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Help Small Women-Owned Businesses Affected by COVID-19

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had an impact on businesses all over the world. Not surprisingly, small-business owners have found themselves in seriously unsteady waters, with female entrepreneurs being hit especially hard during these times of crisis. In moments like these, a little support can go a long way and it’s vital if we want to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic survive.

In addition to threatening small businesses that could be forced to close permanently, the changes brought about as we adjust to our new “new normal” could also undo the progress made in the rise of female entrepreneurs. Especially since many of these female-led businesses are part of some of the most vulnerable industries, including the hospitality and beauty sectors.

Support local women-owned businesses. Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder- Unsplash

Support local women-owned businesses. Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder- Unsplash

COVID-19 and its Impact on Small Women-Owned Businesses

The past five years have seen a rise of 21% in the number of women-owned businesses, with companies owned by Black and Latinx women growing at an incredible rate. Unfortunately, these tend to be small businesses employing fewer than 500 staffers, many of which won’t make it out of the pandemic without at least a little help.

According to American Express, around 22% of all small women-owned businesses are included in the “other services” industries, comprised of companies like nail and hair salons and pet groomers. Female entrepreneurs also own 16% of the hospitality and food service industries.

On top of the ways in which coronavirus has made it impossible –or at least very difficult– for most small companies to stay up and running, female business owners often face banks and financial institutions that’ll deny their loans in order to favor pre-existing costumers. Laurie Fabiano, president of the Tory Burch Foundation, explains that women “tend to have less of a track record with banks” because they borrow less than men.

This isn’t very promising for entrepreneurs who had been having issues securing capital before all small business owners began to need it.

Women-owned businesses have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. They need our help to survive. Photo Credit: Brooke Lark- Unsplash

Women-owned businesses have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. They need our help to survive. Photo Credit: Brooke Lark- Unsplash

Information and Funding for Female Entrepreneurs

Many organizations have begun to find how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic. In addition to donations and funding, some have offered resources to help entrepreneurs stay informed as well as webinars to help them navigate different aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.

  • The Tory Burch Foundation supports the empowerment of women entrepreneurs, providing access to capital, entrepreneurial education, mentoring and networking opportunities. Their site is currently dedicated to information and guides for female entrepreneurs struggling with the effects of the pandemic. From applying to PPP funding and well-being tips to webinars helping small businesses stay alive.
  • Hello Alice works similarly, helping small businesses “get back to business” by providing e-learning guides, mentorship and immediate $10,000 grants to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Recipients will also continue to get support from the community, which offers tools and opportunities for specific businessowners.
  • The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has showed its dedication to “elevating and supporting women through entrepreneurship” by teaming up with GlobalGiving to create The Red Backpack Fund. The fund will give $5,000 grants to female entrepreneurs in the United States who have been affected by the crisis.
  • The IFW COVID-19 Relief Fund will provide microgrants to women-owned businesses that have been impacted by this crisis. You’ll have to create a crowdfunding campaign through their website to be considered for a grant.
  • Ladies Who Launch has created a thorough guide that includes articles, information on grants and funds, websites on wellbeing and staying healthy, workplace tips, finance resources and different tools to help entrepreneurs work and manage their businesses from home until it’s time to get back to business.

    Photo Credit: Aw Creative Fl - Unsplash

    Photo Credit: Aw Creative Fl – Unsplash

Six Ways to Help Small Women-Owned Businesses

If you’re not a small business owner but you’re interested in how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic to stay afloat during these unprecedented times, there are some ways you can contribute without having to leave the safety of your home.

1Identify Small Women-Owned Businesses in Your Neighborhood: They could be closer than you think! There are directories available online and chances are that a little bit of research will lead you to at least a couple of women-owned businesses in your area. This is the perfect opportunity to buy their products. Many of them will probably deliver them to your door depending on what it is you’re looking for.

2Support your Female Friends Who Own Small Businesses: It’s always good to start helping those closest to you. So, before you expand your help, look around. Can you support your female friends, colleagues or relatives promote their business? This is a great time for care packages. How about surprising people in your network by sending them your friend’s products or services? We recently organized a “quarantine surprise campaign” with Christtine Organic, the small manufacturer of the best alfajores de dulce de leche you’ve ever tried.

