When the Netflix show Girlboss came out this spring, I was bombarded with texts and emails from friends asking if I had seen it. And of course, I had. I will watch or read anything about entrepreneurs, as I’m fascinated by other people’s career paths, particularly when they run their own business. I also like Sophia Amoruso–the woman who coined the term “girlboss”–who this show is loosely based on. (The main character is named “Sophia,” but has a different last name.)
Did I like the show? Absolutely. It’s entertainment so it has to have storylines about the main character’s relationships with other people. But it also did a good job of showing Sophia’s journey as an entrepreneur. The struggles, the joys, the way it consumes your life–it’s all there. It doesn’t show a lot of the nitty gritty admin end of things, but it would be pretty boring to watch people print checks and file paperwork. It glamorizes entrepreneurship somewhat, but not to a ridiculous extent. But I think it’s an inspiring story and anyone considering entrepreneurship should check it out. Britt Robertson, who plays Sophia, is great, although I think she would be too cool to be my friend.
There have been a ton of characters on television and Netflix shows who are entrepreneurs, but their career is usually not the focus of a show. Often when a character is known to be their own boss, you don’t see them working much. I’m a business geek and always want to know more about them. What made them start their own business? When did they open? How many people work for them? What’s been their biggest struggle? Most shows don’t answer or only touch on those topics, but Girlboss answers all of my questions.
If you want to start your own business but are not sure exactly what you want to do, I’m a big believer in immersing yourself in stories from entrepreneurs in all industries. Read, watch and listen to how they got to where they are. They might say something that strikes a chord with you. So if you’re thinking about being your own boss, go to Netflix (or borrow your sister’s account password, like you usually do) and give Girlboss a try. I really think it’s worth the watch.
I recently saw a post from a Facebook friend saying that she was sick of the term “girlboss.” She wants to get rid of that term and use “boss” instead because “girlboss” implies that women are not equal to men. She also pointed out that there is no “boyboss” term used. (I agree with that observation but looked on Instagram to confirm. There were about 1,700 “boyboss” hashtags, but only used in reference to male babies and children.) I saw her post around the time she had liked one of my Instagram posts–which had a girlboss hashtag–so I’m guessing my Insta post had something to do with her Facebook status.
I wasn’t insulted, but it got me thinking because I always cringe a little when I use the term “girlboss.” I’m technically a boss but at 34 years old, I’m not a girl. So it’s half accurate, and I’m not normally in the habit of half-assing things.
I use “girlboss” on Instagram because it’s a hashtag that many people react well to. My Insta account, allisonbarberabeauty, is a business account. I post things that may look personal, but I relate everything to beauty or entrepreneurship. So for my purposes, Instagram is a business marketing tool used to get more exposure. Although my posts are genuine and I don’t buy followers, I am aware that my hashtags need to be relevant to things I post and need to attract the people who might like them. I wouldn’t use a hashtag I hated (I’m looking at you, #iwokeuplikethis) and if you look at my posts, you can see I do minimal (if any) filtering/editing to keep it real, but I do use hashtags that I think will give my posts more exposure. And “girlboss” is one of those hashtags.
Although part of me sometimes hesitates before I #girlboss a post (or use the term on this blog), I admire Sophia Amoruso, the woman who coined the term. Sophia is the founder of the successful Nasty Gal clothing company*. She has built an extremely impressive company (and has had recent success in offshoot ventures), which she wrote about in her book #GIRLBOSS. When I do question my use of that term, I remind myself that it’s Sophia’s term, and she is killing it the business world. If an entrepreneur I didn’t admire coined the term, I’m not sure I would use it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this and wondering if there is a better term. “Boss” is fine, but it I find it lacking. “Ladyboss” doesn’t make me cringe as much, but I don’t think I’m proper enough to be a lady. “Badbitch” would be my top choice, because my life has been shaped by women like Lil’ Kim and Trina. But it doesn’t have the same entrepreneurial connotation, although it should. If you successfully run a business, you are badass.
