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Stephanie Weaver | Great Minds Creative

Posted in INSPIRATION by msceonet on January 23, 2010

Incidental entrepreneur shares her path to success

A leap of faith and simple approach are key ingredients

By Felicia Joy
Senior Correspondent

You could almost call her the non-businesswoman.  Sure she enjoys what she does, is apparently great at it, and entrepreneurship has afforded her a comfortable lifestyle; but Stephanie Weaver says she’s no hero or person to be revered.  In her mind she took a leap of faith to go into business, while her expenses were still close to college days, and it just so happened to work out.

(Read fun facts about Stephanie!)

“I was working at an agency, which is a really aggressive environment.  It was okay but I wasn’t all that happy,” she said.  “I had written something for a client and she really liked it so she asked me about freelancing for her.  I was kind of scared to do it because I wondered just how much work one person could have for me but I decided I had no husband, no children, low expenses and nothing to lose, so I did it.”

Stephanie Weaver, January 2010 Ms. CEO of the Month, shows off her business savvy, boldness and style in a classic Ms. CEO tee.

With no business plan but sharp writing skills that were pleasing to clients, Stephanie’s firm, Great Minds Creative, flourished.  Her first client told someone else, who told someone else and 11 years later she is still going strong.  She works on an average of four client projects at a time and is contacted by upwards of 30 clients on a regular basis. 

In addition to her creativity it seems that a keen focus on the customer has been a feather in Stephanie’s cap.  She is so client-centric that even her business name was inspired less by herself and more by who she would be working for and with.

“I didn’t want a business named after myself—I wanted a business name that described what I did rather than who I am.  My business name speaks to the collaboration of different people coming together to create something.  So the great minds aren’t people in my business working for me, it’s everyone who is part of the process. That includes the client, me, and other creative contributors—like maybe photographers or graphic artists,” she said.

Stephanie says the world is full of writers but she has been able to grow her business by establishing a niche and specializing in technical, tough-to-understand industries.  “I focus on large clients that have complex communication challenges, whether that’s trying to get positive information out to educate the public—like a public affairs issue.  Or a company trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace where there are a lot of other companies doing something similar,” she said.  “I also work with companies that have complex businesses.  I simplify their messages so other people can understand what they do.”

(Video: Learn more about Stephanie in a behind-the-scenes interview.)

While Stephanie says entrepreneurship has been more a means to an end, or simply a way of working that made sense for her, she has enjoyed the perks of an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

“I have enjoyed the flexibility of being an entrepreneur.  When I got started it was a plus to know that I could transition into a part-time schedule if I were to have children.  I haven’t had any but knowing I had that option was good,” Stephanie said.  “Recently, it’s been great to have control over my schedule too because my mother has a disabling disease and I am able to visit her often and have lunch—that’s not something I would necessarily be able to do if I worked a job.”

More money conscious than she used to be—in part thanks to her husband who is a good money manager, she says—Stephanie also likes the fact that her flexible schedule enables her to do work around the house that she might otherwise have to hire someone to do. 

Her financial prudence has also helped her easily weather fluctuations in business around the time of the terror attacks of September 11—and during the economic crisis and slump of the past couple years.

Stephanie’s approach to life and business ultimately seem to be simplicity and candor.  “I don’t have any illusions about being this great businesswoman.  I’ve just been really fortunate,” Stephanie said.


January 2010 Ms. CEO of the Month: Stephanie Weaver

Posted in GENERAL, INSPIRATION by msceonet on January 23, 2010

Stephanie Weaver is founder and CEO of Great Minds Creative in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (click photo for larger view).

Creative writing guru finds peace and joy in the simple things

Big tub of popcorn and a good movie is heaven on Earth 

Stephanie Weaver, Ms. CEO of the Month for January 2010, is the founder and CEO of Great Minds Creative — an Atlanta based marketing communications and creative writing firm.  On a recent afternoon hanging out with Ms. CEO Media senior correspondent, Felicia Joy, Stephanie shared a few fun facts about herself and her life. 