3Find Small Businesses Online: A lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs will have a website, app or social media profile where you can contact them and buy their products or services. Some of them will only ship locally, but you may be surprised at how many will find you wherever you are (for an additional cost, most likely.) You can find anything, from clothes and art to food and drinks. Do a little digging, you might find something you’ll love and help someone who really needs it. Here’s the story of the founder of our partner Lola Ramona, the company that creates shoes with an attitude. 

4Support GoFund and Other Campaigns: Some small companies have created campaigns to raise money on platforms like GoFundMe, their Facebook profiles or their official websites. Through these, you can usually donate as much as you want directly to them and help them cover payroll and other important expenses. A lot of them will even tell you how they plan to spend your money.

5Invest in their Future: Some sites have started to offer gift cards to restaurants, cafes and bars around different cities. These gift cards will be exchangeable when business is resumed, helping these businesses stay afloat while they’re forced to keep their doors shut. Help Main Street!, Support Local, Rally for Restaurants and Give Local are some of the options out there.

6Don’t Forget to Share: The power of social media is great, so make sure you share and encourage others and show them how to help small women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic. Promote them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, give them positive reviews and recommend them to friends and family.

Think of surprising friends and colleagues by sending them something awesome from one of your female business owners. You'll help them spread the word and make someone's day a bit brighter. Photo of Christtine Organic Alfajores

Think of surprising friends and colleagues by sending them something awesome from one of your female business owners. You’ll help them spread the word and make someone’s day a bit brighter. Photo of Christtine Organic Alfajores

 Support Black Women-Owned Businesses

This is also an opportunity to show your support to the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community by investing in businesses owned by black women in the United States. According to the Washington Post, African American owned-businesses decreased by 40% as a result of COVID-19 and the government mandated shutdowns.

It won’t take long before you find a magical bookstore, delicious bakery, Etsy shop or whatever it is your heart desires.

Help however you can. It’s a great time to be there for each other and show some sisterly love.

Staying Creative During Challenging Times

Elaine Del Valle is a true renaissance woman. The award-winning writer, actor, director, casting director, producer and philanthropist has done a little bit of everything and spoke to us about staying creative during challenging times and what it took to get where she is.

Elaine realized early in the game that if she wanted to see real Latino stories out there, ones she could connect with, she would have to tell them herself. This realization has since led her down a prolific path where, it seems, she’s determined to create as much as she can.

Her one-woman-show “Brownsville Bred” received several awards even before an incredibly successful off-Broadway run in the summer of 2011. The stage play was later on adapted into a young adult novel called “Brownsville Bred: Dreaming Out Loud,” released in early 2020 and available most places where books are sold.

Del Valle’s work can be found all over the place, though. You can watch her movie “Me 3.769” on HBO, and some of her earlier work, like “Final Decision” and “Reasons Y I’m Single” are available through Amazon Prime. Elaine has allowed her personal beliefs to inspire and inform projects the world can connect with and has found  her voice in a simple but powerful concept: Stay True to Yourself.

We had a chat with the multitalented Latina and talked about her creative journey, the things she’s been reading, watching and listening to these days, and some tips and thoughts on staying creative during these challenging times.

Elaine del Valle Director in action

Elaine del Valle Director in action

 

From Actress to Renaissance Woman

Aline Cerdán – It seems like you’ve done a little bit of everything, can you tell us about how you got started on your creative journey?

Elaine Del Valle – I began my career as an actress. I studied acting for many years but found myself pigeon-holed as a commercial actress. While I was having some great success in the commercial and voice over markets, I felt like my craft was not being fully exercised outside of my professional scene study classes. I began writing material to present to class and ended up writing what would soon become an awarded, off-Broadway stage play.

“Brownsville Bred” was my true coming of age story and depicted my life as a Latina growing up in the crime capital of NY, Brownsville, Brooklyn. The play really changed my life and made me realize that if I want to see real Latino stories reflected in art, then I really had to be a part of creating them. The play also increased my visibility and allowed people to understand the real me – it also got me job offers in front of and behind the camera.

AC – Do you feel at home dabbling with it all professionally, or is there something that feels closer to your heart?

EDV – I love every aspect of creation, whether that be creating a character or weaving a cast of characters together for a project. That said, the most fulfilling role I have taken on is as a director. I love informing the story by way of camera angles and working with actors to achieve their best performances. I am able to speak to them in actor lingo and really get the performances I want.

Rosemary Rodriguez is another one of the few female directors in Hollywood!
Brownsville Bread by Elaine Del Valle

Brownsville Bread by Elaine Del Valle

To-Do Lists and Turning Hardship into Art

AC – What do you feel have been some of the hardest aspects of staying creative during challenging times?

