Kathy McShane has built her career around her love of making a difference. After working in product development and other areas at American Express, McShane started his own marketing firm, Kendrew Group, in the New York City area. He ran it from 1987 to 2010, growing it to a $6 million venture, while also teaching as an assistant professor at New York University.
McShane started the groundbreaking group Ladies Who Launch, a membership organization that supported 8,000 women starting and expanding their businesses from 2010 to 2017. In 2018, she became the Assistant Director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership in the US. The Small Business Administration served the US government for two years before starting its own consultancy. “My passion is helping women,” McShane says.
As McShane found, budding entrepreneurs often benefit from a combination of technical support and advice. In the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, McShane’s work focused on serving women who were first looking to start businesses. Helping them build their confidence was a big part of this, because structural inequalities, such as lack of access to capital, could erode their confidence in themselves as business owners.
“Many women say, ‘I don’t think I’m qualified,'” McShane says. “There are many situations where women fall short.”
McShane is also an energetic advocate for people with disabilities, and spoke about how her priorities and values in this field drive her business in a July 28, 2022, Panel I report from the New York Public Library on Entrepreneurship and the Disabilities operated for. (Video of the event will be available here soon). After being diagnosed with polio at the age of five, McShane has faced challenges that affect his walking. In his high-visibility roles, he has had to overcome the discomfort that some people experience when they see someone who has a physical disability. “Many people are uncomfortable around people who are not like them,” she says.
She says business ownership can be ideal for people with disabilities. “There are so many positive emotional reasons for people with disabilities to pursue entrepreneurship,” she says. “You really can be you. You have value. I built my business around your value. So can you.”
His advice to entrepreneurs with disabilities? “Don’t let others define your success,” she says. “I don’t define success for you,” she says. “You define success for yourself.”
The panelists shared many other insights that may be useful to you if you are starting a business. Here are some major takeaways.
Create a Roadmap—and Follow It, “I deliberately chose a business where I knew exactly what I was doing: it was marketing,” says McShane. As the primary earning woman in her household at the time, she decided it was necessary to write a business plan, where she worked on the financial side of the business. “Otherwise how do you know if you’ll be able to put food on the table?” she asks.
Be sure to check the reality of your business plan with knowledgeable people around you. McShane was optimistic. When she asked for feedback on her plan, she recalls, one of her advisors told her, “You’ll increase those expenses by 30% because it’s not going to be that way.”
Run your business according to your values. One reason McShane chose to run her own business after several years in corporate, she says, was “I could determine and articulate what my values were and only hire people who subscribed to those values.” But take it.”
One of those values was supporting women – part of a greater commitment to inclusion. “I realized that women have a tough time, because we are the nurturers and caregivers,” she says. “I had women working for me who had young children or older parents. It was a tough place, but I gave them an environment where they could be themselves, celebrate themselves, and where we could be someone. may also focus on disabilities or challenges and not see them as negative but instead focus on things they did particularly well.”
Take time to build relationships. “Relationships and connections matter a lot more than you think,” said Gustavo Cerfafini, co-founder of Pure Audio Video, a reseller of high-end equipment in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which creates elaborate home entertainment experiences for people who love technologies, movies, and music, brings in nearly $2 million in annual revenue. “If you’re interested in a location, start a meetup group, join a meetup group, start building relationships with those communities of people and you’re going to open up many more doors for yourself, so many more possibilities, That you can turn or shift or pivot into something you didn’t even imagine you could. I wish we had done more before we jumped into the business.”
Embrace your strength. Problem solving can be a special strength for people with disabilities who are put in situations where they must harness this skill every day. “As a handicapped person, You’re always trying to figure out how to get it,” McShane says. ,How do I negotiate those stairs? So you are always on the lookout for creative solutions to things. I don’t think we’re fully aware of it, but that’s what we do. We do this every day. So…the majority of people who are disabled are problem solvers. we have no choice. We have to find out.”
Organic chemist and food and beverage industry consultant Hobby Weidler—who is also the co-founder of Sensepoint Design, a global creative, marketing and strategic consultancy—has also found that being born without a vision enables them to problem-solve and learn in ways that Innovative has helped people with whom the vision may not be. This enabled him to build a business where he served clients such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Winery, where he developed new concepts for wine tasting events.
“In the food industry, I use my palate, I use my skills that other people don’t have, and I am able to solve problems that no one else has been able to solve,” Wedler he said. “Product development matters, when I’m involved, are so challenging. And I just love that. I’m able to literally observe things, see things, and I use the word to see things , in the light that others do not see them.
Find different ways to gather the experience you need to do your job. McShane once worked on a marketing campaign for a brand that targeted tired and sore runners. Someone commented, “Kathy, what do you know about running?” McShane thought about it and realized that although she doesn’t run, she had another experience that was just as relevant: “I sponsored the Boston Marathon,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be real running. You can do it another way.”
Create opportunities for other disabled people. Many people with disabilities are unemployed because companies don’t recognize their talents—and entrepreneurs with disabilities are in a position where they can break that cycle by recruiting their own.
“The Department of Labor has a database of people with disabilities,” McShane says. “These people are fantastic. And they all should have jobs, but some people are very uncomfortable with people with disabilities. It was one of the driving forces for me when I started my own business. I was in a position like that.” wanted to live in where I could hire people if they had a disability or no disability, but actually hired them for the good they did, hired them for their value system. True To be fair, they were not treated differently.”
As the panelists pointed out, entrepreneurship can be a very rewarding career option. Although some employers won’t hire him, Wedler says, “If I can’t sit at the table, I’m going to make my own tables.”