I recently spoke with a truly inspiring entrepreneur, Barbara Armand, CEO/Founder of Armand Corporation. She shares her insights and advice from 25+ entrepreneurial journey as a successful consultant in the male-dominated construction industry. The article was originally posted via LinkedIn, titled Breaking Through: Women Moving From Consumers to Makers and Founders:
There’s no right or wrong way to become an entrepreneur. Every small business owner takes their own, unique journey but one thing is clear; more women are taking that journey.
With support from Capital One’s Future Edge initiative (a $150 million, five-year effort to help more American workers and entrepreneurs succeed in the 21st century economy), the Center for an Urban Future recently released a study titled, Breaking Through: Harnessing the Economic Potential of Women Entrepreneurs. This comprehensive report focuses on the tremendous economic impact that women-led companies have had on New York as well as across the country. As illuminated by the research, women of all ages, races and ethnicities are creating jobs, bolstering economies, strengthening families and communities, and providing creative solutions to 21st century problems.
As for New York City, the study says that “developing women’s potential as entrepreneurs is not about fairness or equal pay or even equal opportunity, but rather about creating jobs and wealth and driving economic growth in New York City.” New York has by far the most women-owned businesses in the country with 413,899 compared to the number two city, Los Angeles with 192,358.
The study shows that between 2007-2012 (the most recent years for which detailed data is available), women “experienced significant growth in broad service industries including law, accounting, public relations, fashion design, architecture and personal services. In many cases, women entrepreneurs are helping to transform those industries, bringing to market new products, new services and new delivery models.”
Perhaps one positive result of the recent recession is the tidal wave of women-owned small businesses it created. During the recession, more women began tapping into their inner consumer-oriented savvy, talent, experience and creativity and found ways to turn those attributes into a steady revenue stream – through their own businesses and brands. The study is encouraging on other levels too, with supporting data showing that women are succeeding as business owners across all industry sectors and at all ages. This means that it’s never too late for a resourceful woman to earn her slice of the growing entrepreneurial pie.
The old proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ certainly applies to many women making the transition from consumer to maker/founder. As Susan Lyne of BBG Ventures observes, “It goes back to women being problem solvers, finding something they can fix or make materially better. Maybe it’s a better analytics platform for fashion retailers or it might be a jewelry subscription service.”
When women find that their product idea is better, faster, healthier or higher quality than the current options, they frequently will consider manufacturing it for themselves and then for others. If the product actually offers a solution to a common problem or issue, women can turn it into a real business.
The opportunities are also immense for those women with service-oriented ideas or talents. The study states, “The services sector exploded after the recession as women who lost jobs took the opportunity to go out on their own. Between 2007-2012 in NYC, women-owned businesses providing services such as accounting, marketing, advertising and legal services grew 38%. In 2012, they generated more than $6 billion in revenue and employed 22,000 people.”
Barbara Armand, founder and CEO of Armand Corporation is cited in the study. Ms. Armand is the epitome of an entrepreneurial woman who followed her passion, despite all odds, to build her own successful consulting business within the male-dominated construction industry.
I recently spoke to Barbara about her now 25-year-long entrepreneurial journey. Today her company employs 40 people and has had substantial involvement in projects with construction values from $500,000 to $1,200,000,000. Barbara has received many construction industry honors and serves as a mentor and inspirational figure for many women.
Barbara’s lifelong passion for construction began when, as a young child, she watched her uncle run his construction business in Louisiana. She recalls, “It was during the time of segregation, when white people wouldn’t build homes in black neighborhoods. So, my uncle took it upon himself to build many homes for the black community, sometimes even providing mortgages. I was a little girl and was in awe of what he did. I realized later in life what a big impression he had made in my life.”
BARBARA ARMAND’S INSIGHTS FROM HER ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY:
Create Your Own Opportunities
Before striking out on her own, Armand worked for a large defense contractor that had projects for the U.S. Navy and Marines. In time, she realized she could start her own firm doing the same type of work she did as an employee. So, she asked her current employer if she could be a consultant rather than employee. The employer agreed and the Armand Corporation was launched. Barbara says, “I was the same person at the same desk doing the same job, but I was no longer an employee; I was CEO of my own business.” It was fortuitous that Barbara made that change because the funding for the defense initiative soon dried up and she would have lost that job. Instead, it became the first company listed on her new firm’s roster.
