Advice I Wish I’d Known as a Female Start-Up CEO

Starting a business is a momentous and euphoric occasion for any women, and it was for me as well. When I founded Maria Shireen, though I was finally living my dream, it was not without pitfalls. One of the most potentially life altering realizations is that “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” Because of this, we are all susceptible to issues in our fledgling businesses that we may not see coming. In order to avoid this, I offer these 3 pieces of advice to my fellow female entrepreneurs.

1. Intellectual Property Protections and Enforcement

You’ve spent years dreaming and planning for the day you can at last launch the business that feeds your mind, body and soul. The most heartbreaking thing that can happen is to have a competitor come along and steal all of your hard work and creative inspiration. But this is a very real possibility if you don’t protect your ideas and designs. So, what does this entail?

• Patent what is important to others, not just to your business.
• Educate yourself on the basics of trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.
• Work with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property.
• Conduct an audit to identify all your registered and unregistered trademarks and copyrights, as these are assets as well.
• Invest in well-written non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Have an attorney review your employment agreements, licenses, sales contracts and technology transfer agreements to ensure all of your intellectual property is protected.
• File quickly as a patent application holds your place in line.
• Investigate international patents—a US patent will not protect you against competitors outside of the United States.

2. Be Flexible

Always be prepared to take action versus being paralyzed by plans. The best laid plans often fall apart at the last second, and the best thing you can do for you and your company is to roll with the punches. This will save you precious time as well as reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Have the confidence in yourself and your team that the proverbial “Plan B” can work just as well.

3. Network, Network, Network

Forging relationships early on in your business will prove to be invaluable for the future. Though technology has replaced many aspects of doing business, there is still nothing more powerful than face-to-face communications, telephone calls and handwritten notes. Take every opportunity to share your passion and your business with like-minded individuals and those who are invested in your success. Targeted networking can make the difference between a business that succeeds and one that doesn’t.

As a wife, mother and business owner at the age of 33, I found myself overwhelmed and dealing with feelings of inadequacy I’d not yet known. The delicate balance of constantly striving to be the perfect mother and successful businesswoman, while also desiring to be an engaged partner, proved to be impossible. One thing I learned from this experience is that you can’t give 100% of yourself to everything, and in trying to, you end up with 0% for yourself. Understand that entrepreneurship and motherhood are constantly evolving, and may take any shape or form that suits you and your family. The most important thing to remember is that your relationships are tantamount to your success—in life and in business.

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