  • Best time of day: Evening
  • Favorite place to vacation: Puerto Rico
  • Businesswoman she admires: Any woman who started a business prior to the Internet age when, she says, it was more difficult to attract people and get them together to build a business.  For example, Mary Kay. 
  • In the last 10 years: Life has become a bit harder despite the technology that was supposed to make it easier because everyone is so accessible — even after business hours or when you’re not in the office.
  • People would be surprised to know that: She has a huge interest in aviation.
  • If she were starting her career over she’d be: An engineer. (See how Stephanie got started in business.)
  • Her favorite color is: Red.
  • Chocolate or vanilla: Vanilla.
  • Born in: Atlanta (we can’t believe it!) 
  • Favorite pastimes:  Heaven is seeing a good movie and eating a big tub of popcorn.  She also enjoys trying new restaurants. 

    Stephanie Weaver, January 2010 Ms. CEO of the Month, shows off her business savvy, boldness and style in a classic Ms. CEO tee.

  • Favorite movie of all time: Coal Miner’s Daughter because it’s such a fascinating story.  It was unreal, she said, to think of a man in modern times marrying a girl who was only 13 years old.  She also said, “Sissy Spacek sang all of the songs and sounded absolutely amazing.”  (Sissy Spacek played the role of country music singer Loretta Lynn in the biopic.)
  • Favorite cuisine: Indian food.
  • Businesswoman or a woman who just happens to be in business: Definitely a woman who just happens to be in business, she emphasizes.
  • Surprising business facts: She does not have a website.  Word-of-mouth and exceptional work have enabled her to build a thriving business; but launching a website is one of her 2010 business goals.  She didn’t start with a business plan and doesn’t have one now.
  • Approach to “balance”: Acceptance that she will not simultaneously excel at every single thing.  The pressure to be it all is driven by us as individuals and media, she says.  “I don’t put pressure on myself anymore. I have let go of trying to be perfect.  We need to give up that message.” (Video: See what Stephanie says about “being perfect” in a behind-the-scenes interview.)
  • Guilty pleasure: Watching Real Housewives of Atlanta (laughs).
  • Favorite quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
  • Favorite word: Flummox (to bewilder, confound or confuse)—because she likes the way it sounds and thinks people experience being flummoxed a lot more than they let on.
  • Additional Photo Credits and Information

    Posted in GENERAL by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    January 2010

    Stephanie Weaver, an entrepreneur in Atlanta, Georgia, USA represents MSCEO.NET's January theme, "Empowerment and Renewal." She is one of 11 million U.S. women entrepreneurs who continue to persevere in business despite tough economic times. (Click photo for larger view.)

    “Renewal and Empowerment”
    Rosie the Riveter 

    Derek Blanks
    Derek Blanks Photography 

    Wardrobe Styling
    Kaira Akita — Head Stylist
    A Clothes Encounter 

    Keizia Parks — Assistant Stylist
    Daily Fashion Vitamin 

    Candace “Candy” Phillips
    Salon 78

    Regina Trawick

    Stephanie Weaver

    How to Recruit the Best Employees for Your Business

    Posted in INSIGHT by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    Knowing the ‘personality’ of your company is first step to stellar staffing

    Selecting instead of hiring should be driving strategy

    By Felicia Joy
    Senior Correspondent

    Roberta Chinsky Matuson, a nationally renowned strategic human resources specialist has two words for business owners who are hiring: Be selective.  “So many times business owners have the attitude that they just want to get it over with so they think of a job title, put out a generic position announcement and hire the first person who seems to fit,” Matuson said.  “This is hiring but what they need to be doing is selecting,” Matuson said.  “Big difference.”

    Roberta Chinsky Matuson

    Matuson says selecting candidates—rather than simply hiring them—begins with understanding the personality of your company.  “What kind of organization do you have?  Is your business a place where people need to be very independent and able to work with little direction and supervision, or is it a highly collaborative environment, like an IT firm, where people are constantly working together in teams?”  She says identifying the traits of your organization is crucial to hiring people who will survive and thrive at your company.  If you have employees now, Matuson says, “Ask yourself, what do my best performing employees have in common?” If you do not have employees, she says describe the kind of person you think you’d like to have and start from there.

    After compiling a list of the traits a person must have to work at your company, define the traits needed for the specific position.  “You don’t have to analyze every single trait of each candidate but you do need to develop a list of critical traits—absolute personality must-haves—that the person must possess if they are to be hired,” Matuson said.  “For example, I must have a detail-oriented accountant. In that job, one number off can ruin everything so I will not hire an accountant unless they are detail-oriented.  On the other hand, I do not want a detail-oriented sales person.  I need them to be people-oriented so they can go out and sell, sell, sell and bring in the business.  We’ll get someone else to crunch the numbers and do paperwork,” she said.  “So develop the list of nice-to-have traits and the list of must-have traits and be sure the person you are hiring has every trait you’ve listed under ‘must have’ for the best results,” Matuson said.

