“Success” is a word that has countless meanings and exerts an individualized emotive. More often than not, success in the business world is part of the machismo culture. However, when a woman steps into that world, she defies expectation, overcomes obstacles, and shatters the patriarchy.
For a woman, the struggles of creating her own business may seem amplified and tiresome, inducing a sense of hopelessness. ink.mdc created this blog series, “Diary of a Startup Goddess”, because just one story can uplift any woman from such disillusionment. We’ve invited businesswomen, who have broken the glass ceiling who have redefined entrepreneurship, to tell their story because we want to encourage other women to pursue their passions. Join us each month for one of these incredible stories!
Amita Sherwood, owner of E Squared Solutions, is an amazing example of balance. Through the years, she has perfected a routine that works best for her and her family, ensuring that everything receives its dedicated time. She shares her tips with us.
Brooke German (BG): What made you want to start your business, E Squared Solutions?
Amita Sherwood (AS): I usually say it was by mistake. I started E Squared Solutions in 2013, after having two daughters. I had been doing consulting work for eight to nine years and knew that one day I would create my own independent consulting business. I was doing a lot of traveling for my job, and it was getting overwhelming. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right when it came to either being committed to working or being committed to my family.
I left my full-time position, and I wanted some time off. I changed my LinkedIn profile to show I was not with this company anymore, and I started getting emails and messages from connections asking what I was doing right now. Some would say, “I have a small project . . . do you want to work on it?” At the time, the answer was “yes” because I wasn’t working on anything else. That lasted for a few months, and I thought, “If I can keep a couple of projects going at a time, I can do business out of this.” Several months later, I did incorporate and establish a business.
BG: What did the first three years entail?
AS: I got lucky. Those first three years were filled with a couple of bigger clients and long term projects. I got these clients through referrals, and they took up most of my time. It almost felt like I wasn’t operating a business, working a full-time job, and supporting two clients. For the first three years, it was just about delivering to these clients and trying to figure out how to balance that commitment to the projects because the difference was that my name, the business name, was on the line now. With a young family, that was a challenge.
BG: Were you afraid to take the first step in owning a business?
AS: There wasn’t much fear since it happened by mistake. In the first two years, I probably asked myself once a week or once every couple weeks, “Is this the right thing? Should I own a business? Do I have enough experience?” It’s nerve-wracking not having the “security” of a company behind me, particularly with a young family. But I thought of it as, “If this doesn’t work out, or if some of these client projects don’t last, I’ll just get a real job again.” Maybe that backup plan prevented me from having fear.
BG: How did you find the best networking community for yourself? Or is that still something you’re searching for?
AS: It’s something I’m still working on. I’ve learned more about it over the past seven years, but I still have a lot to learn.
Starting E Squared Solutions happened through my existing network, and LinkedIn was a huge part of that early process. I wasn’t doing the best at engaging my network because I had steady, longtime client work. I now understand that LinkedIn is a great platform to engage and to get recognized for your skillset and your knowledge.
In my industry space, there are a few organizations that helped me. One of them is the American Society for Quality, which has opportunities for members to learn and attend conferences. I’ve made a concerted effort to do my learning, and a lot of it comes from reading, internet searches, and listening to others. From the entrepreneurial business perspective, there are many influencers: Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Cuban, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Jim Collins, Sarah Blakely, and Dorie Clark.
There are times when it’s overwhelming to find your network, but what I’ve learned is you don’t have to do all of it; it’s not possible. Try to find the ones that best fit your business, your interests, and your skillset. Several networking groups do have criteria and fees to join them, so keep that in mind.
Another useful organization is Million Dollar Women because they focus on female entrepreneurs. It’s run by a woman named Julia Pimsler, who helps women achieve million-dollar businesses. If any of us wanted to, we could spend all of our time networking, but that’s not realistic. We have to balance how much time we commit to each element of the business.
BG: Do you find yourself scheduling time to learn new things, or does it happen naturally, as you’re working?
AS: I wish I could say that I’m regimented with learning, but sometimes I’m researching and end up going down a rabbit hole. I realize that’s not something I planned for, so I usually make a note for my whiteboard. I have it set up with three columns: Not Started, In Progress, Completed. For example, I have a note that says I need to look into LinkedIn Sales Navigator videos. Depending on how my day is, I will try to spend an hour to pursue some of the things I have on that list. And it feels good when you move one of those sticky notes to the completed column.
