While being an entrepreneur may seem like an exciting adventure, there are times when a new business owner finds themselves in uncharted waters, searching for answers, and in need of a reassuring voice of encouragement.
For Emily McKenna, owner of You’re Maker in Thomasville, the desire to open an art studio came with some apprehension.
McKenna describes her business as a “maker space,” a place that fosters creativity and provides classes and events that allows children and adults to unleash their creative side.
While the idea of opening a brick and mortar store in Thomasville’s Creative District was appealing, McKenna discovered there was a lot to learn about being a business owner.
“I had been teaching art classes in various rented space,” she said, “and I knew that I wanted to move into a permanent location without too many bumps in the road.”
While talking to Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf in downtown Thomasville, McKenna discovered there was a need for women entrepreneurs to have an outlet to share their creative ideas, receive encouragement, and learn from each other.
“Annie and I started talking about how to build a networking group for women,” McKenna said. “We wanted a female ‘think tank’ format. We started throwing out possible names, and ‘She Think’ stuck.”
Jones said that as an introvert, she finds larger networking gatherings to be overwhelming at times. “I wanted a focus group-type setting, designed to facilitate conversations and encourage practical business advice among members.”
More than a networking event, She Think provides an outlet for creativity, as well as encouragement from like-minded business women.
“Thankfully, Thomasville provides its business leaders with countless networking opportunities and groups, so at first I wondered if She Think was even necessary,” Jones said. “After chatting with Emily and other female entrepreneurs, though, I realized what we were missing was that intimate, almost one-on-one environment, a way to share best practices without having to schmooze. She Think, I hope fills that void, and has enabled female entrepreneurs to befriend one another and to become valuable, much-needed resources for each other.”
She Think is open to women business owners, and meetings are limited to 10 to 12 participants.
“We keep the number low so that everyone has an opportunity to ask a question and allow time for discussion,” McKenna said. “A guest speaker is also invited to talk about topics that are helpful to all business owners.”
Though most participants are new business owners, veteran entrepreneurs attend and provide mentoring.
Dara Barwick, owner of Dara Barwick Consulting, attends She Think meetings to offer encouragement and business advice.
“I am at that stage where I can be a mentor,” said Barwick, who served as director of existing industry for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “In a community like Thomasville, where we have a lot of small businesses and young entrepreneurs, there is a need for a place where women can share their concerns or pitch an idea. It can be a lonely island out there when you are a business owner, but it’s important to know you are not alone.”
Coming to the meetings helped Sara Simmons, owner of Wildflower, Found and Made, jump-start her business.
“I always had a dream to open up a shop,” said Simmons, who leases space within the You’re Maker studio. “I first put that dream out into the world in a real way when I started talking with other business owners at She Think. Once it was out there floating around it seemed tangible. Knowing that so many other successful businesswomen believed in me and my business is priceless.”
With Wildflower fully operational, Simmons continues to attend the monthly She Think meetings to help further develop business ideas.
“I have had a lot of discussion about my brand at She Think,” Simmons said. “My brand is me, Wildflower is me, so translating that into a simple description, logo, business cards, etc., is a feat. Especially, when you are so close to it and wound so tightly with the emotions of it.”
Simmons, who describes her business as a retail and maker space all in one, said the She Think participants help provide valuable insight into how others view her business.
“Just recently, I have been able to nail down my brand and how I will tell people what I do in a quick, easy description,” Simmons said. “It feels amazing and so, so right. I couldn’t have done that without the support of Emily and the other friends I have made at She Think meetings.”
Laura Beggs, owner of Lu Was Here, said attending She Think meetings gave her a boost of “you can do this” power to start a video business.
“I was apprehensive on whether to turn my hobby into a legitimate business,” Beggs said. “In sharing my concerns with the [She Think] attendees, I learned that some of the ladies had some of the same fears when they were starting. Knowing that these women overcame their fears and went for their dreams really encouraged me to do the same.”
Starting out Beggs was unsure of pricing, a common question, and concern of small business owners, and she sought advice from the She Think group.
“I wasn’t sure how to charge clients, either by the hour or by the service,” Beggs said.
“After some input from the ladies, I decided to nail down a few packaging options.”
Beggs has found the She Think meetings to be an essential part of her company’s continued growth.
“I often wonder if I should try to grow or expand the business, or should I keep it small like it is,” Beggs said. “At the December meeting, I brought up my goal of wanting to add a new endeavor. Although it was nearing the end of the meeting, I still wanted to put it out there. And once I did, I felt instant support from the attendees.”
A newcomer to the group, Hillery Richards, owner of Hartillery, started attending She Think meetings to help her focus on the business side of her work.
“I’m an artist with a business degree,” said Richards. “My work involves creating and teaching representational art through painting, sculpture, and other mediums. I’ve been in business as a self-employed artist since 2012. Some of the challenges have been finding the right clients and selling enough artwork to make a profit and grow.”
What started as a small group of female entrepreneurs from Thomasville, the monthly She Think meetings now have participants from South Georgia and North Florida. Each month a co-host speaks about a specific topic relevant to starting or growing a small business.
For more information, contact Emily McKenna at [email protected]