The point of that Facebook post and articles I’ve read denouncing the term “girlboss” is that it minimizes women entrepreneurs. Like they are not a real bosses, just the female version of bosses. Some people say women who use the term are hurting the feminist cause. That school of thought is something I have a huge problem with. I am a feminist. Everyone who works for me is female. I’ve had one male work for me, and guess what? He was paid exactly as much as everyone else on the team. In every wave of feminism in the last 100 years, there have been people who said wearing makeup was in opposition to feminism. (I could write a very long post on that, but instead I’ll continue to wear my makeup while I hire women and create jobs that help the economy.) Maybe feminist girlboss shaming is the new feminist makeup shaming?
This post has been my version of thinking out loud while I decide if I want to keep #girlbossing. I’m glad my Facebook friend posted that status because it made me think about something that has never 100% sat well with me. I like to periodically reevaluate the way I do things, both and my business and personal life. I realize that certain ways of thinking, company policies or even makeup application techniques may have served me well at one point, but need to be changed if a better way is available. Self improvement and business growth are both immensely important to me, and I could do neither without stepping back, looking at what I do and deciding if there is a better way. That’s a real badbitch move, right? (Trying that one on for size.)
Have a beautiful day 🙂
*On my finally edit of this post on 11/11, I learned that Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy. In my mind, that does not take away from what Amoruso has accomplished.
It’s the finale! I’m going to miss writing these. If you’ve enjoyed reading these half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them, then this series has been a success. If you haven’t enjoyed reading them, then what are you doing back? I’m sure there are some Buzzfeed “articles” out there waiting for you.
So let’s finish out this Pros and Cons of entrepreneurship list. After reading these four posts, you should know exactly what you want to do with your life. I’m playin’! But if something I say kicks your ass into gear, then I can and will take the credit. 😉
Pros: You get to do something you enjoy. If you start a business, you hopefully choose a career that involves something you enjoy. Being passionate about something–or at least being very interested in it–is way better than working in a field you have zero interest in. There may come a point when you stop doing what the popular business book The E-Myth Revisited calls the “technician” work–in my case, doing makeup–but as the entrepreneur, you are still in the industry you want to be in. In my experience, working in a field you love makes everything considerably easier. I’ve had my company for 8+ years and I still love opening a new mascara, knowing it could become my new favorite. I still love watching YouTube makeup tutorials and learning different techniques. I still love discovering a new use for a product. And I really still love the feeling I get when someone looks in a mirror after their makeup is done and genuinely smiles. I didn’t have that kind of passion about real estate, air quality testing, the administrative side of education, food service or any other industry I previously worked in. But the beauty industry? That’s my jam.
Cons: It can take away some of your passion. As an entrepreneur, particularly if you are doing a lot of “technician” work, you may find that after a while, you like that part of your job less than you did when you started. It’s probably not that you really like it less though. It’s more likely that you feel weighed down by the business side of entrepreneurship, which requires a lot of energy. I think particularly in creative fields, having enough energy to both create and to manage, market and grow your brand can be very challenging. Speaking for the hair and makeup industries (and I think this example can be adjusted and applied to any creative job), it takes a lot of energy to listen and understand the ideas a client has and successfully execute those ideas so they are happy with their look. A lot can be lost in translation, but a good makeup artist or hair stylist can sort through it. When you give your all to creating what the client wants and then repeat that several times a day, you’re likely drained when you’re finished. But as a business owner, you probably have emails and calls to answer, invoices to send, products to order and a million other things to do after you finish with clients. For some people, that takes the joy out of doing their creative work. Everyone has their own balance they can handle, and the key is to figure that out. In the creative field, you can sometimes find a way to do more technician work than “business” work by working for an agency or as an Independent Contractor for a company. In those situations, you still have to build your brand and do some business work, but the agency or company you work for will offer you the jobs and coordinate the details in varying degrees. (If you hire others though, you immediately step into a managerial role unless you hire a manager.) If you want your business to grow, you will eventually have to find people to do most of the technician and managerial work, but eventually, you’ll have to spend more of your time on being the big picture entrepreneur. (I’m again referencing The E-Myth Revisted. Anyone who owns a business or is thinking about opening one should read this.)