BG: What experience have you had with mentorship?
AS: I don’t have formal mentors that I meet with regularly. I have some great colleagues/friends that do similar work or have small businesses, so sometimes I work on client projects with them. They’ve been great sounding boards and partners on this journey. The Million Dollar Women group has been a nice venue to learn and to absorb information, so that’s my level of mentorship. I don’t know that I can say I’ve formally mentored many folks in building a business. However, I do deliver a lot of coaching to individuals in my client organizations through the nature of the business. From that perspective, I’ve coached hundreds of people in the past 10+ years on elements of process improvement and problem-solving.
I’ve recently been trying to do better at mentorship. I’ve been going on LinkedIn, setting up one or two meetings per week to just touch base, say hello, see what my colleagues are working on. A lot of times, it gives me great ideas.
BG: Is there such a thing as work-life balance? What does it look like for you?
AS: That’s the million-dollar question. There can be a balance between our work and personal lives. However, to achieve some level of balance, we’re always sacrificing something. It’s not a bad thing; we have to make choices between where we commit ourselves. Sometimes there’s not a lot of choices, and it has to be one way or another.
I’m thankful that I work from home because that helps with balance. But sometimes that can also pose a challenge since work and personal aspects can bleed together. We have to make choices to achieve that balance and be okay with it. I do a lot of traveling for my job, and my kid's joke, saying, “Mom, remember when we had that thing? Oh wait, you missed it.” Those are times when it’s easy to feel guilty, but I have to be comfortable with the choice I made. If anything, hopefully what I’m doing is being a model for our children.
It’s also important to have a separate workspace and to follow a routine as if you’re going into an office (waking up at the same time every morning, exercising, helping the kids get ready for school, and then starting and committing to work.) I’ve kept core working hours, usually from 9-3. Early in my home career, I probably mixed work and personal life too much. I figured out that just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I would pay for it later because I didn’t get things done, and I had to work later at night. I try not to work later in the evening or on weekends, but I will if I have to.
BG: Have you made mistakes as a business owner? How did you learn from them?
AS: Those first few years, some mistakes stick out. The first was not networking enough. I had those two large clients, and I got comfortable. Second, I didn’t commit to working on the business, and I was just busy enough working in the business. Third, I didn’t do a lot of learning for myself (I was in survival mode). And last, tracking and understanding my business's financials is something I didn’t do a great job of either; my books were terrible. Through all of this, I learned that mistakes would happen, and that’s okay. Treat them as learning opportunities instead of beating yourself up. Create a plan to help you do things differently.
I made some changes as time went on. I started the business as one person, but it got to the point where I couldn’t do everything. I realized that delegation is important, which included hiring a virtual assistant. I changed my mindset from being an independent consultant to being a business. This led me to learn more about all aspects of business, like sales, marketing, growing a team, and finances. Even though I may not be able to buy the big shiny solution, I can still get a few pieces and commit to helping move forward in some of those areas.
Amita Sherwood is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt who is passionate about empowering people and organizations to achieve extraordinary results. She has spent over 18 years partnering with organizations in a variety of industries including insurance, federal (DoD and Civilian), health care, higher education, financial services, and information technology to boost organizational performance and effectiveness in the areas of:
Large scale Lean Six Sigma deployment strategy and execution
Development and delivery of Lean Six Sigma training (all levels)
Project and team facilitation and coaching
Leadership development and coaching
Change management strategy planning and execution
Performance metric development, reporting, and monitoring
Risk management deployment planning and execution
Amita holds a bachelor’s degree in management science and information systems from The Pennsylvania State University. Between her personal and professional travels, Amita has had some notable experiences including seeing two wonders of the world (Great Wall of China and Taj Mahal), kissing the Blarney Stone, and being kissed by a stingray.
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Brooke German is a graduate of Youngstown State University, and she holds a bachelor's degree in professional and technical writing.
Brooke is ink.'s editor-in-chief. Not only does she love editing, she has the experience to back it! Her editing projects include articles, websites, brochures, books, and more.
In her spare time, you can find Brooke reading—usually two books at one time.