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Tips for Women Business Owners — By Women Business Owners

Are you a woman business owner looking for some inspiration, advice and support from like-minded women? We’ve got you! We interviewed five fierce American Family Insurance agency owners who are dominating their dream.

Keep in mind, these women didn’t jump into a sea of success right away — it took hard work, determination and a fearless dreamer mindset to get where they are today. And guess what? Just like you, they’re working passionately every day to continue growing, learning and finding ways to stay motivated to reach their bottom line.

From rationalizing fears and overcoming challenges to staying motivated and having work-life balance, these five women business owners have some advice for you — take a look!

Never Let Anything Get in Your Way

If you’ve ever used inexperience as an excuse to not go after a dream, you might have a change of heart after hearing Leticia Guzman’s story, an agency owner who says her career started because of her naivety.


Leticia Guzman

When she applied for a local American Family agency, she was young, inexperienced and admittedly underqualified. But above all else — she was fearless. “I was a little naïve, I didn’t know any better. But I knew I was not going to allow myself to fail. That’s really the only expectation I gave myself.”

Leticia was in the mindset that she was young enough to fall on her face and recover, saying, “I had nothing to lose, but everything to gain.”

And gain she did. Leticia got the job, worked her way up and opened her own agency in Waukesha, WI, in 2007. Having this mentality — one where you let nothing get in your way — has stuck with Leticia throughout her years as a business owner.

Upon going to her first district meeting, she was reminded that it is a heavily male-dominant industry. However, Leticia, who is not only a woman business owner but a Latina business leader as well, was not phased by entering an industry as a minority. When it comes to how gender or race affects her role as a business owner, she says, “I don’t pay attention to the facts that don’t matter. I am no different. If anything, I’m going to utilize it somehow in my benefit.”

Like anyone who owns a business, there are challenges Leticia faces, but she uses them to her advantage. “I happen to love a challenge and use it as motivation.” She credits her support system and teammates for helping her overcome these challenges. “Different people bring different perspectives. I think that was one of the biggest changes I’ve had throughout my career — branching out and saying it’s okay to ask for perspective and ask for help.”

Part of what makes Leticia a great leader at work is the experience she had when she first started out and watched how the office was managed. While she respected the way the office was ran, the natural-born leader in her kept a tally of things she would do differently if she owned her own business. “I would always take notes on what kind of atmosphere I would create and what kind of opportunities I would create for my team.”

Now, Leticia believes the growth she sees on her team — both personally and professionally — is her favorite aspect of being an agency owner. “Being able to watch them grow financially to where they can buy a bigger house or the boat they’ve dreamed of or expand their families while still working here — that’s huge for me because I know how much it takes to get those things. I want to help them work smarter, not harder. I wouldn’t be able to experience those things if I wasn’t an agency owner.

When asked what key traits she thinks a woman needs to be a successful business owner, two words came to Leticia’s mind: resilience and confidence.

“There are countless traits you can have to be successful, but I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have resilience. You’ve got to be ready to keep working hard and be confident — even when you don’t always feel confident.” With a laugh she goes onto say, “Someone once told me ‘you gotta fake it til you make it’ and that has always stuck with me. Maybe you’re younger or maybe you don’t have a lot of experience as another, but we can fake it til we make it.

Leticia has come a long way from that young, eager girl who walked into the agency and wasn’t going to leave until she was dragged out (her words, not ours!). And to this day, she continues to approach each day with a fearless attitude with a little help from her secret to success.

“My passion is helping people. I know what I can do for people and I know it very well. I’m willing to put in the work to get the results I’m looking for. To be honest with you, that’s the secret to my success: I have a passion that drives me.”

Leticia’s 5 Tips for Successful Women Business Owners

  1. Create goals with your team and fight for them. If you need to change the plan, do so. Just don’t change the goal. When you reach your goal... Celebrate!
  2. Asking for help and perspective is ok! Some of my greatest growth has come from learning from people that are better than me.
  3. There is nothing more constant than change — so be ready to shift. You cannot possibly stay still.
  4. The greatest growth comes from doing things that make us uncomfortable — challenge yourself to do something each day that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  5. Each day write out what you WILL get done and what you WANT to get done — adjust as needed.

Work-Life Balance as a Women Business Owner

Christina Smith-Gallagher was six-weeks pregnant when the doors of her agency first opened in 2011 in Lodi, Wisconsin. She admits fear crept in, and she questioned how she’d manage a new family while growing her new business — but she didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her dream. After all, being a fearless dreamer means you acknowledge the fear, but you rise above it.

Christina_Smith

Christina was inspired by her stepfather, who owned an insurance agency, to open her own business. She grew up witnessing him become a pillar of the community and recognized the flexibility it afforded him — he was able to manage a healthy work-life balance and prioritize his family.

