Carrie Murray of Business Relationship Alliance: “Why solopreneurship is really a lie”

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Another thing I’ve learned is solopreneurship is a lie. Even if you’re doing everything for your business on your own there are still aspects of running your own business that require help. Did you order something from Amazon Prime for an event so you wouldn’t have to go run the errand of getting it yourself from a brick and mortar? Thank you, delivery person! Did your husband cook dinner because you were doing the books for your business? Thank you, helpful spouse! Did your mom pick up the kids because you had a client meeting? Thank you, Mom! You’re never really, truly alone in this, even though it can feel very lonely.

Carrie Murray is the founder of BRA — Business Relationship Alliance, a network of powerful women devoted to advancing female-owned businesses by providing the community, collaboration, mentorship, empowerment and support needed to flourish as an entrepreneur.

Carrie began working to advance the rights of women when she became the first in her family to graduate college with a Bachelor’s in Social Work from San Francisco State University with an emphasis on Domestic Violence. She went to work as a court advocate, working for victims trying to understand their rights and navigate the judicial system. She then went on to get a Master’s Degree from Antioch University with an emphasis in Social Justice.

After that, Carrie joined the Los Angeles School System and became a teacher working her way up to becoming an administrator at an LAUSD public charter school. Fueled by her passion and the inspiration that her mother instilled in her, Carrie rose up through the ranks and eventually became a Principal. She then excitedly made the jump to entrepreneur in 2011 and started her own school, Prestique Academy of Innovation and Technology, a school for twice exceptional kids. In doing that, she became the first person in her family to own a business. As a solopreneur, she realized that although she knew so much about education, she knew very little about running a business. Carrie would spend every spare minute researching all the best business practices possible, from finance, earning capital and business development, to marketing and public relations.

Simultaneously, while doing double-duty as a mom of two young kids, she eventually built a circle of friends who were also in the same boat; not only “solopreneurs,” but “mompreneurs” who shared the same frustrations, limitations and struggles that she did. Through these friendships, Carrie quickly realized these women also had nowhere to turn but each other for answers and there had to be a better way. So what started out as casual dinner parties at her house, morphed into fruitful networking sessions as more and more women outside her immediate circle wanted in. At first, they would come together monthly, and then weekly to discuss all things business. It was through sharing their own personal experiences and providing advice, education and support to one another that they found a like-minded community of women who shared the same vision. From those dinners, BRA — Business Relationship Alliance — was born.

Carrie then set out to create a community where the key factor was the advancement of female entrepreneurs (at all levels) and built its foundation on three fundamental core values: 1. Collaboration over competition; 2. Commitment to each other as professionals and to hire within our network first; and 3. Advance women as experts in business through educational opportunities. In doing that, she also created a community where women could be viewed as valuable while still feeling comfortable being vulnerable. Once she hit 100 members she left running the school to focus on BRA full time.

Carrie is also an active philanthropist donating both anonymously and publicly to organizations like Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The first time I tried my hand at entrepreneurship, I had left LAUSD after working for 15 years as a teacher and administrator. I had decided to open my own school for twice exceptional kids. I had a partner, a teacher, classrooms, a playground and all the curriculum was written and developed by my team of three.

We opened our doors and, to my utter shock and horror, no one came running. After three years of trying to recruit students and come up with different ways of bringing in revenue, I found myself attending networking events, seeking support and advice, and I noticed I was always one of the few women in the room. The topics the group would discuss didn’t apply to me and my experience or to that of the other women in the room.

I connected with the two other women in the group over coffee. Then I looked a little closer at my own circle and found I was actually surrounded by female entrepreneurs; a photographer, an interior designer, an architect. We all had similar experiences; feeling like we were working in a bubble, in competition with each other and lacking community with shared experience.

So I hosted a dinner party and the six of us gathered and talked about the lack of networking events that were female focused. Next, I had another dinner party but this time there were nine of us, then 12, and the next thing I knew, my house was filled with 20 women who kept asking when the next dinner party was and if they could bring a friend who was also an entrepreneur.

