It is International Women's Day and every time we celebrate this wonderful day, I have to pinch myself. It was always a dream to have my own business, in fact, my Grandmother found a note that I had written when I was very young where I stated, “One day I will own my own company.” She saved it and showed it to me after I started Global Interpreting Services. I have the note, saved in a box in my closet. A forever reminder that dreams can come true.
I started my business 25 years ago this year. Being a practicing professional in the same industry as my company is a challenge. Just being a woman in the business world is a challenge some days. I try to hold the fort down as the person in charge, but I’m also one of the worker bees! I enjoy doing both and it provides an ever-changing calendar of events to manage. I must be doing something right; the company has survived the good and the bad for 25 years. What I feel is the key to success is surrounding yourself with people who improve your weaknesses and add positivity to the company.
A perfect example of positivity and good hiring. I go to a high-level meeting and bring my Executive Vice President with me who just happens to be a man who is 6 feet tall, a little older and has a deep voice. Although I’m in my 50’s I look much younger (not to toot my own horn, but thanks for the great genes, Mom and Dad!). Immediately they assume he is in charge, or we are married and I am a false figurehead. Men (who we meet with most of the time) want to speak with him. He always tries to redirect the meetings to me and makes sure people know that I am the President and CEO of the company. He knows I have to gain their respect; it isn’t given freely as it is so freely given to him. I respect him for doing that.
Running a business can feel like you’re balancing on the top of a fence, walking ever so carefully; one wrong step and you’ll just topple to the ground, and who knows what will fall on top of you. Sometimes it’s a strong split rail fence and you skip along and everything’s great! Then you get to a section that’s a chain link and it’s narrow and wobbly and you have to tread lightly for a minute. I know I feel that was sometimes the case, and I have some tips to help you feel like you’re always walking on that steady fence.
Be a worker bee. Being a working owner isn’t without its challenges, but it shows the staff I’m invested in the company. I started the company from scratch. I invented practically all of the positions. I have worked in most of the positions when it was a one-woman operation. It gives you a unique insight into their jobs. If you've never done a certain job and have challenges in that position, I encourage you to spend a couple of hours or a few days performing that job. I guarantee your perspective on that position will change and perhaps so will the problems. Working in tandem with my staff allows me to see a different side of them.
I am a Sign Language Interpreter. When my staff sends me on an assignment as an Interpreter, I get to observe how they work with Interpreters. I know you’re thinking, “Oh…they will be on their best behavior and do everything perfectly! It’s for you!” But they don’t. They make mistakes they don’t even realize they are making. I get to see those mistakes and use them as training tools to make my company even better.
I am often asked what characteristic or trait is the most useful for a woman in business. I have two; flexibility and perseverance. Everyone says flexibility, but why? You must be able and willing to change if necessary. If something isn’t working be willing to look at another way of doing things to either make it work or get rid of it before it drags you down.
Perseverance is important because if you know in your gut what you have decided is the right thing, then dig in your heels. Don’t do it because you don’t like change. Don’t do it because you are afraid. Dig in because you know in your soul it’s the right decision and then don’t let any person deter you. Perseverance. There were a couple of times I was told I shouldn’t do things with the business. I was even told once to give it up, but I knew in my soul it was the wrong decision and that I would find a way through what we were going through. Perseverance.
When you are wrong, make it right and apologize. Customers come first. Customer service is the key to the success of any business. If you treat people right, they will want to be around you and use your services. This is our number one rule. Find your number one rule and live by it at your company. Perhaps it’s quality. Maybe it’s design. Whatever it is, do it well and do it every time.
Read. Read. Read.
There are a ton of books and articles on business available. I like to read autobiographies or biographies about business people, books on business, or self-help books on management techniques or how to deal with difficult people. I have read books on psychology. Read anything that you feel will benefit you. Another favorite Author is Mr. Rogers. (I know, but when you stop laughing and Google his books, they are actually pretty good). His books are easy reads and help you learn patience and understanding.
I am proud to be a woman in business. I am so proud of my business Global Interpreting Services. I never envisioned it would actually be the size it is today. I hoped, but it’s better than my imagination could have envisioned. You can do anything you want to do, but you have to be an active participant in it and you have to know when to pivot. If something isn’t working, diversify. Remember what’s important and always be moving forward. Remember, dreams do come true.