Why I Changed The Name of my Facebook Group

It was mid-2017 when I decided I wanted to lead a Facebook group.  I loved working privately with clients, but knew I wanted a larger entrepreneurial community around me as my coaching business grew.  I live for success stories and love supporting others in getting there.

At the time I was positioned toward working with female entrepreneurs exclusively.  The ah-hah that I might want to market to queer entrepreneurs hadn’t struck, yet, but I did know I wanted more of the divine feminine energy around me.

Many of my friends were starting their own Facebook groups.  I began doing market research, asking for advice from those who had seasoned groups, and looked online for best practices.  I wanted to make sure I did it right.

After tons of brainstorming, I finally came up with The Fempreneur Forum, with the hashtag Build Your #FEMpire.  It was a badass start that I felt really proud of.

Fast forward a year, and I am not only coaching women, but also people who identify as gay, trans, queer, and more.  I always encourage my new clients to join the Facebook group so they can surround themselves with some yummy community and share stories.  It was at this time that I started hearing from my male-identified clients that they didn’t feel like the group was for them.


Oh shit.

As someone who works hard to be inclusive (and to learn fast when a mistake has been made), that sucked to hear.  I invited them in, changed some of the language, but it largely stayed the same.  It was the Fempreneur Forum.  Lovely alliteration and solid vision.

But I could see that it wasn’t aligning with all of my work.  It was just a sliver of what I offered, just a sliver of my community, just a sliver of what I knew it could be.

I’ve spent the past few months thinking hard about this.  As the new year approaches, I’d like to start off strong, truly building a tribe.  I’m rolling out a newsletter in January 2019 full of goodies for Audacious Entrepreneurs who want the latest resources to accelerate their growth.  I launched my Resource Library in December 2018 to provide even more support to entrepreneurs.  And I revived my VIP Days to help launch entrepreneurs who want to build an empire but don’t know where to start.

I couldn’t leave my group behind.

After much deliberation and loving help from my current MasterMind with Alexia Vernon, I landed on the name.  The Audacious Entrepreneur’s Sandbox — Build an Empire.  Change the World.  It fully embodies the kind of entrepreneur I am (one that doesn’t sit still and is constantly attaining new heights in her business(es)) and the kind of entrepreneur I want to serve.  I want to meet entrepreneurs where their vision and reality blend, and help pull that vision into reality.

The kind of programming I want to offer in the group meets that dream.  2019 is going to be awesome in so many ways, and I’m excited to see my Facebook group come alive once more.  If this resonates with you and your colleagues, please invite them into this group’s rebirth so we can thrive together.  Hope to see you there!

What I learned from hearing “congratulations”

It’s been a whirlwind of a year (which is why I haven’t been blogging very much).  I sold my tech company, GreenCup, to another woman in tech (YUSSS), and it is bustling.  I traveled to Las Vegas three times to work with my coach.  I spent May in Los Angeles, scouting a possible place to move.  I then received the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders Award, just as my first book, Stories of Elders, made its debut.  As 2018 closes out, I am proud to know that my talk about that book has been accepted to TEDx and I will be kicking off 2019 with massive excitement.

Naturally, I’ve been hearing a lot of “congratulations” from people when I see them at events.  I’m not quite used to people starting conversations with me that way — usually what I have going on is behind the scenes and it’s in catching up that they might give me a pat on the back or a high five.

I realized I should double check how I am saying “thank you” to these congratulatory comments.  I am used to speaking to audiences and know that it’s important to practice a few times in front of the mirror to make sure the facial expressions you *think* you’re making are actually the ones you want to make.  For once I had the presence of mind to use this same principle for my thank yous…  and oh boy.

It turns out, I was wincing when I said thank you!  I obviously didn’t mean to be.  I mean to be showing gratitude and excitement with a dash of humility.  Turns out, that doesn’t look very good on the face.

I decided to try saying thank you with happy smile, instead, even though that felt ego centric.  Turns out, smiling about the good things you have going on in your life translates WAY better than a mash-up of excited humility.