EDV – When the quarantine first came, it didn’t really pose a big change in my life… for the most part. I am always at my computer writing, casting or producing. Knowing that the quarantine would be long I decided to make a very long “to do” list of things that I’d been putting off. I have long been using a “list” method to accomplish tasks. There’s something about crossing things off that list that makes me feel like I have achieved something.

My father died when I was a teenager and so I have never taken time for granted. I always want to make the most of my time…and that doesn’t have to mean being creative. Sometimes I work on just the business side of things. I work best when I am multi-tasking and plowing through a tough workload. I am a “by the seat of my pants” creative and so when I get creative, I dive deep and don’t come up for air until I am done. I wrote my play in three months, and I adapted my book in about the same time. I finished my first procedural drama in three days and wrote my first film in an airplane ride.

I don’t put pressure on myself to stay creative because I find inspiration everywhere. Also, I pride myself on having put in the work to develop my various crafts, which  allows me to turn to craft when I am feeling outside of my creative zone.

Want to unleash your creativity? Say yes to change!
Elaine del Valle Director teaches us about staying creative in challenging times

Elaine del Valle Director teaches us about staying creative in challenging times

Staying Creative During Challenging Times

AC – You’ve turned a tough childhood into a novel and a play, can you tell us about the creative process when the material you are using is autobiographical?

EDV – It’s wonderful to lean into the facts and honest examination of the people you know and love. It has been my ultimate joy to represent my loved ones in a way that makes others come to love them, regardless of their flaws. I began my writing by depicting my milestones. Every individual has milestones and those are the things that truly shape us. I have found that people from all backgrounds can somehow all relate to milestones universally.

My process for writing the play came easily because at the time that I wrote it, I was immersed in professional scene study classes at Carnegie Hall under the tutelage of the legendary Wynn Handman. I understood scenes and what made them powerful. I had fertile ground at Wynn Handman Studios and a safety net of trusted and respected actors that made me feel safe. I owe lots to my class and my teacher.

The book was something I had to learn to write. I immersed myself in YA (Young Adult) novels and would circle moments that made me laugh and cry and wonder. I devoured books and it got me into a mode that I was also able to dive into. I adapt easily and pivot to use all of my talents and crafts in whatever I am working on. I also studied through Sundance Collab where I practiced ways of free writing to bring the material beyond where I’d first imagined, and to trust my instincts.

AC – Do you think that the challenging times we’re currently going through could actually become a source of creativity?

EDV – Necessity is the mother of invention and I think we are currently witnessing many creatives working together, and apart, outside of their comfort zones to continue to deliver entertainment. Artists must create. It is a deep need inside of them. An art teacher once asked, “Why do we paint?” the answer was “to prove we exist!” That is a deep need behind the work, and nothing can stifle that desire.

My advice to anyone who is not feeling creative is to go out and learn something new. Read a book. Read many books, take on-line classes. Participate in the webinars and creative livestreams that are keeping raw art and learning still available to anyone who wants it.

AC – What do you think is the role of the arts and the importance of staying creative during challenging times?

EDV – Art always reflects life and the role of art will emerge from the artists creating it and the audiences taking it in. It always has and it always will. We reflect and we create, then we reflect on what we have created, and we evolve. People ask me how I choose what I work on next. Is there a foolproof recipe to getting a film sold or hot on the festival circuit? I always answer that the only person who has to really and truly like it is the artists themselves, because it is surely their passion that will bring it to the finish line and nothing else should matter than being true to yourself. The more specific a story, the more universal its reach.

I always create based on my core beliefs. In “Brownsville Bred”, both the play and the novel, my belief was that if you knew them, then you too would have loved my father and mother and even found value in living in a place like Brownsville. That hope and how you can’t judge a person’s worth based on economics exists everywhere.

“Final Decision” (Amazon Prime) is based on my belief that when our loved ones die, they are still with us, guiding us. “Me 3.769” (HBO) on my belief that females will and are overcoming their fears for the sake of helping the future generation and that there is deep power in “telling secrets” that you never wanted to. In “Princess Cut”, my latest project, my belief is that we all can find common ground. And how many can and do get away with their indiscretions because of money.

Work from your core belief and the work will hit home to many, even those you never imagined you’d have things in common with.

