Entrepreneurial lessons from a single mother

Being raised by a single mother is one of the biggest influencers of my success as a business owner.

Since I was young I’ve watched my mom break through the glass ceiling and succeed as a businesswoman by taking action on her passions. She also took me to soccer practice, held me accountable for my grades in school, and tied our smaller family unit together with the rest of our extended family. My mom worked her ass off to give me a good life, despite the odds being against her.

In many ways, she taught me how to be an entrepreneur.

Through her advice and her actions I learned the skills I’d need to manage on my own. And not just how to manage as any ol’ entrepreneur, but a moral, competent, and hard-working one at that.

Here are 10 lessons I learned from my single mother, Jill Steele, that directly translate to my business now:

1 | Self-starting & Creativity

Having a single mother means the family unit (which in our case was just her and I) must be sympathetic to mom’s many responsibilities. From a young age I learned to come up with activities that were creative and fun that I could do on my own.

At age 8 I converted my room into a library. Anyone (including myself) who wanted to read a book had to go through the library check-out process. I had little index cards taped into each of my books and would track the time and date that each were read. By age 10, I was going outside and “healing” the trees in my backyard by putting gummy worms on their “wounds” and giving them hugs. I cured many of my stuffed animals from ailments they were suffering from — even if it meant surgery. I’d deconstruct them, replace their stuffing, sometimes adding a battery for a heart, and sew them back up. I’d direct neighborhood plays where I got my friends together to perform numbers from Grease or dances to songs by The Spice Girls.

Later, I got really into computers (shocker!!) and began writing stories, making gift cards, and playing games on our home computer. I was fine on my own — I loved being creative. These independent activities laid the foundation for my business now.

2 | Organization

My mother expected me to be organized and accountable from a young age. If I forgot my shin guards on my way to soccer practice, I was reprimanded and expected to remember them next time. If I left a jacket at a friend’s house, I’d receive a scolding and was sure not to forget it again. While I wasn’t perfect at organization as a child (sorry for the lost mittens, Mom!), organization is vital as a business owner. I use Trello for keeping lists of internal projects, client projects, and personal projects, and I use Slack for communicating with my teams. I keep notes during every meeting in case I need them for future reference. I wouldn’t have these skills if it weren’t for my single mom’s emphasis on keeping myself organized, even as a little lady.

3 | Problem solving

My mom was great at teaching me problem solving. Didn’t like the grade you got on a paper? Go talk to your teacher. Can’t figure out how to set up the stereo? Re-read the instructions. Unhappy with the team you made at volleyball tryouts? Practice on your own and get better next year. Always forward progress, always forward thinking. She expected me to think rationally to work through things, as opposed to just "fixing" them for me. I learned to look at situations objectively and take what lessons I could, while also reacting positively and moving forward.

In business, this is huge. I hit road blocks on projects from time to time and because of the problem solving skills I learned from my mom, I usually use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Got an issue? Deal with it!

4 | Make a plan, work the plan – efficient processes

Have a process and a plan in mind for everything. Know your morning routine. Know your route walking home from school. Know what needs to be done when you get home. If something was sitting on the stairs, you picked it up and brought it with you on your way out the door. Do the hard things first, then relax and enjoy.  Our family unit needed to run smoothly. Having processes in place helped to avoid disappointment and conflict. Same thing in business — I aim to make my design business as systematized as possible so that expectations are aligned and the team can work smoothly to hit deadlines and please clients.

5 |  Hold yourself in high regard

Get clear on your morals and honor them. Who you are is how you run your business. I remember when I was about 12, my mom was outraged at the treatment of women in the middle east after the Taliban took over. Before their reign, women weren’t required to cover their bodies from head to toe or be completely subservient to their husbands. After the Taliban came in, things changed. My mom had a huge moral problem with the stories she’d hear about women getting stoned to death for accidentally exposing flesh. Did my mom sit back and watch? Hell no! She drafted a long letter to then President Bill Clinton and was sure to include salutations to First Lady Hillary Clinton as well. She wanted her voice to be heard; she wanted to stand up to injustice. My mom received responses from both Bill and Hillary — each response letter hand signed with thanks to a Colorado woman for caring about folks an ocean away. I remember thinking, “my mom is a badass!”

If you operate your business in a way that is in line with your values and morals, you’ll attract the people you jive with. Avoid having to work with people who don’t hold you in a high regard and you’ll definitely make waves.

6 | You don’t get what you don’t ask for

Don’t expect the world to just hand you things on a silver platter. Shit happens and no one is required to give you anything or help you "just because". If you need a raise, ask for it. If you need time off, ask for it. Justify your needs logically and take strides to get what you want. I was babysitting by the time I was 13 to pay for any extra frills and activities that I was interested in. I was taught to value each dollar I made and to negotiate rates with babysitting clients. Sure, I also expected to receive my allowance for completing chores around the house, but I knew it was my responsibility to offer up my babysitting services to neighbors if I wanted to spend extra money on clothes or going to the movies as a pre-teen. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to ask for what I want and make efforts to get it.

7 | Fight for what you believe in

Speak up for those experiencing injustice.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
— Elie Weisel

While your beliefs may isolate those who disagree, you’ll be respected for expressing your opinion. My mom is a vegan. Sometimes she offends people who aren't vegan, and they offend her. However, I've watched over the years that these conflicts don't derail her from taking a stand for what she believes in. This is something that translates to my business now — as a feminist, I'm equipped with the skills I need to speak up and address sexism in the workplace head on.

8 | Hard work pays off

When I did well in school, I’d get rewarded. When I tried as hard as I could on the soccer field, I’d get rewarded. There weren’t any “participation points” in our house, but there were large rewards for large efforts. I learned early that hard work paid off.

Now I know I'm 100% capable of breaking through the glass ceiling and so are you! Serve your customers and clients to highest level you possibly can and you’ll surely reap the benefits of hard work.

9 | Be financially and emotionally independent

You’re essentially invincible if your independence outweighs your codependence. It’s important not to rely on others to take care of your business. That’s your responsibility. Your independence will lift you up and make you stronger. I saw my mother manage her finances independently and she never let the fact that she was a single mother stop her from giving me a bright future. Sure, she struggled at times (as all of us do), but seeing her independent accomplishments is something that has largely shaped my character today and equipped me to be a strong business owner.

10 | Persevere in the face of adversity

This is the most important lesson of all. I’d be lying if I said my mom and I have always been peaches and cream. We differ in a lot of ways and life was/is tough at times. But I was taught to always persist, always continue, and always hold your head up high. To walk with your shoulders back and keep going through the challenging moments that life presents. When we persevere, we make progress. And usually, just that is good enough to set you apart from the competition.

Here's to you, Mom! :)

Being raised by a single mother is badass. It’s not a pity party. It’s something that has made me stronger, more self aware, and equipped me with the skills I need to run my business like a machine — a really fun, fluid, and somewhat quirky machine, but a machine nonetheless.

Thanks, Mom, for the sacrifices you made and for the valuable lessons you taught me about running my digital media startup. Oh and thanks for raising me in Denver, Colorado, the coolest city on the continent.

Want to meet my mom? She owns a retail boutique, Animals Rock!, where she sells art, apparel, and assorted frills. Everything is animal themed (in line with her morals as an animal lover).


What fuels your fire as a business owner?