A small group of women came to the Besse-Forward Global Resource Center at Western New Mexico University on Friday to hear from panelists about how to start a woman-owned business.
The New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women organized the event. Jenifer Raphael Getz, the executive director, said the state began funding the commission in the 1970s to listen to and address New Mexico women’s concerns. Disbanded during the Susana Martinez administration, the commission didn’t exist for nearly 10 years when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham resuscitated it and the legislature began seeding it with money again in 2021.
But the issues remain the same, Raphael Getz told NM Political Report.
She said that the commission conducted surveys during the pandemic and some of the top concerns – equal pay, domestic violence and economic security – are the same issues the commission worked on during the 1970s.
The three-hour discussion included speakers such as Mark Speirs, director of Silver City Small Business Development Center at WNMU. Speirs said anyone thinking of starting a small business in the area could reach out to his office for a host of free services, including access to reports on expected industry trends. Speirs said to purchase those industry trend reports as an individual could cost $500.
Speirs said that small business development centers exist in regions all around New Mexico.
Three women small business owners, who all own local businesses in Silver City, spoke on a panel discussion to give insights into how they thrived. One local business owner, Mishka Venegas, who owns and operates an early childcare center, said that while New Mexico leads the nation in some of its recent early childcare and education policies, there is still a real dearth of daycare centers for infants that provide “really good, quality care.”
Venegas said that hinders many women from entering the workforce.
Raphael Getz told NM Political Report that during the pandemic, 50 percent of New Mexico women left the workforce. Since the pandemic has ended, 68 percent of New Mexico women have reentered.
“But 90 percent of men are back,” she said.
Getz said that is why the commission is focusing its Learning and Listening Tour taking place until June of 2024 on New Mexico women’s economic security. The commission will host more economic security panel discussions with advice on how to start a small business in Clovis, Roswell and Farmington in spring 2024. For more information on dates, click here.
Brenda Mcfarlane, a Silver City small business owner, said she went from selling homemade deodorant at the local farmer’s market to now running a brick and mortar store on Silver City’s main street.
She said the biggest challenge to overcome is believing that you have to know everything before you get started.
“If I could tell my younger self or even my middle-aged self it would be to be comfortable with not knowing and to be okay with knowing I’m about to walk off a cliff,” she said.
She said that once she got to know other women selling crafts at the local farmers market, they all admitted to suffering from imposter syndrome and worrying about “when the craft police are going to come and take you away.”
Val Weston, a small online business owner, said she trained to be a geologist but wound up running a small online business through a series of unrelated personal decisions that included a divorce.
She had started blogging out of a need to create a personal space for herself, she said. But when she divorced, she realized she had started something she could monetize.
Now, she said she operates six separate websites.
Weston said one thing she was surprised to learn as a small business owner is how many grants are available, including grants for rural business owners. She said her success has depended on being a part of the community and listening and observing what the community needs are and being willing to be a serial entrepreneur.
Venegas said she learned a lot when she was starting out from talking to other local early childcare center owners. Venegas stressed the importance of being dependable in the community because word of mouth still counts for so much of the success of a small business in a rural area.
“I haven’t had to advertise since I opened 12 years ago. So that’s been amazing,” Venegas said.
Venegas also said that, in addition to there being a real need for early childcare centers in New Mexico, recent policy changes in the state have made it easier to run the business. She said the change in eligibility for early childcare assistance so that a family of four who earns up to $111,000 is able to access state subsidized early childcare has made a real difference in running the business. She said she was able to give her family a raise for the first time in a long time.
Venegas said the state has also increased the rates per child for early childcare centers as part of its policy changes since the development of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2020.
“It’s a win-win situation for families and providers,” she said.