Founder & President, Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence
The creative force behind Take Your Daughter to Work Day, a national campaign to educate and inspire young women to achieve in the workplace, Nell has made it her life’s work to empower women to grow to their fullest professional potential. Creating change on a peer-to-peer level, Count Me In’s Make Mine a Million $ READ MORE »
Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: I’ll give you five, all leadership traits I’ve learned by watching President Obama:
It’s important to define a problem, focus on what it is you want, and then go for it without getting sidetracked or deterred. It’s like what athletes are taught: Keep your eye on the ball.
Obama is a master of restraint. You can see the wheels in his head churning even when he’s not speaking. And he waits for just the right time to react.
Obama is known for his vision. We saw it in his books, in his life and in his presidential campaigns. He envisioned something—“Yes we can!”—he went for it, and he got it.
4). Long-range planning
You don’t become president without long-range planning. Nor do you execute one of the most brilliant coups in recent history – hunting down Osama Bin Laden – without it.
5). Strategic decision-making
As President, Obama has taken on many initiatives, but built them over the long term. He weighs his options, calculates the risks, and does not make a move until he is sure what direction and tact is best to take. That’s a leader.
Q: If a business has several, viable ways to grow and innovate, how do you pick the best road to take?
A: My advice is simple: do what is going to make you the most money. To grow your business sustainably and increase revenues and profits you need to have a plan and focus your energy on implementing it effectively and on a clear timeline. Splitting that focus on three different “options” is like trying to be in three places at once: you’ll end up exhausted and with less quality, more confusion, and very limited growth. Commit to a plan and keep your vision clear and at the forefront.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: For entrepreneurs just getting started, I offer tips from my book Stepping out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want it Their Way… in Life, in Love and at Work:
1). Start with the end in mind
Write down or cut out pictures of what you ultimately see for yourself and others in your life, love and work. The more specific you can be, the more likely you will be able to communicate your vision to others so they can help you get there.
2). Set specific, time-sensitive goals
Write them down and post them where you can see them. Further hone your unique definition of success by determining the actual numbers, dates, dollar amounts or other specific markers you want to achieve. This way, you’ll be able to mark incremental successes and celebrate when you’ve reached your ultimate goal. Vague goals produce vague results.
3). Expect and listen to resistance
Whenever you try to change and grow, you will undoubtedly experience resistance, fear and criticism from other people, as well as from yourself. Anticipate this, listen to the concerns, and have a strategy to incorporate the valid ones into your plans.
4). Get more opinions than your own
Confidence is a huge asset, but it doesn’t replace the need to test your ideas and plans with other people. There is great value in seeking advice from people with more experience, less experience, different backgrounds and various dispositions. Trust your instincts and do some market research.
5). See your life as part of a bigger picture
You are rarely the only one in the world who wants the life you want or has the dreams you have. Access the wider world of people with your interests and goals and use this network for support, encouragement and an occasional kick in the pants.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable negotiating?
A: I would recommend two books by women that have mastered the art of negotiation:
Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe
Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Both are available on Amazon.com and provide inspiring insights that can help build confidence.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: The original concept for Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence was born in 2000. It was meant to be a multi-million dollar loan fund to help women entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Through what we thought was an innovative month-long campaign supported by leaders in television, on-line, finance and media, we planned to raise $25-50 million for the fund in online donations of as little as $5.
We were wrong. Overestimating women’s comfort level around making online donations, especially to a brand new group, and not foreseeing the impeding dot-com crash, our fundraising targets were way off. We ultimate raised only about $150,000.
I felt like a failure but decided to keep going. I kept talking to people and sharing the vision. Eventually, American Express loaned us money to make some micro-loans, which we did, but the program still failed to take off as originally planned. Within a year, my original partner bailed on the project, leaving me to decide whether or not to pull the plug or figure out a way to reassess our vision and find a way to move forward. I chose the latter
I came across a U.S. Census report that indicated while women owned nearly half of the nation’s privately held businesses, four times as many men as women owned businesses earned more than $1 million in annual revenues. That article sparked a change in thinking about the mission of Count Me In: what if we focused on what women could do instead of what they lacked? With this revised vision, Count Me In took off and went on to introduce its signature Make Mine a Million $ Business program and other effective business growth initiatives for women.
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: Honestly, I just ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Once I face that possibility and the consequences that go with it, some of that fear subsides because I know I can handle it.
I think it’s also important to trust your gut. If you don’t have confidence and respect for yourself and your own judgment, you’re less likely to listen to your heart and gut and you can miss out on a lot of good opportunities. We’ve all had moments where we hesitated because something didn’t feel right, but for whatever reason we ignored it. Any time you have that feeling, step back and listen. Don’t make any decision until you’ve had a conversation with someone who knows you really well, who can help you figure out whether you’re being paranoid, or if you should actually walk away.
ON Self Care
Q: We are so bombarded today with tweets, Facebook messages, smart phones, Ipads etc., how do you weed through what to consume and not?
A: I read opening lines or subject headers and decide whether or not to continue, pass on to someone else, or pass all together. If it’s not from someone I know or doesn’t have a compelling opener, chances are it’s not going far. It’s Communications 101, know your audience and know how to get their attention.
ON Giving Back
Q: Can you share with us an experience of giving that was extremely rewarding or transformational?
A: I am very fortunate to be able to experience this at our live events during the Make Mine a Million $ Business program pitch feedback sessions.
There is something about coming to a period in your life when you know things that are valuable to others. I enjoy being able to share those things, without charging an arm and a leg, with earnest women trying to grow their businesses. The reward comes at the moment a spark appears in their eye and you know they “get it” and when you see the before and after of their pitch over the course of a two-day event when they’ve taken your insights and advice to heart. And when you get an email a few months or a year later from that same person sharing great news about how their business is growing.
ON Self Care
Q: In theory, one should prioritize their own health in order to be in the best state to take care of others (family, kids, work, etc.). But in reality, I’ve found that women often take care of themselves last. What are your thoughts on this?
A: For me, this is not a theory; it’s a decision. If you are really serious about staying on top of your game, it’s essential. If we’re not healthy we can’t do anything or take care of anyone else.
I do it every day – I go to gym every day and have regular appointments with doctors. All of the highly successful Make Mine a Million $ Business Awardees – women that have surpassed the million dollar threshold in annual revenues for their businesses – also have regular health and fitness regiments.
Five things you must do: Eat right, sleep enough, exercise, manage your vices, and manage your stress.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: Fat is a Feminist Issue, by Susie Orbach, the ground-breaking program that shows women how to avoid unhealthy eating habits and dieting cycles and learn practical, effective techniques to understand why they use food to fill emotional and psychological needs.
The Money Class: Learn to Create Your New American Dream, by Suze Orman, which proposes a rethinking of what comprises the American Dream.
ON Self Care
Q: What are your top 3 personal finance tips for women?
A: You need to decide that you are going to make more than enough money to support yourself and your family.
After that, it all comes down to one simple piece of advice: Don’t spend more money than you have. Think hard before you buy that next pair of shoes!