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Female Founders: Lisa Rehurek of The RFP Success Company On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

You’re going to have to let go of control and be resourceful. There will come a point where you can’t do everything yourself, and it’s unbelievable the amount of people who are willing to step in and help. Get creative, be resourceful, and let other people do things. The first thing I paid to outsource was my bookkeeping, because it’s my least favorite thing. I hired very part-time help (like, two hours a week!) to get started with marketing. You can hire interns or do trades if you don’t have funds. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Rehurek.

The fearless (and ridiculously fun) founder & CEO of The RFP Success® Company.

As an eight-time author, national speaker/trainer, and business builder, Lisa Rehurek shines with her down-to-earth, “get it done” personality. In her current business — The RFP Success® Company — Lisa and her team help businesses win business by breaking through the RFP challenges that stop companies in their tracks. The RFP Success® Company has trained and consulted to hundreds of businesses and helped organizations win over $100 million in business. With 25+ years of RFP knowledge behind her, Lisa knows what it takes to get the “Yes!” Working with both the private and public sectors, Lisa intimately understands both sides of the table from the evaluator perspective as well as the submittal perspective. Her unique vantage point coupled with her love of strategy, systems, and simplicity has garnered her clients amazing success.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It was definitely a meandering path. I “stumbled” into starting my own business because I was leaving a toxic business partnership, and I had a corporate entity who needed me to do some work for them. Over the course of the next 5–6 years, I’d do consulting work, but could never get significant traction because I was a “jack of all trades.” I started getting calls from ex-colleagues asking me to help them with RFPs (Requests for Proposal), since that was something I did back in my corporate days. At one point, a friend pointed out that RFPs would be a great niche. It’s been all about RFPs ever since.

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

I went broke! Early on, I put too many eggs in the one-client basket, and one day they were gone. I went through my savings pretty quickly and found myself in a bit of a quandary. But I got scrappy — I went on the road doing corporate training, flying, or driving to a new location each day. It was exhausting and did not pay well. I got a roommate (at age 46!) who doubled as a dog sitter when I was on the road. I worked at pharmaceutical event registration desks, tried to sell white glass boards (failed miserably!), sold a lot of personal items, and drastically reduced expenses. I even borrowed money from family & friends (humbling at my age). After a hard couple of years, I was able to bring the business back to life and build it to a 7-figure business.

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?

In the very early days of my business, I was pretty gun-shy with sales. I didn’t have a sales background, so I had to learn to embrace sales. I remember having a sales conversation with a woman in the form of “free coaching”, and at the end of that call, she started coaching me on how to close the sale. Egg. On. Face. That was quite embarrassing.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Honestly, there are so many. I had great mentors early on, like Kim Flynn who gave me the basic foundational elements of building a business (right down to teaching me how to edit a video!); Cristi Cooke and Sandra Younger for helping me find my genius and my voice. Steve Schramm from my corporate life, whose mentorship still drives how I do things today. There were also plenty of people along the way that showed me what I do NOT want to do and be. More recently, as I’ve grown the business and am building to scale, people like Charles Fred with True Space, Ali Craig with Neuroiety, and Angelique Rewers with Bold Haus have been instrumental.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I wish I had a magical answer for this question. For many of us women, we tend to seek to have everything ready before pulling the trigger. We question ourselves; we want to have our ducks in a row, we overthink our qualifications, but we just need to take action and move forward. I would guess this is some of what holds women back from founding companies.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I believe that there are so many resources out there for women business owners, but most don’t even know they exist. Much more awareness around those resources would help. I am also a believer that those of us that have been successful owe it to other women business owners to help pave the way, whether it’s through mentoring or sharing resources or other avenues.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women are insanely smart. They are intuitive and can juggle a million things at once. All things required to found a company. Having more women founders would bring a great balance to the business world, which will provide more opportunity for everyone. I strongly believe that a balance of men and women, young and old, various background — makes us all better. Lastly, having more women founders provides more role models for young women, which we desperately need.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

  1. Find something you’re passionate about and it will sell. You have to — first and foremost — have a product or service that someone finds valuable enough to pay for. Without that, all the passion in the world won’t make you successful.
  2. Social Media makes it easy. Sure, everyone now has access to market to others. But there’s a method to the madness, and if done poorly can actually be a deterrent to success.
  3. All you need is a good idea. Hello, the world is full of good ideas! If you don’t know how to take action and implement, that idea isn’t going to bring home the bacon.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No way. There is an element of risk tolerance that you have to have. You have to be scrappy, resourceful, and above all, you have to have a passion for what you’re founding. You also never shut off. You are working in some capacity (many times mentally!) all the time, especially in the lean years. Not everyone wants that risk or responsibility, nor does everyone want to put in that much time. Not everyone has the dream, and at some level, there’s got to be the dream.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You’re going to have to let go of control and be resourceful. There will come a point where you can’t do everything yourself, and it’s unbelievable the amount of people who are willing to step in and help. Get creative, be resourceful, and let other people do things. The first thing I paid to outsource was my bookkeeping, because it’s my least favorite thing. I hired very part-time help (like, two hours a week!) to get started with marketing. You can hire interns or do trades if you don’t have funds. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  2. Go out and prove your concept before worrying about all the bells and whistles. The fancy website, perfect business cards, professional photos — it really just becomes a means to avoidance. I did it all, but then had to continuously change it when I found out the market wasn’t interested. You can get away with some basic professional items until you have a proven concept and a proven market. Spend your time there first.
  3. There’s no one to pat you on the back. If you’re someone who is motivated by recognition (as I am!), the buck stops with you. There is no one who will tell you what a great job you’ve done. There’s no one to give you that gold star. You have to be okay with that, and find creative ways to get that recognition. I think that’s why I love writing books so much, that feeds that recognition motivator for me.
  4. There really are people who can do things better than you. Many of us start out thinking we’re the secret sauce to our business. In some ways, that’s true. But there are a small handful of things that we do better than anyone else. That’s the vision, developing the product or service, mapping the systems. But everything else, there’s probably someone who will do it much better. Now that I have team members that manage things like the client relationships and sales, I find that they are so much better at it than me. I’m good; they’re great. I would rather have great.
  5. Define your core values. Early on, I created a list of what we call our ‘Ride or Die’, which is essentially our core values. It has been a guiding light in who we hire, how we deliver our services, and what kind of clients we love to work with.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As a company, we strive to make businesses’ lives easier when it comes to RFP responses. When our clients do better with their responses, they win more business, which means they have more revenue, and can employ more people. It’s a domino effect.

And personally, I love to have fun and make life more joyous. When I’m in that energy, it spreads to others around me. And that helps to make the world a better place.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Because of the path that I’ve followed in my life, which has been a roller coaster for sure, I am very passionate about people forging their own path. One of the first chapters in my latest book, Dare to be Influential, is called Screw Expectations. I think we all put too much weight on other people’s — and society’s — expectations of us. If we dig deep and focus on what we each truly want, and how our individuality can uniquely contribute to the world, there would be more joy and more creativity in our lives.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Richard Branson is one of my favorite people to follow. He’s fun, happy, and uber successful but still humble. Such a great role model. I’d love to have a conversation with him about what he does when things get hard, and what he does when he questions his own decisions.

I also love Cher, because she’s just forged her path and seemingly didn’t overly compromise who she was. I’d love to talk with her about how she stayed brave, how she stayed true to herself, and how she pulled herself up when things got dark.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.