For those with a great idea and some investor cash, a down economy and a troubled job market mark the right time for a small business to take off. In many cases the risk-taking, innovative, emerging entrepreneurs are women. To be successful in what can still be considered a man's world is different than it was 10, 20 and 30 years ago. Today there is less talk about asserting feminism and more about doing things openly and creatively.
Be a chameleon
Tena Clark, a songwriter, producer and entrepreneur who is the CEO of DMI Music, has triumphed and sustained a vibrant career in the music business for almost three decades because she always evolved as both an artist and an entrepreneur. She watched the music industry change and discard hardworking artists and innovators, but was able to adapt instead of fighting to keep the way things always were.
“I’ve watched industries transform and jobs disappear,” says Clark. “But I kept having successes because I kept my fingers in so many pies so that if any part dried up, I had others to rely on. I never was just a one-trick pony.”
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Be ready to start over
Every industry experiences the terrible moments where half the talk is about how the good years are over and how it’s time to move on to another industry. The other half tends to think if they stick it out and keep their head down, things will be okay. Find the middle.
“Sixteen years ago I was listening to two extremes of talk with my industry, and what I realized was that they were both wrong and that it was time to recreate,” says Clark. “I realized then that I had to be ready and okay with starting over and thinking differently, thinking with fresh ideas.”
Being bold with her business and thinking far outside the box was the only way to survive. But doing so took tremendous risk and separated Clark from the pack.
“I was always looking for how to do things differently,” says Clark. “Years and years ago I was asking questions like: ‘Why is the only place you can buy music in a warehouse or a tower?’ Or, ‘Why is music only playing on the radio? Why can’t it be heard in other places?’ I was thinking of those concepts before they were in practice today.”
Be a game-changer
Because Clark had branding experience from working in commercials and films, she was able to change the game of her industry.
“I was dangerous,” says Clark. “I was about connecting the consumer to the brands through music, and using the emotional power of music. I coined a phrase: ‘There is no better way to create loyalty than through emotion, and then there’s no better way to create emotion than through music.’ We approached brands through a marketing side. We didn’t have an agenda we were trying to sell you; we were just trying to sell your brand by creating a sound DNA and now the music footprint is everywhere: online, in stores, concerts, in webisodes, in gaming...it can touch you in any audible place.”
Have a strategy
Design and map out a plan with your team that everyone signs off on so it can just be plugged in and applied to clients and projects.
“I never had to worry about what the future of radio was or what the radio would or wouldn’t play because I had all these other non-traditional dependencies I’d mapped out," says Clark. "My strategy and my company’s strategy have been to never be dependent on one way of doing things. I get new artists and understand there are new ways to hear them. Then you start to be able to predict what will happen in your industry.”
Modernize the feminist approach
The 80s are over so there are battles that have been won and new challenges to conquer.
“It’s not about going in blazing guns with ‘I am a women, here me roar’ anymore,” says Clark. “There shouldn’t even be that conversation anymore. I don’t come across the sexist stuff like that anymore. So much business happens over dinner, on a golf course, and through good relationships. So it’s important as women to really have those relationships and build them with other women in the business world."
Befriend other CEOs and entrepreneurs
Find other women you jive with in the business world whether they relate to your business or not. They can be mentors or you can be theirs.
“It’s been the best way for me to network and to give me confidence because from the male standpoint if you don’t respect yourself, then you’re aren’t going to be treated with authority," Clark says. "It’s about being you and being real. Building a group of fellow CEOs from various companies is empowering.”
Don’t equate nice with weak
For too long it’s been portrayed that a woman in power has to be a woman who is also ferocious. The reality is that being a genuine, honest person who is a forthcoming and loyal person is someone who is strong, and anything but weak.
“To be at the top and kind isn’t a weakness,” Clark. “People see being nice as a weakness and it’s not. As long as people know this is the way it is in your company and that’s it, then they know you mean business and you’re free to be human to one another.”
Seek change where it’s needed still
Female entrepreneurs still aren’t seeing an equal distribution of private equity, says Clark. “There is a lack of funding from VCs. It is still very uneven here for women.” One solution Clark suggests is working with female venture capitalists that specifically seek out private equity for female entrepreneurs.
Be in charge
Embrace being at the top and be confident with it. Clark owns 51 percent of BMI Music and her partner owns 40 percent.
“I couldn’t have done it any other way,” says Clark. “We don’t have any issues over power struggle, or dominance when you choose your partner wisely and put everything in writing."
Have a great support system
Surround yourself with people who believe in you and are your biggest fan.
“You need those people on the outside who see the barn is on fire and aren’t afraid to tell you to put out the flames or just let it burn,” says Clark. “Those people on the outside with your best interest at heart know how to help you tweak things and make things work better.”