It was then that I paused, looked around my crowded living room and thought, “I need a website and membership platform that showcases all of these brilliant women; a digital space that people could refer to when they need to hire an architect, hair stylist or dog walker, but also to offer female entrepreneurs a community that wants to see them be successful.”

In order to brand this brilliant idea, I needed to find something that connected us all. hether you wear one or not, every woman at some point in her life has had an experience with a bra and what does that bra do? It LIFTS and SUPPORTS, which became a core value of Business Relationship Alliance.

The BRA Network was founded on four main core values:

  1. Value collaboration over competition.
  2. Hire from within our network first.
  3. Price competitively and never undervalue yourself or your fellow business owner.
  4. Share your knowledge, advice and skills with other members, no matter your level of experience in your field.

Now, every day I have the opportunity to help an entrepreneur make a new sale, connect with a new friend and ally, or teach her something that will help her achieve greater success.

Passionate, creative people looking for connection and community inspire me to continue to push BRA Network forward. When I get professional women together, both online and in person, and I see them supporting each other, making plans to collaborate or recommending tips and tricks, I get so excited. It’s what fuels me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

SInce BRA was founded over cocktails and great conversations, I created an annual intimate event where I would invite promote female entrepreneurs, celebrities or women of influence to share their wisdom and answer the question, “So. How’d you do that?” with a gathering of BRA Members in my backyard, the same place BRA was conceived in our first gathering in November 2015. Titled Cocktails and Conversations, this past year I took a leap and asked author, civil rights attorney and special needs advocate, Areva Martin if you would be our guest. To my surprise she made the time in her schedule and said yes. She not only talks the talk about women empowerment she embodies and models what empowerment truly looks and feels like. The evening was full of great take-aways and impactful advice for all 70 of us. Events designed like, Cocktails and Conversations has proven that by setting the bar high, women will rise up to show up and support one another but also reach behind them and invite the next generation of women on the rise and pulls them along beside them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I founded my school with NO marketing plan,I thought I would just “build it and they would come” knocking on my door. Right???? Yeah, not so much.

Desperate to get families through my doors, I made the mistake of hiring an SEO Company that made a lot of promises about getting my brand to the top of Google searches and converting my FB business page followers into clients…all for the low, low price (yeah, right) of $2500 a month.

This company took my money, knowing I had no SEO behind my website and had never even heard of the importance of having something called “keywords” in the backend of my website.

Expensive mistake, but it led me to developing my online course for new or struggling entrepreneurs called Navigating Entrepreneurship, a six-week course that develops a strategic marketing and business plan for emerging entrepreneurs.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

As part of BRA’s commitment to women’s empowerment, we’ve partnered with Dress for Success Worldwide — West, who receives all net proceeds of our annual awards luncheon, Women on the Rise, in support of their efforts to offer long-lasting solutions that enable women to break the cycle of poverty.

I’m thrilled to be able to say that the event becomes more and more popular every year, which has allowed us to increase our donation, annually!

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Each year, Dress for Success brings alumni of their program to the Women on the Rise luncheon. It’s astounding to hear their stories of conquering hardship, overcoming adversity, and rising above the circumstances of their former lives. It’s inspiring and is an excellent reminder to our Network that we’re all stronger together.

I have also been honored by being asked to return to the organization multiple times to conduct workshops on education through advocacy, confidence building, interview skills and resume writing.

These women come from a variety of backgrounds (homelessness, domestic violence situations, etc.) and, through the work they do with Dress for Success, they return to the work force and begin to gain financial independence.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

he lack of venture capitalist investing in women owned businesses (and especially businesses owned by women of color) is atrocious and just ridiculous. Politicians and local governments need to create incentives for investing venture capital in these untapped brands.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership isn’t difficult, it’s complicated.

I believe you have to experience following a leader to learn your own leadership skills. Following a leader allows you to learn leadership styles you never want to repeat, but it also allows you the opportunity to model leadership behaviors of those you respect.