Now, when someone says “congratulations”, I beam, thank them, and allow them to ask more questions if they are curious.  The smile says I mean it, but I don’t let my current events hijack the conversation.  Just as they say, listening is the best way to show gratitude.

Me too.

On the eve of the five-year anniversary of my tech company, GreenCup, a trusted male friend said said something to me that caught me by surprise.

It was two weeks ago, and we were talking about our mutual entrepreneurial work.  He’s experiencing some of the systems and processes growth that I have dealt with in my own company.  I love building systems (much to the appreciation of my coaching clients), and I’m always happy to pass on what I’ve learned to a friend.

He said he admired me for my work in my tech company.  I asked why – to me, it’s just something that I started and grew whenever I saw a time to pivot.  He said I was brave for starting a company in an industry that openly hates women.

I was shocked.

And then I thought about it.

He’s right.  Wave after wave of news of gender gaps and chauvinism comes from Silicone Valley.  Whether it be a woman leaking her salary or a memo leak from Google, the struggle is real, and it’s getting louder.

I’m proud of the women who are fighting the fight.  Who risk their careers in order to stand for the greater good.

I never thought of myself that way.  I stumbled into it.  I was hired into an SEO company as an Executive Assistant.  I was promoted to Director because I read book after book about my role within the company, and my boss noticed.  When we were bought out and I was laid off, all I did was use what I knew to start my own company.

I wasn’t prepared for the gender discrimination I would face.  I was surprised when I walked into a meeting as a CEO and walked out being thought of as a Secretary.  I was shocked when several clients made comments on my new Developer’s looks rather than welcome her to the company.

Looking back, I can’t believe I was surprised.

I had a stalker when I was 16.  He was an older man and he would come to my work every day.  I was a Concessionist at a local theater, and there wasn’t anywhere to hide.  I had been nice to him.  Once.  That was all the encouragement it took.

At age 12 I was told I would be gutted like a fish by the best friend of the boy I liked because a girlfriend might disrupt their friendship.

I get cat called and whistled at even when I walk in my own neighborhood dressed androgynously.

And, yes, I’ve felt pressured to ‘perform’ as the sex object women are promoted to be.

Today, I’m not surprised by my Facebook feed.  I am damn proud of everyone who took a stand, told their stories, and refused to be quiet anymore.  Thank you for your visibility.

LGBT Business Owner

The First Time I Came Out in the Business World

I came out to myself when I was 23.  I was alone with a friend reading Post Secret when we came across a postcard that described unrequited love for a best friend.  I realized that I had felt the same for twelve years and not allowed myself to know it.  It was as if lightening had struck.

I was nervous about coming out to my friends at first.  I wasn’t sure how they would react.  I knew we were ‘gay friendly’, but no one in our small group identified as LGBT at the time.  Thankfully, I found acceptance with them.

I started my first venture only six months after I came out to myself.  It was a nonprofit organization that offered the secular community in my city the opportunity to volunteer on Disaster Relief projects.  You see, the region is very conservative.  It can be compared to Oklahoma, with the city being moderate and the surrounding suburbs being very conservative.  One didn’t have much in the way of volunteer opportunities in the city unless s/he was at University or associated with a church.

Soon after my nonprofit began I was accepted into the local Rising Women Leaders one-year program.  This was a combination round table and mastermind for women in the community in positions of growth and leadership.  Though we had an agreement of confidentiality and met regularly enough to build deep trust in each other, I was afraid to say anything about being LGBT.  It didn’t play a role in my business life at the time, and I feared judgement and backlash.

During this time, one of the nearby towns passed legislation making it legal for any business to fire someone should they identify as LGBT.  The different communities intermingle often, with many suburban residents commuting to the city for work, and I did not feel my business would be safe if I were out.

One day, eight months into the Rising Women Leaders program, I had coffee with a woman whom I had befriended in the program and had begun feeling safe with.  We started sharing more about our personal lives, which inevitably pour over into our work and growth as entrepreneurs.  I felt tied to my secret — I worried that my business profile would grow in the community, and I would eventually be outed regardless of my efforts to stay closeted and with negative consequences.  I needed my friend’s advice, and chose to tell her who I really am.

