How to Start a Successful Business: 17 Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories

How to Start a Successful Business: 17 Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories

One thing we can all agree on is that female entrepreneurs don’t get enough press — even the successful ones.

So let’s take a step toward changing that.

Here’s a guest post from Mary Fernandez, a visibility strategist who helps entrepreneurs stand out online. (She’s also created a handy guide that will help you discover how to skyrocket your online presence.)

Here’s Mary:

Every successful entrepreneur started somewhere.

There’s no “magic pill” that effortlessly launches you out of your cubicle confinement and into the free world of entrepreneurship. For some, the dream to be your own boss grows for a long time, even years, before it finally comes to fruition.

The truth is, great success in business grows from just one, tiny seed.

We asked some of our favorite women entrepreneurs to share how they got their start in business. Their answers revealed the deep motivators and personal qualities that drove them to make their big idea a reality.

By reading about how they grew their businesses over the years, our goal is that you’ll identify a similar entrepreneurial seed, within yourself.

Here’s what these women had to share about getting their start as entrepreneurs.

1. Sue Bryce

“My path to self employment seemed to me, a natural evolution.

“But, it wasn’t based on a great desire to build a business. Rather, it was borne out of necessity. After 13 years mastering my craft, I was still an employee and I simply had reached a ceiling of how much money I could earn in my career.

“After the initial fear and hurdles, the learning curve is so great I came very close to failure. Instead of giving up, I started to develop a deep sense of passion for motivating and educating myself to reach greater heights in business and income. It became a challenge for me, and I don’t know any other way now. After 13 years of self-employment, I still challenge myself to create on a larger and larger scale every year.

“My desire to build, create, and learn, surpasses my fear. Every challenge I’m faced with now, becomes a greater experience of learning my true power.”

Now, Sue’s teamed up with Tiffany Angeles to break down their biggest business lessons, and teach a class on how to Make More Money and Discover Your Worth.

2. Sophia Amoruso

“Don’t give up, don’t take anything personally, and don’t take no for an answer,” Sophia advises.

Since founding Nasty Gal as an eBay store in 2006, selling vintage clothing, Sophia has transformed the business into a multimillion-dollar empire with its own clothing line that was named the “Fastest Growing Retailer” in 2012. Recently, The New York Times Bestseller of #GIRLBOSS has stepped out of her role as the CEO of Nasty Gal to become the executive chairman and shift her focus to overseeing just the creative and brand marketing functions of the business.

Without any fashion or business experience before starting Nasty Gal, Sophia credits much of her hard-earned success to her inability to accept failure as an option. “The people who told me no, were the people who eventually told me yes,” she adds.

3. Pamela Slim

“In addition to working full-time as an employee for 10 years, I had also been the volunteer executive director for a non-profit martial arts school in San Francisco.

“My typical day was about 15 hours straight. Work, jump on the metro over to the studio, train capoeira for 3-4 hours, then do administrative work before bed. Weekends were filled with classes, performances, and putting up fliers around the city to attract new students to the school.

“The tipping point came right before my 30th birthday. I got pneumonia from the non-stop grueling pace, and realized I needed to make a career move. So, contrary to how I advise my clients, I leapt with no plan, just the desire to get off the merry-go-round and find a more sustainable path.

“After a few months of recovery and half-hearted job search, I contacted my old manager who had moved to Hewlett-Packard and asked her if she needed a little help. I started working as a consultant, and I felt like a huge fire was lit inside of me. I loved being a consultant. My problem had never been about the work, it was more about the right work mode.

“I realized that the 10 years I had volunteered as an executive director had prepared me for entrepreneurial life. I knew how to create and fund big programs. I knew how to build a network and mobilize people to a cause. I knew how to sell and market. So, now that I had my own shingle out, I took off and built a thriving and fulfilling practice.

“This year, I celebrate 20 years in business for myself. It hasn’t always been easy, but it continues to bring me great joy and satisfaction.”

4. Tara Gentile

“I decided to become a business owner after I was looked over for a promotion while nine months pregnant.

“Six months after my daughter was born, I started a little niche website and community. I then purchased an existing blog business, and almost overnight, started making more money than I had in my previous job.

“My business has evolved significantly since then, but I’m so grateful for the way I started!”

Tara, one of our most successful business instructors here at CreativeLive, has successfully gone from selling her services, to packaging them into digital products for her clients. It’s helped her significantly scale her business, and now she teaches a class about how to turn your services into a product.

