Women Business Leaders Roundtable
Kate Reddy, McKinnon-Mulherin
Maxine Turner Cuisine Unlimited
Hydee Willis Creative Expressions
Sabina Zunguze A Gift of Africa
Alicia Bremer Bremer Public Relations
Julie Tanner Wells Fargo
Lois Baar Holland & Hart
Michelyn Farnsworth Innovative Staffing
Shelly Storey The Orton Company
Adrienne Akers Dynamic Screening Solutions
Debbie Jacketta Jacketta Sweeping
Kelly King Anderson Startup Princess
Jane Ann Craig Total Dental Administrators
Jeri Cartwright Cartwright Communications
Lavanya Mahate Salt Lake Chamber
Carrie Dunn XO Marketing
Suzanne Ziemba Yelo Creative Group
What are some milestones or successes your business has experienced recently?
WILLIS: Well, my success is that we're still in business. A lot of our successes at Creative Expressions have come from looking at some of the things that have changed and changing with them—not waiting for the crisis to happen.
ANDERSON: Relationships have been huge for Startup Princess. Everything that we've experienced has been built on other companies or entrepreneurs being an advocate of the work that we do. Those key relationships will help you in hard times and in good.
ZUNGUZE: My company, A Gift of Africa, has gone nationwide. And outside of the United States, we also supply some companies in Brazil and in Argentina. So just being innovative and looking at other markets has been important.
How did you survive the recession? What strategies did you use to survive?
STOREY: I'm the owner of the Storey Agency, and what I had to do to survive was to merge with a larger company that was more established in the Salt Lake market. I had to make a really tough decision on whether to keep my business open with just me—struggling—or merge with someone else, and so I chose to merge. It's worked out really well. We've actually been able to grow that business by merging the two and getting my clients on board there.
AKERS: Our company, Dynamic Screening Solutions, is a spinoff from Utah State University, and many of you are familiar with the USTAR funding from the State—the Utah Science and Technology Research funding. Usually those monies come in huge chunks, but more recently they have been awarding smaller amounts of money. So we were able to use that funding to partner with a marketing professor at USU, Dr. Stacey Hills, who has been doing a marketing study for our new streamlined HR process.
We've been waiting with baited breath for the results of that study—that's going to be very valuable to us. If we had to purchase all those services, it would probably be 10 times what they were able to do through the University.
CRAIG: Total Dental Administrators had always been a market-driven company, where market share was our goal. Where we've changed the most over the last three to four years is we stepped back and began putting processes and systems into place to become more of a metric-measured company. And we’ve found out that bigger wasn't always better; bigger didn't always mean more profitable. And so the last three years have been very, very good to our organization, in large part because we simply became smarter in what we were doing.
And it's a real paradigm shift, particularly for our sales department, because we wanted to sell and sell big. And all of a sudden, as we began to have the tools to analyze what we were doing, we realized that big was good, but it wasn't always profitable.
ZIEMBA: I have a two-person business right now, two employees, and I started realizing that the incredible amount of money I was spending on overhead in order to have the office and the employee and all the things that go along with that was just not allowing me to make any profit for my business. So I've actually decided to downsize and change up the structure of my business so that I can start making a profit for myself and for my company.
TURNER: It was in the latter part of 2008 when we really started seeing the recession affect Cuisine Unlimited. Before that time, we heard rumblings but hadn't felt it because so many of our projects are booked months in advance. And when we fell off the mountain, we realized that we really had some things in place. We had always put aside a certain percentage of our net profits for a rainy day fund, and that became instrumental in seeing us through the really difficult months.
And also, just for that kind of cushion, we took out an SBA loan that was being offered to small businesses at that time. It was a line of credit—if we needed it, it was there. It became the safety net. I really credit the banks that did not decrease our lines of credit, who really held in there with us. We found that the banks monitored us much closer than ever before. They wanted to see where we were on a quarterly basis.
In the first three months of 2009, we re-valuated the company to see at what level we were operating and found that we were at our old 2005 level, so we had lost about three years of ground. And we took a look at the number of employees we had, the type of business that we were doing, and we geared everything to that level. So we went from 110 employees down to 65. We had to make some really tough decisions.
WILLIS: Right along with that, we went from 65 employees down to 32. But we looked at everybody and said, "Okay, guys. This is your ship. If we're going to survive this, we've got to survive it together." And we turned a lot of our issues, our problems, our challenges, over to our entire crew and said, "We're going to solve it together."
That resource of people who were actually working on a daily basis within our company came up with some incredible ideas and process changes because they realized it was their survival and they needed to keep it going.