Her response took me by complete surprise.  “I’m gay,” she replied to my confession.  All this time and I had no idea!  I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider the fact that there were other women in the community who had the same point of view as myself, that it wasn’t as dangerous a secret as I had considered, and that, perhaps, it could be something to be built upon.

It took several more years before I began coming out to other business colleagues and professionals.  If you’ve read my story about being asked to sit in as secretary for a client, you know that the business environment in my community can be at times old fashioned regarding women in business.  This made me fear that being out as LGBT would receive further off-hand remarks and loss of business.

What I have learned over my slow coming out in business is that the people I want to work with are accepting.  If someone has a bad reaction, or doesn’t want to work with me because of my identity, then we weren’t a fit, anyway.  I also am determined to be an example for the LGBT youth in my city who might one day find they wish to start their own business.  Perhaps they will be so lucky that being out in business will be a nonissue.  One can dream.

Male Clients’ Reactions To My New Female Employee

This isn’t my first post about chauvinism or feminism.  But it’s been a while since I’ve experienced overt chauvinism as a female entrepreneur.  I thought I’d somehow lessened the effects of male bias on my work.  Maybe I was choosing better clients.  Circulating in healthier circles.  Got rid of colleagues who were making me uncomfortable.  I was wrong.

A month ago I hired an amazing female website developer.  Hiring the right people for your business is the difference between you pulling your hair out and things going smoothly.  If you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat.  (However, hiring the wrong people will make you go bald faster.)

My policy with a new hire is to introduce them to our clients.  They trust us with the online representation of their businesses (website, social media, blog) and making the introduction adds to that trust.  Typically I include a photo, short bio, and fun fact in an eBlast to familiarize them with the new hire.

Unfortunately, the tech industry is seriously male dominated, and female developers are hard to find.  As such, this is the first female hire I’ve made in some time.  I had become unprepared for the response we would receive.

Let me clarify that most of the responses were welcoming and congratulatory.  But two separate male clients went out of their way to say something different.

What’s Wrong With This Picture

Did you feel icky?  I felt icky…

Let’s unpack this for a moment.  One client responded directly to the email using our initials as if we were not in a professional relationship.  The other switched from email to texting, adding effort to the response.

Both gents seem to have forgotten they were responding to my new developer’s boss.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t dream of approaching the boss of someone I work with to tell them what I think about their looks.

I’m very protective of my employees.  As a former manager at a company that would drag their employees through the mud, I probably got a strong sense of protectiveness from having to shield those former employees from a lot of bureaucracy.

Since starting my business, only a couple times have I had a client speak down to one of my employees.  Each time, I take action.  I work hard to find the right people for my company culture and needs.  Every company has its own orientation process after making a hire, ranging from a week to months.  Each time, it’s an investment in another human and the company.

I’ve put up with difficult clients when it was my choice alone, when I thought there was still something to be gained.  But my employees don’t have that choice, since I’m the boss.  And a difficult client is the fastest way to burn out a good employee.

How I Handled It

As you can see in the case of the texter, I responded directly.  Up to that message, he and I had a good rapport and I felt that I could say something to check his comment.  The emailer, however, has not heard from me since.  In both cases, I will gently detach us from their work.

Unfortunately, doing more than parting ways is risky.  WIRED Magazine stated in an article about the tech industry’s gender gap, “For women who have experienced this bias—and there are many—the simple act of talking about it is taboo.”  Calling men out on this issue is still a quick path to making enemies.  Though I’m not too worried about my individual consequences, I do have to consider the reputation of my business for the sake of my other clients and my employees.  Just as when I was asked to be a Secretary for a day, I will let sleeping lions lie (as they say).

Have you had to deal with chauvinism in your work?  What did you do?  Share by replying below to support other female entrepreneurs!

