While there are some universal tenets of success, entrepreneurs wouldn’t be entrepreneurs if they didn’t march to the beat of their own inner drummer. Many successful small business owners have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that help them achieve success.
Here some of today’s smartest, most innovative, highly successful business owners share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Rebecca Ballard, the inspirational entrepreneur behind Maven Women, a line of fashionable and socially conscious women’s workwear. The clothes are made using high-quality, eco-conscious materials, and designed to stand up against the unrealistic and harmful standard of “beauty” in society today. Maven Women clothes are designed with real women in mind.
She is a self-described “‘jack of all trades’ and dreamer and schemer driven by a desire to enhance social justice.” She’s worked in Washington, DC, and throughout Asia as a social entrepreneur, ED, lawyer, and consultant.
Rebecca is passionate about creating market-based social change that advances human rights, and ending homelessness. She wants to empower businesswomen everywhere, and says she founded Maven Women “to meet an unmet market need for additional socially-conscious options for professional women’s attire and ‘move the needle’ in the global garment industry through product creation and partnership, consumer education, and advocacy.”
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Rebecca Ballard: As a child, I wanted to be just about any career you can think of, from veterinarian to writer to lawyer to model to President. I guess it’s not so surprising I became an entrepreneur, which means I get to do a little bit of everything.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Ballard: Like so many female entrepreneurs, I started a company to create the product I was seeking that did not yet exist.
I have worked on issues surrounding labor and human rights in the global garment industry so I know just how bad this industry can be. I’ve always loved clothes and I struggled with finding stylish, elegant clothing in line with my social justice values for a decade. Workwear was particularly tricky for me. I was formerly a litigator for the federal government, which required a particular type of wardrobe, and I was also frustrated with limited options for working women like myself who had to wear more formal attire to work.
Maven Women brings together all these experiences, creating interesting and elegant workwear in a way that is thoughtful about people and the planet at every step. Our approach honors the voices of the women who wear and who make our clothing, which is why we ask women to co-create the clothing they seek.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Ballard: I had this idea for a long time, but I wasn’t sure I could execute it. I previously ran two nonprofits and I’ve served as the president of two nonprofit boards. These experiences helped me learn much of what I needed to run a startup as well as [honed] my ability to do a great deal without a large budget.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Ballard: There’s so much good stuff out there! Here are a few kernels of wisdom:
1) The definition of success is however YOU define it.
2) The biggest liability in the business is you. Make sure this is the right season for you to launch and prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Set boundaries, develop a thick skin and a support circle, and be good to yourself.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Ballard: First, run another small organization (or two…or three!); then start your own company. Those business skills are great to hone in a more mature environment so you can get a sense of what you need to set up for a company to be successful.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Ballard: I think small business will be an increasingly satisfying place for women seeking careers with purpose, more flexible workplace policies, and a better overall work-life balance. I also think we’re going to see more mompreneuers and I can’t wait to see what these women create!
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Ballard: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle. I’m a big fan of young adult literature, as my favorite literary theme is finding meaning and purpose in life. I used to reread that book every year for nearly a decade—there’s so much wisdom there! I’m almost triple the age I was when I first read it, but these themes ring just as true for me today as then.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Ballard: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” —St. Francis of Assisi