5. Melissa Galt

“The year following my graduation from Cornell, my mom died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. It took me the ensuing five years to understand the lesson in her passing. Life is too short to do something you don’t love. She had been a maverick in her field, an Oscar winning actress who knew at age 7 what she wanted. It took me a bit longer.

“I decided to pursue my dream of interior design, and went back to school full-time, while picking up full-time work in the field. However, I was still frustrated that I was not in charge of my day and my decisions.

“Ultimately, my headstrong nature was both my undoing and my new beginning…

“I’d planned to launch my startup in September 1994. When I asked my manager for time off, she said I didn’t have it. I said I did, and dug my heels in. Arguing with your manager when you need your job is never wise. I walked out.

“I was unemployed, in debt, and six months premature to my planned launch. I launched immediately while taking up side jobs supervising a catering kitchen and teaching busy professionals (aka potential clients for my interior design practice) during evening education programs.

“It was that magical place you hear about where fear meets breath and becomes unstoppable exhilaration. I worked 15 hour days, 6 days a week, because I wanted to. I couldn’t wait to get up, and hated to go to bed at night. I was totally on fire. I went from $70K in debt to rocking six figures and debt free in 18 months and that doubled every year for five years. Today, I design both home and business environments, while also advising the business and lifestyles that go on inside of them.

“My advice is to find what lights you up, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. You will meet with unexpected success.”

6. Beate Chelette

“Remember those huge posters of beautiful places that decorated kid’s rooms in the ’80s? When I was young, I wanted them but couldn’t afford them. Then I realized, if I ordered them for my friends and became a distributor, I could get mine for free. So at the age of 12, I started a poster distribution business out of my bedroom.

“Later in life, I worked at Elle Magazine as a photo editor. I had a lot of freedom to express my ideas (after all, ideas are what a magazine thrives on). But still… something was always missing. Upon further examination, I arrived at three facts:

  1. I wanted to be the boss.
  2. I had a lot of ideas, and my bosses didn’t necessarily agree.
  3. I wanted to change the world.

“And here I am today! I’ve been an entrepreneur pretty much my entire professional career. You have to overcome the fear, and it’s a lot of work, but the rewards are fantastic.”

7. Sue Zimmerman

“My first entrepreneurial venture was selling my hand-painted barrettes at recess in grade school, even though I was not supposed to be.

“My dad owned an automobile part store and often brought home model paint that I would use to paint fun, colorful, preppy themes on hair clips.

“The passion I had for art and painting turned into a nice side hustle, and eventually gave me the confidence and validation to do what I loved at a very young age.”

8. Tiffany Angeles

“I felt dead inside working at my corporate job but was too scared to leave.

“I was looking for a business I could start on nights and weekends. After checking into different businesses, I actually won a camera, so that sealed the deal for a photography business. I built that business by moonlighting for a few years until the income surpassed my corporate job and then went full-time.

“That business gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my dream of speaking and teaching people how to be successful with money. Even though it was painful to leave my corporate security, I am forever grateful that I did, because it led to a life and business I love!”

Now, Tiffany has joined forces with Sue Bryce to teach an incredible class on how to Make More Money and Discover Your Worth.

9. Yasmine Khater

“After a successful corporate career in a Fortune 500 company, losing my dad to cancer led me to redefine life and the impact I want to create. I knew that I didn’t want my boss’s job, any of the other senior management roles, or to work more 12- to 14-hour days. I also knew I didn’t want to sacrifice my quality of life, and regret not living.

“That’s when I decided to start my business. I brainstormed which skills I could build upon, and what people needed. At the time, my friends were searching for more career direction, so I offered 30-minute career clarity sessions. I booked 4 sessions and got my first three clients.

“I realized shortly thereafter, that I didn’t really want to help people with their careers. Instead, I wanted to leverage my corporate experience to help small business owners build their sales processes, and develop winning sales systems that could stand the test of time.”

10. Mayi Carles

“I was 7. I had just discovered the lemonade stand.

“Wait a second! Kids can just sell lemonade on the front porch and people give them money? WOW!!! I was blown away.

“Soon enough, I had set up my own front lawn kiosk, except that instead of selling lemonade, I crafted little masterpieces made with a little paint spinner toy thingy. The line of kids reached the end of the block. Not to brag, but I was a ROCK STAR.

“Right then and there, I knew I was born to do this.

