In every job, every sector and every role they occupy, women shape our community and make multiple positive impacts. They also support and uplift each other. When they share their successes, their challenges and their personal paths forward, empowered females empower other females. Read on to glean some wisdom, inspiration and insight from a handful of the Chamber’s female Ambassadors, definitely some of our area’s leading ladies.
Q: What do you know now about being a woman in business that you wish you knew starting out?
- “Things don’t happen overnight. Growth takes time. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t take things personally; sometimes it’s just business.” - Yolanda Walker, District Administrative Coordinator, Montgomery District, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
- “I wish I knew how to work a room in my beginning years in business. Your network is your networth. I wish I knew how important networking was to marketing.” - Ashley Jackson, Founder, JAMM Resources, LLC
- “I wish I knew how important relationships were to people. I was quick to want to move the business to the next level, but people want to do business with people they know and have built up trust with.” - Angie Jordin, Business Development Manager, exploremedia
- “I would definitely say mom. She taught me early to work hard, be dedicated and to go after what you want. There have been several women in my life who have poured into me, and I am so grateful for them. I may have worked with them, volunteered with them or had a small conversation in passing. You can learn from anyone, even if it’s what not to do.” - Yolanda Walker, District Administrative Coordinator, Montgomery District, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
- “Deedie Carter, former boss (at a different business) and now co-worker. We have worked together for more than 30 years, and she challenges me daily to never give up and to strive for excellence in all aspects of my work and personal life.” - Sandy Boutwell, Sales, Troy Cable
- “I love listening to the ‘Bossbabe’ podcast. They give you a taste of what women in business experience on a daily basis and give you tools and suggestions to build a successful business.” - Courtney Lowery. Spectrum Reach
- “ ‘Lead Like You Were Meant To’ by Rob McKinnon. Excellent read for women who want to be more intentional with their leadership.” - Carol Andrews, Broker, House & Home Real Estate
- “ ‘The Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and David Mann. My favorite part is when they write about ‘give without keeping score.’ We are all in the people business, regardless of our industry. It’s crucial for leaders and influencers to learn to give more value to people than what you expect in return. That is not limited to money. Value can be given in the form of kindness, respect, encouragement and so on.” - Tasha M. Scott CEO, Executive Leadership Trainer, Maximized Growth, LLC, Executive Director, The John Maxwell Team
- “I love the podcast ‘We Can Do Hard Things’ by Glennon Doyle. Although it does not specifically relate to business, it discusses relationships and I think business and relationships go hand in hand.” - Camille Sanford, Marketing Associate, Crawford Square
Q: What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you’d give a young woman just starting out in business or in her career?
- “Keep everything professional. Don’t buy into the relaxed communication skills of texting. And dress for success.” - Carol Andrews, Broker, House & Home Real Estate
- “Take chances. If you fail, fail quickly and move on. The best leaders and successful businesswomen learn from their failures so they can eventually succeed.” - Christina Bennett. Senior Account Manager, exploreMedia
- “Build the skill of emotional intelligence early. Self-awareness, social skills and the ability to create meaningful connections help achieve business outcomes and produce more meaningful professional experiences.” – Ronda Cherry-Smoke, Customer Service Manager, Alabama Power Company
- “Women have a strong understanding of family dynamics and can bring different perspectives to the table in business. Don’t be afraid to jump in and showcase your skillsets in areas that you are strong in.” - Katelyn G. Nelson AAMS®, Financial Advisor, Raymond James Montgomery, AL / Branch 3MB
- “I wish I had known the importance of investing in mentoring for my business. Investing in mentoring has allowed me to navigate some of the challenges, pitfalls and successes that come with being a woman in business.” - LaTarsha Shine, Broker/CEO, We Shine Realty
- “Continuing education is key to success in today’s working environment. How furthering my education could have shaped my career is what wish I had known starting out.“ - Sandy Boutwell, Sales, Troy Cable
- “My biggest piece of advice is to learn your strengths and weaknesses. Do not be afraid of your weaknesses; it is a powerful feeling when you work to improve yourself and accomplish tasks you once feared.” - Camille Sanford, Marketing Associate, Crawford Square
- “Work in a business that you like and that challenges you.” - Denise Haviland, CRP, GMS Corporate Relocation Services, ARC Realty
Symbiotic Support by Mary Johns Wilson
Learn more about women-centered events that are building skills and relationships throughout the region.
