Women still represent a minority of all entrepreneurs, and there remains a long held skepticism of women succeeding in business. The new book Real You Incorporated by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, President of Real Living Inc., aims to reverse this view and empower women in business.
Kaira Sturdivant Rouda heads the first women-focused real estate brand, Real Living, Inc., with more than 4,000 agents and 160 offices throughout 20 states. She has built a career in marketing and in 2001 entered the residential real estate business. In her book Real You Incorporated, Kaira offers business advice to women entrepreneurs, including work-life balance, and celebrates their natural entrepreneurial bent.
We interviewed Kaira on her new book and her advice to women entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to write the book, Real You Incorporated?
Every 60 seconds, a woman starts a business. When I meet women and speak to groups, they ask me how to create a successful business the right way. The answer is being real: personally and through your company. It’s about creating a culture that fits you and your dreams. That’s the reason I wrote the book—to help women understand what it means to be real—and then to incorporate that into their daily lives. To know it’s OK to do it your way. Not the way your mother, husband or friend would do it. Having a real, genuine business is your competitive advantage, and I wanted women to embrace that and take it to the world as proud, passionate entrepreneurs.
And there are really no rules for running a home-based business. In the book, I feature 24 women business owners who illustrate how they did it their way—from a stay-at-home mom who invented a popular burp cloth to a woman who grew up loving dance and put her passions into action by founding Jazzercise.
What is the main message of the book?
Most business and marketing books talk to women about how to fit into and play the games of the predominantly male business world. Many teach about how to network or how to infuse real emotion into the workplace. Others focus on the work-life and family-life overlap. Those aren’t secrets to women. That’s why I take a different approach in Real You Incorporated. I encourage women business owners, or those who are considering entrepreneurship, to acknowledge their collective power and the fact that they are making the rules. These women want workplaces that are authentic, family-friendly and rewarding. And they want to communicate those same values to their employees and customers. That is best accomplished by being real, and that happens when your values and your personality are in sync with your business’ operations and its people. So, I want to encourage women to uncover their passions, and at the same time, develop a strong network of mentors and friends. These are the steps to building a successful brand and a successful business, and they are best accomplished by being truly genuine—or real.
Why is entrepreneurship a good option for women?
For starters, it’s a way to break the glass ceiling. Women who are tired of taking a backseat in Corporate America are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to get ahead. And why not? They are already making 85 percent of the purchasing decisions, and collectively, they represent a force that is unstoppable. Most of all, women are looking for ways to align their personal life with their professional life. Some call it balance, but it’s really about pursuing your dreams. Entrepreneurship is a means for accomplishing that goal.
While 70 percent of small businesses fuel the U.S. economy, starting a home-based business is a great way to combine family and work. I started a freelance writing business when my children were small. I used naptime and evenings to work. It was a way for me to feel like I was there for my family yet still build my career and purse my passions.
What do you think are the steps women should take to ensure the success of their businesses?
To achieve success, women business owners need to find their unique competitive advantage. Real You Incorporated offers an eight-step process for doing that, along with 24 practical action steps to help women define their personal brand. A woman’s personality and passions affect her business, and she needs to learn how to harness that in a positive way. The process begins by finding it within—learning from your past, defining your passions, following your instincts, telling your story and defining your brand essence. After some time of introspection, women then need to move on to that all-important second phase: establishing a competitive advantage. That involves bringing their passion and brand together, creating a unique and real work environment and making sure that personal brand and business brand are one.
How can women entrepreneurs achieve work-life balance?
Women continue to ask this question, and my answer is always the same: It’s not about work-life balance. It’s about figuring out how to integrate the two in a way that’s right for you. That can only happen when your personal brand is aligned with your business brand. Begin with the process of introspection. Spend some time alone—time to discover your inner passions and dreams. Then, once you’ve discovered your personal brand, you can bring your business to the market as a real brand—one that is powerful and distinct from a man’s—and one that is a reflection of the real you.
What do you think are the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, and how can these be overcome?
A challenge for home-based business owners is that people don’t think you’re working. I always seemed to run into people who just assumed that because I wasn’t in a consumer-facing office that I wasn’t doing anything. Ugh. The best thing you can do is talk about your business—everywhere you go. Be proud of it. Let others know that you’re working from home, and that you’re doing great!
We all face the additional obstacle of negative influencers in our lives. I like to call them snarks. These are the people who bring us down—whether they’re in our office, our community or even our families. These individuals drain your energy and pull your heart down. The first step to avoiding them is to acknowledge that they are there. Next, surround yourself with people who will help you nurture your passions and goals.
When you’re running a home-based business, it’s easy to get lost in your work since your home is your office. There’s always going to be “just one more thing” to do. Allocate time for work and time for family, and stick to it. Let it be known to your family so they can help you, too. Also, designate a space for your work and make sure it’s comfortable. My first home office was purple with a fireplace. I loved it, and therefore I wanted to be in it.
I’d like to add that the power of women working collectively is unstoppable. However, when women don’t support each other, the results can be devastating. So, given the fact that women control 85 percent of all consumer purchases and that they are starting businesses at twice the rate of men (maybe more), it’s time for us to work together.
What advice can you give women who want to start their own businesses?
First, trust your gut instinct. If something isn’t working—a problem with a caregiver or the people you work with—make a change. You are your own best judge of what’s working and what’s not.
Next, take care of yourself. Remember, if you’re not happy, and if you can’t be there for yourself, you can’t be there for anyone else. In addition to that, I tell everyone: Don’t do it alone. Reach out to others and tell your story. Don’t be an island; it’s too isolating. Instead, work collectively, and don’t hesitate to solicit help when you need it. Next, separate yourself from negative influencers, or snarks. Don’t worry about society’s expectations for you. Instead, do what feels right.
Finally, and maybe most important, laugh and have fun. Play—both inside and outside your work space—will help you feel more alive, and it will ensure that the time you spend with family and friends is more memorable.