Pros: You don’t have to answer to anyone. If you have a great idea, you can implement it without being impeded by policies or waiting for approval from your supervisor. No one is going to ruin your day by giving you a shitty yearly review or declining your request for one telecommuting day a week. You set your dress code, you do any hiring and firing and you decide how to handle every situation. You don’t have to worry about your boss’s micromanaging or hot and cold personality. When you own a business, you (hopefully) learn from your mistakes–because you will make plenty–instead of worrying those mistakes will get you fired. No more heart-dropping-into-your-stomach feeling when your boss says they need to talk to you. I’ve had some great bosses and some horrible ones, but the one in the mirror–even with her shiny t-zone and thin upper lip–is hands down my favorite. She lets me do what I want and blasts DMX when she’s angry, so I know we understand each other.
Cons: You have a bunch of mini bosses. Each client/customer is your boss in a way. (This may be more applicable if you offer a service.) If they book services or buy products from your company, they are essentially hiring you. And if they decide to no longer use your company’s services or buy your products, they are essentially firing you. You could have several mini bosses at a time and it’s literally your job to please all of them. You need to be disciplined. It’s easy to slack off when no one is over your shoulder. If you are not self-motivated, your business will crumble. Sorry, but it’s the truth. You may find it’s easier to be self-motivated when you are interested in your job, but if you still think you would need a constant push or the threat of someone who could fire you, stay away from entrepreneurship. This rarely happens now that I’m in my mid-30s, but in my 20s, I caught some crap from friends when I declined invites to go out on weekend nights. I very much wanted to be with them, but I also owed it to my clients to show up to their wedding awake, not hungover and sans shaky hands (never a good thing when applying eyeliner). If you are the type of person who will not only consistently go out the night before an early job but will stay for “just one more drink” each time, your business will feel like a 5 star hangover. Except instead of killing your Sunday with its headache and nausea, it will kill your whole company.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And that’s okay! There is no shame in being an employee. You can be fulfilled and happy with your career whether you work for yourself or someone else. If what I describe as benefits don’t sound that great to you, or the bad seems to outweigh the good, then this probably isn’t your path. If you hate your current job, it doesn’t mean you should quit and open your own business. You may just need to be in a different industry. If your heart is in music but you work in banking and are miserable, see what steps you need to take to break into the music industry. It might take a while, but so what? Here’s where I insert one of my favorite quotes: “Don’t give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
Personally, my worst day working for myself is still better than my best day working for someone else. In the years I spent as an employee before I knew what I wanted to do for a career, I felt a great sense of despair. I knew what I was doing was so far from what I enjoyed, but until my friend Caroline suggested Esthetics school, I didn’t know how to take something I loved and turn it into a job. In the two years I spent working for other people after I had opened my company, I felt frustrated. I so badly wanted to be out on my own but couldn’t do it yet financially. Now that my company is established and I’m financially stable, I feel hopeful, excited and determined. There is a lot of opportunity and I have big plans. I have days that I’m angry that my website is down or annoyed that I can’t get an answer that I need from someone, but it’s rare that I stay like that for the entire day. I think the difference is that I don’t dread my job now. I don’t wish away days. Sure, there are some jobs or clients I know will be more challenging, but nothing is ever so bad that it makes re-think my whole career.
