PARKERSBURG – As attitudes changed over the years, many women entrepreneurs are finding success starting their own businesses.
Local women are creating jobs and reaching their potential.
Many said the prejudices of the past against women have been disappearing and many of them are facing the challenges that any business faces.
Jan Dils of Jan Dils Attorneys At Law started practicing law in 1994, renting office space from local attorney Bill Kiger and doing a lot of court-appointed work to learn about different aspects of the law.
Over the last 20 years, she has steadily built her practice and now has six offices in Parkersburg (where she bought the old Social Security building on Market Street and had it completely renovated), Charleston, Beckley, Logan, Huntington and Charlotte, N.C., specializing in social security, veterans benefits and personal injury work. She now has 115 people working for her.
Dils has found attitudes towards women have changed over the years.
When she first started in 1994, it was an oddity for her to hang her own shingle out as a lawyer and do the kind of advertising she did.
”I think being young, being female, I had a hard time being taken serious,” she said. ”I never paid attention to all of that. I was all about learning and doing my best.”
Like the success of any business, it came down to hard work.
”I worked and it built up,” Dils said. ”It was a matter of helping people.
”I did that and word of mouth got out and people started coming to me.”
Lisa Corbitt, co-owner of the Nutrition Pit – a nutrition supplement store – at the Lakeview Shopping Center, said she and her family got interested in fitness and weightlifting which led to an interest in nutrition and eating right.
They saw a local need for sports nutrition products. Like many other people in the area, they had to go to the internet to get the kind of products they wanted as the local stores were very limited in the products they offer.
They opened their first store in Athens in May 2011, a store in Morgantown four months after that and their Parkersburg store two months after that. They have plans to open another location in Charleston and possibly one in Wheeling.
Corbitt said she has not felt any additional pressure put on her for being a woman in running her business, but does advise other women to be prepared when starting a business. The prejudices that had existed are not as prevalent as it was 15-20 years ago.
”The biggest piece of advice I would give a woman entrepreneur would be to make sure they really know what they are doing and they are confident about it,” she said. ”From my observation, that is the biggest challenge a lot of women business owners have.
”I was a CPA and I worked for an oil and gas company and I faced those challenges there. Because it is a male dominated world, you have to be confident and know what you are doing and present that and other people will pick up on that. If you are confident in yourself, that will be relayed to other people.”
Victoria Yater, owner Gift Gallery of Vienna, opened her business the first weekend in November in the spot that use to be occupied by Coldstone Creamery.
”We are a new business to the area,” she said. ”I grew up here, left and came back after being gone for 23 years.
”I wanted to bring something to the area that wasn’t already here. I wanted to bring a gift store that had a lot of sentimental things.”
She has gift items for any occasions.
Yater prides herself on having things in her shop that are made in the U.S.A. with around 80 percent of her inventory American made. Her top three products are Alex & Ani, Lifetime Candles and Lenny and Eva, which she has the exclusive to carry these products in this area.
”I find that opening a business here and being from the area, my customer base is so loyal and I love that,” she said. ”I like to be loyal to other small businesses that have a product I can partner with and sell.”
Yater, who also owned a promotions marketing business for 17 years, utilizes social media to help keep her customers informed of what is going on in her shop. She also uses feedback to plan out what she will bring into her shop.
”My biggest challenge is trying to figure out what the people in the area want,” she said.
Joan Zoller, owner of Trademark Solutions in Marietta, does promotional items and ad specialities for businesses, including printed and embroidered apparel.
”We work mostly with businesses, corporations and contractors,” she said.
They work to create a brand for a company as well as items they can give out to people to remind them of their business, reward clients or pull in more business.
Something as simple as a business card magnet could keep a business’ name infront of a client and remind them that this business could help them.
Zoller started the business in December 2002 having worked in the business four years prior to that. Her business now serves 150-200 clients. She has five employees, three full-time and two part-time. Things took a dip in 2008 when the economy was hit, but they managed to remain without anything reaching a critical crisis level.
”Our business continues to grow every year,” Zoller said. ”It has always been moving forward.
”We have built those relationships with our clients. (Many of their clients) always saw the value in a promotional item or an embroidered shirt because that is keeping your name out there.”
She does not believe she is treated any different because she is a woman.
”I haven’t had any doors closed because I was a woman,” she said. ”I never felt that way.
”Interacting with men or women has never been a problem for me. I don’t think it has affected my business at all.”
With the downturn in the economy, Zoller said she is facing the same challenges many businesses have been over the last few years.
”A lot of our business has been built on word of mouth from clients and referrals,” she said. ”That is the best way to advertise your business, through your clients.
”We pride ourselves in finding the right items to go that works for our clients. Do that and then you get that repeat business coming back.”
One challenge for all of the women have been able to maintain a balance between work and their families.
Yater is a single mother and has to find a way to balance everything in her life.
”I think my personal challenge is balance and trying to balance it all,” she said. ”What is for dinner, who is getting my six-year-old off the bus and making sure my staff is here.
”It is balancing enough time for being ‘mommy’ and making sure my business is operating. There is only 24 hours in a day and if I could just have 10 more hours a day I would be over the moon, but I would probably end up filling it up with something else.”
Zoller also wanted to make sure she had time for her family. She brought in employees to be able to handle certain aspects of the business so she would have time for her family.
”I could work 15-18 hours a day and not think anything of it, but my family is important to me,” she said.
The only thing is making sure that time is available for her to be there for her family.
”I think being a woman, I have more to manage with family,” Zoller said.
Dils said is is all about finding a balance.
”My biggest personal challenge is maintaining a work and life balance,” she said. ”I have to make sure I am there for my husband and kids as well as my clients.
”I think the work/life balance is hard for working moms. We feel guilty when we aren’t home helping and when we are home we fell guilty we are not at work.”
One of the keys to success for women business owners is having a family that supports and understands the demands of their jobs, Dils said.
”When you own your own business, you are never truly ‘out of the office,”’ Dils said. ”Today’s technology allows you more flexibility to be with your family, but it also makes it more difficult to truly ‘turn off’ work.”