Maria Granados is the spouse of an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in St. Louis and founder of empowHer, a virtual boutique building community and empowering women. She's also co-founder of Life Pulse Inc, a company devoted to enhancing productivity, intentionality and motivation. We asked Maria how being an EO spouse has impacted her new business, and how the Covid-19 crisis changed her business model. Here's what she shared. 

Tell us about the origins of empowHer.

Encouragement is at the foundation of everything I do. My goal with this company is to encourage more women toward making positive achievements in their lives. On a separate (but related) note, I also embrace personal style. Not "fashion"--style. It's how I express myself; I'm a huge proponent of how important it is to feel good in what you wear. It's your body, and you get to choose what you put on it. So make it reflect you and allow yourself to feel good in what you wear. 

My company, empowHer combines those core values, encouragement and style, through a virtual boutique that encourages women to love their bodies and love what they wear. We're building a community of women who support each other around their style choices.

Deciding what to wear shouldn't be a stressful event--it should be a positive opportunity to express yourself. I want my friends, customers--everyone!--to be proud of their style, to feel good in their clothes. It doesn't matter what size or shape you are. You're beautiful, and you don't need permission to wear what you decide you feel good wearing! 

I sense that so many women struggle over what they should wear. So I thought, "How can I change that?"

empowHer is how I choose to change it. 

What you're wearing shouldn't be a hindrance to sharing your gifts with the world. We empower women to feel good in what they choose to wear so they can show up with confidence and make things happen!

How did being an EO spouse impact your idea for this company?

When I met my husband, Matt, I had my MBA and was running Eagle University, a foundation that benefits youth. As an EO spouse, I've attended many inspiring, eye-opening EO learning events. I co-founded our company, LifePulse. 

But in the last year, I've felt a craving to start something of my own. The idea has been in my heart and head for a while, but with two young children, it wasn't great timing. Matt is a rockstar Dad; he helped me create the time to start empowHer.

I've learned through EO to be scrappy in the beginning without taking on too much risk. Test your business model, and if it's not working, shift quickly. I started small and built from there.

Ironically, despite taking multiple courses on how to gain Instagram followers and grow with targeted Facebook ads, I haven't used those tactics. I've simply focused my virtual efforts on people in my local community, giving them personal attention and helping them feel good about the style choices they're making. That makes them want to stick around and help build an authentic community online and offline.

Another lesson I learned through EO: Invest in a coach or mentor. Seeking knowledge from someone who knows more about the industry than you do helps you set realistic goals. I'm accountable to my coach for working toward achieving them. 

Has your business changed because of Covid-19?

The shutdown provided an opportunity to do things differently and stay authentic. With two kids at home, I didn't have time to dry my hair or do makeup before taking photos of myself in new styles I'm offering. Things got real, and people responded. I shared myself in a very authentic way--flaws and all. 

Customers responded with overwhelming positivity. They don't want professional photos that are retouched and perfect. That's not real life. They want to see a real person wearing these styles, to see how the clothes move in daily life. That's real. 

I've had my best two months during the shutdown. People wanted different choices--comfortable clothes and loungewear, so I adjusted my inventory in response. I value customer input, and that's how we grew.

What role does social media play in your company?

Before the pandemic, I did local, live events where friends, customers, and other women in the community spent a fun afternoon shopping together in an intimate space. 

Now I've pivoted to Facebook Live events. I feature real women from our community with different body types who model the clothes. Our software, CommentSold, allows participants to comment on the pieces we show, and if interested, add pieces to their shopping cart. You can shop the website at any time, but the live events are especially fun.

We have a private Facebook page for the empowHer community to show photos of yourself in new styles. We encourage uplifting, positive feedback. 

It's fantastic to see women confidently sharing selfies in their first jumpsuit, or first crop-top, and receive comments that boost their confidence in these more daring styles. We've set a positive tone in the community, which is refreshing!

How does empowHer empower women and girls?

First, I always try to include other local businesswomen in Facebook Live events or include their business card or product sample with orders I ship. 

I learned that through EO: Entrepreneurship shouldn't happen in isolation. Entrepreneurs need people and community, so I collaborate with other women in business, rather than competing. 

Second, I encourage customers to set and achieve goals. If they write down a goal for themselves or are a regular part of our "goal gang," I give them 10% off of their order--because writing down your goals increases the likelihood of achieving them. I serve as their accountability partner, checking in about their progress. 

Customers' goals include running a 5K, putting their phones away when spending time with their kids, or getting a promotion at work. I encourage people to share their goals and progress in our private Facebook community so that we can celebrate them. 

When a customer achieves their goal, they get 30% off of their next order. It's casual, but it's very inspiring.

Here's what surprised me: A lot of women have never been asked about their goals, or how they're going to accomplish them. I think everyone should be asked how they'd like to change or improve, and have a community to celebrate their forward progress. So I'm asking. 

The lesson I've learned is that people respond to community--that's what they're craving. And that's what I aim to build.