I love that I can basically do what I want. To get to that point, I did have to do a lot of what I didn’t want–doing unpaid shoots early in my career to build my portfolio, working 14 hours on set then four hours running my business when I got home, fighting with my accounting software–but the longer I am in business, the more I can turn down work I don’t need or want and hire other people to do the things I don’t like. (In fact, I have stopped doing or outsourced all of those examples.) And that’s not a hedonistic tactic. Freeing my time of the things other people can do–just as well if not better than me–is smart. It allows me to focus on expanding and growing the company, coming up with the big ideas and then making them happen.
I think it comes down to what you value. An important value for me–which you may have picked up on–is freedom. I need to be able to create a life I want without being held back, and entrepreneurship is the only way I could see to make that happen. Things might have been easier if I loved my previous jobs or not felt this deep need for freedom, but that’s not how it worked out. I know without a doubt that I’m happier as an entrepreneur than I could have ever been as an employee.
In the Usher/Lil Kim collabo “Just Like Me,” Kim raps “If I had one wish in the world, I swear to God, it would be for girls to rock pearls, straight out the oyster.” I don’t feel that strongly about pearls, but I do feel strongly about career satisfaction. Work takes up such a huge chunk of time for most of us, so I truly hope that you have found or will find what makes that time the most enjoyable, lucrative and flexible for you, whether it’s as an employee or entrepreneur.
I believe life is too short to wish time away. We get a limited amount of time here and it’s a damn shame to hope all of the days until the weekend/a vacation/a move fly by. I mean, it’s natural to look forward to something you’re excited for, but I don’t like the idea of consistently living life like that. Yet that’s what I found myself doing before I owned my company. When I worked at other jobs–no matter how flexible my boss was or how awesome my coworkers were–I always found myself hating Mondays and living for the weekends. I wanted to hit fast forward on the hours between 9-5, Monday through Friday, and I wanted my nights and weekends (except for time spent at the gym or running) to slowwwwwly pass. Unfortunately, this is not how time works. I knew if I wanted to be happy, I had to find a way to take back my time, but also make an income because Daddy doesn’t fund my life and I’m not cut out to be a sugar baby. (I would rather wear rags that I paid for than a Versace dress that someone else bought for me.) So I opened my own business, which means not only do I no longer wish away days of the week, but I seldom even know what day it is. That’s the short story.
This is the longer story, which you’ll need to know to understand what I’m going to throw down in this series of posts. I moved from New England to south Florida solo after graduating college. I spent two years there, mostly getting tan and avoiding palmetto bugs. I worked as an office manager at two companies, something my 7 years working for the small business my father owns had prepared me for. While I made some fantastic lifelong friends in some of my coworkers, the jobs I was doing were not making me happy. I did, however, learn some valuable customer service skills and admin systems that I use now. I also saw examples of how to be a bad business owner–screaming at your employees, writing angry emails to clients, jetting off to Miami for three days and neglecting your business–which I subconsciously filed away and remembered when I opened my business.
The summer I moved back to New England was a tough one. I luckily found work as a full-time school secretary and a part-time admin at my father’s company, but neither job was what I wanted to do. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I could only pinpoint the fact that if I was going to spend the majority of my hours working, it needed to be something I enjoyed. What did I enjoy? Writing always came to mind. I had harbored fantasies of being an author since I was young. That summer, I signed up for the equivalent of an online writing course (this was actually done via the mail, because I’m old), but it was more as a hobby than in preparation for a career. I knew making a living from writing was a rough path and I was still at the point where I needed stability and consistent income. So what should I do?????? This question was the cause of my daily freakouts. (Other causes: stupid boys, gaining one pound, having debt, stupid boys, thinking a friend was mad at me, bad hair days and stupid boys.)