Passion by Ian Schneider- Unsplash

Passion- Photo Credit: Ian Schneider- Unsplash

Immerse yourself completely— One great way of staying creative in challenging times

AC – Do you have any tips for people who would like to express themselves creatively to get started during isolation?

EDV – A tip is to find a random photo and write a story about that photo as it relates to your childhood. Everyone can do it and every story will be interesting and different and yet they will all derive from the same source of inspiration.

Another thing I practice is to not put a deadline on the quarantine. Know that you will endure it, no matter how long it takes, and be ready to face the truth of it. A deadline is a sure way to lose hope.

I also recommend that whatever you want to create, you should immerse yourself in. If you want to write a memoir then you should read memoirs. If you want to write a screenplay then read books on writing screenplays and then read screenplays. If you want to write poetry, then immerse yourself in poetry. If you immerse yourself in art, then you will become it. My teacher, Wynn Handman, used to say, “Marinate in it”. If you marinate long enough then the you can’t help but be flavored and juiced by it.

Also, if you feel stuck then stop the creative and move to the other necessary parts of how you will get your creation out once it is complete. You can learn so much about anything by just going online. If you want to perform a play, then you will also have to sell tickets to that play or submit it into festivals. That’s how one can stay active in the growth of your vision rather than allowing it to wilt during creative dry spells.

AC – What are some of the books, movies, albums and TV shows that have inspired you to stay creative in times of isolation?

EDV – Features: I love to watch documentaries on any subject. Anything on HBO is usually phenomenal. As for movies I really love to examine story and cinematography when I am watching films,  so I use them as a learning tool every time.

TV shows: I love “Ozark” and “This Is Us”, which always makes me cry. There are few shows that I can get lost in but those two always make me forget about my craft and just involve me in the story.

Music: My Pandora stations go from Marc Anthony to Garth Brooks to Adele, passing through Ed Sheeran, Elton John and 70’s & 80’s stations. I also love 80’s and 90s rap.

I listen to music when I am writing; music makes me feel and I think those feelings end up in my writing. I practically wrote the entire “Brownsville Bred” play while listening to salsa music.

Books: I have to say I enjoy YA more than any other genre. I love Gayle Forman and Gary Soto.

You can connect with Elaine Del Valle via LinkedIn

Empowering Female Entrepreneurs: Mónica Peraza’s Passion

Self-made Mexican businesswoman Mónica Peraza O’Quigley believes women are stronger together. Her great passion? Empowering female entrepreneurs and helping them thrive. Her creativity, commitment and discipline helped her achieve success at home and abroad. Success she now uses to propel other women and their businesses forward.

A firm believer of transformation and its ripple effect, she is dedicated to help eradicate extreme poverty among women by providing access to markets. With this mission in mind, Mónica co-founded The Etho with Sydney Sherman. The online marketplace built by and for women with the goal of empowering female entrepreneurs around the world to manage their businesses and scale them successfully.

The Etho holds the women on this virtual marketplace to a high standard, making sure all products are sustainable and respect mother nature. Mónica – who learned confidence from a grandfather that served as her very first mentor and encouraged her to work hard – holds herself to that same high standard both personally and professionally.

The Etho is empowering women entrepreneurs. Photo Credit. Gemma Chua Tran-unsplash

The Etho is empowering women entrepreneurs. Photo Credit. Gemma Chua Tran-unsplashThe Etho is empowering women entrepreneurs. Photo Credit. Gemma Chua Tran-unsplash

The Etho and its Mission of Empowering Female Entrepreneurs

Red Shoe Movement – Can you tell us about The Etho and its mission to change the lives of women around the world? How was it founded and how did you come to the conclusion that together we are stronger?

Mónica Peraza O’Quigley – Sydney (Sherman) and I met in January 2019 through an advisor and in a matter of 15 minutes we began to consider the possibility of joining forces and creating a company together. She brought the ethical verification process to the table and I brought the curation system for female-owned businesses. That’s how The Etho was born. We are Co-CEOs and we love it since each one focuses on what we like the most and when we have to make any decision it is much easier to make it together. We have absolute respect for each other and from the very beginning we made the pact that our relationship would always be the most important thing.

We are both committed to empowering female entrepreneurs around the world and eliminating extreme poverty, and the best vehicle to accomplish this is by offering access to markets that will pay fair prices for their products.

Monica Peraza O'Quigley co-founded The Etho to empower female entrepreneurs

Monica Peraza O’Quigley co-founded The Etho to empower female entrepreneurs

How does this platform empower women?

