Mastering the Pivot: Advice from Women Running Two Businesses

I read the book Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing your Life with great interest, given that I recently pivoted myself from a consumer-based business to client-based marketing consulting. The pivot seemed to be a common theme. Among my peers who began business in the mid-2000s, many were shifting gears and moving onto something new.

But a few were adding gears. Beginning a second business, while simultaneously running the first one.

I wanted to hear more about this process, so I reached out to three women who were willing to share their motivations, tips and advice. In this post, you’ll hear from:

  • Mei Pak began Tiny Hands, making scented polymer clay food jewelry, earning features in major magazines and tv appearances. As her first business hit a six-figure-a-year income, she began Creative Hive, an educational and community-based marketing consulting company.
  • Following a project management career in industry, Gwen Bortner made her way onto the craft industry as a designer and teacher. After a year as interim executive director of TNNA (the Needle Arts trade organization), she began consulting with small businesses on project management/team building/operations as well as conducting public speaking engagements.
  • Cintia Gonzalez began the successful My Poppet craft blog, sharing tutorials and craft content to her tens of thousands of followers. She broadened the My Poppet umbrella by adding a Living & Travel branch, a move which has taken her all over the world and increased sponsorship income.

woman at computer

When asked what prompted the change of direction in their businesses, all three women remarked that the experience they had gained in their first business opened their eyes to new opportunities. Mei said, “Through Tiny Hands, I came to really enjoy the marketing aspect of running a business. It became a passion and I needed an outlet for it, so I started a marketing blog that soon turned into a full-fledged, separate business of its own.” Gwen commented, “I was wanting to make a bigger impact in the marketplace and knew that my skills from jobs past could be leveraged. I also saw a great need for my skills, services, and insights.”

My bet is that some personality tests would reveal that all 3 of these women are ambitious and driven by a keen desire to learn more. From my experience interacting with each of them, I know they all have systems in place which allows the first business to run in an organized way. For both Mei and Cintia, the well-oiled aspect of the first business pushed them to start a second one. Cintia said, “To be truthful I was actually getting a bored just writing about craft… Rather than throw in the towel, I challenged myself to create something that I personally would enjoy reading with all the things I loved including Travel and Food.”

With each of these three businesses, I was very interested in the degree to which their past successes aided the success of the second business. So I asked, “did you feel like you were starting completely over with the second business?” Mei’s business represented the largest shift in customer base, and she said, “I was hoping it wouldn’t be like starting over, but the reality is that it was. When I started Creative Hive, no one knew who I was because I was marketing to a totally separate audience.” Cintia sympathized with this perspective, “In many ways I felt like I was starting over from scratch when I launched My Poppet LIVING. Lifestyle and travel writing is a totally different beast, and for me much more difficult than writing a step-by-step instructional tutorial. Throw in travel and food photography, and my learning curve was pretty steep.” However, she remarked that it wasn’t exactly like starting from scratch, “I was lucky to have a strong newsletter subscriber base which helped get eyeballs over to the new blog in the early days. In terms of sponsored content, my blogging agency (at the time) was happy for me to expand my repertoire because they could pitch me for more diverse campaigns.” Gwen also noted that her contacts from her first business helped bootstrap to contacts in her second one, “There is definitely an element of having to “start over” in re-positioning myself as an expert in this arena, but the name recognition helps. Because the name is familiar, they know I have been in the industry which creates an element of trust.”

I asked each business owner about the connection between the two businesses. Mei designed hers to be intrinsically linked and when asked about the connection, she said, “My two businesses feed off each other in some ways. For example, I personally wouldn’t trust someone to give me marketing advice if they don’t walk their talk. Having Tiny Hands as a playground to test new ideas so I can report back on what worked and what didn’t over at Creative Hive is one of the benefits my clients get from working with me. I feel it gives me credibility that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I just taught marketing without having the actual experience of doing it myself.” While Gwen and Cintia’s weren’t linked to the same degree, both commented about areas of similarity.

Finally, I was quite interested in the day-to-day balancing act of running two businesses at once. I wondered, “is it really possible to run two businesses simultaneously? Do you wonder if you’ve committed to too much?” Cintia said that the struggle is real, “A blog is like a monster that you constantly have to feed and is never satiated. Keeping up two blogs is a constant challenge for me.” Mei concurred that the balancing act is tricky, but points to systems as an important factor in helping both run in conjunction, “It’s far from being a perfect picture and there have been times when I’ve worked around the clock to support my businesses. But for the most part, I’ve created systems that prevent fires from happening so we’re rarely caught by surprise these days. It was definitely a lot harder in the beginning when I was just starting Creative Hive and most of my waking hours went into building that business, while Tiny Hands operated on cruise control.” She also pointed out that having two businesses means that her income is diversified, “When one business is having a slow month, the other is there to cushion me financially.”

As for tips to those considering adding a second business, Gwen offered the advice to not be disheartened by your initial (relative) lack of success, “Be prepared that you are in reality starting a new business, so any business “history” is almost a moot point. Remember you are starting back at square one!”

Although the initial phases were a hustle, Mei encourages business owners to consider the pivot, “Pivots are a great thing and I wish more people would be open to doing it. We can get so blinded by all the past work we’ve invested time in that it can often hold us back from making changes that can really turn things around. Be willing to scrap old projects, or admit that something didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that, no one is judging you and there is no pressure to be perfect (except the pressure you put on yourself)!”

Fantastic advice from business owners who are rocking it!