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Connecting Community & Commerce: A conversation with Sarah Friar and Linda McMahon

Written by Nick Brinkerhoff

This past week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted its ninth annual 2019 International Women’s Day Forum held in Washington D.C. In partnership with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State, this event gathers members of the business community as well as government representatives to discuss how we can partner together to advance gender equality not just locally, but globally as well.

Earlier this afternoon, Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar had the privilege of sitting down with Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the forum’s programming about connecting community and commerce. Their conversation focused on how the SBA is supporting local businesses all over the country, advice for those looking to start their own business, and how we as a society can elevate female entrepreneurs and business owners.

Check out some key takeaways from Sarah and Linda’s conversation below.

Take risks. When starting your own business, do not be afraid to take risks or even fail. When McMahon founded the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) with her husband Vince McMahon, she shared that although she and her husband took calculated risks that paid off, they also made mistakes along the way by not doing their due diligence when investing in people. The results were harrowing: McMahon and her husband declared bankruptcy, losing everything including their home. However, those obstacles made the success that followed much sweeter: “If you never take a risk or fail, sometimes you can’t appreciate winning as much as you can if you’ve failed,” McMahon stressed to the crowd. “It’s not how you fall, but how you get back up.”

“If we’re not encouraging women to be doing what they’re doing, we’re losing out on half of the expertise we have.” – Linda McMahon

Engage with your local community. When McMahon was heading the WWE, their approach was to be global in reach, but grassroots in sustaining itself. When the WWE would bring its live shows to communities all over the world, they made sure there was a giving back component at each stop. WWE performers would visit schools, volunteer at local nonprofits, and participate in other civic initiatives. It was an opportunity for them to establish relationships with local communities by proving its commitment to them. McMahon is bringing that ethos with her at the SBA– McMahon visited all 68 SBA district offices and all 50 states to host round tables with local businesses, and see how each district office conducts outreach to the community. “It is the same approach of SBA that we had at WWE. Whether you are looking at business development, or just being part of a community yourself or a neighborhood, it really is about having that network to be supportive of one another and reach out and help for the greater good,” McMahon said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for capital. Not only can women often be reluctant to ask for capital, they are reluctant in the process of building a business plan, and then reluctant to express successes and toot their own horn, McMahon said. This can slow down growth and scaling of businesses. Friar and McMahon agreed that they hear about issues of women even being able to access capital. The SBA has many resources like webinars and programs that match women with lenders and banks in their area. The SBA is also using technology to reduce the application and processing so they can approve loans in half the time.

If you are confident about the work you are doing and understand that you earned your success and the road you’ve paved for yourself, you are a role model for others. “Own it and wear it. You’ve earned it. Don’t try to be one of the boys. Be who you are because you are great,” McMahon said.

Do not be afraid to ask questions. This may sound silly, but people love to throw out fancy words or acronyms that can make you second guess yourself and make you feel unsure. It’s important to speak up and ask questions if you do not understand what something means. “Asking about not understanding an acronym or term is important because, in the end, you will absolutely understand it. You look more confident when you are unafraid to make that ask in life,” Friar told the audience.

Everyone should be a mentor for women, men included. “The best thing that men can do for the women in their company is to mentor them and understand where they are coming from,” McMahon shared. McMahon also noted that women don’t often mentor or support each other enough. “If we are women executives, it is our responsibility to mentor all. There should be no gender exclusivity in that regard.”

Use technology to build your business. In today’s world with most consumers owning smartphones, there are tons of apps (with many being free) that can help you run your business. It can be daunting to figure out which ones to use, so reach out to your network for recommendations. Friar noted that at Ladies Who Launch events, she sees many women trading tips and tricks with each other on what they find useful for their business. At Nextdoor, we are empowering local businesses by getting them in front of their customers–the community in which they serve.

Tips for rebuilding your business after a disaster. The SBA has many programs that help businesses if they are experiencing the aftermath of a disaster. McMahon also suggested making sure you have all of your important resources, like insurance documents and payroll, in one place to speed up the process of getting your business back on its feet. Another useful tip? Use your phone. Take pictures of your documents and store them on the cloud, in the case that your physical copies get destroyed.

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