“As it turns out, the reason why my art pieces were selling like hot tamales for 50 cents a pop was because they came with a bag of Hershey’s kisses. Mayita, my mom smiled as she made the infamous confession, the chocolates were a dollar at the store. Dang!

“Alright, maybe my first business idea wasn’t profitable, but I learned the art of putting myself out there with a sense of self-worth at a very young age. That pillar has been instrumental in building my current creative empire.”

11. Mei Pak

“I got my first taste of entrepreneurship when I was 10 years old.

“One day in school, we were allowed to set up a small table to sell whatever we wanted during recess. I brought a zip lock bag of hundreds of tiny semi precious stone chips that I had gotten from my mom’s favorite jewelry store for less than $10. I knew the other kids would love them and sold five little stones for $2.00.

“In retrospect, I’m not surprised the concept of buy low, sell high came so naturally to me. This kind of stuff is what I was meant to do.”

12. Courtney Johnston

“I was never an entrepreneurial kid, but I was always a dreamer and a rule breaker.

“After graduating college with a French degree in 2009 during the middle of the recession, I quickly realized that I was ‘unemployable’ and decided to start finding ways to make money for myself. A few business ideas later, I started my copywriting business, and have never looked back.”

13. Kimra Luna

“I got my first taste of entrepreneurship when I started my own booking agency when I was 18 years. I started booking concerts for fun, and it turned into a full-time gig.”

14. Jenn Scalia

“Entrepreneurship was something I was always destined for. But until a few years ago, I had always adhered to the status quo of having a ‘real’ job.

“After two layoffs in two years, I got a gentle nudge from the Universe that I needed to create my own destiny and my own financial security. While staying home as a full-time mom, I started looking for opportunities where I could use my skills to make money. That’s when I discovered that I could be an online coach, and decided to dive in head first.”

15. Barbara Findlay Schenck

“Like many others, my dive into entrepreneurship was prompted by opportunity andnecessity.

“My husband and I had just returned from a stint in the Peace Corps, and–although former employers in Honolulu invited us back to the positions we’d left two years earlier–we wanted to settle down in Oregon. So, we took a raincheck on the generous job offers, and began searching for positions in Bend, Oregon, that matched our journalism, public relations, and marketing backgrounds.

“With few such openings and no advertising or marketing agency to reach out to, entrepreneurial instinct took over and we seized the moment. We laid out plans for starting our own agency, registered a business name, drew up a list of potential clients, furnished an office (barely), put a sign on the door, and started a six-month sprint to profitability.

“Why six months? That’s exactly how long we figured our cash reserves would last. When I tell business planners to know their funding runway, I speak from experience.

“With the clock ticking, we beat the six-month deadline, grew the agency to one of the top 15 in the Northwest, accumulated more clients, friends, and stories than we could count, and 15 years later sold it to new owners who made it the platform for launching their own entrepreneurial journey.”

16. Phoebe Mroczek

“To be honest, I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. From the stationery stand in my driveway and my fifth-grade scrunchie business, to the dual-level marketing company I joined in college, it’s really not just a passion. It’s a way of life.

“While I dipped my toe into the corporate world in Asia, behind the scenes I’d started an events company and shortly afterwards, a travel blog to document a 15-country motorcycle trip.

“As I built my online network, I bumped into some internet marketing resources that changed the course of my path up until that point. The most influential person I discovered was James Wedmore, whose mentorship gave me the confidence and clarity to develop my business. This was the kick in the pants I needed to define and flex my entrepreneurial muscles.

“Within 12 months, I’d made six figures and more importantly, built a business that helped female entrepreneurs all around the world. So, I guess you could say I got my start as an entrepreneur a couple years ago once I made the decision to go for it. With a little coaching and a LOT of fear, I went for it and the rest is history!”

17. Amy Schmittauer

“How did I get my start as an entrepreneur? Hard freakin’ work.

“When I realized at my 9-5 that I wanted to work for myself, it was a year and a half before I actually left to make it happen. During that time, I was getting any and all experience I could in my field, on the side of my full-time job. I spent vacation time and extra money on conferences, networking, and working for anyone who would let me help. First for free and then for cheap, until I had confidence in my portfolio and made the leap to focus on my business alone.

“Everyone wants the decision to be easy or great timing, but it never will be. Do the work. Prove you’re going to keep doing the work when you’re the only one in your corner. And then make it happen.”

If you’re ready to start (or grow) your own business, you need to learn how to value yourself. Check out Make More Money and Discover Your Worth, over on CreativeLive.


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