Stacy Williams: Why Being A “Control Freak” Works

Do you ever wish someone would just come clean with how they really cope with it all? Stacy is doing just that in this candid interview. This successful veteran woman entrepreneur comes clean with what it's like to compete with...

What do you LOVE about being an entrepreneur?

I’m pretty much a control freak, so being the boss means I’m in control, which I love. I can create the life I want (for the most part – it takes time and I’m not quite there yet). I love the confidence I’ve developed – I feel like I can do just about anything now!

My future is in my hands, not subject to the whims of some corporate entity. It makes me so happy every morning to walk into my cool office space, hung with artwork I picked, surrounded my employees I choose to work with. And . . . we have a “no assholes” policy (pardon my French), so I don’t ever have to work with anyone I don’t want to, whether they’re a client, vendor or employee.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now?

I greatly admire my former boss, Rena Kilgannon, who I worked for from 1992 – 2001. Over the past two plus decades, I’ve watched Rena grow her ad agency, Kilgannon, from three people to over fifty. I’ve seen her survive all kinds of bumps and challenges, and keep shifting and adjusting, surviving and thriving. Ultimately, Rena sold her agency to The Dalton Agency, which enables her to spend more time at her beach house. I tell Rena that I want to be her when I grow up!

What’s the BEST and the WORST thing about being a female entrepreneur?

There are several “best things” about being a female entrepreneur. One is that, since women tend to be more relationship-oriented (and yes, that’s a generalization), it’s easy for us to surround ourselves with other people. I’m talking about fellow women business owners (just look at this group, for example!), prospective customers, colleagues, friends, and even competitors! When I first started my business, I reached out to all my competitors (all men) and befriended them. To this day, we talk shop, swap resumes of potential hires, warn each other about bad clients, etc. If I was a man, I doubt that all these competitors would be friendly.

FemaleEntrepreneur-BannerRelatedly, I think selling is often easier for women than men. Whether I’m pitching a man or a woman, it feels like their guard is down as compared to if I was a man.

Another “best thing” is that being an entrepreneur lends you flexibility. I know not all female entrepreneurs are mothers, but for those of us that are, the flexibility is a godsend. Don’t get me wrong – I still work way more hours per week than I ever did for someone else, but now I can choose to get up at 4 am to work prior to chaperoning a field trip (real example).

I can only think of one “worst” thing about being a female entrepreneur. And it’s not discrimination or sexism of any type. Maybe I’ve been lucky or maybe I’m oblivious, but I just haven’t experienced that. It may be because I’m in marketing, which is such a female-friendly industry.

The worst thing about being a woman business owner is watching my male competitor friends become more successful than me – in financial terms – faster than me. I have plenty of examples of this, and sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what I’m doing wrong, when I see how many more employees they have than I do, the nicer cars and vacations, etc.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and, honestly, I think there really is a fundamental difference between women and men. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a raging feminist (I did go to Berkeley, after all!), but science has shown that estrogen and testosterone are chemically different and lead to different behavior.

I believe my male counterparts are more competitive at their core, while I’m more relationship-oriented. I’m more concerned with making write for Female Entrepreneurssure that my employees and clients are happy – and even that I’m friends with my competitors – than in driving growth forward at a rate that might stress out my team. My male competitor friends tend to me more aggressive and more comfortable with taking risks than I am. Some of this may be just a “Stacy” thing, but I can’t help but think those who evolved to hunt buffalo now approach business a bit differently than those who stayed home to take care of the babies.

Speaking of babies, that’s the other difference. Without exception, my male counterparts were starting and growing their businesses when they were single. Working an 80 hour week was not unusual for any of them. And once they started having children, they had wives to do the heavy lifting on that front.

I have often wished that I had a wife. My husband certainly did more than most, but let’s all just admit that, with rare exception, moms are the “default parent” that handle the endless details related to child raising. Working an 80 hour week was not only not possible for me . . . I didn’t want to do it! Call me crazy, but I have always enjoyed spending time with my daughters.

And therein lies the moral of the story. I spelled out that my male competitor friends are certainly more successful in financial terms than I am.No question. But, to me, success is not only measured in money. Success is measured in terms of the quality of one’s life and relationships. On that front, I am wildly successful, and I wouldn’t trade the wonderful bond I have with my two teenage daughters for anything!

What is one tip for other entrepreneurs?

There are consultants of all types, organizations, books, videos, etc., that can help you solve any problem. I’m a member of a CEO group called Vistage, and it has literally transformed my business and my life. Others belong to EO or other executive groups. Wherever you get objective advice from, just get it.

When you’re down, how do you get back on top?

A few years ago, we lost a large client that made up a third of our revenue. That meant I had to do layoffs for the first time ever. Did I mention it was right before Christmas? I wanted to go home and curl into the fetal position, and if I recall, I think I did actually do that.

If I’m really down or frustrated, I try to leave the office and clear my head.

I use your typical stress-reducers (exercise, meditation…okay, maybe wine too!). Talking to other women entrepreneurs is also immensely helpful.

And then I come back into the office the next day with a positive attitude. Sometimes I have to fake it until I make it, but I always remember that my team is looking at me to lead, especially in tough times. My attitude will directly impact theirs, so I focus on what we need to do moving forward rather than on what went wrong.

Inspired by Stacy? Hear some values you relate to? Connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her agency’s web site at BigDrum.

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