Shennice Cleckley of Smart Cookie: “Knowing and accepting yourself saves time, money and lots of headaches”

Knowing and accepting yourself saves time, money and lots of headaches. Let me explain, I often use a SWOT analysis to help women assess where they are in life. Using the SWOT as a guide, you are able to build from your strengths, hire for your weaknesses, learn from your opportunities and create a risk […]

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Knowing and accepting yourself saves time, money and lots of headaches. Let me explain, I often use a SWOT analysis to help women assess where they are in life. Using the SWOT as a guide, you are able to build from your strengths, hire for your weaknesses, learn from your opportunities and create a risk analysis from your threats.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shennice Cleckley. Shennice is the Founder and Lead Strategist for Smart Cookie, a business development firm based in South Carolina. She is highly acclaimed for her business acumen and innovative strategies that help female entrepreneurs achieve profitable businesses and better work-life harmony. Shennice makes use of each entrepreneur’s personal strengths and business goals to build holistic strategic plans powered with actionable revenue, operations, and marketing tactics that produce successful results.


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?

My backstory is similar to many female entrepreneurs, I started a business out of necessity. I got laid off from my corporate job and moved back home to start over. My full time entrepreneurial journey began in 2003 with 50 dollars and a dream of owning a chocolate shop and bookstore. When I sought mentorship, I was told my vision was not a viable business model. It wasn’t until his wife showed him the light of day did he start to value me as a female founder. Fast forward 18 years and now I help other female founders find their success

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I was a baker, it wasn’t uncommon for savory food caterers to hire me to do the desserts for their clients. This one time I was asked to produce cake pops that were blinged out. Unlike other times, I had to present the blinged out pops before they would purchase. So I created them and the savory caterer loved them and ordered several dozen. Turns out the cake pops were for the Beyonce and Jay-Z On the Run Tour. I had no idea! Now I can officially say I cooked for Bey and Jay.

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?

I made the mistake of underestimating the amount of food I needed for an event. I was hired to make desserts for 100 students at the local university. Catering for 100 was not a big deal. I had done it many times before. What I didn’t foresee was that all the food I prepared would be eaten in less than 30 minutes for a 2 hour event. Luckily my bakery wasn’t far and I was able to go get more desserts to last the rest of the event. Even the event organizers were stunned. Here’s the lesson for a lifetime. College students have huge appetites. I also learned to view each client differently and not with a cookie cutter formula. This is still true for me today. Each client is unique and I treat them as such.

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 have had several great mentors in my career yet my biggest supporter has been my husband LeBrian. He has supported me financially, emotionally and spiritually. I know he doesn’t quite understand everything involved with my day to day activities yet he takes the time to listen to me and all my client stories. He promotes me in his own networks and celebrates my accomplishments. I don’t think I would have achieved as much as I have without him by my side.

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?

Women are like spaghetti noodles. One noodle can touch everything in the bowl and still remain in tack. As women, we touch so many aspects of life; family, friends, community. Adding in the responsibility of founding a company is a heavy load especially when the traditional way of running a business tells women to drop everything and give total dedication to the business. For many women, that’s not feasible therefore they do not start the company they’ve been dreaming of for fear of losing the life they have for the life they are not sure will work out. It’s a personal and professional risk.

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?

Let me start at the individual level. If you are a woman who has a desire to start a business, know that it is ok to do it your way. That may mean part time or even as a side hustle. The key factor is to figure out what is the most important to you and work your business around your life, not your life around your business. It’s not an all or nothing concept. You don’t have to choose your business or your family. You can have it all with a supportive community, an abundance mindset, and proper business mentorship. Society and the government should realize that women build businesses differently. Our superpowers of nurture and feminine leadership (thanks Abbey Gibb) combined with tried and true business strategies and principles make us a powerhouse.

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?

Female founders enhance society holistically. While we are definitely concerned about the bottom line, cash is queen, our ability to connect on an emotional level helps to develop communities where everyone is connected and engaged. Our determination keeps us going when times get hard. Also women founders can do more with less and produce better results. We are bootstrap queens.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the biggest myths I hear is that women are not confident. This is simply not true. Women are just as ambitious as our male counterparts. The lack of access and career flexibility have placed women in a position where our leadership confidence is not easily showcased.

Another myth is that motherhood is a disadvantage to leadership. Now honestly, if breaking up sibling fights, being responsible for the lives of vulnerable humans, meal planning for the month and budgeting an entire household on a salary that is less than your male partner doesn’t display leadership abilities then what does.

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?

I don’t believe everyone is cut out to be a founder yet I do believe everyone has the ability to lead. I often tell folks that if you require consistent money flow, strongly resist change, and desire a more conservative path to success then you may not want to start a business. Founders are visionaries, risk takers and resilient. Founders understand that everyday won’t be the same and sometimes they have to leap before they can have all the answers. Founders have to bounce back quickly when things don’t go as expected and be willing to learn from the failure without letting go of the goal.

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.)

Here are my top 5 things you need to thrive and succeed as a woman founder. A video of these can be seen here.

  1. Knowing and accepting yourself saves time, money, and lots of headaches. Let me explain, I often use a SWOT analysis to help women assess where they are in life. Using the SWOT as a guide, you are able to build from your strengths, hire for your weaknesses, learn from your opportunities and create a risk analysis from your threats.
  2. You need a supportive community. We are not meant to be alone. Women thrive in communities that are rich in resources. I remember the first time I joined a women’s organization. My original intent was to increase my network. Soon I realized I craved deeper connection. I also felt more empowered because I felt a sense of belonging. These women provided me with an environment in which I could flourish safely and confidently.
  3. Always be a student. Consistent professional and personal development helps you gain tools you need as you evolve and grow. Personally, I feel that the more I learn the more I am able to succeed. When I wanted to gain more clients. I enrolled in a sales group coaching program to gain the sales skills I lacked. By the end of that program I not only learned about sales but I also gained a new community of 12 female founders who supported me.
  4. An abundance mindset is everything. What your mind visualizes your body follows. I know these sounds woo but it’s real. If you believe you’re not confident then you are not. If you believe you are successful then you are. This is what I call a scarcity vs. abundance mindset. A scarcity mindset tells you there is not enough business, money or resources to go around. An abundance mindset is when you understand that there is more than enough for everyone. When you are abundant, you know that what is for you is for you. You are not tempted to do things that are unscrupulous or be envious. An abundant mindset leads to more confidence and personal fulfillment.
  5. Finally to thrive there has to be a belief in something bigger than you, a faith center. This doesn’t mean you are religious. It’s the belief that you are not the center of the universe and your actions affect more than just you. This breeds humility and gratitude. And in turn, leads to more collaboration, integrity, and respect for others.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I pray I make the world a better place with the way I live my life. I feel like being a living example is the best way. I make a point to share my knowledge freely. I factor my time to include community service to causes I believe in and I also use my voice for those who feel they don’t have a voice. What good is having success if you don’t use it to help others.

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.

This is a tough question. I would inspire a movement that would help people be more hopeful and optimistic. I’d call it Project Rose Colored Glasses. The world seems to be losing hope. It’s getting harder and harder for people to find the good in everyday life. If more people had hope then they could focus on making things better. They wouldn’t give up until a breakthrough and solutions happen.

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.

OMG yes! There are two mentors I consult in my head; Earvin Johnson and Sheila Johnson. Both of them started their businesses from scratch and built empires.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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