My Top Women Owned Businesses Award Speech

Today is really exciting for me.  I’m attending a luncheon for the Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women Owned Businesses Award (say that ten times fast).  My company, GreenCup, is a finalist.  Award recipients have four minutes to speak about their passion and motivation.  I’ve worked really hard on my speech, and would like to share it to inspire you and your work.

Hi Everyone!

Thank you to the Grand Rapids Business Journal for this award, and to the Frederick Meijer Gardens for hosting this amazing event.

What is an Anthropologist and Disaster Relief Worker doing running a website services company?  Life truly takes us in unexpected directions.

My name is Veronica Kirin, and I am the owner and founder of GreenCup.

I spent the first three years of my career doing disaster relief work for a government organization called the National Civilian Community Corps.  During that time I earned the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Medals for service work.  I was also honored to receive the Spirit of Service Award from the Corporation for National and Community Service, bestowed to me by former President George Bush Senior.  I found out, when we shook hands, he has very soft hands.

I loved what I did, but when a tsunami in American Samoa left me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I found the resulting depressing and anxiety I experienced with any relief work I attempted was unbearable.  My career was over, and I was forced to find another way to use my skills to serve others.

Back in Grand Rapids, a loving friend encouraged me to apply for Rising Women Leaders in support of my first venture, a nonprofit organization.  This was a program sponsored by Huntington Bank in support of female community leaders and their careers.  I was accepted into the 2010 program.  There, I rediscovered my empowerment, and met amazing colleagues, several of whom are here today.  Hello ladies!

As my confidence regrew, I realized I might start a business.  I was referred to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, where I took classes on business and learned about the Grand Rapids business community.

I truly believe that nonprofits and small businesses are the backbone of our community.  These are the people who go to work every day to do what they love, whether it’s cutting hair, designing desserts, or innovating in the housing market for the homeless.

Today, for an organization to thrive, they must have a presence on the web.  It’s easy to put something online and say “good enough”, but that is a disservice to the work of an organization.  Done right, a website as simple as five pages can draw visitors in to your passion, not only converting them in sales but as evangelists for your work.  I found that my background in Anthropology and Aid Work perfectly suited this field.

This is what excites us at GreenCup.  The cup means we meet you where you are — tech savvy or no — and usually over a casual cup of coffee.  Green means we build a site that caters to your mission and customer base to draw in the growth you seek.

I’m also pleased to announce that the GreenCup family grew this week with the hiring of a female web developer!  In the male-dominated tech industry, this is an important gain.  I’m sure you all agree.

Our mission in 2017 is to leverage my background in the nonprofit world to grow our work with area nonprofits from 25% to 50% of our portfolio.  This award from the Grand Rapids Business Journal will help make that a reality.

Thank you again for this amazing honor.  It was totally unexpected and affirms that GreenCup is succeeding in its goal of holistically supporting others in a tech-driven world.

Did You Work for a Bad Boss?

This winter, my body has decided that it would pick up every cold going around.  Being sick sucks for anyone, but being sick when you’re an entrepreneur is especially stressful.  There is no one to carry the torch when you’re ‘out of the office’, and often you just have to push through.

There are a lot of reasons to start a business.  The best reasons usually involve a level of passion and expertise which carry us through the hard times (like having a cold).  But so many of us started our own business because we had a bad boss.  We felt a lack of empowerment, misdirection, overcomplication of our jobs, lack of acknowledgement, and sometimes were penalized for not being ‘yes men’.  Are you nodding yet?  You’re definitely not alone, and your reasoning isn’t wrong.  However, it’s important to jump in with eyes wide open.

My Entrepreneur Story

My first business, a nonprofit organization, was started for the first reason — passion.  I wanted to help people serve my community.  My second business, a web company still running today, was started as a reaction to a bad boss.

Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do.  I watched a talented young man with little business savvy hire 16 contractors, then fire them two months later due to ‘budget cuts’.  One week we were buying Dom Perignon to celebrate landing a six-figure client, the next he was raging around the office because Google had once again changed the algorithms on which his business was built.