BREMER: I feel like I'm the canary in the coal mine in terms of where the economy is at right now. In 2008, on our 20th anniversary, I transitioned my full-service PR firm to a strategic communications consultant agency. I transferred my book of business and team to another firm so that I could keep my shingle going and start doing strategic planning.
And in 2009, I was busy, but not busy with strategic planning. And then it was a Monday in early January 2010—the phone rang. And I have been busy all year long since, juggling, trying to fit in all assignments. Everyone was so cautious in 2009 and waiting to see where everything was going. And now in 2010, they're thinking about strategic plans.
CARTWRIGHT: Business has been very steady during the recession. I'm not quite sure why. We've been very fortunate, and I think it's because my profession, public relations, is coming of age. But our profession is going through a tremendous change, and it's moving from a more tactical to a strategic approach. And when I say business has been "steady," I mean very tiring, too. My contractors and I call each other and we are breathless.
What's the big obstacle facing your business today?
JACKETTA: Obtaining financing. I had hoped to build a bigger building for my business. We attempted to do that right as things were going down, and so I'm hoping maybe next year we can look into getting a bigger place.
MAHATE: I can speak for the Women's Business Center. Funding is definitely one of our challenges, with corporate sponsorships decreasing and the demand for consultation and training increasing. We could easily grow our program if we had the funding, but we have to make do with the resources we have. Just this year we've applied for our 501(c)(3) status because that would give us some leverage with grants and additional funding.
ZUNGUZE: One of the obstacles that we've had is tough competition coming out of China and India. A lot of people find that their business has gotten better because of the emerging economies in China and India; but for us it's been quite a challenge because I specialize in handmade products, and handmade items can be duplicated on a machine very quickly and easily in those markets.
So we've had to be very innovative on what we do, concentrating more on clients who find our product more appealing. But to those others, you become more innovative in your marketing, your packaging—everything that you do just changes a little bit so you can stick onto that market.
TURNER: In our market, other caterers were lowering their prices so much that it has been very difficult to even be profitable. They were doing anything in order to get a piece of business. When RFPs would come out, they were actually going below the budget amounts rather than just meeting them.
Being a high-end caterer, we had to really reinvent ourselves. So we developed a catering menu targeted for the corporate market that was called Cuisine Express. It was still our great food, but it took away all the frills—we even did away with deserts in order to bring the cost down to be more competitive.
How has social media affected your businesses and what new technologies are you using?
ZIEMBA: Social media has created a big change in the way people communicate now. I think people are putting their effort and time into it in the wrong ways, and we need to understand how to start conversations with people without barraging them with sales pitches. You have to develop a relationship and then try to sell in a backwards way.
CARTWRIGHT: When it comes to the news business and public relations, social media has been a Richter 10 earthquake. We're spending a lot of money getting the latest upgrade every year so that we're ahead and can explain to clients why they should be doing it.
When it comes to having a website, that's one thing. Then you've got a blog you have to keep up, which I am doing, and I get lead generation from that. But it’s also being on Twitter and Facebook, interacting with supporters.
ANDERSON: I have about 19,000 followers on Twitter. It's this incredible opportunity to get immediate feedback and be really involved in a great community. It's great to help your clients get engaged in social media and do it yourself; but at the end of the day, if you're not linking it to a sale, it's a waste of time. Too many people are on social media just for the relationships, but if those relationships aren't translating, it's really tough.
WILLIS: We were afraid when all of our business went to the Internet, fearing that many of the older clients wouldn't be able to do it and we'd lose them. But what we have seen is that everyone is learning all of these platforms and realizing that they cannot continue in business until they do. So even us old people are learning how to do it. I used to tell my mother-in-law about Facebook and she'd just laugh at me, and now she's on it. She's 96 years old.
ZUNGUZE: Being an international business, social media has made business so much cheaper and more efficient. Just this morning I was Skyping with women in Morocco, working on a product. I can see it, so by the time it gets here, by the time we approve it, it's all done. Even with women who are just starting up a business, it's become easier and communication is improved.
DUNN: One danger is definitely reputation management. We spent three hours going over this with a big client yesterday, because if you have an interactive blog and that two-way communication, then you have to manage your reputation. We have a full-time employee that just manages our reputation. Everyday they're just on the blog watching, getting rid of information that they don't want people to see.
BAAR: I'm an employment lawyer, and the things that people say in some of their blogs and other social media—these types of communications have been very difficult to work with when you're defending a case. We had a case recently where an HR manager had a personal blog, and it just became chaotic to have to deal with her blog in the context of a lawsuit where she's a central person in a lot of the decisions that were made.
It didn't have anything to do with the outcome of the case, but it had to do with things she said on her blog about herself. It wasn't connected with her work, but it was a big distraction and it weighed down on that organization's ability to find a path to the end of the case. People get really personal and say funny things they wouldn't say at work.
