Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Don’t be too shy, too proud, or too scared to ask for help.” Interview with Claire Houston

Interview with Claire Houston, co-founder of Houston & Ko, on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company.

I am an Irish entrepreneur who currently lives and works next to Lake Zurich in Switzerland. Proud co-founder of an all-women start-up, Houston & Ko.

I spent the early part of my career as a project manager, specializing in Digital Transformation within Fortune 500 companies, before meeting my co-founder Paula, leaving the corporate world behind and starting out on the wild journey that is entrepreneurship.

Outside of Houston & Ko, I am an outdoor enthusiast, triathlete, and bookworm.

With Houston & Ko we aim to help other small business owners delegate the most tedious and time-draining tasks and spend their time doing what really matters.

Our specialists have expertise in a wide range of business-supporting skills. They can help organize and manage your day-to-day schedule or even some of your crucial business processes. They can pitch your services to potential clients or help run your social media. They can prepare an amazing business presentation or write articles for the company blog.

What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?

The first steps – The point between incorporating our business and acquiring our first customer seemed so endless and long. That was the hardest phase to get over because we poured everything we had into it, all our free time, our savings, and all the hope we had, without seeing any tangible result. However, getting over that initial period serves as a great litmus test to determine how badly you want it.

We got through it by being a ‘We’. I am lucky to have a wonderful co-founder, Paula for two reasons. The first, being that two founders increases our chance of success, with 30% more investment, tripled customer growth rate, and a 19% reduction in the risk that we scale too fast.

The second and most important is that – it’s really hard to walk this path alone. In that first phase, like every phase after that, Paula and I are able to lift each other up on the days where stress and frustration are getting the better of us.

What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them?

The biggest digital marketing challenge that we have experienced is creating enough engaging content for our social platforms.

Initially, we found it difficult to produce both high-quality and high-volume content for our social platforms and run a business at the same time. With some creative thinking, we discovered a few great strategies to make this process simpler and more effective.

1) Batch content creation: Block time in your calendar each week that is dedicated to creating, collating, or finding great content for the week ahead. Doing this in a weekly session helped us to focus on the purpose of the content and saved us the productivity drain of jumping between tasks on a daily basis.

2) Outsource the operations: While we kept the organic content creation to ourselves we outsourced the scheduling, posting, and SEO optimization to a specialist on our team. This allowed us to maximize the reach of our hand-crafted content to make sure who it was written for, actually gets to see it.

3) Get engaged: Use engagement features such as polls, voting, and question boxes because in 2021 audiences are embracing content that’s interactive and gives them a chance to express their opinions.

Please tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship. 

Professionally, I grew up in Fortune 500 companies, each of which wholly supported, encouraged, and actively sought to help me achieve my early dream of becoming CEO.

However, as I climbed the career ladder, I felt the hand of corporate culture grow heavier on my shoulder. I saw both men and women morph or abandon their identities, values and opinions in order to comply with corporate expectations.

It was the drive to work with others, in an open, egoless, more human environment that led me down the path of entrepreneurship. Now, Paula and I work tirelessly to ensure that we uphold and foster this free-spirited and accepting environment within our company as we work together with our team and our customers.

What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?

Schedule time for ideation – I would start a business I am just waiting for the right idea’, I hear this phrase so often, but to be honest I think only a small minority of businesses are born this way. Instead of waiting for the idea – chase it. Block time on a weekly or monthly basis in your calendar to think about what consumer problems exist, that your skills, experience or knowledge can solve. When you do this exercise frequently you increase the likelihood of coming across a great business idea.

Start before you are ready – Women, in particular, have a tendency to wait until they have ‘enough’. Enough experience, enough knowledge, enough courage to start a business.

It is a terrifying process to start before you are ready, I know that from personal experience, but you can never take the next step until you have taken the first. The only way for you to grow and develop as a business owner is to start. So whether that is buying your domain, publicly advertising your product/service or incorporating today is as good a time as any to take Step 1. 

Don’t be too shy, too proud, or too scared to ask for help – Whether you look for a start-up coach or join a community, actively seek out a way to learn from others who have been in your shoes, fallen down the potholes in the entrepreneurial road and are happy to fill them in for you if you just ask. You will categorically make mistakes – of this, there is no doubt. If you can avoid making the ones everyone else made, you already have a head-start.

Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?

Focus on the goal. Take time to think about your big ambition for your business 2-3 years down the line and envision how that would impact your life. Use this vision as your inspiration and map for the actions you take today, because it is the compounding of these small daily actions that will path the way to your goal.

Run the numbers. Push aside the excitement of your business idea (temporarily at least) to develop a realistic business plan. The numbers will show you if the idea makes sense and you can make a business out of it. This is a tough exercise but will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.

Build a resilient business. Despite having passed what seems to be the heat of the crisis, the business world will continue to be turbulent and volatile. Keep your fixed costs to a minimum by utilizing the freelance market, negotiating flexible terms, and having a diverse customer base. Build a robust, adaptable, and antifragile business model that will be able to thrive in uncertainty.

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