Finally, he realized he was better suited to do the job and not run a business (a lucrative offer came through from a larger company which helped).  He sold the company to our main client — someone I had had to teach to use Facebook three times.  Needless to say, he was ill-equipped to buy a web company.

At that time I was Director of Content Marketing.  It fell to me to train my new boss and, for a while, he listened.  Sooner than later, he started pushing his own ideas through, as was his prerogative.  But I knew they weren’t right for that type of company or my employees.  I saw the writing on the wall, started designing websites on the side, and had a small portfolio ready the day I was laid off.

What I Did Right

There was a lot I did during the ‘building’ process that allowed me to launch my business the moment I needed to.  I took a few classes at a local entrepreneur organization and had an idea of what it took to run a for-profit business.  I started doing the work I planned to do way before I needed to, and had a legitimate portfolio ready when the time came.  With that portfolio and experience came a client list that I could lean on for referrals.

What I Did Wrong

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the things I wish I’d done.  There are days when the list is really long (bad days), but most of my mistakes were built on ignorance, not actual wrong-doing or inadequacy.  I didn’t know how to reach out to peers, how to find a mentor, and how to build systems for growth, to name a few.

The biggest mistake I made was starting a web company because that’s the industry I had been in for two years.  I more or less took the myriad of work that was involved during my time with my former employer and repackaged it to fit what I saw as the industry opportunity.

There was no passion involved.

I’m good at web design.  I enjoy working with clients to help support their endeavors.  My background in Anthropology makes developing a website that communicates well with the end user a breeze.  Being a visual thinker, design was a pleasant change from the cold math of SEO.

But it was a strategic move — not a passionate one.

Passion is what gets us out of bed in the morning.  It keeps our engines running when we’re exhausted.  The nonprofit sector sees this every day.  Despite having petit budgets, a bootstrapped team, and competitive resources, nonprofits find their staff working 40+ hours / week easily.  The board of my nonprofit was comprised of extremely busy people, but they all gladly made time for a cause they believed in.

Stop & Think

If you’re considering starting a business, stop and think for a moment.  Consider your WHY.  What draws you to entrepreneurship?  I’ve heard the following from many of my clients:

  • I had a bad boss and I never want to work for someone again.
  • I don’t want anyone to control my livelihood.
  • I’ve been doing it for years and know I could do it better.

These are all legitimate reasons, but if there is nothing further from this, you’re going to burn out.  There must be something more to it.  “I’ve been doing it for years — and it would be my dream job — but I know I can do it better.”  There’s a big difference, there.  Four years down the road, when you’re going through a dry spell or need to make a difficult transition, that difference will mean everything.

What You Can Do With An Anthropology Degree

This is a transcript of the talk I gave on November 9, 2016 at Grand Valley State University.

Hi, good afternoon everyone.  I’m Veronica Kirin.  I’m a graduate of GVSU class 2009 from the Anthropology department – my focus was Cultural Anthropology.

I’m here today because I wish someone like me had spoken to my class.  Anthropology is regularly rated as one of the top ten useless degrees — which is silly and untrue.

I want to start by asking you why you are here.  What drove you to get a degree in Anthropology?  Also, what do you plan to do with it at this point?  All answers are valid.  Please state your name, too.

*students answer*

Wow.  You guys are so cool.  Can I be your friend?

I think you know by now that Anthropologists are really good at a few specific things, so I’ll be preaching to the choir, but hear me out.  Typically those who are drawn to the degree path are already open minded, but the course of study opens our minds even further.  We get really good at research *laughs* and are trained in critical thinking.  Of course, we’re usually pretty good at people as well — if not in front of people, then in understanding them.  We’re taught to remove ourselves from our own perspective in order to remain unbiased.  That’s not something most other disciplines get.

A typical career course for us is academia.  Become an Anthropologist, choose a field of study, choose a group in which you’re passionate about, and stick with that.  Write papers, books, etc.  Preserve history, and, in may respects, translate it to others.  That may look like university work, but it also could be work at a museum.