How have you grown your business in Utah and what have been your strategies for taking the next big step up?
AKERS: We're a startup, so we're in that upward curve, and right now we are looking for funding. Having been at the University for many years, I don't have a business background. So the idea of pursuing angel investors or small business loans has kept me awake at night, thinking, "Should we go this way? Should we go that way?"
JACKETTA: In the last year or so, I've gotten a business coach, which has helped me get through the tough times. I’ve also set up a board to just hold myself a little more accountable and push me a little bit.
TURNER: We opened a sales office in Park City and have found tremendous growth. The next market we're looking at is Ogden because we feel that that's an untapped market. We're really reaching out beyond just the Salt Lake Valley. We've also been invited back to the table with the USOC to look at the London Games, so we'll look at our international programs as well.
WILLIS: We have affiliated ourselves with other businesses, even businesses that are totally different but share a common culture. For example, an advertising agency working with people who need to advertise their business—we have the products that they use so they don't have to go to another source.
DUNN: You’ve probably heard the slogan that “in good times you should advertise, and in bad times you must advertise.” We rode that momentum a little bit. What we've done is just be more creative with what we already offer. More people are advertising that never used to because they haven't had to. People who have advertised at high levels are advertising less, but there's a broader base who now want to.
What are some of the unique challenges for women in business in Utah?
CARTWRIGHT: Wages. I have a report that I pulled today from Ragan Communication, and in public relations, women rule right now. In 1970, 27 percent of PR were women, and today, 85 percent in the industry are women. And you think, "That's great news," right? Not necessarily, because those women are still answering to a male supervisor for the most part, and they are still making less than the men.
I think women are hesitant to ask for what they really believe they're worth. I saw a television show indicating that the top CEO level of the women had finally broken through and is beating male CEOs in the wage category. Interviewing one of those CEOs, they said to her, "How did you get to this level of money?" She said, "You ask for it, and when you ask for it, they respect it." Women have to get to that point.
TANNER: It's interesting that women are enrolling at a higher rate than men in higher education, but when it comes to graduation rates, men are graduating more than women and they're graduating in higher-paid fields.
A lot of us are caregivers. Regardless of whether we want to be or not, it's a role we assume. We want to take care of our children and our parents. Because of that, we're in and out of the workplace more than men. If you were on the same career path as a man, your pay would be more closely aligned.
MAHATE: One of the challenges that career women face—not just in Utah but everywhere—is work-life balance. I was reading an article in Forbes, and it said 85 percent of women claim to still do the house chores. Somebody has to do that, and it's more often the women. So then we're doing double duty of running a business or working and then taking care of the home. That's the challenge, and I don't know if it will ever go away.
BAAR: The Family and Medical Leave Act lets new parents get 12 weeks off without pay under the law. And men never do it—women always do it. If any of you know a man who has taken 12 weeks off, I want to send him flowers. When men start taking off 12 weeks for family and medical leave, then we'll see.
ZUNGUZE: Women need to stand on their own, they need to take charge. I've been in situations, being a woman and being a minority woman, where you're all in business, you're all doing the same thing, but people look at you as if you're doing something less than they are doing.
I find that women here are not very confident in what they're doing. I'm in business for goodness sake. I'm going to make this work. If you have the confidence and you are focused and know what it is you're doing, you create that environment. I see women who are doing wonderful things but don't have the confidence to continue.
FARNSWORTH: Also, women are often left out of valuable networking opportunities. You know, the guys can go to lunch, they can go play golf—but it's awkward for them to ask a woman to go do that sort of thing. So we miss that opportunity to have that social aspect that benefits our businesses.
TURNER: Do the inviting. Invite them.
FARNSWORTH: But there again, it's kind of awkward for them: “Why is she asking me to go golfing?"
BAAR: I would imagine there are some barriers for women that relate to people's comfort, as you're describing it. I did some training sessions on diversity with IT companies that wanted to hire more women. The women they did hire never lasted because there were mostly men in the companies. When we got into it with the male employees, they really didn't want to go to lunch by themselves with a woman. These were people who had been to college in the last five or 10 years. I found that rather shocking.
ZIEMBA: I would like to put out a challenge that when you do know someone who’s coming up in business, to be a mentor and take them out to lunch. It would be nice for them to talk with people who have been there and done that and can help guide them.
How useful are business groups that cater specifically to women? Are they still relevant and needed?
STOREY: I think they're relevant, especially when you're starting out new and you're trying to figure things out. The Women's Business Center was a great resource for me—to have those other groups of women, mentors who have done the same things—maybe it's not the same industry, but they're facing some of these same challenges with their business.