Now, Christina is resolute about maintaining work-life balance at her agency. She says, “My kids will always be my first priority. If they’re ill, I’m working from home.” She says the same goes for her team because balance is one of the values at her agency, “The balance can be tricky, but with the right staff on board and the accountability process in place, it works.

When pursuing a passion like running your own business, it’s important to have a support system you can lean on and trust in order to succeed. Christina says her support system is her agency team, “I rely heavily on my team. We support each other both professional and personally.”

That team support comes in handy, especially when facing new challenges. When asked how she overcomes difficult situations as a business owner, Christina credits her team’s adaptability. “It’s really important to have the ability to adapt. For instance, when our office shut down and we moved to working remotely due to the pandemic, we made the change. We made it fast and we’ve done it successfully.” Whatever challenges Christina and her team face, they learn from them and adjust their business processes as needed.

When it comes to staying motivated as a business owner, Christina believes seeing her hard work pay off adds fuel to her fire. She says, “It feels good to exceed goals or expectations — that keeps me motivated.” She goes onto say, “I also think it’s really important for my children to see that it’s possible to run a successful business and still make family a top priority.”

If there’s one piece of advice Christina hopes other women business owners walk away with from her story, it’s to prioritize having a solid work-life balance. Knowing where your priorities lay and focusing on what’s most valuable during your workday will help bring balance into your life.

Christina’s 5 Tips for Successful Women Business Owners

  1. Be driven — as a business owner, you carve the path to your own success.
  2. You can succeed with the right foundations in place.
  3. Take the time to hire the right staff — be patient and thoughtful.
  4. Make sure your team is all working towards the same vision and definition of success for your company.
  5. Have a good support system in place, like your team, fellow small business owners, financial advisors and family.


Ask Yourself, “Why Not?”

When Keri Jones, an American Family Insurance agency owner in Atchison, Kansas, found out she inspired one of her customers to open their own business, she was shocked — and proud! Keri is a successful woman in what’s predominantly a men’s industry in her town, and Keri’s ability to shine as a booming business owner served as motivation to the customer that she too could thrive as a business owner. This goes to show that as a woman business owner, you have the capacity to create a spark to ignite someone else’s dream — whether you realize it or not.

keri_jones_agent

Keri knows just how important the right encouragement can be when working towards a goal. Growing up, she was told that she could be anything she wanted to be — and that mindset stuck with her as she entered adulthood and realized she wanted to own her own business.

Her entrepreneurial endeavors kicked off when she opened a salon and a commercial bakery, both of which she ran out of her home — at the same time — so she could be with her kids. It certainly was a tough grind with long hours during the time she ran her two businesses, and while she was doing something she loved, she felt there was a better calling for her out there.

In 2012, she had the opportunity to become an agent in training (AIT) for a retiring agent and Keri thought to herself “Why not?” She could still run her own business, narrow her careers down to one job and spend more time with her kids. As Keri put it, “This was the opportunity of a lifetime!”

This shift in careers was a leap for Keri and she had her doubts. Nonetheless, she chose to go for it and take on whatever obstacles got in the way. Keri says, “Starting this business was scary because I had never done anything like this before… Would I know enough to actually be successful as an insurance agent and agency owner?”

Now, it’s hard to believe she questioned her abilities at all. Keri says the most rewarding part of her job is having people come into her office because someone referred her. “I’d have people come into the office and say to me that their friend, sister, brother, mother, father, etc., told them to come talk to me about insurance because I’d explain it to them in a way they could understand it. That is the best!”

Keri is a great example of how being a successful, determined and driven woman business owner can inspire others who might need that little push out the door. She also exemplifies how to be flexible with your game plan, and that sometimes putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation to find the right fit can pay off. “It’s really about being able to be flexible and learn from as many different resources as you possibly can.”

Keri’s 5 Tips for Successful Women Business Owners:

  1. Just go for it! Don’t be afraid of failing.
  2. Never give up! If it’s important to you, just keep working at it.
  3. Be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge and information you can.
  4. Plans can change in the blink of an eye — be flexible.
  5. Be confident! Even when you don’t feel like you have self-confidence, put yourself out there and good things will come.

The Power of Positivity

Adrena Bacon, agency owner in Chicago, Illinois looks for the silver lining when it comes to a bad situation. When she reflects on 2020 and how the pandemic affected her business, she only notes the positive. “I’m proud of how my staff and I adjusted with working remotely. It resulted in us having the best year so far as a company. I’m also proud of the strong bond we’ve built with our clients. Since the world has slowed down, it gave us more time to reconnect with our clients and get to know them on a totally different level — their hopes, dreams and even fears.”

