This interview is part of the Chasing Dreams interview series. I’ve interviewed a variety of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have chosen a different path in life in order to go after his or her dream career. Have an entrepreneur in mind you’d like to learn more about? Let me know!
Today’s interview is with Tess Henley, co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Black Book. We connected through The Female Entrepreneur Association and I really liked what she was doing! Little Black Book educates women business owners in areas of business growth and development. I know I can relate to working longer hours than ever before, having my mind always “on” and knowing it’s the right fit because I am willing to dedicate so much to my business. I have a feeling many of you can relate, too.
At what point did you know you wanted to follow this career path? How did you know this was the right direction?
Growing up my teachers labeled me a “bossy” child. I lead class discussions, I was the first to speak out against things that didn’t seem fair and I argued my point ad nauseam. My parents, however, never made that seem like a bad thing. I guess they realized there was more meaning behind that label and I was given the encouragement and opportunity to be whomever I wanted to be. Along the way I developed a sense of empowerment and aimed to always lift up, encourage and support other women as they attain their goals.
Longing to develop a sense of empowerment in our future leaders, I graduated from college with an English Education degree. Hoping to teach the importance of education and self- embetterment, I was instead faced with bureaucracy and government restrictions limiting the actual education of my students. Fed up with the failure of our school system, it was an easy decision to stay home with my children rather than work.
Studying, learning, sharing…it’s in my blood and a part of me. When I saw a need in my community for a women’s only networking organization, I took action. I was looking for a place to connect and meet other women who were now past the PTA and were starting to develop and grow their own businesses on their own terms. It couldn’t feel clinical or be too demanding on their time as busy women often wear many hats and play many different roles. My organization also needed to be educational as well as a comfortable, non-competitive space to build friendships, not clients. I didn’t so much know this was the career path I wanted, I more or less filled a void in my life that happened to also fill a void in the lives of other women.
My “aha” moment of knowing I made the right decision is when our membership grew from 6 people to 62 in less than one year and women became eager and excited to join. Also, I’m willing to dedicate my days to this organization with little to no pay because of the good I feel I’m providing others.
What are the biggest struggles you’ve faced while trying to achieve your dreams?
One of my biggest struggles is trying to wrap my brain around what it truly means to be an entrepreneur. I don’t have an IT department, HR department, finance department, marketing department…you get where I’m going. It’s all on me and my partner. Every action, decision, financial struggle starts and ends with us. I truly know what it means to not have enough hours in the day.
It’s also very difficult to turn it all off. My dreams are filled with social media posts, phone calls to make, connections to follow up on. If I have some down time on a weekend, I’m in my office creating those dreamed up social media posts, trying to empty my inbox, etc. Having your own business where you work from home sounds great, in theory. However, I work longer, harder hours now than I ever did before. Because I’m trying to run my business from home and around my family’s schedule, I work odd hours. For the first time in my life my children are starting to complain, “You’re always working!” What they don’t realize is that I have always been working. It’s just that now, I’m working on so much more. For once, it’s not all about them. I finally have dreams and goals that need a bit of my attention, too.
I’m also learning that I need to ask for help. I have a very supportive husband who stands by me 100% but he has become very used to the status quo. Just like he has had me to handle the children and the household while he focused on his career, I can’t expect to do it all now, either. I need to ask him to make dinner or pick up the kids or just do the dishes instead of getting frustrated because he hasn’t read my mind or picked up on what needs to be done. He’s happy to help but needs some direction. None of this has been his domain or habit so he’s not used to reading what needs to get accomplished. Like a good business leader, I need to be able to direct on the home front, as well.
Owning your own business can be tough on the body and mind, between long days, instability and really putting yourself out there to reach your goals. How do you stay healthy? Do you have any rituals that help you stay centered?
Absolutely! I schedule (pick-up on that…schedule) yoga into my morning routine 3 days a week. I treat it as I would a doctor’s appointment. If networking needs to take place, I do it on one of the other mornings that I don’t have yoga. If a meeting pops up, I ask to reschedule it because I already have a meeting at that time. I don’t need to tell others why I can’t meet, I don’t owe anyone an explanation. It is the one appointment I keep with myself each week.
And wine…lots of wine! I drink water all day long so that at night I can sip on wine.
My husband and I schedule a date night every other weekend or we get lunch together if we know our weekend will be busy. That’s how I try to keep my marriage strong and connected.
My nightly ritual is to wash and moisturize my face. I feel no matter how tired I am when I wake up, I look refreshed and less puffy. Put your best face forward.
Speaking of putting yourself out there, overcoming rejection is a big part of chasing dreams. How do you bounce back?
I try to put it into perspective. Part of being a business owner is learning the art of saying no. I’m learning that if something is not going to help you or your business in some form or fashion (and it can simply be that it makes good), you should probably say no. When someone tells me no, I try to remember that they are just looking out for their time and business. If I really want to work with them, it is my responsibility to demonstrate why saying yes will benefit their own company. If that doesn’t work, there’s always an expert out there willing to help. There’s more than one fish in the sea.
