The hardest time in my life came at the intersection of work and motherhood. I was in the first year of my business when I delivered my son 9 weeks prematurely. As the breadwinner for my family, both my baby and my business needed me to survive. Business innovation wasn't a goal for me. It was a necessity.
So, like many women entrepreneurs, I got to work with my baby in my arms—redefining my business model, setting up multiple streams of income and creating MORE, spaces where working parents could do the same.
I'm not alone. For many entrepreneurs, a personal experience is the spark that leads to business innovation.
Translating Struggle Into Business Strategy
Klyn Elsbury was born with cystic fibrosis and given fourteen years to live. Elsbury defied the odds, but at age 25 she had to take long-term disability leave from her successful career. She wondered if her next birthday would be her last.
As Elsbury underwent difficult medical procedures, she summoned strength.
“During the pain, I focused on the fact that I needed to experience and welcome the struggle, because one day I could help others realize how to get through their own pain," she explains today. "We are never given adversity without also being given the power to use it as leverage to help someone else."
Elsbury's struggle with a life-threatening illness inspired business innovation. Her new perspective led her to develop a set of principles to transform company culture.
She started her consulting business, MK Foundation, and now travels the world giving keynote presentations and helping corporations increase their closing percentages through motivational presentations, blending entrepreneurial mindset shifts, strategic sales tools and digital marketing tactics.
Leveraging Loss to Reposition Your Business
Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of life's most inconceivable challenges.
Trudy Susan, founder of her eponymous consulting agency, Trudy Susan found business innovation through significant loss.
When Susan's mother passed, she created tools to both cope and revive her professional goals.
“I developed a morning and evening routine," she says. "I learned how to be an advocate for myself. I turned down projects so I could take time to heal. I got clear." Through her coping process, Susan reflected, “I learned that I am my mother's daughter. I have found that so much of what I love about her is in me now, I just never knew it."
Processing the loss allowed Susan to recognize new strengths and inspired her to reposition her business. A popular vlogger, she stepped away from her site (of over 600K followers) and used the lessons that she learned building her brand from the ground up, to help other business owners do the same.
Learning to embrace the lessons of each challenge may be the breakthrough you need to find success in both your personal and professional worlds.
“The experience re-centered me and put money in perspective," Susan explains. "I see it as a tool now, and not a purpose."
Susan now helps entrepreneurs push past their own obstacles to convert leads, launch profitable products and refresh brand strategy—an experience that allows her to do the work she loves without compromise.
Combating Bias With Empowerment
Women entrepreneurs encounter a different set of obstacles based on gender bias — from battling sexist stereotypes to lack of representation in leadership, pay gaps and outright exclusion or discrimination.
Despite these challenges, Sarah Tourville carved out a space for herself, founded her PR and marketing agency Media Frenzy, and established herself as a leader in a male-dominated space.
To achieve business innovation, Tourville turned the traditional business environment on its head: She leveraged her success to create an inclusive and progressive workspace that embraces, rewards and elevates promising women in the field.
But it wasn't easy getting to the C-suite. Tourville often found herself in positions where she needed to prove her value to colleagues and clients beyond that which was required of her male peers.
“In such a competitive field, I knew I had to take risks or I would be left in the dust," she explains. "And as a female entrepreneur, these stakes are much higher. "
As she pushed through gender barriers, Tourville reflected on her experiences and those that many other women face everyday. She decided to build a company that actively champions and empowers women in an effort to combat the existing biased culture. At Media Frenzy, she promotes: "a diverse and inclusive environment that empowers my team to be themselves every time they step into the office," As such, she looks to “offer opportunities to promising female professionals."
Her advice? Pull up a chair for other women. Seek opportunities to promote and empower them. Create community. There is power in building strong relationships and aligning yourself with the right people.
“Form genuine bonds rather than using people as a means to an end and both your personal and professional lives will flourish. By making strong partnerships and surrounding myself with the right team, I was able to grow my business and continue to give mentorship and guidance to the next generation of female leaders."
Today, Media Frenzy is a go-to agency in Atlanta. The team leads engagements for global brands including telecommunication companies, governments and technology companies.
We all face personal hardships. Learning to embrace the lessons of each challenge may be the breakthrough you need to find success in both your personal and professional worlds.
Read more articles on leadership.
Photo: Getty Images