Another path is through Applied Anthropology — using our knowledge and abilities (dare I say superpowers?) to translate between two cultures.  The best worst example is the military, especially in Iraq.  This, as you know, is frowned upon since we have a ‘do no harm’ mentality.  We’re not meant to disrupt or exact change, only observe.  This is a bit hard these days with a Global Society, but we do our best.

Finally, many of us recognize corporate opportunities, but probably aren’t very interested in them (yet).  GM is the best example.  They make products for international use, which need to work within the cultures they sell to.  I believe (Dr. Weibel will correct me if I’m wrong) they were, at one time, the largest employer of Anthropologists in the United States.  Someone in this department told me that so I know I didn’t make it up!

Anyway, that’s not a lot to chose from, and it sells our degree short.

Here’s an example of an experience I had shortly after starting my career.  I was discussing work at a networking event with an owner of a PR firm and happened to mention that I’m an Anthropologist.  He stopped and told me that he would rather hire an Anthropologist over a Marketer any day of the week – for a marketing job, mind you.  I was really proud of my degree at that moment.

But he’s right.  Anthropologists are kickass at anything that involves thinking about humans — which is pretty much everything!  We’re really good at understanding others and translating to them.  Within our own culture there are subcultures, and businesses need help speaking to those groups.

Even more, we really can do anything we set our minds to.  We’re excellent chameleons because we have learned to remove our own priorities in order to better understand others.  With our researching prowess, we really can learn our way to anything.

So here’s my experience doing just that.  I started in the disaster relief world as a case worker.  Immediately my degree was at use, not just with how to do a good ethnographic interview and truly listen, but also to empathize with what was happening without getting caught up and making their stress my own.

When I completed my term of service, I wanted to do more.  Here’s where the research comes in.  I decided to start a tax exempt nonprofit organization all by myself.  I didn’t have a board to support me or cofounders, just an idea and the drive to make it work.  I researched my way into the Articles of Incorporation with the State of Michigan, researched how to complete the 40 page 501(c) IRS paperwork, and (finally) researched how to build a board, including bylaws and code of conducts.  I lead two volunteer teams, researching how to create expectations and volunteer forms in the process.

Today I’m a serial entrepreneur.  My first and main business is website design, development, and maintenance.  I had no clue how to code — but I researched my way into it.  I researched how to build contracts, handle employees, and guide clients through the development process.

In doing all this (and much more… it’s addicting) I learned an important fact.  Anthropologists are being hailed as the new Design wave because of how we can think about users.  WIRED Magazine wrote an article all about this.  Instead of approaching a user interface or product from the point of view of the function already developed, we approach it with the humans in mind.  This makes us way better at Design Thinking and Human Centered Design.  As tech fields grow, we’re going to be in high demand.

Finally, I want to leave you thinking about the two side projects I have going.  The first is a book (hopefully to become more of a main thing).  I used my research and interviewing skills to interview elders born before 1940 about how technology is changing us.  It’s a blend of ethnography and nonfiction writing, and it is not sanctioned by a university.  I just decided to do it, figured out how to fundraise on Kickstarter, and am doing it.  The lens with which we begin to see the world due to this degree allows us to truly explore other perspectives — and, again, bring them to others.

My other side project is a temporary one.  I am managing a crowdfunding campaign for a woman named Zahra, an Afghan refugee here in Grand Rapids.  Her mother and sister are still in Afghanistan and, with no male guardian, are in real danger.  They were all child brides, and have various levels of disability due to the beatings they’ve received.

Not only was I able to research how to develop this project, I am able to represent it in a way that donors can resonate with while still remaining culturally and historically accurate.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who can strive toward this, but I know that my background in Anthropology makes me all the better at it.

Now let’s talk about you.  Have I gotten any wheels turning?  Any new ideas popping up?

How I Discovered Feminism

This post is dedicated to team Red Four, who put up with my naivety and unfettered energy for a year, and who are responsible for shaping me into the strong and empowered woman I am today.

