EXPERT ADVICE: SARAH CONTRUCCI SMITH
What business book would you recommend to someone who is either about to launch or in the early growth stage? StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, which comes with a code to take the online assessment to identify your top five “strengths”. There are a lot of personality tests out there but this one is my favorite since it focuses on strengths over weaknesses, and combinations of strengths rather than a specific box you’re stuck in. StrengthsFinder has helped me identify what types of environments and tasks I excel in and even reframed the way I think about myself and others. Also, if you’re specifically going into international work, I highly recommend Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen for a great perspective on the intertwining, complex issues that perpetuate and alleviate poverty.
What are your thoughts on raising capital? I think raising capital for your company is a personal choice. What kind of control and responsibility do you want with your company? I decided that I’d rather grow slowly, by building on what my profits allow me, than have stakeholders contributing to the way I shape Ara Collective and our partnerships with artisans.
As entrepreneurs we have so many things pulling at us, where do you recommend women starting out focus their time and energy? This is a really hard one, especially for women who are professionally driven and value relationships. First and foremost, it’s important to realize that everything about life is a cycle, not balance. Winter and summer don’t switch daily or hourly; they are seasonal. And there times where we need to work more and times where we need to invest more in our relationships. What’s worked best for me is being very clear with my husband about what time and energy I can give to our family and friends in this season and taking time to center myself on a daily basis. And then not feeling bad about it! Give yourself some grace. Even if you want to be superwoman (who doesn’t?), you can’t be and you shouldn’t be. Be excellent, in both the work you do and the person who are in the world. You can’t be excellent if you’re trying to be everything.
What do you know now that you didn’t know then that could have saved you time, money, and heartache? Don’t listen to the naysayers. “Haters gonna hate” isn’t just a line in a Taylor Swift song! Don’t listen to them and don’t let them drive the way you do things. Those people are not the ones you answer to. And even as a new company, don’t try to sell, market, or be featured in anything and everything that will take you. Be intentional about where you are featured so that you are connecting to your target market.
What piece of invaluable advice did you receive that you would like to pass on to women pursuing their dream? Five years ago, I had a graduate school professor tell me, “All these things that you’re good at and care about are going to come together. They don’t make sense now but they will.” And it didn’t back then – business, international development, art. It seemed like the strangest combination of things that I wanted to do and couldn’t figure out how to do them at the same time. And now I’m doing it. Believe in those unique passions and strengths in you, keep pursuing them all, and give it time to take shape. You have been created with intention.
What are a few of the business resources that you can’t live without? The Company Corporation is an online service that helped me form my LLC correctly, fill out the right paperwork, pay the money when I need to, and give me peace of mind that I’m not going to get into some legal trouble down the road. The StartUp Podcast is an excellent series that follows one new startup every season, recording just about everything along the way including terrible pitches, challenging decision-making meetings, and serious doubts about the future. It’s so helpful, encouraging, and interesting to get this insider perspective as I’m going through the same process. Finally, if you’re a traveler, the TripIt app is essential to keep everything in one place and your head on your shoulders.