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Melissa Barker, Women Entrepreneurs: “Sleep on It”

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Founder of Women Entrepreneurs Inc. Melissa Barker knows she is the real deal. And if you wanted to build a brand that would help other people say the same thing about you when you leave the room, then she is your woman.

Melissa Barker started Women Entrepreneurs Inc. to help her stand out “in a world of experts and self-appointed leaders.” With her company, she continues to exercise her passion to “be authentic, to learn more than I knew the day before, and to push myself and my busines to new levels while bringing the women I’ve intentionally surrounded myself with along with me.”

At Women Entrepreneurs Inc., Melissa Barker realized one thing: “women want to help each other.” They just don’t always know how. Through the company’s “events, partnerships, and online platform,” she helps women “uncover everyday ways to amplify one another.” Even a gesture as simple as liking a woman’s social media post or making a warm introduction is as effective as “giving a free consult or sharing a valuable connection.”

Women Entrepreneurs and Melissa Barker wants to help women realize that “we are each other’s greatest assets.” The company is an “empowering membership that provides educational events, curated connections, and premium partnerships.” Likewise, the company has also joined in partnerships with Kendra Scott, Yeti, and Goop.

Check out more interviews with thriving women founders here.

I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. Melissa Barker, Women Entepreneurs Inc.

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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Melissa Barker: I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. From the time I was a little girl, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve always loved brands, storytelling, and clever ads. When I was 10, I saved my allowance to buy Absolut Book.: The Absolut Vodka Advertising Story. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is filled with glossy images of ad campaigns from the iconic brand. After perusing the pages, I was hooked — on the ads, not the vodka.

Armed with an advertising degree from the University of Georgia, I landed a spot at a growing digital firm where I worked for brands like Sears and Mars Petcare. My big break came when our agency won the vitaminwater account. This was my first introduction to its parent company — The Coca-Cola Company — where I would eventually make my way to a position on the Global Design Team.

For 6 years, I worked on some of the most valuable brands in the world — including Diet Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Powerade, and Coke Zero — along with campaigns for The FIFA World Cup and The Olympics.

In 2014, I moved my family to Charleston, South Carolina and started my first business — The Show & Tell Co. — a boutique marketing firm. My new company was designed to help tech companies tell their story.

Craving a network of other women business owners who could help me along, I started my second company, Women Entrepreneurs Inc., a membership organization that meaningfully connects women business owners through events, knowledge sharing, and bartering services. Today, our online platform has over 250+ members across 5 cities, partnerships with Kendra Scott and Goop, event speakers from Google and McKinsey & Co., and a match-making app for curated connections.

Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Melissa Barker: After my first year in business for myself, I hit a breaking point. I wasn’t sleeping, I was glued to my phone checking emails (when I should have been playing with my son), and my already rocky marriage was close to over.

Even though we had done great work for our clients, and I had built a team that I loved, every day seemed to come with a new hurdle — taxes, tech issues, finding new clients while keeping the current ones happy, managing my growing remote team, late paying clients, and so on. There was always more to do than time in the day.

I would often think to myself, “If I could just get access to other women who are further along than me, I know I can be successful!”

I didn’t want to read any more business books, listen to any more podcasts, or sit through any more webinars — I wanted to be connected to women who could help me.

After sharing my idea with a handful of other women business owners, I launched Women Entrepreneurs Inc.

We had to find creative ways for women to build relationships and support each other that didn’t require a huge time commitment.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Melissa Barker: When Women Entrepreneurs Inc. launched, we had instant momentum. The excitement, attendance at events, and willingness of our members to help one another instantly validated our assumption: women WANT to help each other.

What we didn’t realize is that it’s not enough to connect women through a membership — or even to get them into the same room. Why? Our members are not only running companies, they are daughters with aging parents, wives who run households, mothers, volunteers, and community leaders.

We had to find creative ways for women to build relationships and support each other that didn’t require a huge time commitment.

This pushed our team to think creatively about new ways we could serve our members. Ultimately, this lead to the creation of our On-Demand Series (a curated library of pre-recorded, watch-anytime workshops led by hand-selected women thought leaders), a member directory (that allows members to search and sort by location and industry), and an app — MatchMe — which connects ideal members to one another using over 17 data points.

Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Melissa Barker: Today our membership has expanded into 5 cities, we’ve hosted over 65 women-led events, and we’ve partnered with like-minded brands — such as Kendra Scott.

It would have been really easy for us to take a break from events when the pandemic hit, but we did the opposite. We had committed to 20 events and we hosted every single one — some in-person when it was safe, many virtual.

Our members, speakers, and sponsors can rely on us. They know that we’re the real deal and we’re not going anywhere.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Melissa Barker: I got a little stumped on this question so I Slacked it to our COO, Anne Winters. She immediately replied, “Offering our membership for $100.”

At a time where we were encouraging women to know their value and level up their business, here we were undercutting ourselves so severely we barely survived. While we’ve honored that price for our founding members, we’ve doubled it since then.

Leverage your network first. Melissa Barker

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Melissa Barker:

  1. Your ideas are terrible

As an entrepreneur, you’re always full of ideas! I wish someone had told me that not all of them are good ones. First, you should sleep on it. Then, answer these two questions: 1. Does it directly advance your mission? 2. Is it revenue-generating? If it’s not a yes to both, table it for a season.

  1. Your business doesn’t have to consume your life

I learned way too late that being successful doesn’t mean your business has to be the center of your universe. You can carve out space for your business, your family, your hobbies, for volunteering, for traveling… whatever is important to you. Everything won’t always stay balanced, but you can find harmony. (My good friend, Shennice Cleckley taught me that!)

  1. There are no medals awarded for “most emails read and responded to.”

The worst habit I made while working in corporate was being obsessed with “inbox zero.” As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing more important than what YOU decide needs to be done that day. Don’t let your inbox rule your business!

  1. Business is personal

Don’t create a landing page, social media campaign, and 3-part email nurture sequence when you can schedule 20 virtual coffees with people who believe in your mission and want to see you succeed. Leverage your network first.

  1. Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it’s not happening

We spend so much time working towards “the” thing — the event, the launch, the pitch, the interview, the sales goal — that it feels like there’s always another step to take to reach this certain place you need to be.

I wish someone would have told me that every one of those steps is creating a wake — and the people around you are being affected. Don’t always be in anticipation of the end result. Be 100% aware of (and grateful for) the results that you’re creating right now.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Melissa Barker: You can find me and Women Entrepreneurs Inc. here:

LinkedIn

Facebook

IG: @women.entrepreneurs.inc

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

 

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