Alison Gilbert – Founder of The Big Whisper and Project AG

For this week’s edition of FinanciElle “Statements”, I had the opportunity to interview Alison Gilbert – Founder of The Big Whisper and Project AG.

The Big Whisper is a media platform and community to help women build thriving businesses. I’ve read every weekly newsletter and the content is fantastic. Take a look at the latest one and subscribe.

Project AG is a strategic partner for early-stage entrepreneurs, helping them grow authentically, in a way that’s right for them.

Paolina: What has been your hardest experience dealing with your business and finance and what did you learn/are you learning?

Alison:

I built my consultancy Project AG to prove to myself that I could support myself by working as an independent and to prove to myself that I could add value to other women-led businesses. 6 years and 65 entrepreneurs later, I’ve been able to say “yes, yes! I’ve done that.” It was important for me to be at the center of New York City to be able to lay the foundation for the consultancy, to say yes to meetings at the drop of a hat, and show up for new prospective client meetings with ease. The cost of my rent in New York City had a direct return on the investment in starting that business.

Now that I’ve launched my media platform for women entrepreneurs, The Big Whisper, the needs to grow that business are different than the needs to grow a consultancy. There’s even more I can do remotely for the consultancy now that I have such a strong foundation set, and there is a lot I can do remotely to grow The Big Whisper.

Even though for so long I had this idea and image of myself living in New York City, the reality is my personal needs and business needs have shifted and that rent is expensive! Being honest with myself and saying “ya know what Alison, maybe it’s time to move, to not have this big rent expense hanging over your head so you can take some of that rent money and put it back into the business” that has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I haven’t moved yet, arriving at that conclusion has been a process. But my wheels are turning.

With any business venture, it’s important to pay attention to the inner shifts inside you when your gut is saying “hey you may need to do something differently now than you had to before.” It’s way easier said than done, and definitely an emotional process; but, that is the work of it all–paying attention to your inner monologue and being open to the new version of yourself you’re becoming as you build and grow.

Paolina: What advice do you wish you had gotten about finance when you were first starting your business?

Alison:

One of the biggest lessons learned I live in pursuit of sharing is: there is no one-size fits all way to build a business.

There’s this pervasive dialogue in media that you need to be a high-growth, Venture Capital-backed business, to grow and survive. That’s just not true at all.

Focusing on building a sustainable business model, even if it takes a slower amount of time than you had thought, is better in the long-run for a lot of businesses. I wish that advice was more actively preached in the entrepreneurial world.

Paolina: Why do you think only 4% of women-owned businesses generate over $1MM in revenue per year?

Alison:

While a lot of factors contribute to this 4% statistic, a common psychological impediment amongst a lot of women I see, generally, is a need for perfection. I’ve noticed this with a lot of the women entrepreneurs I work with. I’ve experienced this myself. And I tend to see it with women more than I see it with men.

Generally, we women, focus on wanting to make everything “just-right,” making what we’re working on perfect before we put it out into the world. But the path to a thriving business involves pushing ourselves to put things out there just a little bit sooner than when we feel ready to. It’s easier said than done of course, I know, but the sooner we get things out there in the world, the sooner we get feedback which will enrich what we’re creating, and, ultimately, help us progress faster and get us father on the path toward breaking that $1MM mark.

Paolina: What’s The Big Whisper on: Money/Finance?

Alison:

You’re building your business to fulfill a bigger mission, yes, but at the end of the day what makes a business a business is a transaction of a service, a good, or a product in exchange for money. Without money; and, in time, a sustainable way to make money, you don’t have a business. That means you need to “touch” the financials and really feel that cash in and out flow to make sound business decisions (a very scary and emotional process).

Feeling the money, getting into that spreadsheet, mapping out a budget, plotting out estimations of revenue and profit to generate, that’s what’s going to get you in touch with the most brass tacks, needs of building a business for you to move toward your goals. You have to *feel* the money.

Paolina: Through project AG, some of the areas you provide services around are revenue modeling and fundraising strategy – what are the most common issues you see in these areas? What’s one piece of advice you’d give an entrepreneur on each?

Alison:

One of the most common issues is thinking that you need to have all this money out of the gate and that you need some comprehensive, detailed business plan to get started.

In terms of money, there is so much you can do to get started that doesn’t require money. You can start a newsletter or create an Instagram feed that adds value to the prospective audience you’d want to target and start to build a community first. Or, if you’re building a hard-good product, you can create a survey with questions to engage people in the product-development even before going down the path of spending money on creating something (plus, by doing this, you’re pre-building an engaged audience before you eventually launch). The only cost to these ways of getting started is your time!

In terms of the business plan, there seems to be this mythical idea of what a business plan is. The days of the big, thick, collated bible of a business plan are over, thanks to the help of Google and the tools of modern media. All a business plan is, is a definition of: what you’re building, why you’re building it–the problem you’re solving and how your product/service is that solution, who you’re building it for, and how you’re going to make money–which out the gate is an educated hypothesis, you won’t really know until you get started.

Yes, answering these questions is easier said than done, but it’s still the bare minimum exercise to get started–no bells and whistles beyond that.

My biggest advice is: listen to the whispers inside you, trust yourself, get started, and surround yourself with people who support you and KEEP GOING!

 

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