Bold moves are the inspiring legacy of awesome lady entrepreneurs
A couple weeks ago, we dove head-first into a rebrand of ourselves, and with that rebrand comes a new focus for our blog. We want to provide entrepreneurs and business owners with inspiration. Not only in the realm of running your business, but also in life, and the mythical work-life balance. Since we have a lot of lady power on our team, and are so excited to see more lady entrepreneurs popping up every day, we thought we’d kick off our new blog series with some kick-butt lady bosses who made dents in the universe and in content marketing, long before us.
And hey, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, “today’s women-owned firms are among the fastest-growing firms in the nation–women start businesses at twice the rate of all companies. About 7.7 million firms are majority-owned by women (51 percent or more), employing about 7.1 million people and generating $1.1 trillion in sales.”
While it’s exciting and refreshing to see women being recognized across industries today, it’s also important to look back and see the legacy of how we got here. Influential lady entrepreneurs throughout history have had to fight even harder to establish themselves, and we can all take some tips and inspiration from their bold moves. Several of them were even early pioneers of content marketing before it was called content marketing!
Take a look at these five remarkable lady entrepreneurs to learn from their legendary legacies of success!
1. Coco Chanel
“My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.”
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
These two quotes from Coco Chanel illustrate perfectly the most important lesson we can take from her legacy. Content marketing through effective storytelling is key to building a legendary brand. Coco herself was a living example, with her rags-to-riches story becoming as famous as her timeless fashion designs and fragrances.
Raised by nuns, learning to sew as a life necessity and growing her business from hats, to dresses, to her eponymous classic perfume over a decade, she never hid how her personal life experiences were at the center of her entire branding strategy. People often say her brand isn’t about luxury products, but a lifestyle and a state of mind. She is known best for saying “I don’t do fashion, I am fashion” and she inspired countless other lady entrepreneurs to put the stories of who they are strongly forward in every bit of content marketing.
Today, this storytelling legacy lives on in her brand, as Chanel continues to lead the industry featuring “Inside Chanel” short films on their website with a genuinely stylish, chronological true narrative approach. Video can be a powerful storytelling tool it’s easily shareable and has the potential to go viral.
2. CJ Walker
“I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself, for I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race…don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!”
In the last century, ambitious self-starting women have built the beauty product industry from the ground up. You know their names, Elizabeth Arden, Mary Kay, Estee Lauder and Anita Roddick, but early in the 20th Century, another woman overcame even greater odds by becoming one of the 20th Century’s most successful lady entrepreneurs.
The child of former slaves and an orphan from the age 7, to say that CJ Walker fought an uphill battle would be a tremendous understatement. In 1905, she created Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula she invented to treat her own health conditions. She began selling it locally and eventually expanded her reach to the Caribbean and Central America. In 1917, as an established female business leader she held a convention specifically for other women in business to come together. No doubt she inspired generations of women by showing them what is possible and paving the way.
3. Debbi Fields
“Entrepreneurship has no age or time limits…it thrives on hope and inspiration. Those who choose to participate can only make the world a better place.”
At age 20, homemaker Debbi Fields started a business on a very straightforward idea and a lot of enthusiasm and energy. By going out and engaging directly, bringing her product directly to people along the way, from bank loan officers to grocery stores, Mrs. Field’s Cookies grew to be wildly successful.
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One critical element to this entrepreneur’s success was knowing how to provide added value by sharing her expertise and promoting an experience, not just selling products. “I’ve never felt like I was in the cookie business…My job is to sell joy. My job is to sell happiness. My job is to sell an experience.”
At a time when many food companies held tight to “secret sauces,” Debbi was a pioneer of content marketing. She helped her business and brand become one of the biggest names in baked goods by publishing several cookbooks and openly sharing recipes and tips.
4. Lillian Vernon
“Our philosophy is ‘helping customers live better for less’ and I live by these same principles. My home contains many Lillian Vernon products because I don’t believe in selling products that I don’t use or would not give as a gift.”
Lillian Vernon fled Nazi Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1937. She worked hard, attended New York University and started a mail order catalog business from her kitchen in the early 1950’s, advertising in magazines and selling custom purses and belts. Her business expanded to other women’s lifestyle items and grew rapidly, but the rise of her business isn’t the most interesting or inspiring part of her legacy.
She is known for how well she was able to adapt and market her brand over decades. The Lillian Vernon Corporation grew from a catalog, mail-order business with paper advertising and flexed to adjust to the changing times and followed their customers – putting content where it could have the most reach. Today that includes blogging and using a broad social media strategy to drive traffic to their branded websites.
Lillian continues to be an influential leader inspiring other lady entrepreneurs everywhere and notes that this part of her legacy is key to their business: “Our company has planned the extension of our brand to meet the needs of an ever-changing consumer. We began slowly by increasing the number of catalog titles, and have added 15 outlet stores, two websites, and a business-to-business division to our mix. I credit our success to our capable and experienced management team who has always worked to preserve my ideals.”
5. Oprah Winfrey
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success, but on significance–and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”
Oprah is so powerful and famous, people rarely even use her last name, everybody just knows it. Yet, when you look at the life and career trajectory of this woman, what she has in common with other awesome lady entrepreneurs and women working throughout many levels of business is her drive to keep expanding and innovating in the way she expresses her brand.
From her earliest talk show days, Oprah grew to start a production company to manage her show with greater creative control. In launching her own magazine, she put her name and editorial control into collaborations and crafting a team to bring the best lifestyle, cultural and wellness content to her viewers and readers.
Recently those ideas expanded to full programming on her aptly named OWN, an entire cable network. As she states in that quote, she wasn’t focusing on the money or the bigger picture power; she stayed centered step by step in her goals and projects. Going beyond words to put your genuine personality, expertise and style in every element of how you communicate your brand elevates your marketing to another level of engagement.
Do you have additional tips and wisdom that you’ve learned from awesome lady entrepreneurs? Tell us who has inspired your personal success stories in the comments!