Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Get very clear on why you are starting a business.” Interview with Cheri Andrews

Interview with Cheri Andrews, Esq. and author of 'Smooth Sailing – A Practical Guide to Legally Protecting Your Business', on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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

First and foremost, I am a mother, wife, and friend. I have three daughters, all launched now and successful in their own right. I’m so proud of them! 

Second, I am a solo practice small business attorney and author of Smooth Sailing – A Practical Guide to Legally Protecting Your Business. I work primarily with female-owned/operated solopreneurs and microbusinesses to help ensure that they and their businesses are legally protected. 

My business model is somewhat unique: I work virtually and use flat rate and subscription fee models that take the fear out of legal fees. No hourly rates, no worries about what the bill will be at the end of the month! The entire process is less intimidating for people who aren’t used to working with an attorney and don’t have the budget to work with a larger law firm. 

Using a holistic approach and the touchstones of integrity, creativity, and empathy, I partner with clients to address their legal & business concerns – including concerns they may not be aware of! We take the time to fully explore the client’s business model, short-term goals, and long-term business goals and objectives. Together we weigh legal risk against business objectives, supporting informed decisions to further business goals. The process provides peace of mind, knowing that the business is legally protected. 

My areas of focus include business formation, contracts, policies, copyright, and trademark.

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 biggest obstacle I faced was figuring out how to spread the word about my business and get clients. Coming from the corporate world, I didn’t know many small business owners and wasn’t sure where to start. Simply building a website does not produce paying customers! 

The solution for me was networking, networking, networking!  As a card-carrying introvert, the concept of networking was scary, but learning to view it as simply having conversations with interesting people changed the way I felt about networking.  

Starting a business during a pandemic had the unintended benefit of allowing me to begin my networking journey via Zoom from the security of my home. I joined several networking groups, mastered my 30-second pitch, and learned to make connections. Now I find the process fun and rewarding!

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

When you first start a business as a solopreneur, you wear all the hats, from CEO to bookkeeper, to social media marketer to the janitor. Some of these hats are a comfortable fit with skill-sets you already have, others . . . not so much. 

Digital marketing was not part of my personal skill set. There were so many buzz words I didn’t know or understand – nurture sequences, funnels, SEO, boosting posts, ads, etc.  Like many entrepreneurs, I had no budget to hire someone to do marketing for me. I faced this challenge by taking some online classes on digital marketing. After listening to a lot of different (and often conflicting) advice, I made the conscious choice NOT to be on every platform.  I chose instead to focus on two platforms and do them well, to the best of my ability. This is still a work in progress, but I am learning and growing in the process. 

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

Throughout my legal career – sixteen years in law firm practice followed by sixteen years as in-house general counsel – I have always had a side hustle. From making and selling crafts, to eight years in direct sales in the scrapbooking industry while also running my own t-shirt design business, to owning a booth in an antique mall – I understand the trials and tribulations of small business. 

When my position as in-house counsel was eliminated due to corporate restructuring, I had the option of seeking a new corporate position or taking the leap into entrepreneurship. That leap was a scary prospect. Having a side hustle is not the same thing as relying on your business to replace your former corporate salary and benefits and is not a decision to be undertaken lightly.

I spent time doing some soul searching to figure out what was really most important to me. In the end, it came down to this – whatever I did next in life had to really matter.  I wanted to know that my work would truly be of service to others. I wanted to put some good out into the world – to give back for all the years of abundance that I enjoyed. I wanted to be excited about getting up and “going to work” every morning. Once I had that clarity, moving into entrepreneurship felt like a foregone conclusion.

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

My approach to this question is a bit pragmatic (hey, I’m an attorney, right?). The three most important things a woman should do when starting a business include:

Get very clear on why you are starting a business – what product/service will you offer?  Who are your ideal clients? What will you charge? Does it have the potential to be a profitable venture? Do the research, write the business plan!

Get financial help. Talk to an accountant about the needs of your new business. Learn how to properly set up your business books and accounts and maintain them, or pay to have that work done. You will have a very hard time being profitable if you don’t understand your numbers.

Get legal help. Make sure your business is set up correctly from the outset. You may not even be aware of all the things you need to be addressing legally – from what form of business entity you want to use, to contracts for your services, to making sure your email marketing is legally compliant and your website has a privacy policy – there are things every small business owner needs in place to be legally protected.

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

First, get clear on your definition of success – we may each have a different view of what that means. Once you know what success means to you, you can outline the steps to get there.

Second, network! Spread the word, get yourself known. People can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist.

Third, make sure your business is built on a solid foundation. This includes legal, insurance, finances, and taxes. If you don’t understand your numbers, you can put yourself out of business by consistently spending over your income. Or failing to correctly pay your tax obligations. If you don’t understand your legal obligations, you can make a simple mistake or oversight that can put you out of business – one lawsuit could bankrupt your business – and that would be a shame if it was for something that was easily avoidable with the proper legal protections.

Finally, while you are building your business, remember to take care of yourself! If you push yourself too hard you will burn out and not enjoy the benefits of entrepreneurship. You can end up resenting your business and wonder why you started it in the first place. Most of us start down the entrepreneurship path in order to have more control of our time – so don’t allow your business to take over your life. Schedule and protect time on your calendar for yourself! Which will allow you to give your clients the best of you… not just what’s left of you.  Consider that a win-win-win – you benefit, your business benefits, your clients benefit – all because you took the time to take care of YOU!

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