Jennifer McClure is a full-time professional speaker and business advisor. She helps leaders embrace the future of work and leverage their influence to create positive, lasting change in and through their organizations. She sat down with our team at Zenefits to talk about what it’s like to launch a women-owned business.
Hi, Jennifer. Many of our readers have seen you speak at the annual SHRM conference. Can you tell us about the two companies you run?
Sure, the first company is Unbridled Talent, where I speak about talent strategies and leadership development. I also am the CEO of a company called DisruptHR. We help volunteer organizers around the world create events where people come together and give five-minute talks to talk about disrupting the future of work.
What’s your background?
I spent the first 20 years of my corporate career in executive leadership roles in human resources and executive recruiting. I stepped out on my own to start Unbridled Talent in 2010 and DisruptHR in 2015.
What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business?
First and foremost, have a realistic financial plan and understand the least amount of money that you can live on for a year. Build a budget for slow times, and set aside money to make up any difference for at least 18 months to three years.
Next, try out your business as a side hustle. If you are working for a company, make sure that you’re doing what you need to do to make it okay with your employer. But most successful entrepreneurs did some version of their future company while fully employed.
Finally, while starting your side hustle, work on your sales skills. Whether you’re a woman or a man, there’s an individual need to do business development. It’s not a skill that everybody has, and it’s not something that you can just pick up. So, you have to try it on your own first.
Do you have any specific advice for women who want to start businesses of their own?
I think it’s essential to develop a strong network of men who can support you. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I got that advice at the point in my entrepreneurial journey where I was looking for women-only networking opportunities. An influential woman leader said, “You need to be networking and meeting with men because this is the way the world works. Women have to be able to be successful in the arena where men play.”
How can women-owned businesses differentiate themselves in the marketplace?
It’s all about understanding the value that you bring and how you solve your customer’s problems. I’ve seen women and women-owned businesses lead with things that they think might be a benefit, such as being a women-run business, and it doesn’t resonate with buyers. Start by saying, “This is what I do,” or, “These are the problems that I solve.”
Do you have one particular story about a challenge that you faced as a women-owned business?
I think the biggest challenge was self-imposed, as most problems are. The first thing I did was reach out to the lawyer and register my business. After that, I probably spent a good six months just wandering around in the wilderness. If I had gone to SCORE, for example, that would have been helpful. Instead, I tried to figure it out on my own.
Honestly, I wasn’t informed. I didn’t ask questions, and I didn’t do my research to see what they offered and the fact that it was free. These were people who had experience doing what I was planning to do and could have added value and advice.
Eventually, most of us can launch a business ourselves. If you want to figure it out how to do it sooner and more successfully, you need people around you who can help compress that time frame.
What if I have an idea for a business? How do I get started?
Well, in a sense, just start. Tell people about your idea and see if it resonates. Ask people if they’d pay for your product or service. Are there people searching for this online? Create some content and start a conversation.
Finally, when you started your small business, you were a single mom with a son who was graduating from high school. It was the middle of the Great Recession, too. Any regrets on the timing?
Oh, no. No regrets from starting my business. There’s never a good time. If I had waited for some arbitrary milestone, I would have never leaped. When you know you’re ready, go ahead and take action to see if it’s going to work. Don’t wait until something happens, because there will always be something else.