How often have you heard the phrase, "If you don't have a seat at the table, bring your own chair"? By my count, if we all followed that advice, we'd need an extraordinarily long table.
Now don't get me wrong, it's sound advice for many people and situations, and it's nothing to be blasé about. Getting a seat at a table--an opportunity to be in a position of leadership and influence--doesn't happen on its own. It's earned.
But to that end, I challenge you to consider building your own table--your own opportunities to be a leader and a person of influence in your industry.
And you might be thinking, "Well, Phyllis, it's hard."
Hard? Yes. Impossible? No.
As a Black woman entrepreneur in the technology sector, I've seen firsthand how many hurdles there are put forth before we can succeed. As women entrepreneurs--and this is particularly true for women of color--we face obstacles, including an absence of representation, lack of funding and resources, and racial/gender biases, among many other barriers of entry.
Yet, even in the face of all these obstacles, women entrepreneurs are seeing incredible gains.
According to the American Express 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, from 2014 to 2019, the number of women-owned businesses climbed 21% to nearly 13 million, and businesses owned by women of color grew by more than double that rate, at almost 43%.
From tech startups that can scale to unicorns and local businesses that truly make up a community, women-owned businesses are driving economic growth and influence.
I want to encourage you to be a part of this growth--however that may look to you--because you deserve to have your voice heard too.
If this past year has taught us anything, it's that it's possible to succeed even in the face of chaos and adversity. It won't be easy. Nothing ever truly worth it is. But it will be great.
The following lessons are key to getting started:
Start small, but don't dream small
I started Xtreme Solutions, Inc. in 2002, with nothing more than an idea, a whiteboard and markers, and a level of determination that could not be swayed.
You don't have to have everything figured out right away because, inevitably, things will change.
I started Xtreme Solutions thinking a majority of my clientele would be composed of commercial clients, but I soon found out that most of my business would come from government clients.
We were forced to pivot strategies, but it benefited the long-term health of the company enormously.
To-Do: Set your goals in incremental stages. It doesn't hurt to envision long-term goals, so long as you provide yourself with short-term goals to measure your progress. Envision where you want to be after your first month, your third month, and so forth.
Build a strong support system
Building your own table can feel like an individual journey, but it's an accumulation of all those that have supported you along the way.
Where you're at now is because of the people who believed in you before.
Invite others that relate to your table to stand with you and join in your achievements.
To-Do: Reach out to previous mentors and leaders that have helped you along your journey. Share with them the journey you're about to embark on, ask for their advice, and flip the script to see how you might be able to help them, too!
Be passionate about your why
Your why should be the reason you get up every morning excited to start the new day.
Your why has to be so compelling that failure is not an option. Your why will determine the level of your success.
Don't leave home without your passion! Every day you must do a temperature check to see if your passion is hot or cold. Once you do that, you can adjust.
If you lack a passion for what you want to do, your business, your employees, and anyone who depends on you will bear the consequences.
Finding your why and deciding to dedicate yourself to it is a privilege, and it should never be taken lightly.