Who Do You Think You Are?
Have you ever handed in a paper or assignment that you knew was destined for an A+? That’s how I felt about handing off my first business plan to a successful business owner, a friend’s father, at the age of 26. The first time I approached him after handing off my self-proclaimed masterpiece he looked me square in the eyes and asked; have you ever written over 10,000 consecutive words? Been on a television series? Even been to Los Angeles? After responding no, he asked me the question that would change my life: “Who do you think you are?”
It took me weeks to recover, but I finally emerged from my shock and despair once I decided that I needed to answer that question for myself.
I am an entrepreneur.
In my heart, that’s who I not only think, but know, that I am. I’m thankful I did. I’ve built a multi-million dollar company, hosted and created two national television shows, written three bestselling books and acted as a spokesperson for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
I’m not an exception; I’m part of a growing number of women entrepreneurs. In fact, according to a recent study from the Center for an Urban Future, with support from Capital One’s Future Edge Initiative, from 2002-2012, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States increased by 52 percent. This amounts to 928 new businesses every day, adding over 1,290,245 jobs and approximately $90.2 billion in payroll to the nation’s economy.
According to the study, New York City currently tops the list of cities with the highest number of women-owned businesses at 413,899. This is over double the amount of the number two city, Los Angeles (192,358). The windy city, Chicago, takes third place with 123,632, trailed by Houston with 102,813 and Dallas with 52,798.
While these numbers prove that women-owned businesses are making great strides – there is room for more growth. Thankfully, there are programs like Capital One’s Future Edge initiative that work with hundreds of leading community and nonprofit organizations, including microfinance and micro-lending organizations such as Grameen America, Accion and the Business Outreach Center Network to help more women entrepreneurs get the skills, tools and resources they need to succeed.
I’ve spoken with thousands of these entrepreneurs and the number one thing that holds women back from pursuing running their own business is a lack of confidence. The same confidence I lacked in the weeks after I was asked, “Who do you think you are?” The women profiled in “Breaking Through: Harnessing the Economic Potential of Women Entrepreneurs” all agree that confidence in female entrepreneurs is severely lacking. “Women really need to see more people like them running a business and succeeding, being able to be a role model and make them feel it’s possible,” said Yanki Tshering, executive director of the Business Center for New Americans.
So how do we build the confidence we need to be successful entrepreneurs? By answering the life-defining question for yourself: Who do you think you are?
Get Over Yourself: The hardest part of the equation is seeing yourself objectively. One of the quickest and surest ways I used to trick my psyche into seeing myself with clearly, was to ask, who are the five people in my life who I admire, and what are five adjectives I’d use to describe them? Don’t read this part until you’ve done the exercise or you’ll lose the impact. Now, read your lists. These attributes are as much about them as they are about you. We resonate with the characteristics we, in fact, embody. Your grandmother is disciplined, so are you. Oprah is abundant, so are you. Your boss is generous, so are you.
Lead the Message: The real problem with not defining who you think you are for yourself is that others will do it for you. You control the message and this message has to be clear, succinct and universal. And by universal, I mean that this message has to be broadcast through not only all your social media and marketing platforms but through your very self. While the material I presented to the business advisor was brand solid, I wasn’t. Too often I hear women say they’re the best in the marketplace but with their head tilted to a 45 degree angle, in a register that is too high and a pace that is too fast. I didn’t realize all the verbal and non-verbal indicators I was engaging in that were undermining my confidence until I saw myself on The Today Show of all places. Enlist a friend or business associate to video record you talking about yourself. Watch it back. What are the words you overuse, what hand movements to do you use to distract from the message and how’s the volume and tone of your voice? These are all elements of your delivery that speak louder than words.
While initially I never would have believed it, the fact is, this man did me the greatest favor of my career. He made me face a critical question that all entrepreneurs need to confront in order to ultimately be successful. And while I wouldn’t recommend you ask the question with the same condescending and undermining tone, I would encourage you to pose the question to your fellow entrepreneurs and help lead them to their answer.
Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this post.