The Lab on Dexter and Huntsville-based The Catalyst have formed a mutually beneficial partnership and are working together to provide stronger support and expanded resources for the River Region’s women in business.
Entrepreneurs often face uphill battles. While they know the ins and outs of the product or service they plan to provide, business ownership requires a host of other skills in accounting, financing and marketing.
For women, who represent 40 percent of business owners in the United States, entrepreneurship can be even tougher. But now, women in the River Region have greater access to business education and associated resources, thanks to a new partnership between the Lab on Dexter in Montgomery and REACH Women’s Business Center in Clanton, a project of The Catalyst, a 501c3 based in Huntsville and cooperatively funded by the Small Business Administration.
At the Chamber’s The Lab on Dexter, which is under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Nichole Thompson, entrepreneurs hone their ideas and benefit from state-of-the-art co-working spaces and insightful programming. “The Lab on Dexter is a collaborative learning environment. We’re at the intersection of entrepreneurship and tech and innovation,” said Thompson.
“Being a lifelong learner is a key tenet of being a successful entrepreneur. You need to be on the cusp of what is happening so you’re not trying to catch up.”
The Lab is also meeting crucial business education needs that came to light during the pandemic. “We noticed a gap in a lot of business structures and accounting practices,” Thompson said. “That is our primary job with the Lab on Dexter — to shore up small businesses and make sure they have what they need to scale.”
This priority puts The Lab in alignment with REACH’s goals, paving the way for a prosperous partnership. REACH got its start in Clanton in October 2021 with Austin Bullock as project manager. “The mission of the organization is to provide entrepreneurs and small business owners with the tools and resources they need to start and grow their businesses,” Bullock said.
When Thompson and Bullock were introduced, it simply made sense to work together. “They had some assets we didn’t, and we had some opportunities for them,” Thompson said. “It’s a perfect blend of talent and resources. We’re very excited about the partnership because it solidifies the work we’re doing to give entrepreneurs a solid launching pad.”
Their first joint effort was “Strong Coffee, Strong Women,” held on July 14 at The Lab.
During the event, Dr. Nichole Thompson shared her “espresso-monial,” a coffee-inspired spin on a testimonial. She discussed creating a nonprofit, She Wins Global, and her business AdaChic Designs, a socially conscious handbag company.
“‘Strong Coffee, Strong Women’ is a signature event of Catalyst, where they bring in a woman speaker and invite women and men to attend,” Thompson said. “It was a really good time to talk about my personal journey; it was very rich and let us show the community what we’re working on with The Catalyst.”
“Strong Coffee, Strong Women” will be offered quarterly. Other programming from The Lab and REACH will cover topics such as accounting, business structures, micro-lending, crowdfunding, marketing and branding. While some programs will be offered in-person, all will include a virtual component. Potential attendees can pick and choose from the offerings.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all model. You can commit to whatever fits the need for your business,” Thompson said. “Our offerings are typically a one-hour session, but if someone needs something more in-depth, we can fulfill that now through The Catalyst and their one-on-one coaching sessions.”
These sessions are one of many resources The Catalyst offers at no cost.
“Our workshop leaders and business coaches are subject-matter experts,” Bullock said. “You’re not going to find these resources for free anywhere else. For small businesses, every dollar you can stretch is a benefit, and every nugget of wisdom you can obtain is a benefit. Between The Lab on Dexter and The Catalyst, we have all those resources for you.”
These resources fulfill goals for both groups— to lessen the anxiety of small business ownership and make it an exciting experience for women in the River Region. “We’re seeing huge growth in the number of female entrepreneurs and in the number of people saying ‘The traditional workforce does not work for me. I have something to offer so I’m going to start my own business,’” Bullock said. “For the future of Montgomery and Alabama, it’s incredibly important to offer support and resources for those courageous entrepreneurs.”
In 2021, the Census Bureau reported 5.4 million new business applications filed, a significant increase from 4.4 million new businesses in 2020. As women continue to represent a larger percentage of those new businesses as owners, Thompson said she’s proud she can provide tools to help other female entrepreneurs succeed. “If the data tells us it’s women starting these businesses, then we need to make sure they have the resources, education and start-up capital they need to excel,” she said. “That results in economic development, and that impacts our community greatly.”