To celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, we asked one of our female customers, Windy Dobbs, what it’s like running her own business.
Dekalb County Appraisal Services is a successful, 100% women-owned and operated business providing commercial and residential appraisals throughout Northeast Alabama. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Here’s the inside track on what it takes, as a woman, to start up and run your own firm. Plus, Windy’s top tips for budding women entrepreneurs.
1) Tell us a little about your business
I acquired my business from my appraiser mentor, who was also my sister. After training me, she left the company to me and took a salaried position with a local power company.
When I took over the business in 2008, we had about 5 clients. Since then, my client base has increased to about 100! Two seasons in a row in 2018 I have been awarded Solidifi’s Extraordinary Appraiser 2018 award and have been invited to a formal award acceptance at the Appraisal Expo 2018. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year, but the organization did mail me a very nice award for my desk and a plaque for my office.
2) What obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?
On the personal side, many years ago, finding time to care for my business, small child, and husband, who was sick with cancer, was the most challenging obstacle of my life. Most of us will all have difficult circumstances to deal with during the growth period of the business.
I gave up precious sleep, getting only 3 to 5 hours of sleep each day in order to keep the family and business as healthy as possible and growing strong. Unfortunately, it worked against my own health. So, I definitely do not recommend this course for an extended period of time, as in my case.
For young business owners: if you are ever faced with similar circumstances, learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not important and, please, get plenty of rest as often as possible.
On the flip side, if you are a business owner, you will need to get ready to work harder than ever before for longer hours than the standard 8-5 job. If you do not put forth more, then you can count on certain failure. Some days require only a few hours rest, but don’t let it become a habit.
If you are young… carpe diem. Life goes by so quickly. Make the best use of your strong and healthy years as a young adult with a fully-functioning mind and body. As we get older, we have much less energy. You’ll get far better results if you have reached a point of financial stability before your body begins its natural decline.
3) How do you market your business?
Quite honestly, with an AMC (Appraisal Management Company) client base, I never had to do much advertising. I joined the AMC’s roster and the work started flowing in.
Getting AMC business is easy. It’s maintaining the AMC client base that can be a challenge.
Make sure to keep those deadlines and commitments; communicate your status/progress of the assignment regularly; keep up your quality of work; complete the assignment to all parties’ requirements, and you’ll never have to worry about losing business.
Now that I am confident and comfortable with communication skills, I plan to market to a greater audience including, investors, homeowners and attorneys. However, I’m going to hire a marketing professional to handle it in the most cost-effective and direct manner necessary.
4) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And the worst?
“Do everything you agree to do without shortcuts” – which, if you’re an appraiser, includes driving to every comp and getting those photos. Thank you Ben Johnston.
I don’t think I’ve ever received any bad advice, and if I did, I blew it off so quickly I can’t remember!
5) Is there anything you think is more difficult for women entrepreneurs when it comes to running a business?
I do not see any issues for females working with AMCs whose purpose is to remove bias from the appraiser selection process. For this, I’m so very thankful.
But as far as working with attorneys, male homeowners and male investors, a female has to be very effective at communicating her skill level in order to facilitate his confidence.
I have personally found that it helps to create a local presence by being active in the community in serving the community’s needs. For me, coaching sports, getting involved in fundraisers and promoting outdoor activities has gone a long way to create a level of trust by having a recognizable name in my community.
6) How do you juggle your work/life balance?
Sometimes, you downright have to give up precious sleep. But doing this repetitively can be harmful to one’s health. So, learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not important. Get plenty of rest as often as possible, but do be proactive as needed.
Staying ahead of the technology curve helps to maintain efficiency. I have streamlined the business by documenting all aspects of the business and creating procedure manuals. As soon as I find I have too much on my plate coupled with a little business equity, I offload a task.
These procedure manuals have proven to be very effective in training new appraisers by reducing repetition. I walk my trainee through the process the first of times and then toss her the manual – training in one section of the report at a time.
Do everything you can yourself until you have determined that the opportunity cost is best to hire it done by someone else. Learn the term “opportunity cost”. I have learned to identify lower skill tasks and delegate them out when my time is better invested in managing more income producing activities.
Taking accounting and tax courses has also played a huge role in the overall post-taxation return on business investment. Quickbooks is my friend. Having a strong history in accounting, finance and business computer applications has proven powerful in my businesses’ success.
7) Who inspires you?
In my 20s, I lived in Nashville and worked for a small software training company, Sensible Communications, owned by Mary Garrison. Mary, like me, had undergone extreme difficulties being a female business owner with serious personal issues.
I was with her through those difficult times. She was a mentor to me. I witnessed how Mary was so focused and determined to succeed through her barrage of adversities, including raising 2 very young children on her own.
She provided basic life lessons, from the importance of drinking plenty of water, to the importance of caring for the family first and then the business stuff.
Since the company was a software training company, I also learned first-hand the application of basic office software – which was huge.
Mary also taught me the importance of improving communication skills, how to keep a database with client prospective communications.
Mary Garrison is, hands down, my female business hero!