This big question was eventually answered by my close friend and bombshell Italian actress lookalike, Caroline. You would think I would clearly remember this defining moment of my life, but what I have instead is a vague memory of what I think happened. I believe we were sitting in her driveway on lawn chairs, having a wine party. (She lives on a dead end and her husband is too nice to run us over, so we were safe.) I was hardcore venting to Ca–as I still do–gearing up for another freakout about what I was going to do with my 24 year old life. She reminded me how much I loved makeup– something I had been into since I was 5–and suggested becoming a makeup artist. We talked about Cosmetology school, but I wasn’t interested in doing hair. She then mentioned that our friend Lauren was looking into Esthetics school, something I had only first heard of earlier that summer when a psychic told me I would be going to Esthetics school. (Did you just get the chills?) I didn’t make a definitive decision then, but this is the first memory I have of thinking, I could do that and like it. I may be wrong about the details (Paesana, please correct me) but when I think of how this whole career of mine started, this is what I go back to. The moral is if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, have a driveway wine party and let one of your best friends figure it out for you.
So I jumped into action the next morning, right? Nope. Because first, I had some serious shit to address. I had been feeling sick and exhausted for a while and when it got to the point where walking from one desk to another in my father’s office was taxing, I knew I had to do something. But doing anything was so hard, because I had zero energy. Luckily my parents stepped in and got me an appointment with Dr. Qutab, a naturopath and MD who approaches health issues from an Eastern medicine and ayurvedic perspective. I had been to plenty of Western medicine doctors who would run a few tests and say that I was fine. After extensive testing with Dr. Qutab, it turned out I was in no way “fine.” I had several health problems–from hormonal to un-diagnosed allergies to pre-cancerous issues–and we immediately began to correct those with diet changes and supplements. To say that he changed my life is a giant understatement. I am telling this part of my story because I know that if I hadn’t gotten help with my health issues, I wouldn’t have had the energy to take the steps to start my career. I firmly believe that if you don’t physically feel well every day, you won’t have the emotional and mental energy and the motivation to make big changes in your life.
Even though I was feeling a million times better and shedding that weight I had been struggling with for years–turns out some of the issues I had were keeping that from happening–I wasn’t a complete Suzy Sunshine ball of energy. I had struggled with depression in college and I was, at this point of my life, much more of a pessimist than an optimist. Not feeling horrible every day certainly helped, but I still had intense worrying sessions. How would I pay for Esthetics school? (Sallie Mae.) Would I like it? (At times.) What if I failed the state licensing exams? (Oh, please. No math is involved.). What would I do after I got licensed? Work at a spa? Makeup counter? For a cosmetics company? (It’s going take you a bit to figure that out, but “no” to all of those.) I don’t know if it was that I was in my mid-20s and everything feels hard then, or if my Type A personality made it that way, but I certainly was not carefree and confident in my decision.
Because I had, at some point, made my decision. I would move back to Newport, RI–the town I had fallen in love with when I went to college there–and enroll in the closest Esthetics school. I would work an office day job and go to school on nights and Saturdays. I did move to Newport, but I ended up going to school 8:00am-4:00pm Monday-Friday and waitressing nights and weekends. I graduated and got licensed in July of 2008 and embarked on my new career. A few years before, I had been adamant about never owning my own business, as I had worked in several and seen how hard it was and how much responsibility fell on the owner. But I realized that because of my stubborn, independent nature and my desire to not be stifled creatively if I wanted to enjoy my work–the whole reason I went down this road–I would have to go out on my own.
It would take me two years of working at full-time jobs not in the industry to do that, but I got there. That’s for Part 2, which I’m sure you are dying to read. That will explain my early years in business, because this post is already too long. Part 3 will be a comparison between entrepreneurship and working for someone, as I see it. So if you are considering making the jump into entrepreneurship and are more of the analytical type, you may want to wait for Part 3.
I want to be clear about one last thing before you leave me for Snapchat. When I use the word “boss,” I mean because I am my own boss. I am technically not the boss of anyone who works for me, as they are all independent contractors. I’m more of their agent, procuring work and setting it up so they can do the magic they do. In my view, one person doing freelance is as much of a boss as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. If you are making all of the decisions for your career–the jobs you take, the hours you work, the way you market, etc.–and the responsibility of it all ultimately falls on you, you’re a boss. So go on with your bad self.