RSM – How does The Etho work? What is the process for an entrepreneur to sell their products on the platform?

MPO – We have an ethical verification process and once an artisan, designer or businesswoman passes the verification, they have access to our platform where they can sell their products and ship them directly when they receive an order.

RSM – You have done a great job raising funds for The Etho. Can you share the most important tips for investors to understand the value of your proposal?

MPO – The Etho is a company with great impact that is perfectly aligned with two global movements that are highly relevant at the moment. On the one hand, the empowerment of women through access to markets and on the other, sustainability through products that not only care for the environment, but that are made by companies that offer fair wages and safe conditions for the women who work there.

In addition, we have a team of women who have extensive experience helping to grow global companies and that gives investors confidence.

Finally, our pitch deck and executive summary are very complete and cover all the issues that investors need to make a decision. Fundraising is largely directly proportional to your network as the decision to invest depends on the trust they have in the entrepreneur to execute. Something only people who know you directly or through someone else know.

Get inspired by a successful shoe entrepreneur!
Photo Credit. Katherine Hanlon-Unsplash

Photo Credit. Katherine Hanlon-Unsplash

Building Future Female Entrepreneurs

RSM – Talking about empowering female entrepreneurs, you are a serial entrepreneur yourself. Could you tell us what this means?

MPO – A serial entrepreneur is a woman who has founded several companies, usually one after the other.

RSM – What are some of the qualities that young businesswomen must cultivate to become great leaders?

MPO – Working on your self-esteem is essential. Recognize ego, don’t let it blind you and learn to see things objectively. Being a leader is a position of great responsibility and personal work is a catalyst to become a better leader.

RSM – How can you introduce the importance of giving back to the community in the minds of future female entrepreneurs?

MPO – It is very important to give back to the community since the more we have the more responsibility we have to share. I especially feel like as a Latina woman in the US it is our obligation to open the road to other women who come after us.

RSM – Why do you think it is so important to have committed mentors? Can you tell us a bit about yours?

MPO – A mentor has the power to change your life. I have been fortunate to have several mentors in my life, but Teresa Lozano Long has been the person who has most influenced my life in the last decade. She has been very generous in sharing her immense wisdom with me and has taught me so much that her impact on my life and my business is impossible to measure.

The Etho is a market created by women for women. Photo Credit. Socialcut. Unsplash

The Etho is a market created by women for women. Photo Credit. Socialcut. Unsplash

Shoe Entrepreneurs: Interview to a Successful Shoe Industry CEO

Gitte Sandquist, one of a handful of female shoe entrepreneurs, founder and CEO of Lola Ramona, the Danish shoe brand, is the perfect blend of a rocker and a girly girl. How has she managed to marry these two seemingly opposite styles into a beloved brand? Read on!

Gitte Sandquist one of a handful of shoe entrepreneurs is a perfect blend of rocker and girly-girl

Gitte Sandquist one of a handful of shoe entrepreneurs is a perfect blend of rocker and girly-girl

With over 25 years of experience in the fashion business Gitte was not new to the industry when she launched Lola Ramona in her native Copenhagen, Denmark. Before she became one of the edgiest shoe entrepreneurs in the world, she started her career with Scandinavian giants Bestseller and H&M and with American giant Levi´s. She went on to become an independent agent representing several international brands such as: Pepe Jeans, Lacoste, Paul Smith, Caterpillar, and Paul Frank.

During the eight years she spent as an independent agent, Gitte always felt there was a gap in the market of women shoes. Shoes that were beautiful and comfortable that women could wear every day, and not just for parties. So, she decided to become a shoe entrepreneur and started Lola Ramona.  While still selling these international brands during the day, Gitte planned her new company at night sleeping only a few hours, usually at the office.

A few years ago, we stumbled upon her stunning brand and when we discovered the company’s founder was a one of a handful of female shoe entrepreneurs, we approached her to be a Red Shoe Movement partner. She loved our mission, we loved her shoes, and the rest is history. We had a very successful event at her Copenhagen store and plan to continue doing bigger and more exciting things together. We talked to her about what it means to be a shoe entrepreneur, what’s the hardest thing to give up as a CEO of a small business and what’s up with the Spanish-sounding name of her company.

We recently had a very successful event at Lola Ramona's store in Copenhagen. This shoe entrepreneur knows how to throw a party!