What do you do when you’re having an off day- maybe feeling down, struggling with self-doubt, or just unmotivated?
I feel these days constantly! So constantly, in fact, I’ve learned to work them into my schedule. There’s always busy work to be done, webinars to watch, books and articles to read. When I’m in a defeatist mood, I give myself permission to have these feelings, stay in my pj’s, ignore my phone and email, as long as I tackle a “time suck” activity. I love to read so curling up on the couch all day reading articles, blogs I follow, books I’m studying, is a no brainer. Instead of having a completely wasted day, I have a low-key catch-up day.
I also schedule a “totally me” day into each month. This day I can do anything I’ve been dying to do as long as I’m not working on my business. Pedicure, lunch with friends, reading for FUN, watching a movie; you name it, I give myself permission to do it. By scheduling it on my calendar it gives me something to look forward to each month.
What is one misconception people have about you and/or your profession?
That I have my shit together! Half the time I’m faking it. Usually I’m teaching others something I have literally just mastered. And while I may post pictures of a clean and organized office, don’t look behind the curtain. It’s a total mess. It’s me; It’s real!
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Good enough IS good enough. I’m a perfectionist, type A and a researcher. I tend to get so bogged down by the details that I stress myself out and never put my thoughts out there. My partner, however, is a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person and it totally works for her. She has taught me that balance is more important than perfection. If it’s perfect right out of the gate then there’s no room for improvement. Now that would be boring.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a path similar to what you have?
I think it’s a noble cause but really be sure you know what you’re getting into. There’s usually an organization you can join that is already doing what you want to do. It’s a lot easier to follow someone else’s plan (as long as you agree with it) than to reinvent the wheel. If you still feel you want to run an organization, get organized and have a plan. People will have expectations and questions for you all the time. Make sure you’re ready with an answer.
Oh, and whatever amount of time you think you’ll spend on developing an organization, double or triple that amount. It’s a ton of long, hard hours without a ton of help.
When do you feel the most inspired, alive and the most like YOU?
Wow! Now you’re really digging deep.
There’s a moment in our Little Black Book meetings when our group is being taught something new and all of a sudden, lightbulbs go off in our member’s heads. They look up from taking notes and I can actually see it on their faces. Literally, their faces glow and big smiles spread across their lips. These lightbulbs begin to produce an energy in the room that grows so rapidly that I actually feel the excitement. And then, everyone starts playing off of each other’s ideas like magic. It’s an amazing moment we all share together. That’s when I know we’ve stumbled onto greatness. That is what inspires me most.
What people, books, music, etc. inspire you?
When I was younger, I tended to only talk to and hang out with people like me. Since starting LBB, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing women. Now I try to surround myself with an eclectic group of people who will share their life and work experiences so I can learn from their lives.
Melanie Duncan – Her beautiful and strong photos
Carrie Green – She is doing exactly what I would like to be doing. She seems sweet and down to earth.
Audrey Hepburn – eternal class
Kimra of Freedom Hackers – Amazing, down to earth and owning it!
Jenny Fenig – Amazing accomplishments, rolodex, style
Hilary Clinton – what a kick ass woman
My list is absolutely ongoing!
Describe your favorite moment or accomplishment in your career so far.
Being asked to be the guest speaker at the MBAA International Conference. It will be my first speaking engagement and I couldn’t be more nervous and excited at the same time.
What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?
I’m currently in the process of starting a new LBB chapter in Cleveland as well as developing a cohesive handbook for our future chapters. I am also excited that LBB has its first collegiate chapter starting at Southeast Missouri State University. Good things are happening and quickly!
Tess Henley is the co-founder of Little Black Book, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of female owned businesses through referral marketing. Understanding that women are more than just business owners, they are also the directors of their home and family management, Little Black Book offers programs specifically designed to help women focus on business development and growth, fitness, wellness, time management, fashion and more.
Little Black Book began in the summer of 2012 when it’s co-founders , Angel Magasano and Tess Henley were relaxing and enjoying a bottle of wine. They were discussing the challenges they faced trying to run a business from home and their inability to commit to existing networking groups due to their production heavy work schedules, often hectic family schedules, and the costs and commitment required by existing groups. They realized they were unknowingly, yet actively, marketing one another…to friends, other parents at the gym, their medical professionals, everyone… except they couldn’t market THEMSELVES. That’s when it hit them; they would form an organization for women business owners so they could become active referral partners.
Today, Little Black Book boasts over 60 certified members in Western St Charles County, Missouri and a Collegiate Chapter at Southeast Missouri State University under the direction of Founding Faculty Dr. Erin Fleugge-Woolf. By the end of 2015 LBB will host chapters in Western St Charles County, MO, Eastern St Charles County, MO, Cape Girardeau, MO and Cleveland, OH.