Barbara learned from a colleague that the city of Philadelphia was providing special opportunities for “certified” minority and woman-owned businesses. She had only been in business for two years, but had all of the necessary documentation to get certified. Once certified, Barbara was made aware of available governmental contracts within her industry. This led to her first big job; demolition of the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Many other firms had turned it down because it was a risky and very complicated endeavor but Barbara’s company took on the challenge and succeeded. She recalls, “It was such a relief that everything worked out well and the job was done safely and successfully. It got me noticed and brought in other inquiries.” Minority and women-owned business certification remains available nationwide.
Build Your Business One Job At a Time
Barbara says, “I got a boost of confidence from that big accomplishment, so I was picking up anything that came along that I felt like I could handle. I needed to stay afloat and during those first few years, I had to take anything even if I had to outsource certain parts of the job. I had the confidence to take jobs and thenfigure it all out. Building little by little was the way it had to be. My goal was getting a project that would last more than two months.”
Never Give Up
Barbara says, “My finances were a disaster from taking piecemeal projects, but there was no turning back. I never once thought about giving up. It never even crossed my mind. Everyone always said if you can make it past the first five years, you’ll be okay. But it took much longer than that milestone for me to feel successful. I went through a stressful divorce that took me six to seven years to recoup financially. It wasn’t until year 15 that I started to feel successful.”
BARBARA ARMAND’S QUICK TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS:
- Be laser-focused. My natural ability to focus allows me to dive through complicated issues quickly. But, focus can be learned. Focus on doing one thing well.
- Before you start a business, think about the financing behind it. Interview two to three different banks and lending officers; ask them what they’re looking for from entrepreneurs. If a banker doesn’t offer detailed specifics, this is not the right match.
- Don’t be put off when people question your goals. If you have a passion, follow that passion. I knew construction was my calling and I never strayed. Naysayers will always be around, ignore them.
- Never doubt yourself. Operate from a place of confidence. Know that every single day there will be challenges, but you will succeed as long as you never consider giving up.
- My policy with my employees is that it’s okay to make a mistake but if you do, tell somebody so that we can rectify it.
- Never make the same mistake twice.
- Find the right team for your business so that you can supervise rather than micromanage. I hire people to do a great job on their own.
- Communication is important. I meet with all new hires for 30 minutes every six months to keep employees on track and get feedback, especially with Millennials. I want to help the younger employees reach their own goals as well, whether that’s with Armand Corp. or not.
- Women can persevere, especially in the US, with the exceptional business foundations that we have in place.
- Celebrate success, even if it’s just quickly! In the beginning, I’d do a 30 second ‘Happy Dance,’ when I got a new project and then I’d just keep moving forward, looking for the next project.
BARBARA ARMAND ON LOOKING FORWARD:
Barbara says, “Mentoring is important to me. Quite often I’d counsel husband and wife teams, I can offer objective advice on making it work. I like to let couples know that only one of them needs to have the true passion for their business. One is a visionary, and the other is the implementer or supporter. That’s okay.”
Barbara also serves as President of the N.Y. national chapter of Professional Women in Construction, where she meets and mentors a lot of women. “We have ongoing discussions for mentorship, I see these women as they progress. I’ve also been formally asked to mentor someone in a corporate management program at a defense contractor. I have never said no when someone asks me to mentor them. I feel a responsibility to help”.
Her lifetime experience seems to cover so many challenges that she says, “I’ve persevered through financial disaster, divorce, health issues and I’ve gotten through everything. I don’t think there’s anything that I cannot counsel on. I’m happy to provide the lead for someone else now.”
Time for Balance
Life after 25 years of running her business is about trying to have a healthy balance. “Balancing my personal life is a priority today. I will spend a couple hours every morning with my husband before going to work. This year, I also took 10 days off for vacation. The last time I took 10 days off was for a trip to India in 2007. Vacation is good, stepping away offers opportunities to talk with people about your business and take on a fresh perspective.”
In the Breaking Through report, Jalak Jobanputra, founder of Future\Perfect Ventures, a New York City-based early stage venture fund says, “What I’ve seen from female founders in New York City over the past 10 years is truly revolutionary. From food entrepreneurs to those creating new business models in the commerce, finance and mobile sectors, women are stepping up, taking risks and working toward a better future for all of us.” Barbara Armand is certainly one of those women who has paved the way.
Let’s continue that momentum with conversation on Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #StartedByHer. The more engagement there is, the more support we will have for sharing entrepreneurial wisdom, so we can lift up the next generation of women entrepreneurs and continue to make a major impact on our economy.
Tweet me your thoughts (@sandyabrams) and let me know how I can help you.
*Thank you, Capital One for sponsoring this post. Opinions are my own and I’m thrilled to participate in this discussion.