How Women Entrepreneurs Can Leapfrog to Success

(This article appeared originally on NextAvenue.org.)

Leapfrog is the title of a clever, helpful new book for women entrepreneurs by Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO and founder of BRAVA Investments. Molina Niño’s company invests in startups and supports businesses that can prove “they are creating a measurable economic benefit that puts more money in the wallets of women.”

Head shot for author Nathalie Molina Niño. Women Entrepreneurs pbs rewire
Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO and founder of BRAVA Investments

Her version of leapfrog, though, is quite a jump from the simple children’s game where someone effortlessly vaults over another. Molina Niño’s leapfrogging is done by following her 50 “hacks,” each a succinct chapter helping women business owners and wanna-bes leapfrog over hurdles and thrive. Her advice is thoughtful, not playful, and a little irreverent, which makes for both a fun read and a reason to implement the tips.

“Hacks aren’t so much about cutting in line, as identifying gaps to fill and taking our shots, rather than waiting for them to be offered,” she writes. “Playing by the rules and waiting to be rewarded for doing so is how we get stuck playing small — in lower-paying jobs and in a headspace where we lack the audacity to leapfrog into entrepreneurship.”

The ‘Leapfrog’ Mission for Women Entrepreneurs

Molina Niño is on a mission to champion and grow female-owned businesses; in fact, the full title of her book is “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.” A skillful and successful serial entrepreneur, she’s especially fond of women risk takers with a vision.

“Leapfrog, shortcut, hack — let’s just call it what women need to do in order to get their fair shot, and get it now,” she writes. Successful leapfroggers, she adds, “turn anger into energy. When things go sideways, that energy becomes fuel for their creativity and drive.”

Her book covers a sweeping landscape of topics from how to raise capital through smart crowdfunding to trying to avoid saying “I’m sorry.” After reading “Leapfrog,” I interviewed Molina Niño to hear more; below you’ll see my six favorite hacks.

1. Become a Walking Sandwich Board

“So you have a burning idea or a young business,” Molina Niño writes. “Now: Who have you told?” The answer should be: everyone. Otherwise, you’re missing out on one of the easiest, cheapest, most effective hacks around.

As Molina Niño explained to me: “Women have really good reason to be reticent to unveil things before they are fully baked because the level of scrutiny that we are under is measurably more significant [than for men]. Perfection is what is expected of us.”

Her advice? “Start putting things out there and allow the collective to evolve your thinking. Don’t rob yourself of the community think that helps your idea get better.”

In her book, Molina Niño says that getting feedback — positive and negative — is how your business idea gets baked. “So stop worrying and start finding the people who can help. The upside of spreading the word far outweighs the risks.”

2. Hack Your Inner “Peer” Circle

Start a diverse “Mastermind” group with six to eight women, she says. This is more than networking. “It’s connecting. There is a trick to it. You need to make a commitment,” Molina Niño told me. And you may need to add a person or two along the way to get the best results.

For her Mastermind group, she made a nine-month commitment to one special dinner with the other women each month.

Book cover for Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs by Nathalie Molina Niño. Women Entrepreneurs pbs rewire

“We had diversity in terms of ethnicity and industries. But as I was getting ready to curate, I realized that although the six women I brought together were radically different, they had one thing in common: They were all very polite and borderline soft-spoken,” she explained. “I knew I had to mix it up, so I brought a loudmouth into the mix, and she was the glue to the group.” Go outside your comfort zone for who you bring into the group, she says.

Be sure you have an agenda for these dinners, advises Molina Niño. At her dinners, “it is not loosey- goosey,” she told me. “We go around the table, and we each have a moment to talk about how we did with our previous goals. We are meant to come up with two or three concrete things we are going to do each month. These are not big, like ‘improve sales,’ but instead, ‘add three new customers’ or some measurable goal. Then the first thing you say is how did you do.”

Periodically, members need to push back. “If something didn’t work, we ask each other: ‘What are you going to do that’s different?’ So you have that accountability,” says Molina Niño.

