMAN, SMITTEN KITCHEN:
Deb is a self-taught home cook, photographer and the creator of wildly popular food blog Smitten Kitchen. Her first cookbook was a New York Times bestseller, and her second cookbook will be out in the fall of 2016.
Find a schedule that works for you: Take note of the times you feel sharpest each day, when you want to crawl under the covers and take a nap, and when you’re the most stressed about everything, including your place in the world.
For me, a clear pattern has emerged over the years: I can write in the morning, I’m useless at crafting sentences after 1:30pm. I’m great at cooking in the afternoon. In fact, if I’m not deeply immersed in a cooking project at 4pm, I am embarrassingly likely to fall asleep on the sofa, especially now that I’m six-months pregnant. I really try not to work—also, it’s nearly impossible—between 5 and 8pm so we can have dinner and some family time before putting the kid to bed, but I’ll often get a few things done between 8 and 9. More than an hour of work, however, and I start getting tired and cranky and a swarm of self-doubt sets in. If you find yourself in this place, close the laptop. This is what making popcorn and binging on House of Cards is for. Or watch a comedy. I find it impossible to stay focused on my anxiety-du-jour while laughing over Knocked Up for the I-don’t-even-want-to-admit-it-number of time. (P.S. If you’re kid-free and live in a city, my advice would be to leave the apartment and go somewhere, preferably a place with cocktails. And to please have one for me.)
Once you have a schedule, protect it.
I also refuse to work on the weekend unless absolutely avoidable. If I don’t get downtime, if I don’t get out of the city or try new things at least a day a week, how am I going to get back to it on Monday feeling like I have something to offer? So, this weekend we introduced the kid to Peruvian chicken and the wonders of fried yuca and sweet plantains on Saturday. And we went to the aquarium in Norwalk on Sunday, just for something new to do.
While I rarely do this, I feel strongly that if you wake up on a Wednesday and feel like you’d rather have a root canal than get back to work, take a mental health day, or at least a mental health morning. Treat yourself to a sit-down breakfast, or a walk in the park. Run an errand out of your way, and take the scenic route. Do something to listen to your internal cues so you don’t get burnt out. You never know what fresh ideas you might find outside your normal work zone. And remember, even people with traditional jobs get to go out for lunch or happy hour once in a while. It’s very easy to get overly austere about work, but it doesn’t necessarily produce better outcomes.
SHARON MONTROSE, THE ANIMAL PRINT SHOP:
Sharon is one of the most sought-after commercial animal photographers and the founder of the online store The Animal Print Shop. Sharon has eleven published photography books, and her animal series photos are part of public and private collections around the world.
Most of the time, I’m improvising. I just turned 41, yet I still feel like a kid playing office half the time. I can’t speak for others, but I’m pretty sure we’re all winging it.
Be direct—anything else is a waste of valuable time (yours and others’). I’ve always had a no-bullshit approach, even before I could afford it. Just don’t forget: If you’re female and tough in business, you’ll be accused of being a bitch (especially by other women). It’s okay—not everyone is going to like you, you will never please everyone and not everyone will understand you.
Take the breakdowns in stride. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’ve had many a day ruined by some kind of stressor: a rude customer, our server going down. I finally realized what has me in knots one day, doesn’t even phase me two weeks later. I’m much better at rolling with the punches now and less time is wasted ruminating on things that don’t matter in the long run.
No matter what my Instagram portrays, along with the joys, life is a great struggle. Movement is the best way for me to neutralize the stress of work and life. I prioritize my physical heath, because it directly affects my mental heath. In addition to prioritizing time to move outside work, we now have rings and a pull-up bar at the shop, and a wall to practice handstands so our whole crew can take breaks to move and stretch.
EVA JORGENSEN, SYCAMORE STREET PRESS:
Eva is the founder of Sycamore Street Press, the paper goods company she started straight out of school with her husband, Kirk. The brand has evolved into a full-time family business that is carried in stores around the world.
Once a year (or whenever something new comes up—new baby, new job, illness, move…) pretend your life is an overflowing closet. In order to really get it organized, you can’t just remove one or two things here or there. You have to take everything out and then one by one put the most important things back in. When you get to a point where it feels good—close to full, but not crowded or crammed—stop. Get rid of everything else. Sometimes you have to get rid of good things in your life in order to make room for the best things.
If you get organized and make systems for just about everything, you’ll be able to delegate more, work fewer hours, and spend the hours you do work on the really important things that move your business forward. My systems: Google Calendar, Google Drive, Unroll Me (for taming promotional emails), Boomerang (for keeping an organized email inbox), Schedugram (for scheduling Instagram) and Viraltag (for scheduling Pinterest).
KAVI AHUJA MOLTZ, D.S. & DURGA:
Kavi is a trained architect and designer and one half of the fragrance line D.S. & Durga, which she founded in 2007 with her husband, David. D.S. & Durga has thirteen original scents and a collection of scented candles.
Networking is important. I’m not a networking expert—in fact it makes me quite uncomfortable—but I’m good at listening to people, especially people I look up to. It’s as important to listen as it is to speak, and I’m happy to soak things up and learn from them. Always try to relax and be yourself so you don’t sound like you are selling anything.
A nice handwritten thank-you note is always appreciated—for meeting, for a piece of good press, for any reason! It’s also worth investing in good quality personalized stationary.
Thank you so much to these nine wonderful women! What lessons have you learned through the years? What advice would you add? Hope some of these takeaways are helpful no matter what your field. xoxo