    Analyzing and listing traits of your company and each position for which you are hiring sounds time consuming, right?  Matuson concedes that it is, but only initially.  “You only have to develop the traits profile of your company one time and then develop them for each position and you’re done,” she said.  “You can use those profiles over and over and since they are written down any one in the company can then help with hiring,” she said. 

    Matuson says learning how to do behavioral interviewing will ensure you hire the right person and don’t have to bear the time and expense of re-staffing.  “Behavioral interviewing is based on the idea that the best indicator of future behavior is prior behavior so you want to get specific examples of what each candidate has done in the past to determine if they have the traits you are looking for,” she said.  “You have to stick to your list and rely on strong interviewing to make sure they are not just saying they are a certain way, when they aren’t.  Also, don’t think you can change a person’s traits.  Their personality and approach to things was developed in the sandbox when they were young so it’s not going to change.”

    Matuson’s firm, Human Resource Solutions, is developing a new e-book, Selecting for Success, to help small business owners and busy entrepreneurs make the most of the hiring process.

    How to Sell Your Business: Begin with the End in Mind

    Posted in INSIGHT by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    How to prepare your business now for a successful exit later

    Looking at your company with the eye of a buyer is key to building value

    By Felicia Joy
    Senior Correspondent

    “Buyers of a business are buying revenue so your books need to be very clear in terms of what money came in and what money was spent,” said Vicki Donlan, a former small business owner who sold her newspaper publishing company to a major media outlet for a lucrative cash payout in 2004. Donlan is now a business broker, helping others sell their businesses or think through what will be required to successfully do so one day.

    Vicki Donlan

    Although the idea of exiting a traditional career is quite commonplace with the word “retirement” being batted around all the time, Donlan says for some reason some people—particularly some women she has worked with—think exiting or selling a business is failure.

    “I don’t know why some people think of it that way but it’s not failure. Selling your business is a great success. It means your business is doing well enough to be considered valuable by someone else and being able to sell it will allow you to reap the rewards of all the work you’ve done over the years,” she said.

    Donlan stresses that you should plan for the sell of your business from the early days—or at least as soon as the thought of not doing business crosses your mind. “It can be quite a long process and it’s not one that you want to wait to start when you are already feeling like you want to retire or take a break,” Donlan said.  “It can take 6-9 months or longer to sell a business and if you’re rearing to exit that will be far longer than you’ll want to stick around.  Not to mention the fact that the new owners may require you to consult for a period of time as a condition of the sale,” Donlan said.

    In addition to beginning and building your business with an exit in mind, Donlan says the three keys to successfully selling your business are:

    1. Keeping good books.  “You need to itemize all income and every expense.  If you use business revenues for personal expenses your records and files need to clearly indicate that.  Potential buyers are not the IRS so they’re not looking at your books from that critical perspective.  They want to see your business cashflow; they’re looking for revenues.”
    2. Hiring great advisors.  “Get outside professionals to work with you.  You want to take the emotion out of the equation.  You don’t need your mom, sister, cousin or uncle who happen to be attorneys or business advisors involved.  This is not to say they are not talented or competent, but involving people with personal connections to you can potentially complicate the process by adding emotion.  Keep the emotion out.”
    3. Maintaining a professional relationship with employees.  “Your employees may not understand your desire to sell your company.  To them this may indicate that something is wrong when in fact things couldn’t be better.  Keep a healthy distance between you and your employees throughout the life of your business.  At the end of the day, your employees are most interested in how changes in the business affect them—and when you are preparing for a sale or going through the actual process, employees may not see that as beneficial to them, although many times it is.  It was in my business.”

    (Listen to Vicki Donlan discuss more about how to sell your business.)

    SBA begins new focus on mid-range women entrepreneurs

    Posted in NEWS by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    United States SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership begins new focus on overlooked mid-range entrepreneurs

    Women entrepreneurs who reach more than a million in annual revenue find big success comes with equal challenges

    By Felicia Joy
    Senior Correspondent 

    In the eight months that she has been President Obama’s czar on women’s business ownership, Ana Harvey has come to a few conclusions.  Chief among them is the fact that more women business owners need to hire.  Harvey, who leads the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership says, “There is a big gap between women entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses and those whose companies have arrived at maturity.”  She says key to bridging the gap between starting and maturing is building a workforce.  “This is simply the impact of having more hands on deck,” Harvey said.  “More people can do more work, but owners are often hesitant about whether their revenues can support this.”  

