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5 Unparalleled Tips I Learned From Top Women In Business

News & Blog

This article was written by our co-founder, Julie Niehoff and first appeared on
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I’ve learned many great lessons from top businesswomen, but these 5 pieces of advice have had measurable impact on my revenue, relationships, and general sense of well-being. I hope they serve you well.

Fail Fast

Annette Iafrate, Head of Local Success at Alignable, the largest online network of small business owners.

Annette was my boss years ago when we were tasked with changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of small business owners! I watched her build teams, alliances and partnerships worldwide. She’s smart, direct and doesn’t make many mistakes. But mistakes are inevitable and in showing me how to embrace them, she said: “Fail fast.”

Meaning, when it isn’t working, own it and fix it. Many companies bleed time and money by not addressing things head on. Fail fast is not a swift cleaver to the heart of your goals. It’s a clean break from faulty expectations.

As soon as you admit there’s a problem, search for solutions. If a path to success isn’t clear, map another route and keep moving. Straightforward, smart and honest.


Authentic Is Better Than Slick

Kendall Antonelli, co-owner of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, is a nationally recognized leader in artisanal foods.

In 2007, I got a very long, but polished newsletter from her. It broke some marketing rules about brevity, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I watched her email list grow faster than others and her business did, too. After years of reading her newsletters, we met and I felt like I was seeing an old friend.

The learning here is that Kendall and her husband, John, lead with authenticity, sharing who they really are. They promote local charities, share business and family triumphs and sometimes even failures. They talk openly about mental health issues — and sell a lot of cheese. Their authenticity resonates better than all the slick marketing in the world ever could. They have the best strategy: be real.


If You Get A Yes, Stop Talking

Whether you’re in sales or trying to persuade a friend, this works. The advice came from Rebecca Melancon, Executive Director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance.

She told me how often people talk themselves out of a sale, advising “When someone says yes, stop talking. Say thank you, walk away or change the subject to something pleasant.”

Sometimes, we instinctively offer more to sweeten the deal. Stop doing that and take yes for an answer.

Have a document to sign right there or immediately follow up to officially close the deal. Upsell later. The more you talk, the more likely they’ll ask additional questions, reconsider and back out.


There Might Be A Pony In There

Catherine Kniker, VP of Strategic Alliances for PTC Software, was once my boss. When I shared new ideas, she’d sometimes respond, “There might be a pony in there,” referencing a tale of two brothers, an optimist and a pessimist.

Their parents wanted to level out their extreme perspectives, so they told the pessimist he could get any toy he wanted. But they were disappointed when he wouldn’t choose anything, because he feared breaking it. They took the optimist to a barn, handed him a shovel and pointed to a large pile of manure for a day of shoveling.

The boy was elated and said, “With all that manure, there must be a pony in there.”

I thought Catherine meant keep digging, you might find something. Of course, I did – I’m an optimist. Now, I suspect it was more about not having time to dig through my half-baked ideas.

The real lesson was learning to dig a little first, before speaking up. Later, if you find a pony, you can share the idea with confidence.


Remember, Be Kind

After a mass shooting during a worship service in Charleston, SC, Anissa Starnes, founder of Swingbridge Consulting, started a Facebook group with friend, Andi Owen. They called it “Nine Days of Kindness,” honoring the nine people killed.

A recognized leader in organizational development, Anissa is a respected consultant for chambers of commerce and nonprofits. She invited her chamber partners, other executives, and friends to the group, encouraging many good deeds and shares. Nearly 14,000 group members later, Anissa has started a movement. A community of do-gooders helping strangers, donating, volunteering and smiling. Yes, smiling counts.

Anissa reminded us all that we’re connected and this once-small side project is now one of the best things she’s ever done. Sometimes our biggest impact starts with a tiny act.

Now you can begin using these tips in your business life.


Co-Founder of Distance Learning Media, Julie Niehoff helps CEOs maximize revenue via edu-marketing. She’s also an advisor at Alignable, the largest online network of small business owners.