Ten years ago I was a rather ignorant young woman.  I had been fairly sheltered as an adolescent, grew up in the homogenous suburbs, and was attending a university large enough to find a tribe that would isolate you from any others.

I had a bleeding heart for cause based work, and decided to leave my degree path for a year and join the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCCs) shortly after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast.  I chose the program because it was structured after the military (structure I knew I required) and sent its members all over the United States.  Since it was so soon after Katrina, I was guaranteed some time in the Gulf.  Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Aid were my biggest passions, which made it a perfect fit.

Before my year with the NCCCs, I’d hardly heard of the word ‘feminism’.  I knew it was a movement that involved burning bras and garnering the right to vote, but that was the farthest my knowledge went and I did not identify with the label.  Little did I realize that by joining a national program that attracts all walks of life, I would mix with people I never would have otherwise and learn a lot — about others, and myself.

The first assignment my team received after training was to Operation TLC in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  The organization had been started by two Red Cross First Responders who could not in good conscience leave the Gulf after their three-week deployment (the American Red Cross policy of three week assignments is designed to provide maximum support while avoiding the development of PTSD in its members).  They stayed on and created the organization to serve Mississippians who had ‘fallen through the cracks’ — who no other organization would serve.

I was assigned as the Case Worker for the organization.  The organization was brand new, so not only was I required to interview people who were likely to begin crying while recalling their experience with the Storm, I first had to build it.  I was told to replicate the process of a few other organizations, create a double lock and key system, and color code for at-a-glance understanding of severity of the cases.  I had three filing cabinets at my disposal, so I used them to create a triage process in addition to the severity levels.  My other tool was a government cell phone, on loan to the organization.

My mentor in all of this was Tammy.  She was a powerful presence, with short dark hair, an arm band tattoo, and a voice as loud as her energy.  She could motivate anyone.  She oversaw the day-to-day work at TLC, while her partner (Annie) largely oversaw distribution of goods and services based on my casework.  The rest of my team ran the organization — reception, rebuilding where needed, distribution, and volunteer coordination.

The first experience I had with Tammy was the day of my assignment.  I told her I couldn’t do what she’d asked of me because I had had no serious training or experience (outside of the basic Red Cross orientation).  I wasn’t an empowered person, didn’t believe in myself, and had no idea that my ability to empathize and connect with people was the most important part of the job.  She told me I could and that I would, gave me the necessary resources to figure it out, and sent me on my way.

It was she that taught me about feminism.  We were on a drive to a neighboring town to assess a home based on the testimonial I’d received from the client.  We had to make sure the situation was what they’d described since resources were limited.  I cannot remember why she brought it up, but I do remember her direct question, “Do you know what feminism is?”  I blundered through my answer.  I hated to look ignorant in front of someone I looked up to, but all I could think of was burning bras.  I didn’t know anything about wage equality, the different movements, or the cultural pressure on both males and females to ‘act a certain way’.  I just knew that women cut their hair short and wore stifling business suits and that wasn’t something I wanted.

Tammy could have used that opportunity to school me on the topic, but she didn’t.  She knew that over exposure too early and with too much pressure could do more harm than good.  What she did say was that there was much more to it than what I knew, that it was about women being just as able as men and being accepted as such, and that neither sex should be required to conform to a mould.  And that was it.

Two months later I was redeployed as volunteer lead on one of the Habitat for Humanity East St. Tammany (Louisiana) sites (there were three major neighborhoods they were building out).  I worked with both men and women, and it was the women who had me in awe.  Some women walked the top of the frames as if they were born up there.  They knew how to get things done and didn’t hesitate to take action.  My supervisors, for the most part, were accepting of the female presence on their worksites.  But some of the male volunteers were terribly disappointing.

One in particular furthered my education.  Standing next to myself and another female Corps Member, he kept missing the head of the nail he was hammering into the OSB, each time exclaiming to himself, “You hit it like a girl!”  I still wasn’t an empowered woman, and didn’t know to say something, but my partner did.  It didn’t sink in, and he continued his offensive behavior.