We recently had a very successful event at Lola Ramona’s store in Copenhagen. This shoe entrepreneur knows how to throw a party!

First steps for shoe entrepreneurs: Naming the business

Red Shoe Movement — Your company is Danish, and your business has a Spanish sounding name. Where does the name Lola Ramona come from?

Gitte Sandquist— Well …I did not really think about the name as being Spanish when I invented it. I wanted a first & last name for the brand, so that people would see Lola Ramona as a person and identify themselves with that girl. I chose Lola, because not matter which language you speak, everybody knows that Lola is a female.  Ramona was the more Rock´n´roll part of me 🙂 I love The Ramones and at the same time I thought that Ramona sounded like a beautiful flower.

RSM—You yourself are a mix between a girly-girl and a rocker. Have you always defied stereotypes? What is it like to be a shoe entrepreneur as someone who defies stereotypes?

GS— I guess it’s just my nature. I have always had the urge to express myself on my own terms. Not dictated by fashion, music, culture or sub-culture, but by my own feelings and where I wanted to go. I like the fact that I can be the girly girl one day and the rocker the next.  I am attracted to all kinds of types/stereotypes. My only wish for everyone is that they feel comfortable being the type they are. I like the fact that people respect me for being “in-between.”  My friends often tell me that I collect souls not types. Being in fashion and having that attitude, I can sometimes put people off. Other times it attracts people. I do not see it as a big challenge. I am sure Vivienne Westwood or Betsy Johnson must feel the same way. Yes! It divides groups, but the ones who understand and respect that attitude, get you more than they get much of other fashion.

Learn about the meaning of red shoes for the Red Shoe Movement!
RSM team wearing Lola Ramona shoes

RSM team wearing Lola Ramona shoes

The life of shoe entrepreneurs

RSM— Give us a flavor of what a week in the life of a shoe entrepreneur is like

GS— I never get out of bed before 8.00 AM, and I always stay up until after 2 AM. There is always something going on inside my head. A song, something I am planning, a small discussion or a shopping list. My whole day is filled with shoes: Decisions about shoes, shoe designs, communication concerning shoes. Meetings about how to make and sell shoes and how to market them in the best way. 🙂 I work in a wonderful environment with my dedicated and skilled staff in Copenhagen. In the evening I hang out with my husband and very often I go out with him and friends. I have a lot of input to offer every single day and I like to stay open to as much as possible. I also travel a lot and I love it.

RSM— What’s the hardest thing to let go when you’re the CEO of a successful small business?

GS— Micro management… OMG! I keep disciplining myself. It’s annoying both for the staff and for me.  🙂 Sometimes I do miss specific tasks that I was normally in charge of doing in the past.

But all in all… I feel blessed that I am so incredible lucky to have a successful, small business, and a great staff. And I do not often think that I have to let things go. I try to focus more on how much I am winning and getting.

As a shoe entrepreneur, Gitte Sandquist finds supporting other women is critical. We created this charm to honor our partnership.

As a shoe entrepreneur, Gitte Sandquist finds supporting other women is critical. We created this charm to honor our partnership.

RSM—Humor plays an important part in your brand, something that distinguishes you from other shoe entrepreneurs. How do you imbue humor into your business while building a serious business?

GS—I love a good joke and my staff does too. We often try to do something silly/funny on one of the shoes. Like attaching a moustache or making the design so that it looks like the shoe is laughing at you. Of course we take the business seriously. This is our career and where we earn our money and this is what we are passionate about. But we are aware that these are shoes!  We are not doing life-saving medicine.  If you’re not able to do this work with a smile on your face, I do not think you should be a shoe entrepreneur. When you are able to make people laugh, both in the office and on the streets, I think you have given them space to breathe and in the end you make them stronger.

RSM—How do you stay inspired to come up with new, exciting designs?

GS—Really easy! We flirt with all past decades and add some new features or mix them all. For instance, the 2018 winter collection is both 60ies fashion and 80ies glam, with some sports features.

RSM—You recently launched the LolaRamona hack. How did this idea come about? What were some of the most fun ideas people shared?

GS—IKEA had a campaign which got really close to the Lola Ramona sign off. So I decided to #IKEAhack them which is a really common thing, and again with a touch of humor. We had a lot of fun and success with it, and even IKEA thought it was fun. And since we were working with the #IKEAhack I launched our own #LOLAhack too. We had so many good hacks, but I think the best hack we got was a Christmas decoration with candles and all, made out of one of our stilettos.

