Jaclyn Johnson knows how powerful it is to have a kick-ass mentor—she’s got dozens of them, in fact.
And, good news: She’s not keeping them all to herself. As the founder of Create & Cultivate, a conference series and online platform for female digital entrepreneurs, Johnson is aiming to bring the wisdom of today’s most successful girl bosses to as many aspiring CEOs as possible.
She got her first flash of inspiration for the program shortly after launching her own digital marketing agency, No Subject, in 2010. “There wasn’t a place for someone like me—a young, female business owner—to feel connected to and empowered by other women. Especially those who had life and business experience under their belts,” says Johnson, who made it onto last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list. “I felt a little like a headless chicken in the beginning, calling up friends and mentors who had paved the way, but you can only make so many phone calls and ask so many questions before you think, ‘Wait—if this doesn’t exist, why don’t I create it?’”
And so, Create & Cultivate was born. She was certainly on to something big: Today, the conferences take place several times a year, from Montauk and Brooklyn to Chicago and Dallas, drawing scores of women in search of professional camaraderie and business advice. The next installment takes place in Los Angeles on May 7, and the lineup of 60 speakers includes Chelsea Handler, Jessica Alba, and Rachel Zoe. NBD, right?
But don’t let the flashy names fool you; Johnson takes the speaker selection process very seriously. “We look to find women who have built a business or career from the ground up,” she says. “We want real wisdom, experience, and valuable advice for our audience, so finding women with that story is so important to us.”
Those stories have changed a whole lot of lives—Johnson’s included. “I get letters all the time from women sharing their stories post-Create & Cultivate; how it motivated them to make the tough decisions, work late that one night, push a boundary they haven’t before,” she says. And who couldn’t use a little bit of that magic?
Here, Jaclyn Johnson shares the 6 most valuable pieces of advice she’s learned from other super successful female entrepreneurs.
1. Don’t glorify saying no
[According to] everyone’s favorite French blogger, Garance Doré (right), “The things you say no to define you more than the things that you say yes to.” I love this because when it comes to business, you are going to have to say no to certain projects, partnerships, proposals. But you should be evaluating what you’re saying no to. Check to see if there is a pattern that’s hurting your business. Maybe you’re saying no to opportunities because you’re scared you won’t be able to deliver. If that’s happening, you can take this next speaker’s bit of advice…
2. Do things you don’t feel ready for
Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear, [suggests you] “say yes and figure it out.” It’s a pretty simple strategy that keeps you on your toes and opens doors to opportunities. Don’t let your fear be a driving factor.
3. Make yourself visible on social media
Here’s a really simple career tip from blogger Katie Sturino of The 12ish Style: “Post to Instagram around 12pm EST. Europeans are home from work, the East Coast is on lunch break, and the West Coast is just waking up.” Need a social strategy? That’s step one.
4. Prepare to work really hard
We hear this time and again: If you want success, you need to put the work in. Every woman you see on stage at Create & Cultivate has spent long hours turning a dream into a business. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen because you want it. It happens when you work for it.
It’s so wonderful to see the panelists pulling down the curtain and dropping that bomb on the audience. The shoes look pretty, but so many sacrifices go into killing it. Emily Schuman, founder of Cupcakes & Cashmere, candidly told a conference crowd, “I’m sitting up here, talking about all these things I’ve done, but it’s taken a really, really long time.”
5. Prioritize joy
SoulCycle co-founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler [said] that what drives them has always been “to put joy and empowerment into their business.” How simple and true! Please find the joy. Without it you are going to hate what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built an empire; if there is not a foundation of joy and empowerment—something that makes you feel like those hours and sacrifices are worth it—that castle is going to [crumble].
6. Find your why
Finally, find your mission. Be the mission. Sakara Life co-founder Danielle DuBoise [encourages that you] make sure your work “is a mission-driven business, because it will change your trajectory.” She added: “When times get tough, you can make it so it’s not about you. Stay true to your mission because that is what will carry you through.”