Accountability is imperative in the initial stages of entrepreneurship because that’s a period full of unknowns, self-doubt, and in many unfortunate cases, loneliness, according to Molina Niño.

When choosing the members of your Peer Circle, writes Molina Niño, “you can’t rely on serendipity to bring you a network or assume your lifelong best friend will know how to support you. Use every tool available: Facebook, LinkedIn, your school, your mosque, your neighborhood bulletin boards, your chamber of commerce — these are all places to recruit.”

You might also get help from an organization or business that connects and supports women entrepreneurs. Three of Molina Niño’s favorites: Dreamers//DoersSheWorx and Black Female Founders (#BFF).

3. Steal Paper Clips

Don’t actually steal, Molina Niño writes, “but look for honest perks. Chances are you’re starting your business as a side hustle. What resources are available at your day job? Is it a source of contacts, training, support or clientele? Can you use it to build influence and reputation that pave the way to your new business?”

If your new business complements, rather than competes with, your employer’s, the customers and contacts you’ve dealt with could be a natural marketing or distribution partner down the road.

4. Raise Prices. Stat

“It’s jarring to me the damage you do to your own psychological well-being when you undervalue yourself,” Molina Niño told me. “When you price yourself and your product and service in a way that values your time and contribution, there is this huge upside — more than to your bottom line, but a gain in your quality of life.”

Just as in salary negotiation, however, women routinely ask for less from customers and clients than men, she pointed out. There are plenty of reasons women can fall into this trap, MolinaNiño says. For example, you worry you won’t find customers who can afford you or that your existing customers will leave.

“When you take a stand for your product or service by raising prices and get the yes nod from the market, the emotional benefit is off the charts,” she writes.

5. Cash In on Your Women Card

“Many corporations and government agencies have a mandate to prioritize diversity when they seek vendors, suppliers and partners, but most of us don’t have any idea these programs exist,” she writes. “So scout the internet for opportunities, contests and programs that are specially for women and underrepresented groups.”

As I wrote in this column for Next Avenue, the effort to get certified as a woman-owned business, while difficult, has the prospective to pay you back in spades.

“The pros are increased visibility,” said Donna M. De Carolis, dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and a member of the editorial board of EIX, the Entrepreneurial and Innovation Exchange, a social media learning platform funded by the Schulze Family Foundation. “Most public corporations as well as local, state, and federal government purchasing agencies have programs for allotting a certain percentage of business to women-owned companies.”

The U.S. government intentionally looks for women-owned businesses to award specially-designated government contracts.

6. Take Daily Vacations

“There is no two-week vacation when you’re an entrepreneur,” Molina Niño says matter-of-factly. “There are no weekends.”

For Molina Niño, one way to stay sane as an entrepreneur s to create daily rituals. “Finding five minutes to meditate or breathe deeply in a bathroom once things are falling apart isn’t what I’m talking about,” she writes. “I’m talking about a practice that happens every single day, including the days where you feel such inner peace (or such a lack of time) that you think you might skip it.”

A Personal Four-Legged Hack

Finally, one personal note from me: If you’ve read other articles or books I’ve written, you may know that my Labrador retriever, Zena, is my road manager. In fact, in my book “Love Your Job,” I noted that everything I learned about loving my job I learned from her. So when I read the following “Leapfrog” words, I became an even bigger fan of Molina Niño’s:

“There’s one thing in my life that keeps me from pushing it too far: my dog, Lila. If it were just me, I probably wouldn’t protect those few moments of quiet that I need every day. But she’s another stakeholder, and I’m never going to fail her. She’s got to have her leisurely morning walk — preferably somewhere beautiful. And so I’ll always have that time to recharge my batteries.”

 “I need my Chow Chow,” Molina Niño writes. That’s a hack I heartily endorse.

Kerry Hannon

Kerry Hannon has covered personal finance for Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today for nearly three decades. She is the author of “Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness,” “What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job,” “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+” and “Suddenly Single: Money Skills for Divorcees and Widows.” Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.