Melissa Barker of Women Entrepreneurs Inc: “Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it’s not happening”

Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it’s not happening We spend so much time working towards “the” thing — the event, the launch, the pitch, the interview, the sales goal — that it feels like there’s always another step to take to reach this certain place you need to be. I wish someone would have told me that every […]

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Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it’s not happening

We spend so much time working towards “the” thing — the event, the launch, the pitch, the interview, the sales goal — that it feels like there’s always another step to take to reach this certain place you need to be.

I wish someone would have told me that every one of those steps is creating a wake — and the people around you are being affected. Don’t always be in anticipation of the end result. Be 100% aware of (and grateful for) the results that you’re creating right now.


As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Barker, Opportunity-Creator for Women Thought Leaders & Founder of Women Entrepreneurs Inc.

After leading marketing strategies for some of the most valuable brands in the world, Melissa Barker transitioned from Fortune 5 to founder. In addition to running her boutique marketing agency — Show and Tell Co. — she is the founder & CEO of Women Entrepreneurs Inc., a membership of women dedicated to helping each other succeed through educational events, an online forum, and curated connections. Learn more about the “women helping women” movement that is creating runway for future women entrepreneurs — and how she began attracting partnerships with Google, Kendra Scott, and Goop.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. From the time I was a little girl, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve always loved brands, storytelling, and clever ads. When I was 10, I saved my allowance to buy Absolut Book.: The Absolut Vodka Advertising Story. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is filled with glossy images of ad campaigns from the iconic brand. After perusing the pages, I was hooked — on the ads, not the vodka.

Armed with an advertising degree from the University of Georgia, I landed a spot at a growing digital firm where I worked for brands like Sears and Mars Petcare. My big break came when our agency won the vitaminwater account. This was my first introduction to its parent company — The Coca-Cola Company — where I would eventually make my way to a position on the Global Design Team.

For 6 years, I worked on some of the most valuable brands in the world — including Diet Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Powerade, and Coke Zero — along with campaigns for The FIFA World Cup and The Olympics.

In 2014, I moved my family to Charleston, South Carolina and started my first business — The Show & Tell Co. — a boutique marketing firm. My new company was designed to help tech companies tell their story.

Craving a network of other women business owners who could help me along, I started my second company, Women Entrepreneurs Inc., a membership organization that meaningfully connects women business owners through events, knowledge sharing, and bartering services. Today, our online platform has over 250+ members across 5 cities, partnerships with Kendra Scott and Goop, event speakers from Google and McKinsey & Co., and a match-making app for curated connections.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

After my first year in business for myself, I hit a breaking point. I wasn’t sleeping, I was glued to my phone checking emails (when I should have been playing with my son), and my already rocky marriage was close to over.

Even though we had done great work for our clients, and I had built a team that I loved, every day seemed to come with a new hurdle — taxes, tech issues, finding new clients while keeping the current ones happy, managing my growing remote team, late paying clients, and so on. There was always more to do than time in the day.

I would often think to myself, “If I could just get access to other women who are further along than me, I know I can be successful!”

I didn’t want to read any more business books, listen to any more podcasts, or sit through any more webinars — I wanted to be connected to women who could help me.

After sharing my idea with a handful of other women business owners, I launched Women Entrepreneurs Inc.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When Women Entrepreneurs Inc. launched, we had instant momentum. The excitement, attendance at events, and willingness of our members to help one another instantly validated our assumption: women WANT to help each other.

What we didn’t realize is that it’s not enough to connect women through a membership — or even to get them into the same room. Why? Our members are not only running companies, they are daughters with aging parents, wives who run households, mothers, volunteers, and community leaders.

We had to find creative ways for women to build relationships and support each other that didn’t require a huge time commitment.

This pushed our team to think creatively about new ways we could serve our members. Ultimately, this lead to the creation of our On-Demand Series (a curated library of pre-recorded, watch-anytime workshops led by hand-selected women thought leaders), a member directory (that allows members to search and sort by location and industry), and an app — MatchMe — which connects ideal members to one another using over 17 data points.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today our membership has expanded into 5 cities, we’ve hosted over 65 women-led events, and we’ve partnered with like-minded brands — such as Kendra Scott.

It would have been really easy for us to take a break from events when the pandemic hit, but we did the opposite. We had committed to 20 events and we hosted every single one — some in-person when it was safe, many virtual.

Our members, speakers, and sponsors can rely on us. They know that we’re the real deal and we’re not going anywhere.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Action.

There’s no shortage of networking groups, support groups, and women’s groups claiming to help you improve your business. We aren’t a portal of outdated resources and checklists, we don’t host events where the best part is the wine, and our speakers are bonafide thought leaders who want to help other women succeed.

