“There are great learning curves in small business.”
Sage words from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Rachel Thomas. At 24, Thomas founded BrainTrust, a staffing agency focused on recent graduates. She went on to serve as vice president of marketing for Playdom, the social gaming company, and to cofound Subtext, the first collaborative reading platform for K-12 schools.
Women and Work: 6 Practical Tools From Lean In PresidentToday, Thomas serves as president of Lean In, the foundation created by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — framed around her New York Times bestselling book – to encourage women to lean into their ambitions. “We want to give women the practical skills and peer support to achieve their goals,” says Thomas. Here’s some of her advice on running a small business — and navigating the complexities of work and life.
Don’t Underestimate Yourself!
When Sandberg approached Thomas to run Lean In, Thomas had the kind of reaction that is typical of many women: she questioned whether she was capable of doing the job. When it comes to looking for a new job or pursuing a promotion, the research is clear: women underestimate their abilities and skills. Thomas encourages women to push beyond that thinking. Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid?
It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
In the business world, first impressions are important. And yet we often underestimate the power of body language — especially women. Some studies indicate that up to 93 percent of our communication is actually nonverbal. Thomas’s favorite tip? Simple. “Strike a Wonder Woman pose,” she laughs. Studies show that standing in a confident pose for about three minutes sends your testosterone levels up and your cortisone levels down. This is an easy trick to increase confidence before you enter a room.
Get Your Colleague on the Phone
If you’re three paragraphs deep into writing a work email, chances are, you should probably be having a conversation. Thomas argues that communication overhead can waste time and lead to misunderstandings. Use email as it’s intended — for quick messages back and forth, not as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. In this era of quick sound bites and 140-character communication, who has time for long emails anyway?
“When you run a small business, you get used to being pushed and pulled in a lot of directions,” says Thomas. One of the benefits of being your own boss is that your organization can be nimble. But it can also be so nimble that you forget to plan. Thomas’s solution? Ruthless prioritization. Ask yourself: does this new ideas supplant an earlier priority? If it doesn’t, you’ve answered your own question. Move it into the parking lot.
Bring Your Whole Self to Work
Thomas stresses the importance of talking openly about the challenges of balancing work and family with colleagues. She encourages women to be themselves, be explicit about the challenges. “There are tough days when you’re a working mom, but there are also great days.” she says. “I think being open about this can give younger women confidence. It paints a picture of being a working mom that seems a lot more achievable.”
Get Back Up and Try Again
Thomas founded BrainTrust in 1996, but five years and four cities later, the business shut its doors. She says that tough times in business are often the most valuable: you can learn as much from failing as you can from excelling. Sure, it stings. But the important lesson is to take what you learned, get back up and try again.
Photo: Rachel Thomas, president of Lean In
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