#LOLAhack stilettos

#LOLAhack stilettos

RSM— You are half owner of your factory in China and your partner is a woman. We find this most interesting given that the industry continues to be male-dominated and there are few female shoe entrepreneurs who own their factories. Does it make a difference in your final product to have a woman designer and a woman as a head of manufacturing?

GS—There is ONLY differences! Communication is different, the way we see business and interaction is different. We speak so much more the same language when it comes to quality and finish of a product. How we choose to treat the staff, and the list goes on and on. We share the Red Shoe Movement principles that we should aid and help other women to achieve their goals, not just worry about “what’s in it for me.”

Shoe entrepreneurs Gitte Sandquist and her factory partner discuss new designs.

Shoe entrepreneurs Gitte Sandquist and her factory partner discuss new designs.

Don't miss the story of this Nigerian shoemaker!

Making mistakes, at the core of most successful shoe entrepreneurs

RSM—Can you share one of the worst mistakes you made and how you fixed it or got over it?

GS—Hmmm… I have made thousands of mistakes! Selling the company (I bought it back, though.) Letting friends down, not listening carefully enough, doubting myself, doubting others, and so on. I think the biggest mistake you can make is to not make mistakes. You learn more from making mistakes than from most other things in life. Afterwards you just have to be able to say I’m sorry. And off course not consciously hurt other people.

RSM—Which one of Lola Ramona shoes would you say best reflects your inner red shoe?

GS—Without a doubt: It has always been Angie Hero!

Angie Hero the choice of the shoe entrepreneur behind the Lola Ramona brand

Angie Hero the choice of the shoe entrepreneur behind the Lola Ramona brand

RSM—What do you value about the partnership with the Red Shoe Movement?

GS— The enthusiastic approach you are always met with. The network that stretches all over the world. The beautiful, strong women who aim to empower other women. It’s a beautiful concept and it sits very well with me.

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The Best Advice I’ve Had As a Female Business Owner

As a female business owner I can attest that as a group we have been an underrepresented for a long time. But gradually, and thankfully, this trend is starting to change — in fact, women are now opening businesses 2.5 times faster than the national average with 11.6 million women-owned businesses, generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenue.

As a female entrepreneur myself, I’m aware of some of the specific and arduous challenges that we often face when launching a business – especially in areas that are typically dominated by men. But lucky for me, I’ve been given some valuable and formative advice along the way – advice that I plan on sharing.

Join the sisterhood of female business owners

For female startup founders, there’s much to be said for making an effort to network with other women. Not just fellow female business owners, but suppliers and vendors as well. Any seasoned business owner will tell you that success is just as much about who you know, as what you do. Together, you can share and solve mutual challenges – and most importantly, you’ll realize you’re not alone.

Start by searching for a women’s business network in your local area. Dedicated groups such as Everywoman are also worth looking into, as they’re aimed at advancing women in business. You may want to try a website like Meetup to discover female business owner groups near you.

Both joining a group and networking one-on-one can really boost your confidence and help you get into your stride as an entrepreneur. If there’s a specific business woman you particularly admire, don’t be afraid to connect via email or LinkedIn to suggest meeting for a coffee. Best case scenario, you end up with a new mentor!

As a female business owner, you have a world at your fingertips. Don't forget to network with others in and out of your field.

As a female business owner, you have a world at your fingertips. Don’t forget to network with others in and out of your field.

Successful Female Business Owners Seek feedback

If you want to be sure your business is heading in the right direction, gathering objective feedback is essential. You need to test your business idea and concepts with the market — it’s the best way to ensure that you have a good enough idea that’s going to galvanize a customer community around it.

Not sure whether your idea has merit? Nowadays, it’s easy to test-run an idea without spending a lot of money. If you’re getting into ecommerce, a subscription CMS like Shopify will only set you back $29 per month – and the first 14 days are free. Crowdfunding is another great way to assess demand for your idea, with websites like Kickstarter and iFundWomen aimed at providing a launchpad for new small businesses, along with coaching.

When you start out with your first business iteration or crowdfunding campaign, be honest with your audience about your journey. Seek feedback on products, branding, and service features in exchange for exclusive deals or ‘grandfather rights’. Make it clear to early adopters that part of your whole launch strategy is gathering their feedback in real-time.

