Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Kathy McShane built a $6 million business around her passion. And she has powerful advice for other entrepreneurs looking to create businesses that make them live their values ​​every day.

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Kathy McShane has built a career around her love of making a difference. After working in product development and other areas at American Express, McShane started her own marketing company, Kendrew Group, in the New York City area. She ran it from 1987 to 2010 growing into a $6 million venture, and also taught as an adjunct professor at New York University.

McShane went on to start the trailblazing group Ladies Who Launch, a membership organization that supported 8,000 women in starting and growing their businesses, and led it from 2010 to 2017. In 2018, she became assistant director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership in the U.S. . Small Business Administration, where she served the US government for two years before starting her own consulting firm. “My passion is helping women,” says McShane.

As McShane found, budding entrepreneurs often benefit from a combination of technical assistance and mentoring. At the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, McShane’s work has focused on serving women who first thought about starting a business. Helping them build their confidence was an important part of this, as structural inequalities, such as lack of access to capital, could diminish their belief in themselves as entrepreneurs.

“A lot of women say, ‘I don’t think I’m qualified,'” says McShane. “There are so many situations where women are just reduced.”

McShane is also an energetic advocate for people with disabilities, and she spoke about how her priorities and values ​​in this area have driven her business during a July 28, 2022 panel I moderated for the New York Public Library on Entrepreneurship and Disability. (The video of the program will be available here soon). After contracting polio at age five, McShane has faced challenges that affect her gait. In her high visibility roles, she has had to overcome the discomfort some people feel when they see someone with a physical disability. “A lot of people feel uncomfortable around people who aren’t identical to them,” she says.

Company ownership can be ideal for people with disabilities, she says. “There are so many positive emotional reasons for people with disabilities to pursue entrepreneurship,” she says. “You can really be yourself. You have value. I built my business around my value. You can too.”

Her advice to entrepreneurs with a disability? “Don’t let others determine your success,” she says. “I don’t define success for you,” she says. “You define success for you.”

The panelists shared some other insights that may help you as you start a business. Here are some key takeaways.

Make a step-by-step plan and follow it. “I purposely chose a company that I knew what I was doing: it was marketing,” says McShane. As the main breadwinner in her household at the time, she decided it was essential to write a business plan, detailing the financial side of the business. “How else do you know to put food on the table?” she asks.

Make sure you get a reality check of your business plan from knowledgeable people around you. McShane was mostly optimistic. When she asked for feedback on her plan, she recalls that one of her advisors told her, “You’d better increase that spend by 30%, because it’s not going to happen like this.”

Run your business according to your values. One of the reasons McShane chose to run her own business after many years in business, she says, is “that I could define and articulate my values ​​and only hire people who subscribed to those values.”

One of those values ​​was supporting women – part of a greater commitment to inclusion. “I felt like women have a hard time because we are the caretakers and caretakers,” she says. “I had women who worked for me who had young children or older parents. It was a tough place to be, but I gave them an environment where they could be themselves, celebrate themselves, and where we could take into account any disabilities or challenges they may have and not see them as negative, but instead focus on the things they did particularly well.”

Make time for building relationships. “Relationships and connections are so much more important than you think,” says Gustavo Serfafini, co-founder of Pure audio video, a high-end equipment reseller in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, which creates comprehensive home entertainment experiences for those who love technology, movies and music, generating annual sales of approximately $2 million. “If you’re interested in a space, start a Meetup group, join a Meetup group, start connecting with those communities of people and you’ll see so many more doors open for you, so many more opportunities, that you could turn or shift or twist into something far better than you could have even imagined. I wish we had done that more before taking the plunge.”

Embrace your strengths. Problem solving can be a special strength for people with disabilities, who are put in situations where they need to tap into this skill every day. “If someone with a disability, you’re always trying to figure out how to get around this,” says McShane. “How do I overcome those stairs? So you are always looking for creative solutions to things. I don’t think we’re fully aware of it, but that’s what we do. We do it every day. That’s why… most people with disabilities are problem solvers. We have no choice. We have to figure it out.”

Organic chemist and consultant to the food and beverage industry Hoby Wedler – also co-founder of Senspoint design, a global creative, marketing and strategic consulting firm, has also found that his birth without sight has helped him solve problems and innovate in ways that people with sight might not. That enabled him to build a business serving customers, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s wineries, where he developed new wine tasting concepts.

“In the food industry, I use my taste buds, I use my skills that other people don’t have, and I’m able to solve problems that no one else can solve,” Wedler said. “The product development cases, when I’m involved, are very challenging. And I just love that. I’m literally able to perceive things, see things, and I use the word see things in a light that other people don’t see them.

Find different ways to get the experience you need to do your job. McShane once worked on a marketing campaign for a brand targeting runners with tired and sore legs. Someone said, “Kathy, what do you know about running?” McShane thought about it and realized that while she doesn’t run, she had another experience that was just as relevant: “I sponsored the Boston Marathon,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be real running. You can also do it another way.”

Create opportunities for other people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities are out of work because companies don’t recognize their talents – and entrepreneurs with disabilities are in a position to break that cycle with their own workforce.

“The Department of Labor has a database of people with disabilities,” says McShane. “These people are brilliant. And they should all have a job, but some people just feel really uncomfortable around people with disabilities. That was one of the motivations for me when I started my own business. I wanted to be in a position where I could hire people if they were disabled or not, but really hired them for what they did well, hire them for their value system. Frankly, they were treated no differently.”

As the panelists noted, entrepreneurship can be a very rewarding career option. While some employers wouldn’t hire him, Wedler says, “If I can’t sit at the table, I’ll build my own.”

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