Crystal clear, niched down business model and vision. You need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and whom you are serving.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Gordon.
Michele Gordon is a New Orleans, Louisiana born, Southern California based Sales and Business Development Consultant. She is the founder of Lagniappe Digital Consulting, a boutique agency that works with small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to consistently grow revenue by developing and implementing sustainable online sales strategies and processes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As with many others, my college education was not aligned with where my career landed! I fell into the hospitality business as I needed a job with insurance and flexible schedules as I worked my way through college. I loved it so much I never left! Over the years I worked in a couple of hospitality companies across several disciplines. I had a knack at uncovering and resolving revenue “blind spots”, effectively pricing products and services, achieving sales and revenue goals and expense targets. On the side, I would periodically advise small business owners by applying the same skills. While the SMEs were not in the hospitality industry, similar problems and opportunities existed. However, I realized the resolutions were more impactful with small businesses. I found it so fulfilling and satisfying that I decided to start my own business to apply these skills with more SMEs. It’s the absolute best to see the results of our hard work and hear clients “Okay, we did it! What’s next?”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s taking twists and turns in areas I didn’t predict. In the corporate world I’m often required to push forward a corporate voice. In the entrepreneurial space, clients are seeking my voice, including my directness and rich knowledge. It’s refreshing to bring the “full” Michele to the conversation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh, I still shake my head when I think of this one. I have two clients in the similar line of work. I happen to begin working with both businesses on the same day. As part of the on-boarding process, each client must complete a questionnaire, which is used as the building block for future activities. One of those activities is an assessment. Unfortunately, when completing their assessments, I mixed up the answers to the questionnaire. I was lucky…I caught the mistake in final review before presenting to the client. My lesson learned: I should have taken the time to automate some of my administrative processes earlier. It saves time, allows for efficiency, and now helps to avoid what could have been a disaster with two clients!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I give thanks to my aunt, Dorothy Nicholas. While she is not in my industry, her influence throughout my life has been pivotal, especially as a woman of color. She has always encouraged me to try something new; reminds me that if I pay attention to the lesson in failures it will reveal the steps toward success. She has consistently shown me that paving a path to achieve my goals was limited only by my belief that it could get done. I consider her one of my most valued advisors.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Funding, support and fear of failure. On a daily basis, most women wear multiple hats, and many people rely upon them. They fear taking on additional responsibilities of founding a business will diminish their ability to successfully wear their existing hats and run a company. Failure affects multiple people and result in loss of money. To change this mindset, women need money to help get their business off the ground and support to ensure their household continues to thrive. We need more women business owners willing to share their story on how they have been able to make it all work.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
It would be great if companies with available investing funds would purposely earmark a decent percentage of the funds specifically to women owned businesses. Outline a concerted effort to seek out women owned businesses. A roadmap of “each one, teach one” mentorship nationwide is needed.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
More women need to realize this one important thing: they are already doing the work, but not realizing satisfaction, pay or recognition. Start your own business and lead the way. Step forward and be the example for young girls until women owned businesses are viewed as the norm and not an exception. Change will happen when we deliberately shift the focus.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
- Women owned businesses can’t be successful without a male co-founder. I’ve had several people falsely assume that I’m the face of the company and my husband is the behind the scenes “brains” of the company. What a silly, outdated mid-1900’s thought.
- It does not happen overnight. As I reflect, my first detailed notes for my business were written out in late 2017. Take time and do it at your pace when it’s right for you.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Self-motivation, leading and perseverance are among the many traits required to be a successful founder. There are times when the only thing that will get you through the day is believing in yourself and your vision when no one else does.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Crystal clear, niched down business model and vision. You need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and whom you are serving.
2. Partner and subcontract the work out where it makes sense. While you may not have “employees”, there’s no need to do all the work alone.
3. Continue to learn. Success requires understanding new technology, trends and the ever-shifting landscape.
4. Be Patient. The journey isn’t short, it will take time.
5. Share your story. It will not only help to reaffirm your “why”, it will help attract your ideal customer and support network.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place? Yes. At every level of growth, I seek to turn around, extend my hand and pull another woman up with me. In turn, they repeat the practice. We are elevating and changing the lives of entire families.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d like to develop a mentorship program for minority women business owners. The shared knowledge will help lift everyone’s knowledge level and ability to realize their dream.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Mellody Hobson. She is a bad ass businesswoman who has successfully made it to the top of a business dominated by men.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.