    Ana Harvey


    Harvey defines woman business owners in the middle ground between starting and maturing as those with revenues in the $1-5 million range.  She says they must make changes in their businesses that move them from lone owner-operated entities or small informal organizations to scalable systematic corporate structures.  

    “By virtue of [the Office of Women’s Business Ownership] mission, we have been forced to deal only with women in start-up or at the first levels of business,” Harvey said.  “But there is a great deal of potential in the middle-ground companies that have a proven business model but aren’t sure how to maneuver critical business aspects that change once you grow, like healthcare costs, taxes, financial management systems and technology,” Harvey said.  “Above all, it is important for these women to hire—and workforce development has proven to be the valley of death,” she said.  

    (Hear how to hire smartly for your business.) 

    While some women business owners are stuck in the middle because they don’t know how to grow and aren’t sure how to retain the best employees, Harvey admits that some of them just aren’t interested in growth at all.  “I was in New York for a conference recently and a woman there said to me, ‘I just don’t want to grow.  I don’t have the time.  I am more concerned about my family,’” the woman confided.  

    Are big business success and a happy, healthy family life mutually exclusive?  Harvey says the answer is different for everyone but she believes you can have both, though she says it’s tough; and she speaks from experience.  

    Answer our poll:


     “When I was growing my business I took my children to school and then I worked while they were there.  Then I picked them up from school and brought them home to feed them and help with homework.  After a little time together I would put them to bed and I would work some more—sometimes all night into the early hours of the morning,” Harvey said.  “I did that because that was what I needed to do.  Women handle what’s on our plate.  It’s there so we do it, and think about it later,” she said.  “I have a good husband and he helped when he could but he traveled a lot for work.”  

    Despite the lack of sleep and other sacrifices, Harvey says it was worth it.  “The pride you feel when you build your own successful business and are able to hold your own financially and socially is amazing.  And all the knowledge you gain is amazing too,” Harvey said.  “It was tough sometimes but everyone in my family is happy.  I was able to build a business and my kids are now in college.” 

    Chuckling while noting that women need two of themselves, Harvey says, “As more women decide to take the path of business ownership, attitudes about family, marriage, child-rearing and responsibility are going to have to change and that will happen over time.” 

     For now, Harvey says the Office of Women’s Business Ownership’s 112 development centers across the country will continue to work with start-up and growing entrepreneurs, while also strategically collaborating with key organizations—like Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence and Women Impacting Public Policy—to make sure business owners in the middle ground get access to capital, proper training, and advisors who can help them implement the systems and practices that will take their companies to the next level. 

    Harvey points to higher loan guarantees and fee reductions offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and planning meetings with key partners, as signs that progress is already underway.

    Woman-owned companies with employees out earn those with none

    Posted in NEWS by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    Woman-owned companies with employees earn six times more revenue than lone women entrepreneurs

    Businesswomen free to follow their own path but hiring at the right time is key for growth experts say

    By Felicia Joy
    Senior Correspondent

    Having employees to delegate to is apparently a boon to the bottom line in business. Some experts say it’s the reason many women-owned companies are still lagging in revenue compared to those owned by men. The majority of women entrepreneurs are going it alone according to findings by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR), and this significantly impacts their ability to grow their brand’s notoriety, influence and profits.

    (Read the full economic impact report by the Center for Women’s Business Research.)

    CWBR’s data show that there are 1 million woman-owned companies with employees versus 7.1 million with none. Those with a workforce earn an average $802 billion per year collectively compared to $137 billion—or six times less—for the lone rangers. “That’s the multiplier effect,” said Gwen Martin, director of research and the interim director of the CWBR. “There’s only so much you can do by yourself. Through research, we’re able to prove to women and policymakers how important it is to move them from technical experts to business leaders of employer firms.”

    “The biggest enemy to women in business is isolation.”

    –Nell Merlino

    Margaret Barton, executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, a bi-partisan non-profit organization created by Congress to advise the president on issues of importance to women entrepreneurs, says these figures are telling but that every woman in business defines her own success and significance, which may not include being an employer. “That’s one of the benefits of entrepreneurship. A woman can slow down or speed up her enterprise, say what goes and exert control over her destiny,” Barton said.

