Tory Johnson: Find Your Spark

Music boomed, hands swayed to the beat and headliners rocked the stage. This wasn’t a concert. It was my small business master class Spark & Hustle that kicked off the nationwide, 20-city tour in New York last week.

500 current and aspiring women entrepreneurs took tips from some of my favorite business rockstars, including Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard; real estate mogul and Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran; and QVC cosmetics queen Laura Geller – to name a few. Three key messages resounded among every speaker:

Persistence pays off. “You’ll hear a lot of no’s, so be persistent,” says maternity retail pioneer Liz Lange. After the high end department stores rejected her pitch for designer maternity wear, Lange launched her company by taking personal orders from her pregnant friends.

She soon opened a boutique on the coveted Madison Avenue, Nike came calling for a licensing deal, and Lange just celebrated 10 years as the exclusive maternity designer in Target. As her brand grew, she recognized when it was time to get help. “When you’re not able to get it done yourself, and it’s becoming a detriment to your business, you need to delegate.” (Attendees were surprised to learn Lange herself still answers customer service emails.)

QVC celebrity make-up artist Laura Geller offered her best advice to women looking to follow in her footsteps, “Never get comfortable. Always think what’s next. And, stay current and stay new.”

You are your best salesperson. “The key to selling is creating the impression that everybody wants it,” Corcoran said. “No one knows and loves your business and mission more than you. You are the most zealous about it and the best person to sell it.” This TV Shark knows of what she speaks: She started her real estate empire with $1,000 and sold the company for a whopping $66 million.

“Sell it yourself by sharing your story,” advised Lisa Price, founder of natural skin care line Carol’s Daughter. She started by making lotions and potions in her home kitchen, which she then sold at flea markets. Her fan base grew quickly–and now her products are everywhere from Sephora to Harrod’s in London.

Flex your small business muscle. Your company is young, and like your own children, you’re limber, full of energy and quick enough to make fast change – all things big business can’t do. As SurePayroll chief Michael Alter put it, “Use being small to your advantage. You’re more flexible than the big guys.”

Finally, “You have a right to be here,” Corcoran said–an important reminder to women to speak up and go after exactly what they want without questioning whether they’re entitled to pursue success. “The world belongs to the little guy.”

Tory Johnson’s new book SPARK & Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now is available now.  Go to to attend a conference near you.

+ posts

Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.

Leave a Comment