Start Your Own Damn Fire (and Keep It Going)

Photo by Sarah Cocina.

Photo by Sarah Cocina.

This is a recap of our second town hall in Burlington, Vermont: Taking the Plunge, moderated by Ladies Get Paid ambassador and leadership coach Joanne Jastatt. Burlington's most entrepreneur-curious ladies showed up to take notes, brainstorm, and learn from some women in Vermont who have made the leap from employee to business-owner. Thanks to Sarah Cocina for photographs, Cabot Cheese for the snacks, and panelists C. Paige Hinkson, Natalie Miller, Jessica Bridge, and Gwen Pokalo for the inspiration.

By Lindsay Warner

When comedian Natalie Miller started raising capital for a brick-and-mortar comedy club in downtown Burlington, an investor she approached told her: “You don’t really look like a comedy club owner.” (Her silent answer: “And what, exactly, does a comedy-club owner look like?”) She didn’t get the money.

When hospitality pro-turned-realtor Jessica Bridge opened her first bar in her early twenties, she took out a zero-interest loan with a business partner she hardly knew. When he suddenly skipped town, she was left holding the bag—and with a busy bar to run, all on her own. She often ended up sleeping in the corner booth with a tablecloth for a blanket, just to keep up with the breakneck pace.

And when Paige Hinkson first started her corporate consulting business, she spent years feeling like she had to overcompensate for her youth and relative inexperience to the (mostly male) execs she was working with. Women’s business advocate and consultant Gwen Pokalo felt a similar drive—to the point where she realized she was giving away her services for free.

We get it: Starting a business is hard. And starting a business as a woman is even harder. But here’s the thing: the more ladies run the world, the more ladies get paid. So we were thrilled to see so many entrepreneur-curious women at last week’s town hall who were interested in launching their own businesses (or who already had). Here’s some of the advice we picked up along the way. 

1. Know your numbers—backward and forward. 
Natalie Miller is the business and operations brain of the Vermont Comedy Club, while her husband—and co-owner—is the creative brain. Yet when she and her husband were in the process of raising the $500,000 they needed to start the business, potential investors would often direct questions about finances to Nathan—and Nathan only. “So I would just keep answering back, because I’m the numbers person,” Natalie says. “You have to know your numbers—like, really know your numbers. There’s no second-guessing yourself in front of investors, or you’ll lose credibility.”

2. Recognize that there will be ups and downs.
Paige Hinkson used to start each new year worried sick about her consulting business because her phone wasn’t ringing. But after a few years, she noticed a pattern: business was slow Every. Single. January. (Hint: it takes a while for that New Year’s resolution to “hire a business consultant” to kick in.) So now, “instead of worrying, I go skiing for the month of January instead,” Hinkson says. “I return to my office refreshed and ready to get back to business, instead of sitting at my desk for a month wondering why no one was calling.”

3. Be picky—really picky—about choosing a business partner.
Jessica Bridge co-owns a boutique real-estate company in Burlington—and she and her business partner, Dan, go to therapy together. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for business,” she says simply. She’s learned that having a parther you can communicate well with is incredibly important to the success of your business. 

4. Don’t underestimate your own value.
When Gwen Pokalo first started consulting, she went above and beyond—way beyond. “I was creating these one-hour introductory meetings with clients where I would offer a ton of value in order to convince people they needed my help—but then they would never call me back again. I’d given away everything in that first meeting.” As program director for the Center for Women & Enterprise Vermont, Gwen is now in the position of helping other women value their worth and get paid for their time. All of it. “Don’t feel you have to overcompensate in business, just because you’re a woman,” she says.

5. Practice self-care.
All four women on the panel spoke up about the value of practicing self-care and separating business from work…and all four admitted to being guilty of ignoring their own advice. “I live with my business partner!” Natalie says. “It’s hard to leave it at work.” It took having a child for Jessica to figure out that she needed more yoga in her life to restore her sanity, while Paige relies on the power of creating good habits to remind her to take a break. “Don’t rely on your willpower; make it a ritual—and do it with other people so you hold yourself accountable,” she says.

6. Ask questions.
It’s easier to stay silent and fake understanding when you don’t really know what you’re doing. “Don’t,” Paige says. “When I have no clue what I’m doing, that’s a cue I need to ask even more questions to figure out what’s going on.” Speaking up is a practice that’s helped her build a successful international business on referrals alone—and earned her the nickname “The Velvet Hammer.” 

Starting your own business is scary. It can be intimidating, and infuriating. But as our panelists attested, it’s worth it. Need more motivation to launch? Think back to every guys-only golf game or boys’ night out with clients that you missed—and use it as fuel to spark your own damn fire.

Now go get paid!

Want more info about the Burlington chapter of Ladies Get Paid? Join us for Ladies Get Coffee Thursday, November 16 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. at Maglianero. 47 Maple Street, Burlington, VT 05401.

Or reach out to one of the Ladies Get Paid ambassadors:
Joanne Jastatt, leadership & career coach
Kerri-Ann Jennings, writer, dietitian and yogini
Danielle Vogl, designer & illustrator
Lindsay Warner, journalist & copywriter