Another form of feedback gathering comes from concurrent competitor analysis. By closely analyzing what your competitors are up to, you can start to form a clearer idea of what your customers look for. A strong analysis means more than simply browsing your competitors’ websites – you need to read their reviews (both positive and negative), scrutinize their web presence, and find out what their customers are saying about them online.

By doing this you can uncover their strengths and weaknesses, and in doing so, make strategic decisions about how you can fill in those gaps for your customers.

Once someone gives you some important feedback, re-invest in that relationship. Open a dialogue with them and make them feel valued as an advocate.

Be giving with your personal brand

It’s important to be strategic about how you come across — your personal brand will have a big impact on your success as female business owner.

Devote time and effort into crafting a mission statement and go all-in when it comes to creating an engaging personal brand. Not only does it paint you in a good light, it can also pave the way to new leads and opportunities.

Make an effort to actually get involved in communities – both on and offline. What subjects and causes are important to you? Join the conversation and speak up. Make the most of networking and speaking opportunities. Get involved in Q&As and expert advice sessions to help solidify your reputation. Volunteer with nonprofits and community groups to give back.

Focus on finding a specialty or a unique hook — this will help you stand out. From your website to your business cards and social media profiles, cultivate a coherent and compelling message.

Keep notes of great ideas you hear or you think about. Successful female entrepreneurs are always on the lookout!

Keep notes of great ideas you hear or you think about. Successful female entrepreneurs are always on the lookout!

Financial Matters Every Female Business Owner Should Know

One of the best pieces of advice I had starting out as a fresh-faced, idealistic female entrepreneur? Live below your means and save money. Frugality is one of the best skills you can master as the mistress of your own financial destiny. As your business expands, you will need to keep investing as new opportunities and ideas arise. Make sure you have the ability to do that – aim to save and/or re-invest around 50% of your earnings within the first few years.

What about when you need a financial injection that you’re unable to provide yourself? Raising capital is, unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers that female entrepreneurs can come up against. So another word of advice: if this is the case for you, seek the help of a professional investor. A pro investor not only validates your business venture, they may also offer useful feedback along the way that will make your business stronger. At the same time, they will also want to see evidence of your profitability and current financial standing — don’t seek investment without doing some number-crunching yourself first.

Find a mentor

I cannot overstate the value of having a trusted advisor in the early days of running your business – right when there’s a million and one things to do, and only you making the big decisions. Not only will they train and support you, they will also be there for you to call on in a tricky situation. After all, they’ve seen it all before.

Naturally, as a female business owner, I would recommend finding a female mentor who has herself experienced similar challenges associated with starting a business, such as gender discrimination. Without my own mentor, Jennifer, I highly doubt my own business ventures would be where they are today. Having also a male mentor, however, can help you with any gender-related blind spots you may have.

So how do you find a mentor? If you don’t already have someone in mind, try reaching out to your existing contacts for referrals. LinkedIn is an excellent place to start – this is how I found Jennifer, who was a 2nd degree connection I was able to forge an introduction with. Alternatively, you may want to look into services aimed at matching mentors with entrepreneurs, such as MicroMentor.

Being a sponge is critical to your success as a female business owner. From podcasts to books, find your poison and stick to it!

Being a sponge is critical to your success as a female business owner. From podcasts to books, find your poison and stick to it!

Be a sponge

As a female entrepreneur, you need to learn to soak up knowledge. Not just at the start, but consistently throughout your business journey. We must never stop learning and growing.

We all learn differently: you may prefer books, audiobooks, videos, or interactive learning. Personally, I favor podcasts and extensive reading. I had no idea how enlightening podcasts can be – or how many of them are out there – until relatively recently. It changed my world.

Below I’ve listed five of my favorite podcasts for women in business, along with five of the best books I’ve read on the subject of being a self-taught entrepreneur.

Podcasts

  • Being Boss – a podcast for creative entrepreneurs
  • The Great Girlfriends Show – personal and professional development
  • Raise Your Hand Say Yes – behind the scenes of creative businesses
  • She Means Business – incredible stories of female entrepreneurs
  • Women of the Hour – a podcast about friendship, love and work

Books

  • The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay
  • Female Innovators at Work: Women on Top of Tech by Danielle Newnham
  • If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You by Kelly Cutrone and Meredith Bryan
  • In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
  • Worry-Free Money: The Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life by Shannon Lee Simmons

I believe that when we equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge, we will be closer to achieving an equal and innovative business landscape that will make the world a better, more vibrant, and more tolerant place. Why don’t you tell us about your journey? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.