“People Over Everything”—5 Small Business Owners Share Their Best Advice

In a world where pretty much anything can be monetized—AKA your passions, dreams, and talents turning into your latest career venture—it’s easy to forget the things that don’t have a price tag. Things like community, motivation, and advice. When you’re thinking of throwing in the towel or u-turning away from your goals, it’s the people who support you unconditionally that help you reconsider. It’s also the people that have been through similar scenarios who give the best advice. Starting a business can be daunting and thinking of where to begin can be exhausting.

So, we tapped the shoulders of five women who showcased their passion-turned small businesses at our Mastercard Small Business Marketplace in New York. We have been dying to know what their best piece of priceless advice is—read on for the inside scoop.

Q: What were some resources you found super helpful in launching your business?

Coco Dotson and Breezy Dotson, Founders of Coco & Breezy: “When we launched our business we started with less than $1000 dollars. We had just moved to New York to launch. Since we didn’t have any access to capital our biggest resource was the internet and sharing our brand story in the  rawest and authentic way.”

Teressa Foglia, Founder of Teressa Foglia: “My branding agency, Scout Lab. Finding an attorney and accountant who works with small businesses: Paco De Leon. A strong network for friends and agencies who can support you and be a sounding board for strategic planning. A community of like-minded brands to collaborate and co-promote with. I also attended and continue to attend workshops, panels, retreats and any events that can be educational or inspiring with industry leaders. Some of my favorites are hosted by Create & Cultivate, Soho House, The Assemblage, FashRev, Habitas, Neuehouse, The Wing, HER USA and Industry City.”

Kelsea Olivia Gaynor, Founder of East Olivia: “My most vital resources have consistently been women who I’ve either worked for previously or alongside launching my business. I believe in supporting one another as women, and surround myself with a community of peers and mentors who value sharing their successes and failures. This has continued to be a core priority as I grow my business. I have a tribe of people who hold me accountable for being the leader I've committed to beingbe, and consistently have to be willing to ask for support from that group when I move into unfamiliar areas, which happens quite often in growing a business.”
“When I heard Ginger Siegel, Head of North America Small Business, speak at Create & Cultivate—I knew immediately that she was someone I wanted to connect with. She was someone who I felt could provide insight as I financially planned East Olivia's future. I come from a background with limited financial education and experience, so asking for financial advice can feel daunting and intimidating. For me, it all feels like uncharted territory. However, each time I’ve pushed past my fears to ask important questions or for support in an area that felt overwhelming to me, I am always grateful I did.”

Bliss Lau, Founder of Bliss Lau: “When I first started my business I had no credit, so I had trouble getting financing to buy the supplies needed to fill my orders. I built my credit by getting a Mastercard, using the max and paying it off in full almost every month. Eventually, I was able to get a small business loan and a higher balance. Ultimately utilizing my credit allowed us to develop new products seasonally and expand without a huge financial risk or taking on investors.”

Michelle Cadore, Founder of YES I AM, Inc.: "My BBA in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management helped me in many practical ways, and I also learned about plenty of resources while working for NYC's Department of Small Business Services, but nothing beats real life experience. At the end of the day, you need capital to grow your business and thankfully my Mastercard helped pay for those start-up expenses.”

Many people would never dare take this risk, but if you believe in what you have, and you pour your all into your business then no matter what happens you are already a success.
— Michelle Cadore

Q: What’s your biggest business goal for the next year?

CD and BD: “Our biggest business goal is that we will raise our first round of funding to help scale our company and DTC business model. We are really excited to grow our team and to bring on great talent that can help build our big ideas. We’ve been bootstrapping since day one of our business.”

TF: “Sales growth. We’ve cultivated an amazing community and develop partnerships that are invaluable— that’s where our focus will always be and this year we’re adding wholesale growth and direct to consumer growth through our online experience.”

KOG: “My biggest goal for this year is to sustain our growth in a consistent and financially healthy way. Building our team of full time and part-time staff is a major part of this goal. As we grow our staff, my responsibilities to our staff grow exponentially. I am committed to hiring talented creatives and offering them the things they deserve like great salaries, quality health insurance, 401k's, and an amazing work environment. In order to accomplish and maintain those standards for my employees I am prioritizing profitable growth above and beyond those hard costs.”

BL: “I am working with all of my gemstone vendors and manufacturers to help them understand the value of respect to the environment and people especially women who are impacted by our products. Transparency is no longer an option it is a must, and I want to help my industry move forward with honesty and respect. It is not about disruption for us it’s about the partnership, shared goals and evolution.”  

MC: “By next year, I want YES I AM Clothing to be the signature clothing brand for empowerment and inspiration while earning $1M in sales.”

Q: What’s the most priceless piece of advice you could give to a new business owner?

CD and BD: “Continue to get to know yourself. In order to be a great leader and founder, you have to make sure you give yourself time to breathe, learn and grow as an individual. We all spend a lot of time working hard but it’s easy to burn out. I know the word self-care can be a little cliché and overused, but it is truly important. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes people have fears that people may just you from not knowing an answer. But always remember that everybody doesn’t know everything—you learn as you go.”

TF: “Do everything with passion,define your values, mission, and purpose in your brand strategy. Have the right team and agencies aligned with you? Once you have your vision set, don’t compromise your product or service for opportunities that deviate from who you are.”

KOG: “People over everything. Meaning. I believe that the success of my business, while in large part fueled by my passion and hard work, is dependent on the people who stand alongside me. I can only do so much myself. I am the spark, but in order to see my vision, goals, and dreams come to life  I need the right people in my corner. Whether it's your first hire, your mentor, or the freelancers you bring on project-by-project— the people you surround yourself with will directly impact the quality of your work, your ability to grow, and ultimately, the success of your business.”

BL: “Know yourself first. Truly diving into what your independent ideology is, is paramount to staying true to your vision.”

MC: “You have to believe in your business and in yourself. Being a business owner is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged. It is your baby and no one is going to love your baby more than you do. You have to eat, sleep, breathe your business with a passion to grow it to a successful level. It can take as long as 10 years to hit your stride and you better be willing to sacrifice. You may lose friends/relationships. You may not have work/life balance. You will have failures or missteps. You will have high highs and you will have lows that will make you want to give up. Many people would never dare take this risk, but if you believe in what you have, and you pour your all into your business then no matter what happens you are already a success.”