Growing a Woman-Owned Small Business
When my business partner and I founded Quality Information Partners (QIP), we envisioned growing sustainably and offering substantive services for our clients. We never imagined that after 15 years we would be working on more than 10 different contracts with a team of 30 dedicated and talented professionals.
Corporate growth is rarely easy, but it can be enjoyable, too. We have expanded our capabilities and skillsets at QIP, and along with those expansions came new staff members who can handle those capabilities. In addition, we have chosen the right partners in other firms and the right clients, all of whom enrich our professional lives. Maintaining and growing a small business sometimes means working nights and weekends to ensure continued stability and success. Over the years, living up to the “and other duties as assigned” bullet in my job description has involved payroll, accounting, marketing, and written proposals.
It has been fun and worth it.
However, women in business face challenges that men do not. I’ve often been the only woman at a table where business decisions get made. I have been left out of meetings and happy hour invitations, and sometimes I have been an afterthought in a strategy session. Some larger businesses have wanted to partner with QIP to take advantage of our woman-owned-small-business label—but without offering QIP meaningful roles in those projects. We have turned down such offers, even when accepting them could have been profitable.
Sharing these details isn’t about complaining or holding grudges. They are part of my story about starting and building a woman-owned small business. Prejudices are real, and I’ve faced them, even as we’ve also found a lot of good people to work with who value competence over stereotypes. Along the way, I learned that wishing a situation would change or complaining about it doesn’t make things better.
Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” That’s exactly what I did when I founded QIP. I quickly learned to invite myself to the tables where I needed to be and to stand up for QIP when an outsider didn’t respect our interests, boundaries, or values.
QIP has always been about being the kind of company that my business partner, Tom, and I wanted to work for. It has never been about money or power. Instead, we have established a business in which we deliberately focus on relationships: winning contracts that allow us to contribute to our clients’ needs and the education community; hiring employees who feel like QIP is the right place for them to work; and balancing work and life. We are especially proud of QIP’s values, which were developed by our current staff and yet still mirror the values we had when starting QIP in 2004—a sure sign that we have found the right employees.
Growing QIP has been a wonderful, life-changing professional experience for me. I am proud to be the founder and president of our woman-owned small business. As a leader, the past 15 years have been fun and challenging. I look forward to seeing how and why we grow in the future.
Beth Young, PhD, (@BethYoungQIP) is Co-Founder and President of Quality Information Partners, Inc. She has devoted most of her career to data-related initiatives for the U.S. Department of Education.