We also don’t run fancy marketing campaigns. Instead, we recruit members, speakers, and partners who believe in our mission.

You only need to follow a woman on Instagram to see if she spends time uplifting other women by liking, sharing, and commenting on their posts, giving consults, sending encouraging words, building partnerships, and hosting collaborations — all qualities that our members have in common.

Our mission is for women to become each other’s greatest asset — and that only happens through taking action every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I got a little stumped on this question so I Slacked it to our COO, Anne Winters. She immediately replied, “Offering our membership for 100 dollars.”

At a time where we were encouraging women to know their value and level up their business, here we were undercutting ourselves so severely we barely survived. While we’ve honored that price for our founding members, we’ve doubled it since then.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

One of my favorite women business coaches often uses the phrase “Massive Imperfect Action.” I think this is great advice if you’re someone who tends to overthink things or you suffer from “analysis paralysis.” But, if you’re a visionary, creative, or good at multi-tasking, this can leave you with a bunch of half-baked ideas that flop…like it did for me!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Low-to-no Ego

Sometimes you’re featured in a press article, and other times you get dirt thrown in your face via a disgruntled customer or social media troll. You have to be able to weather both and it starts with forsaking your ego for the good of the mission.

Personal

It was beat into me during my corporate days that it was “business, not personal.” What a load of bull! I spend more time with my team than my fiancé, I stay up nights thinking about our members, I’ve invested my savings into building my company… business is extremely personal. Trying to act otherwise isn’t authentic. And the personal side is where I believe women really exceed.

Vulnerable

I’ve cried in front of my team. I’ve shared moments of being uncertain. I’ve admitted to making mistakes, not being focused, and not prioritizing what’s most important. I don’t feel the need to be any certain way as a leader of our organization because I’m not a guru with a following. I’m a woman who’s using my skills and resources to create a platform for women to help one another.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Set boundaries. Your clients, customers, partners, members, team, and vendors won’t set boundaries for you. It’s your responsibility to decide how much of your time — and your life — goes to the business. Put stakes in the ground, make sure everyone knows them, and don’t waver. I don’t take meetings on Mondays (to avoid the “Sunday Scaries”) or Fridays, and I don’t work after my son gets home from school. Boundaries build mutual respect and allow you to be the visionary which is what your company needs most.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Too many tools! Don’t over-engineer your business from day one. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one. Grow your tech as your business demands and the growth will guide what you need next. Trying to anticipate every need from day one is like trying to chart a course without knowing the destination.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

The sacrifices. I wrote a blog post once about the sacrifices I’ve made as an entrepreneur, losing my marriage, giving up time with my son, and that entrepreneurship — despite being one of the greatest joys of my life — can be downright difficult. Many women (and men) praised me in the comments for being honest, but a couple of women criticized me for “scaring away women from pursuing their dreams.” I didn’t post for at least 6 months after that, I’m still getting my backbone when it comes to these things. But, I believe in a balanced narrative when it comes to being a business owner, and that’s why I wanted to be part of this unique series.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Your ideas are terrible

As an entrepreneur, you’re always full of ideas! I wish someone had told me that not all of them are good ones. First, you should sleep on it. Then, answer these two questions: 1. Does it directly advance your mission? 2. Is it revenue-generating? If it’s not a yes to both, table it for a season.

2. Your business doesn’t have to consume your life

I learned way too late that being successful doesn’t mean your business has to be the center of your universe. You can carve out space for your business, your family, your hobbies, for volunteering, for traveling… whatever is important to you. Everything won’t always stay balanced, but you can find harmony. (My good friend, Shennice Cleckley taught me that!)

3. There are no medals awarded for “most emails read and responded to.”

The worst habit I made while working in corporate was being obsessed with “inbox zero.” As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing more important than what YOU decide needs to be done that day. Don’t let your inbox rule your business!

4. Business is personal

Don’t create a landing page, social media campaign, and 3-part email nurture sequence when you can schedule 20 virtual coffees with people who believe in your mission and want to see you succeed. Leverage your network first.

5. Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it’s not happening

We spend so much time working towards “the” thing — the event, the launch, the pitch, the interview, the sales goal — that it feels like there’s always another step to take to reach this certain place you need to be.

I wish someone would have told me that every one of those steps is creating a wake — and the people around you are being affected. Don’t always be in anticipation of the end result. Be 100% aware of (and grateful for) the results that you’re creating right now.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need connectivity and human touch now more than ever. How about a successful ‘Hands Across America (v2.0)’ but not just America, the World (in masks?). Who knows? Why not?

How can our readers further follow you online?

LI: linkedin.com/in/womenhelpingwomen/

FB:facebook.com/womenentrepreneursinc

IG:@women.entrepreneurs.inc

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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