Women in Business
When a woman takes the helm of a small business or a large corporation for the first time, she needs strength and tenacity to face the challenges of shifting into her new position of power and making necessary adjustments in personnel. Lora Dana, the owner of Country Club RV in Yuma, Arizona, is a strong female and a second cousin to another strong female – Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show. In this episode of the podcast, she talks with Amanda about the transition from co-owning the business with her husband to becoming sole owner when he passed away. She can attest to the need for a succession plan and offers suggestions for women in male-dominated industries.
Transferring Ownership – Lora’s Story
Lora Dana became a solopreneur in the 1990s when she stepped away from her job working in marketing and advertising at a TV station to launch her own small business. By forming an advertising company, she could become more involved in the Honda-Mitsubishi car dealership she owned with her husband, Brent. Lora worked within their community in Yuma, Arizona, handling all the dealership’s advertising, including radio and TV commercials, which made her the face of the company. Though Brent served as president and she was secretary treasurer, customers who asked to talk to the owner were surprised to see Brent come out because they thought she was in the top spot.
“It worked out really well,” she said. “It was just a perfect blend of businesses, and I did that for quite a few years until it just became a little bit too much with the growth in the community.”
They sold the business, and after a brief retirement the couple opened Country Club RV in Yuma. Their partnership was important, as Lora’s knowledge and participation in running the business paved the way for a smoother transition when he passed away two years later. It is still a successful, thriving business today, in part because they had established a succession plan.
Many small businesses are not prepared for the inevitable – at some point the enterprise will need to belong to someone else. Every business needs to put a succession plan in place in preparation for possibilities such as:
- Medical issues
- Selling the business
- Moving away
“Not a lot of people talk about or plan for succession,” Amanda said. “Especially if you’re a married couple or if you are in a partnership – determine what’s going to happen to the business, to the accounts, to the clients that you serve if something did happen to one person or the other. That is a big part of really mapping out your business properly.”
Lora had been involved in all aspects of the business before her husband died and when she became the president of the company, they developed another succession plan and put it in place. Her daughter serves as Lora’s right hand in the business, and they have taken the time to form a management team that is reliable and compatible.
Shifting to Female Ownership
Employees don’t always have positive reactions to changes in management. There are times when they lack the flexibility to accept a shift in power within the company’s hierarchy which means issues arise among your team members. Whether you’re a small business in Santa Clarita or a global giant, they need to be addressed before the problems get bigger and harder to handle.
“The team, the employees were great; it was my upper management that I had the issues with,” Lora said. “General manager, sales manager, service manager, primarily in my situation it was my general manager, who was there when Brent was alive. When Brent passed, he just kind of started taking the reins and doing what he wanted. So, I brought in a business consultant, which shocked him, to assess the business.”
Get a Neutral Assessment
A consultant from outside the area can serve as a neutral source of feedback about the effectiveness and compatibility of your personnel. In the case of a small community, such as managing a business in Santa Clarita or Yuma, it’s a good idea to choose someone from outside your area because you’re better informed when you’re open to different viewpoints.
The consultant Lora hired to assess Country Club RV met with each of the employees. “He looked at everything, he looked at the books, payroll, he looked at everything from top to bottom,” she said. “At the end of the first day he came to me, and he said, ‘You know, you’ve got poison here and it’s your general manager.’ I kind of had a feeling, but I needed that reassurance. I knew I was moving in the right direction. … We fired him that afternoon.”
Lora’s proactive stance in getting an outside assessment was the best small business management decision at the time, because she became more aware of problems affecting her employees. “I didn’t see what they were seeing, and it was harming them,” she explained. “I was going to start losing employees, so I think it was really important that I made some moves right away.”
Reaching out for someone to evaluate your business involves setting your ego aside because vulnerability is part of the process, but it reinforces your confidence in making changes to your company.
The Importance of Trust
One of the most important features of your business when it undergoes changes at the top is to establish and fortify trust. The transition is easier when employees already trust the outgoing executives; new leaders need to earn their trust in order to move forward.
“The majority of my employees were very, very faithful and I think I had their trust,” Lora said. “I think the problem I came up against was with management that worked under me but thought that I worked for them. So, we had a little bit of a struggle with that, lost a few employees, but normally it went into such a more positive direction.”
Even associates such as your suppliers and manufacturers may be unaccustomed to dealing with a lady boss – particularly in certain industries. Gaining widespread trust in Lora’s expertise took time because there are very few RV dealers run by females.
“You just stick to your horses, and you go forward, and you have a vision, and you follow through with it. I think that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Just letting people know that we’re still here. It may be me running it by myself instead of my husband and myself, but we’re still here. Our customers are what make us, so that’s our focus.”
Your Business and the Community
The community, including your customer base, can have mixed reactions to a woman in a position of power, so a female who is rising to leadership within a company should be fully engaged rather than taking a backseat to their partner. Lora’s previous involvement in the business gave her an advantage. Surprised responses to Lora’s role began when she and her husband had their car dealership because a woman empowered to make decisions is rare in her field.
Within a small community you see a unique level of pride as they care about their reputation and place among other entrepreneurs. Getting involved with local nonprofits is foundational for Santa Clarita business owners because it’s such an effective way to connect and support each other. Through philanthropy you can earn trust and gain mutual respect with other small business owners and colleagues.
Staying consistent in your community engagement is key to developing a positive reputation. If you can’t support local organizations with a financial donation, you can still get involved by taking your staff to clean up the roadside or serve at an event (it’s a great corporate teambuilding idea too). Lora is a talented artist, so she donates her paintings to benefit local causes from hospice services to the Humane Society.
A positive byproduct of donating time or money is that your company gains exposure, which is important for a new small business owner who needs help getting traction.
“It’s a lot of work, getting your business off the ground, there’s no question,” Amanda said. “But it does make such a difference to feel and know you are giving back to the community that you are asking to support your business.”
The RV business in Yuma gets approximately 100,000 winter visitors, many who are retired, and interfacing with them is Lora’s strong suit. She knows the positive effects of the owner personally connecting with customers by introducing herself and listening to their stories.
“They really appreciate that, and I think it brings us closer,” she said. “In a small community you work off referrals and they’re more likely to go refer you to their friends.”
Advice for Women in Business
Research from 2021 shows that women hold only about 30 of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. There are many reasons that so few females get to the top spot of corporations, including issues with confidence and boundaries. Successful businesswomen have identified effective strategies for females who get the opportunity to move into a leadership position or start a small business.
Find Trustworthy Childcare
Particularly when you have young kids, it’s important to find someone you trust, whether it’s a nanny, a neighbor, or a cousin. Determine who will do childcare and put a backup in place. Whether or not you have a husband who is flexible and supportive, you need to feel confident about both your work and the care of your children, relationship with your partner, and status of your household.
Design a Workable Schedule
Even with the best personnel, the structure of your calendar can determine whether your lifestyle is distracting or smooth sailing. From kids to husbands to pets, when you set up a system for their food, activities and care you’re better prepared to handle the unknown occurrences within your business. It helps to have a mindset that’s committed to maintaining the details of your scheduling – both at home and at work. To minimize chaos, make sure that housekeepers, sitters, dog walkers, and family members are all on the same page.
Put systems in place that free you from being tied to the hands-on responsibilities at the workplace. With today’s technology you can access your business from anywhere. There are many web applications that you can utilize to manage your company from a distance – such as your home – at any time.
“It makes such a difference,” Lora said. “I can look at all the deals they’re working, I can look at all the financial statements – everything is right there at my fingertips.”
Ask for Help
Women often feel they can play every role and “do it all,” but it’s time to move past that roadblock and reach out for support. Nothing outweighs the importance of your children, spouse, or other loved ones, but there are going to be times when you need to have someone else help you with responsibilities related to them. Your kids may need to get from point A to point B, for instance.
Every business owner struggles, particularly women who feel responsible for handling both a business and domestic life. Sometimes you can find a better way, and sometimes you sacrifice sleep.
Ask other women how they’re doing and find out from successful female founders how they have been able to manage a business and a family. Reach out to those who have made it through the phase you’re currently struggling to survive.
Consider outside help such as a good accountant to help you handle your finances and consider a righthand person for both work and home.
Supportive people were essential for Amanda to become an entrepreneur. “Their help allowed me to do other things that made me feel that I was being successful at home,” she said. “It allowed me to work to bring home the money to get us to the next phase of life.”
It is an effective part of taking over a business or starting a new venture. While it is difficult for many women to ask for help, you set yourself up for failure by not proactively seeking assistance or refusing to accept it when it’s offered.
Build a Balanced Team
When you’re rebuilding a business or launching a new company, bring a diverse group of people onboard.
Building a team of individuals with strengths you don’t have will maximize your success, according to Rachel Cosgrove, owner of Santa Clarita business Results Fitness and a guest on the Ask Amanda Show last season. Choose people who are experts in your weakest areas, whether it’s proficiency with social media or accounting.
“You have a special trade, you have a special skill set,” Amanda said, “but you don’t have ALL the trades and all of the skill sets, so reach out to other people to fill in those gaps.”
When Lora took over the business she brought in her daughter as a corporate officer and hired a strong and independent female controller. Two of her managers are very different from each other but work together smoothly. “One is great at fixing problems because he’s very calm,” she said. “And the other one is a go-getter. He takes charge and it’s such a great balance.”
This is Lora’s “dream team.”
“It makes such a difference, and it doesn’t always happen overnight,” she said. “It takes a while to find the right people, so don’t be afraid to kind of find your way as I’ve had to do.”
Meet the Experts
Lora Dana – Lady Boss
Lora is the owner and president of Country Club RV located in Yuma, Arizona, a business she and her husband launched in 2013. The company’s motto is “Best people, best product, best place” and she works very hard to live up to that in every way. She has worked for a TV station and launched her own advertising business, but when her husband passed away, Lora shifted into a new role as sole owner of Country Club RV.
A third generation Yuman, Lora expresses her creativity through painting on canvas. Lori is a mother and a grandmother who enjoys raising a number of rescue dogs. A self-proclaimed “people person,” she is happy to connect with others. If you would like to start a conversation or ask her questions about women in business, you can reach out through CCMotorsRV.com or find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting
While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.
Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.
In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.
About The Ask Amanda Show
On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.
Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!