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How Women Entrepreneurs Can Succeed and Still Be Nice

5 tips from the author of 'The Myth of the Nice Girl'


Part of the America’s Entrepreneurs Special Report

Fran Hauser, a startup investor and author of the fine new book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate, has sage advice for women 50+ who want to start a business or have done so. To succeed, you can be pleasant and gritty; collaborative and firm; likable and competent. In other words, you don’t have to quash your “niceness,” Hauser says.

Fran Hauser, author

“There is real power hidden in traits like empathy, kindness and compassion that are undervalued in the business world,” notes Hauser, the former president of digital at People magazine who largely invests in female founders. “I think there’s a tremendous hunger for this kinder style of leadership — and not just among women.”

After reading her book, I spoke with Hauser, 49, to hear more from her on how older women entrepreneurs can build self-confidence, deal with conflict and balance being nice and being strong in their working lives.

5 Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs

Here are five of my favorite strategies from Hauser:

1. Be nice to people, and they will trust you. “Trust allows you to build relationships and being successful in business is all about relationships,” Hauser told me. “If you’re an entrepreneur, relationships are critical. There are relationships with investors and clients. You might be building a team. And that all comes back to relational intelligence. If you are negotiating with an investor, or decision making, it all translates to trust.

“My mother, an Italian immigrant, launched a very successful tailoring business and she showed me how to lead with kindness and strength. She had that velvet glove. She could be very kind, but she could also be very direct when she needed to be. It is that balance of being kind, but at the same time not being wishy washy. It’s being very direct with what you want to get across without being a jerk. You don’t want to burn bridges.

“Every situation you’re in as a business owner, approach it with the mindset that ‘I am going to be kind, but I am also going to be strong. If I have to make a tough call, I am going to make it.’

“I had to make decisions all the time when we were launching People.com and some of them were not popular. One thing I would always do is get input from others which showed them that ‘I care about your opinion. I am going to listen to you.’ But I had to stand in my own two shoes and make my own decision.”

2. Form a mentor circle. “I have a lot of friends who are over 50, had a big job and are now transitioning and launching startups. The thing that I hear the most is that ‘I am just so lonely. I am in my house working on the concept of this business idea. I have people working for me remotely. We do phone calls every once in a while, but I miss not having support around me.’

“I recommend trying to find other entrepreneurs — women and men — where you can get together.

“My friend Lesley Jane Seymour [the former editor of More magazine who recently launched CoveyClub.com for lifelong learners reinventing themselves] did this. She brings together 10 to 15 entrepreneurs. They rotate houses and get together once a month to work together. Some people work in the living room, some in the kitchen. They have speakers come in.

“I regularly host a mentor circle; it’s around 15 women and we will meet for about an hour in a coffee shop or a co-working space. It’s very informal. They end up getting to know each other and support each other.”

In her book’s section about mentoring circles, Hauser writes, “I ask the women to share something they’re working on or struggling with.” She adds: “I give the other women a chance to respond with thoughts on each struggle before adding my own two cents. If it’s not practical or possible for you to host an event like this, try hosting a Skype conference… or even Google Hangouts or Facebook Live.”

3. Create a formal advisory board and a personal board of directors. “If you’re starting a business, I recommend creating a formal advisory board of three or four people. You give some equity to the professionals you ask to join. It can be anywhere from ¼ percent up to 1 percent, and you have the person officially on board as an adviser. That way they have some skin in the game.

“Be very intentional about the kind of support that you need. If you’re building a product that is heavily dependent on technology, but you are a marketer, you probably need to bring a tech-type person on as an adviser.

Even before you start fundraising, have advisers; you don’t even have to call it a board. Be very clear with these advisers about where you need their help. It could be opening doors. It could be helping you fundraise. It could be a functional area like technology. Having advisers gives you credibility when you are going out to fundraise.

Your personal board of directors is a little bit different. For me, it is my husband, my best friend and my executive coach. Those are the people who know me inside and out. They know what drives me. They know my values. They are my sounding board. They are the people I check in with when I am really unsure of what I should be doing.

4. Make time for self-care. “Self-care is something a lot of us struggle with, especially when you are starting a business — which is so all-consuming. For me, I know I do better when I set smaller goals for myself.

“It is so good for me, for example, when I meditate. I see the positive effect, but I don’t have 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night to meditate.  I do my five minutes. I have this great app, meditation studio, and I do it in the morning.

“I don’t want to put pressure on myself and set unrealistic goals around self-care; then I end up feeling guilty and feel bad about myself. I would rather set goals like five minutes a day. With a more manageable goal, you are more likely to have a successful outcome.”

5. Eliminate speech weakeners. “One thing women do to avoid coming across as too aggressive, or even rude, is to apologize. Even when we’ve done nothing wrong. For example, when you have an opinion on something and you say: ‘I might be wrong about this, but…’ We apologize for trivial things. Try to stay away from words like just, I feel and sorry.

“That language puts you in a weak position. Instead of saying, ‘I feel’ say: ‘I know.’ I replaced saying ‘I’m sorry’ with ‘thank you.’ It’s a simple tweak.”

By Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications. She is the author of a dozen books including Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single WomenGreat Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy...and Pays the Bills, Getting the Job You Want After 50, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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