Later, she whispered how offensive his comments were, forcing me to truly consider their origin rather than allow the incident pass as normal.  He was taught to think of poor construction skills as ‘female’, and strength as ‘male’.  And so was I.

After a year of fantastic mentors, a phenomenal  and supportive team, and a diversity of work, the concept had sunk in.  I had become a feminist.

Progress Halts Without A Business Name

(Identifiers have been changed to preserve my client’s privacy.) 

Two years ago I worked with a woman who wanted to grow her holistic business.  She had been working both from her home and as a contractor in an office, with the goal of building a client base large enough to be 100% independent.  I love working with women who do good for others, and was excited to help grow a care organization.

During our consultation, I walked through the answers she’d provided on my Client Brief and slowly began getting a picture of where she was, and where she wanted to go.  She’d been exploring the option of being an independent care professional for some time, but kept hitting a wall.  She wasn’t sure how to operate around the necessary digital presence (website, social media), but knew she needed it.  But what she didn’t tell me was that she didn’t have a name.

What’s in a Name

Naming your business is one of the most important things you will do on your journey as an entrepreneur. Names hold a lot of weight — they can conjure cultural and historical associations, emotion, and urgency, which is why some businesses get it so right, and some get it so, so wrong.

As you name your business, it’s not enough to simply consider the description of what the business is.  It’s also important to consider the ‘feel’ you wish for anyone who comes into contact with your business to experience.  Are you fastest?  Cheapest?  The best?  Is your business warm and fuzzy, cold and efficient, or neither?  Do you cater to children or adults?  Of course, all of this will be even more apparent with the right brand identity, but the name is the seed that grows the rest.

Often a business will choose a name that is seemingly nonsensical.  Take Etsy for example.  The name was intentionally nonsensical, offering the founder the opportunity to build the brand from scratch.  However, the name is short, to the point, and sounds similar to familiar words in the English Lexicon (like “easy” or “itsy bitsy spider” – linking it subconsciously to the ease of working with small craft artisans).  If you choose this route, working within a ‘sounds like’ framework is still important.  Too nonsensical a name will turn people off instead of inspire a “tell me more” response.

What Happened to my Client

Once I discovered that my client was stuck on naming her business, I zoned in on that problem and that problem only.  Her mind had been unable to settle on a single concept because she’d been thinking about all the possibilities the business held for her.  She was letting her idea be compromised by what URLs were available, by the various services she hoped to provide (including those she didn’t yet), and her competitors.

I could see a lot of passion in her for what she did, but it was dueling the logical need to position oneself in the community and make money.  And so fear became the motivator, not the love of her chosen career, and our meetings were muddled.  We went through many lists, and settled on several names, only to have the entire concept completely uprooted by the next time we met.  We even got far enough to purchase two domain names, just to let them default.  My client no longer could see her true self.

What to do if You Can’t Decide

If you’re stuck in a similar fashion to my client, step away.  I mean it.  Walk away and stop thinking about your business concept for a week.  Totally let it go.  I realize this is extremely difficult — stress makes us latch onto ideas as if our life depended on them.  Recall my article about burnout and the ‘fight or flight’ affect of stress; your brain thinks it’s life or death when stress is involved.

Fortunately, your business name isn’t life or death.  If you find you’re having trouble walking away, try this trick:  every time the thought bubbles back up, take some deep breaths, telling your mind to let go of the thought with each breath.  You could even imagine blowing the thought away, releasing it from your body.

By walking away from the stress of naming your business, you allow your brain to settle down and reprioritize back to what is truly important.  Typically a week’s reprieve is enough for an entrepreneur to remember exactly why they chose to start their business in the first place.  You had an idea, and it excited you for some reason.  Maybe it’s passion or maybe it’s opportunity, but that root is where you’ll eventually find a comfortable business name that communicates your excitement to others.

When you return to the drawing board, start with what brought you down this path in the first place.  List those reasons, and let the naming process begin after that list is complete and clear.  In my experience, the name will spark from that list.

Leave a comment below about your naming process and be entered to win a free half-hour coaching session!