Adrena

Adrena’s optimistic outlook is influential and there’s a lesson to take away from it: overcoming a challenging situation is all about perspective. The catalyst for her confident and positive perspective stems from growing up watching her father succeed. When asked if she faced any fears opening a business of her own as a woman, Adrena admittedly had none, crediting her father for her fearlessness. “He owned his own business, went to school and raised a family — instilling in his children a mentality of working hard towards the things you want in life.”

To stay motivated to be successful as a woman business owner, Adrena avidly reads and listens to motivational speakers. She also bounces ideas off other colleagues and says never be afraid to ask for help. “If you don’t know the answer, keep asking! There’s always someone out there who knows.”

While Adrena isn’t hesitant to ask for help when needed, she’s accumulated an arsenal of skills and knowledge of her own in her twenty-plus years as a business owner. Another piece of advice Adrena shares is to continuously sharpen your skillset. “I think you must keep retooling yourself with new skills on how to do business. It’s forever changing. You must always be ready for change and know how to motivate your staff to change with you — never forgetting they also want to know what’s in it for them.” It’s important to recognize that your staff has goals of their own. Keeping them in the loop, motivating them to be their best and have them passionately on your side is key to success as a business

Adrena’s 5 Tips for Successful Women Business Owners

  1. Write your goals down and review them daily — stick them on post-it notes on your bathroom mirror!
  2. Listen to something positive before you start your day.
  3. Remind yourself daily why you started.
  4. Plan your day — have a road map or agenda so you know where you’re going.
  5. Have a growth mindset — never stop learning!
Kendra

Before opening her own business, Kendra took time to gain some experience in sales and startups. I've surrounded myself with smart and not-so-smart people throughout my sales career and you learn a lot from both — how to be and how not to be!” She soaked in everything she could and eventually, this led to her opening her own American Family Insurance agency in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2005.

Kendra admits that, even though everyone has some type of fear when embarking on adventures, “fear is a sign that you’re challenging yourself to get after new things!” We celebrate Kendra’s motivated mentality — doesn’t it make you want to get out there and try something you’ve never done before? The next time you experience an obstacle on your dream pursuit, think like Kendra, and remind yourself that it just means you’re experiencing the rush of something new!

She also points out that, not only is there fear to overcome when owning a business, but there are also oppositions you’ll encounter. “Whether you’re a business owner or employee, you have challenges within your workday. The primary difference is that as a business owner you’re responsible for others, like your employees. Business owners want to make sure not only their customers are taken care of, but also their employees are happy and finding success.”

Kendra says one of the most rewarding parts of owning her own business is being a part of her employees’ successes. She loves helping, fostering and observing them grow professionally.

“I’ve learned over the years that if I take the ‘me’ out of a problem and focus on those involved, those impacted and those seeking help, the challenge gets resolved rather than dissolved.” This mindset — we before me — is key to creating a working environment with passionate people who genuinely want to help you reach your bottom line. As Kendra puts it, “There is nothing solo about success.”

Being a woman in business specifically has its own set of hurdles to overcome. But Kendra says some thick skin and strategy helps. “Just like everyone else, you have to learn to roll with things, pick your battles and take that fire in your belly and use it as fuel to display success!”

She also believes that confidence, willpower, persistency and hyper-focused behaviors are key traits to have as a woman who wants to be successful. She credits her immense amount of drive and persistency to keeping her motivated. Her suggestion is to find things you can be proud of. “My proudest agency moments are each time we’re able to help our community through philanthropy. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Kendra’s 5 Tips for Successful Women Business Owners

  1. Be a risk taker — don’t worry, eventually your risks will be more calculated.
  2. Create a diverse team. Don’t hire people just like you! Hire team members that have skills and experiences that you don’t have.
  3. Passion alone cannot withstand the ebbs and flows of marketing, so make sure your business strategy is just as strong as your passion.
  4. When you’re working, you need to 100% hyper-focus on work. When at home, stay hyper-focused on family. Your strategic attention ensures your business nor family ever get cheated of quality time with you and your energy.
  5. Keep your pulse on future trends to stay relevant — study your industry, competitors and observe other business owners’ actions, successes and failures.

Whatever your dreams are, we hope these stories inspired you to pursue what you’ve been dreaming about. And if you’re looking to get protection for your small business aspirations, get in touch with your local agent to see how they can help you champion your dreams.

Support for Your Dream

Finding the right support as a women-owned business can make all the difference. From family to employees to peers and countless other resources available — support can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. At American Family, we’re here to be a go-to support system for you with our helpful resources and articles that can help you passionately pursue your dreams.


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Related Topics: Agent and Employee Stories , Community Involvement