Not Afraid to Ask: Coach, Mentor, Author Offers Tips For Women Entrepreneurs

Donna Smith Bellinger is an author, business accelerator, coach and speaker who listens first to find solutions.

Donna Smith Bellinger is an author, business accelerator, coach and speaker who listens first to find solutions.

“I speak into the listening.”

That is how Donna Smith Bellinger, author, coach, speaker, and business accelerator, succeeds in helping entrepreneurs—particularly women—increase their sales, networks and effectiveness.

Bellinger is sharing lessons she has learned through her own successes—from her first sale of a box of Thin Mints as a Girl Scout, in her role as a 16-year-old top performer in a magazine subscription business by phone to her own consulting firm today.

A key point for #WomenEntrepreneurs is to ask for what you need

“You never can be afraid to ask because you don’t have it,” Bellinger says. “As women we go through these mind games to put ourselves last from our first baby doll and Easy Bake Oven.  And it continues through adulthood.”

The Chicago-based trainer and coach adds, “We need to understand our value. Some women say image is everything and everything will go their way. These women have great value but do not know how to translate that value into money.  Or they want to be of service and help everybody and they don’t help themselves.”

Bellinger understands this. A grandmother, trainer and author of “You Lost Me @Hello,” Bellinger says she learned difficult lessons in her life and career.

She graduated from high school in 1973 seven months pregnant. Later she attended technical school and earned a computer operations degree. Bellinger so impressed the school administrators that after graduating she became assistant director of admissions. She worked in vocational education for 14 years, often leading all-male sales teams, “in the land of the suits,” she says.

Bellinger then became a certified trainer, then a sales person in IT, before starting  her own business in consulting work with companies to increase sales performance. After working with her, Bellinger, a former adjunct professor in entrepreurship at Columbia College Chicago, guarantees 10-15 percent sales growth in one sales cycle, she says, with her consultation and training that can focus on training in sales for women entrepreneurs.

Energetic and upbeat, Bellinger says she has faced many challenges, including being fired from a job the same day her team met all its goals. She has often been the only woman or the only women of color in a room.

“The 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, a review commissioned by American Express OPEN, noted the number of women-owned businesses between 2007 and 2016 increased by 45 percent — a rate the report explains is ‘fully five times faster than the national average,’” writes Judith Ohikuare in Refinery29.

“A sizable percentage of that growth was driven by women of color, with their firms increasing by 126 percent during the same period; that means nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned businesses launched since 2007 was started by a non-white woman of color. Digging even deeper, OPEN showed that the gains during that nine-year period were greatest among Black women and Latinx women by far. Unfortunately, the support these women receive is inversely proportional to their ambitions.”

Women entrepreneurs of color have deeper challenges to contend with on the path to success.

#WomenEntrepreneurs of color have deeper challenges to contend with on the path to success

“Even though black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America, they only receive about .2 percent of venture capital. There is a glaring diversity problem in the business world,“ writes Jorge Newberry in Huffington Post.

Understanding and facing the challenges as women entrepreneurs of color is essential to succeed. “As an entrepreneur, it is imperative to cultivate emotional resilience,” according to Black Enterprise. “Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster, and you have to prepare yourself to weather the ups and downs. Danielle Kayembe, founder of Powerbase Meditation, urges everyone to take time each day to meditate, relax her mind and refocus her energy. “

Confidence is a key part of Bellinger’s success, and also, she says, a major factor in an entrepreneur’s presentation and brand.

Confidence is a major part of your presentation and brand #womenleaders

Elle Kaplan, CEO and founder of @LexionCapital, writes in Thrive Global, “Vanquish your insecurities by using your presence of mind to focus and project confidence. From there, it’s up to you to make the rest happen.”

In her client trainings, Bellinger will ask people to bring her their biggest business challenge. For instance, a client who was opening a restaurant said the problem was finding the right location for the restaurant. Yet the client had done no tastings and had not identified an audience. Bellinger told the client, “You do not need a building, you need a following.”

Bellinger has a wealth of specific tips for women leaders and entrepreneurs:

  1. Go beyond networking. “You need more from a networking event. That’s the meet, move on to a meeting, that is the follow up, then move to a conversation of where you will fit in to this company.”

  2. Not everyone is going to like you. “Even Beyonce doesn’t need everybody. Build your core inner circle of support and do not keep worrying about being liked because that popularity part is outside of business.”

  3. Do your own recipe, deliver your own secret sauce. “We try to become an imitation of someone else’s idea of success. And when it doesn’t work, we say that there must be something wrong with me.”

  4. Build your value in your brand. “Own that. The company is lucky to have you. Stand in that greatness. I want women to feel confident so that they can pick up and move and understand they will always be able to keep their lives on track.”

  5. Walk into the room and have a presence. “Regardless of your age, race or gender, within a few seconds, communicate your value. Be able to make a statement solidifying your value. Leverage your value to maintain your status as a leader or an expert.”

  6. Don’t jump in just to talk. “In meetings, as women, and particularly as women of color, you can be talked over. They can only do the thing you gave them permission to do. Don’t talk just to be heard. Maybe listening is a fact-finding mission. Open your mouth for value.”

  7. It’s not the shoes. “It really doesn’t matter how great you look at large events. Make the connections before the second glass of wine. No one does business at networking events. It’s just the meet, not the meeting.“

  8. Research the room before you go. “What a lot of women miss is when you are invited into a room, do research. Find a way to be an asset, as an emcee, a speaker, or even at the front desk. Connecting is what’s important. I have a time value calculator. You figure out how much your time is worth per hour. Then you plug in and play with the numbers. If is 4 hours of your time, you may be $1,000 in the hole You need to know who will give you that back. You cannot be afraid to ask for what you want, know your value and be able to articulate it.”

This week Bellinger celebrates her 62nd birthday, by both looking back and looking ahead. And advising women entrepreneurs how to best succeed.

“You speak your value,” Bellinger says. “No matter what, you rise above it and it’s OK. You step aside and once you are solid and understand who you are and what you represent, you know your value.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon