It’s Female Founder Friday, and I’m elated to introduce you to woman entrepreneur, angel investor, and adjunct professor, Liz Sara. Liz’s most recent company is BEST MARKETING, LLC, which provides strategic marketing, messaging and positioning, PR, branding/identity services, lead generation and “go-to-market plans” to companies as an outsourced “Virtual Marketing Department.” The company focuses on emerging and growth-stage tech companies that lack the right executive marketing expertise at different stages in their life cycle. BEST MARKETING fills that gap by providing strategic and tactical marketing capabilities on a short-term or project basis. Clients benefit by eliminating expensive headcount commitments while acquiring the expertise of a successful entrepreneur who has built software companies of her own. Tactical marketing can do wonders for a business when they want to appeal to its specific niche audience, sites like breaktheicemedia.com discuss the strategies that can be added to tactical marketing to really elevate business visibility. Businesses may also want to employ marketing strategies that make use of SMS messaging to obtain and retain customers like that offered by the likes of Tatango. From small businesses to nonprofits, this strategy could really help get the word out loud and clear about what it is you do.
I met Liz when we both were participating on a Founder Institute Panel. Her amazing 25 year career in entrepreneurship, coupled with her outstanding advice for attendees made her a must-have interviewee for Female Founder Friday. My neck hurt from craning in her direction to absorb all of the knowledge she was dropping when we met! Liz is a female founder who has built multiple companies, and is continuously giving her time and wisdom to foster the DC startup community. It is an honor to share her story and advice for female founders below!
What inspired you to create your company
My marketing strategy company (which I started in 2001) was a complete accident. I had very zero experience in international SEO and the idiosyncrasies that make this field so unique. It just happened. I had no plans whatsoever to do that — at all. Instead, I was buying some time to figure out my next software startup by helping out a startup CEO, considering the KPIs and OKRs that would go into it (Profit talks about what OKRs are here if you’re lost on those keywords). But then one client turned into 10, then 20, then 50… and now it’s close to 100. One year turned into 17 years. I found that I enjoyed the excitement and challenge of working with several business to business software companies at a time… all facing different challenges in different markets and at different life cycle phases. I got hooked on the variety, and I still am. It’s safe to say I’m not doing another software startup, though this is a pretty good time for entrepreneurs to do exactly that.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
I’ll tell you what I see being the two most common obstacles that most startup founders face: not having a clear view of who the intended buyer of their product will be and what problem they are solving. All too often, entrepreneurs create that “awesome” product, then have no idea of who needs it. So, a lot of time and energy (and capital) get wasted in experimenting around. I tell them to reverse the order: find a problem and then build a way to solve it better than other options out there.
I’m continuing to expand the role I play in providing marketing strategy expertise to tech firm by getting further involved in some of the support organizations in our startup ecosystem that help entrepreneurs. I was honored to be appointed as the first female Chair of the Dingman Center of Entrepreneurship a year and a half ago. I was recently asked to join the Advisory Board of the BEACON DC initiative whose mission is designed to help female founders in Washington, D.C. I’m thrilled to be part of The Vinetta Project’s Venture Committee for a second year, and will be serving as a judge in the first Vinetta showcase. I get invited to present talks and workshops at many of the incubators and accelerators – from Halcyon in DC, to Bethesda Green, to Launch Workplaces in Montgomery County and Betamore in Baltimore. I hope to continue all of those initiatives because they contribute to a startup’s success in many ways.
What is a life or business hack that you recommend to help other female founders?
I would suggest assembling a small group of people with long-standing experience in domains where they are light – such as Finance or Sales, for example. It could become a formal Advisory Board down the road. But in the short term, having experts willing to help on some strategic decisions in their area of strength will save a lot of time. And pivots. And money.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
“Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and “I’m Every Woman” from the good old days of disco would be two that come to mind as theme songs. I think the titles alone say it all, but the rhythm is pretty good. I love music and listen to everything from Classic to Classic Rock.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Absolutely get some male mentors that are at the executive level in business. There’s still more men than women in upper management and if you want doors opened, you need them as your champion. Remember, it’s not always what you know or how good you are, it’s who you know.