    Martin, the research director at CWBR, agrees that some women may not want to become employers but she believes more of them would if they knew the difference it could make and if they were comfortable building their business to that point. “Some women will say they are not interested in growing to the point of hiring others but I think in many cases they say that because they’re not sure how to do it,” Martin said.

    Nell Merlino, founder of the non-profit organization, Count Me In, and creator of the Make Mine a Million $ Business initiative for women, says there is still certain thinking, or lack of awareness—on the part of women—that is holding them back from building something bigger than themselves.

    “The thing that challenges women the most in almost anything they do is the belief that they must do everything themselves, especially when it comes to their children,” Merlino said. “I may be going too far out on a limb here as someone who chose not to have children, but, women can get help with their families. Children need guided activities and the care of responsible people, it doesn’t always have to be their mother. I see women constantly struggling with guilt about their children, and that doesn’t have to be.” Merlino says women also limit their growth by trying too often to think through business problems on their own. “The biggest enemy to women in business is isolation,” she said.

    The State of Women Entrepreneurs in the U.S.

    Posted in NEWS by msceonet on January 4, 2010

    Hard times bring out best in business women, provide opportunity to thrive

    Still a long way to go but research findings substantiate the value of supporting woman-owned enterprises

    By Felicia Joy
    Senior Correspondent 

    New research findings by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR) and the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) show that women-owned businesses in the U.S. contribute $2.8 trillion in annual economic impact and provide for 23 million jobs.  That’s news.  But if women keep up the good work, some day it won’t be.  

    Stephanie Weaver, an entrepreneur living in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, represents 11 million U.S. women business owners many of whom have become 21st century "Rosie the Riveters" as their households have been hit by hard economic times.


    Nell Merlino, CEO and founder of the non-profit organization Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, and creator of the Make Mine a Million $ Business initiative for women, hopes she will see that day in her lifetime but she’s not so sure.  “I’m looking forward to women’s growth in business being a non-story but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Merlino said.  “There are a million men in business who’ve reached $1 million dollars in annual revenue but only 243-thousand women who have,” she said.  “Seventy percent of woman owned businesses are still at $50,000 a year or less in annual gross revenues.  To me, that’s unacceptable.”  

    Though the CWBR reports that the number of woman owned businesses have been growing at twice the clip of men’s for nearly 30 years, it seems that women’s time in business has just now come.  Why?  Three words: The Great Recession.  While the downturn knocked the wind out of the economy and, earlier on, sent both government and corporate leaders scrambling for solutions, it galvanized small business owners to figure out creative ways to stay afloat. Not all of them have—but many have weathered the storm, including a lot of women. 

    Navigating lack of resources is nothing new for women entrepreneurs according to Gwen Martin, interim executive director and director of research for the Center for Women’s Business Research, who says women often report being treated as though they are invisible and their companies insignificant by business organizations and financial institutions.  

    So during the recession, women business owner’s familiarity with tough realities may have worked to their advantage as they continued to fight the odds and have been ever more motivated to succeed.  “On average, the women in the Make Mine a Million $ Business Initiative reported that they have increased their level of employees by 86 percent and their revenues by 30 percent,” Merlino said.  

    “I think the people who still haven’t comprehended the economic changes that are occurring because of women don’t get it because this has never happened before.  Until the recession of the last couple years, women had never rescued the world from economic crisis.  We rescued the world from war, during World War II, with the Rosie the Riveter movement, but we had never rescued the world from financial turmoil until this economic downturn,” Merlino said. 

    Research supports Martin and Merlino’s claims in a way that business and government leaders cannot deny.  Ernst and Young’s Groundbreakers report, released in early 2009 at the World Economic Forum, indicates that women as consumers, corporate and government leaders and entrepreneurs represent the world’s greatest untapped economic resource.   A benchmarking report by The White House Project corroborates this idea with data that show that despite equality perceptions by both genders, the fact is women are not leading—or equal—in any category of society compared to men; not even in those areas traditionally considered to be the domain of women, like non-profits and education.  

    With the recession technically over according to some economists, but job losses, low lending and tough times continuing—and a mass of research in favor of creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs—women who own businesses with demonstrated demand are up for sweet opportunities aimed at growing their companies.  Proponents say focusing on the success of women entrepreneurs will create the most jobs in the long run and will boost the national economy in the process.