Leadership becomes complicated, however, when a leader loses their way and their pride or ego gets in the way of asking for help from their followers. Asking for help from your followers actually empowers them to look at themselves as valuable members of your community. I have no problem asking for help from my team and showing them that I’m not the ultimate authority on everything.

My leadership style is more like a “Coach”; I want to position my team to view themselves as valuable assets on a big team.

I think it’s also important for leaders to find the value in delegation and drop the need to do EVERYTHING. Delegation provides opportunities for growth, positive reinforcement and constructive feedback to the members of your team.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Well, I could fill an entire book of five (and many more) things I wish someone had told me, but I’ll focus on what I found to be the most valuable lessons.

Don’t create a partnership with a person that has the same strengths and weaknesses as your own. When I founded my first business, my partner and I had the same strengths; we’re both personable, community oriented, great at public speaking, we advocate for others, we’re educational leaders and we knew curriculum design and child development forwards and backwards. Our weaknesses, however, were also the same; no business background, not comfortable working alone, not a self starter, easily distracted, lack of technological knowledge, no formal training in marketing and advertising.

Having someone with a different skill set on your team can greatly benefit the growth and development of your brand/business and, most importantly, they’ll problem solve and develop ideas from a completely different perspective.

When I founded BRA and I began to form my team, I purposely sought out people who have different strengths than my own. I needed people to be able to provide a different perspective, point of view and opinion. I didn’t want to be surrounded by “yes” people; I wanted to be challenged enough to get my wheels turning and spark new ideas! This comes from a collective group of like-minded people who also possess different strengths.

Another thing I’ve learned is solopreneurship is a lie. Even if you’re doing everything for your business on your own there are still aspects of running your own business that require help. Did you order something from Amazon Prime for an event so you wouldn’t have to go run the errand of getting it yourself from a brick and mortar? Thank you, delivery person! Did your husband cook dinner because you were doing the books for your business? Thank you, helpful spouse! Did your mom pick up the kids because you had a client meeting? Thank you, Mom! You’re never really, truly alone in this, even though it can feel very lonely.

Entrepreneurship is NOT glamorous. 99.9% of the time. I’ve stuffed swag bags until 3AM, I’ve gotten down on my hands and knees with sandbags to anchor step and repeat backgrounds, and more. Entrepreneurship is often a “dirty job”, but — at the end of the day — the gratification in knowing this baby is all yours makes it all worth it.

HIRE PROFESSIONALS TO DO PROFESSIONAL JOBS. Just because I CAN use photoshop and Canva doesn’t mean I’m a graphic designer. Sometimes outsourcing certain jobs to professionals is the absolute best way to spend your money and resources (your time is a huge asset).

There are many things I’ll design myself, but when it comes to certain projects (like the workbook for my online course), I need the end result to be professional grade. So, I wrote the copy for it, but then had a copy editor make sure it sparkled and had a graphic designer make it stunningly beautiful so that everyone enrolled in the course would actually WANT to work through it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote comes from my Dad. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and, by the way, everything is just small stuff.”

I was always a risk taker, but an anxious one. Those two seem like opposing forces, but in retrospect, maybe I was feeling adrenaline more than anxiety. My dad was from Florida and was always on “beach time,” never in a rush, always cool and calm. I modeled this behavior in the most stressful situations. I would remain unbelievably calm and not panic, because he had taught me to view everything as “small stuff”.

If you break down any problematic situation or serious risk into smaller bite size pieces, it’s not as overwhelming and I have found greater success at finding solutions when I put things into perspective and remind myself that sweating the small stuff isn’t going to get your anywhere fast.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Suze Orman.

I love her podcast, Women and Money. She empowers women to realize that they are worthy of making money or making even more money. I want to pick her brain about how she built her name into a brand, but also ask her what the safest and most lucrative places for women who are starting out and just beginning to earn a little capital to invest.

Also…we would order bottomless mimosas and eat french toast! Obviously!

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Carrie Murray of Business Relationship Alliance: “Why solopreneurship is really a lie” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.