Having a forum where you can bounce ideas off each other is still needed. Even though we want to be the same and we don't want there to be this rift between men and women, I think there's still that rift. You have to show that you're confident in what you're doing and that you understand your industry, and show that to your clients, your venders and coworkers.
WILLIS: Having been involved in many women’s organizations over the years, they have so much value. But as you go from that emerging company to an established company, you get busy, you tend to no longer go to the events. The best thing about those organizations is that they show young women, "Hey, I did it. You can do it too." The older business people tend not to be there to help the younger women. I'm the worst offender because I haven't been involved for the last few years. But it is so important just to give the encouragement of saying, "Hey, it can be done. Get out there and do it."
MAHATE: There are hundreds of women's groups; just, for example, the Women's Business Center, Women Leaders Utah, the Women Tech Council. They're thriving, so obviously it's working. And a lot of banks have women's financial services. That's more than just the feel-good factor. They've put money into research and demographics, and so there is a reason why that's working.
For men, it's easier to go get lunch or just hang out on the golf course. Women do need some opportunities to spend time together and form those relationships. So I'm a big advocate for women's groups. It's very crucial during the startup phases of your business to come take advantage of the services. And it's so important for women around this table to come back to the organizations and support the startup companies.
ANDERSON: One of the reasons I started Startup Princess is because I was in a room of 200 men, and I had my nursing baby with me and I was pitching for a million dollars for a retail business. And there was a man who said, "I would fund women's businesses if I could find them." I had my little nursing baby with me, and he would not look at me. He would not take my business plan. And I said, "OK. I will go elsewhere and form a community of women who care about each other and succeeding."
WILLIS: Thirty years ago, this table wouldn't have existed. When I started my business, the only thing that had less credibility than a woman in business was one in her home. You’d go to get a loan and they say, "What does your husband do.” It has come so far in all these years. We need to celebrate women in business and the power that we really have.
CARTWRIGHT: I wanted to understand both sides and see both genders in action. So I deliberately steered away from women's groups and threw myself into groups that were a blend so that I could study both. It's not to say that women's groups are not needed—they are; I just needed to understand men and how they did business in order for me to move higher in my career.
BREMER: I so often see young women coming out of the communications field, wanting to start their business right out of college with no experience. If they've picked a field, they need to know everything they can learn about that field before they put out their own shingle. I worked for 12 years before I started my own business, and I worked for two agencies where I saw what worked and what didn't work. I saw it firsthand. I knew what billable hours meant, I knew how to handle overhead. So when I started my own business, I had a good idea of where I was going.
What advice would you give to women starting a business?
ANDERSON: It's so smart to learn everything you can about the industry before you go into it and shadow someone for a little while and talk to them about what they have you learned. As a mentor, it's really important to talk to them about what their objectives are—if it's a hobby or lifestyle business or are they really going to go after it?
MAHATE: The three most important things that are essential for anybody going into business are just to imagine the possibilities, imagine what you can achieve. It's that vision. And then inspiration: You have to be inspired to do what you're doing. And last, intuition: Use your gut feeling. You're smart and you've done all your homework, you know the industry. Just go dive into it and be brave.
WILLIS: You can add learning, too. Because starting out, I had no idea what a balance sheet was, but boy, could I create things! A perfect example: just because you can groom a dog doesn't mean you can understand a balance sheet. So you learn the aspects of a business, and then you take your passion and build with the imagination and the inspiration. But if you don't know that up front, all you're going to do is program yourself to fail because it takes so long to get all of that behind you.
TANNER: So often people come to us on a dream and a prayer. They don't know their numbers, and it's critical to know your numbers. A lot of people don't get into the financing because they don't feel they're competent in it. But if they can learn it, they can be so much more successful.
STOREY: Along with the learning part is trying to find other professionals to help you with those things, because it is true, you know your industry, you know what you love to do and why you want to do this, but you don't understand accounting and budget sheets and finances—and you hire somebody. Now all of a sudden you've got to deal with taxes and insurance. It's surrounding yourself with experts to help you, because you could just get buried under everything.
ANDERSON: I always tell people to play to your strengths and hire out your weaknesses. That's the key to success.
TURNER: In my early years I did exactly what you were saying. I had a vision, I knew what I wanted to do, but I knew so little about how to run a business. I got into really hot water financially and didn't know where to turn. I didn't have the money to hire someone to come in and advise me.
So I formed an advisory council for myself. Most of them were not in my industry. I asked them to look at every aspect of my company and tell me where I was going wrong. I didn't know—I couldn't see the forest through the trees. And all I could promise them was a good meal. We met for almost a year, and they gave me two hours, once a month, of their time. It was an amazing experience and the turning point for my company.