Learn from yourself, your team, and your community

By Debbie Rainford and Karen Killian

During Women’s History Month, we’ve been inspired by stories of strength, resilience, and innovation—from the women of Ukraine to the women of STEM celebrated at the Smithsonian’s #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit. Reflecting on the advice we’ve received through the years, we decided to share some of our experiences and advice in support of other women who dream of becoming entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Here are our top five lessons learned after more than 50 years collectively leading women-owned small businesses:

1. Know your values.
Each of us has a set of convictions, beliefs that guide us through life. They may be based in religion, philosophy, or a simple sense of doing good in the world. Root yourself in those beliefs and always return to them when you feel things are out of control.

For us, those values center on putting people first, building them up, and helping them grow to achieve their full potential. And we are committed to never compromising on this core value. That was top of mind when we recently formed our new partnership between MarCom Group and LMD. We each knew we needed to find a business partner who shared our values and would prioritize the well-being and growth of our people just as much as we do.

2. Learn from yourself.
We each have strengths and weaknesses. The more you understand your skillset, the more you can lean into your strengths. You can also pull strengths from your personal life and make those work for you in business.

As it turns out, we both have a similar strength—nurturing. Debbie’s son was diagnosed with diabetes at 18 months. She took a sabbatical from her job at the time to care for him, including giving him two to four insulin injections every day. That experience led her to nursing school and working for three years as a registered nurse while remaining involved with the business. Karen was a single mom, taking care of three kids on her own. We both discovered the nurturing, empathy, and compassion needed in those personal circumstances are powerful tools in business.

3. Learn from your team.
First, surround yourself with other strong and supportive people. Many will share your same values and strengths, but don’t forget to find those people who are a complement to you. Build a team that includes people who are strong in areas you are not. You don’t need to do everything yourself, and despite how we feel on some days, we can’t know everything there is to know. So, remember to lean on and learn from your team.

As we learn more about the strengths and goals of each of our team members, we can help identify growth opportunities and keep them in mind for leadership roles. We want our team to be empowered and to feel in control of their future.

4. Learn from your community.
Keep an eye on those in your larger network, in your industry, and in your city. Learn about their needs and their goals. Identify how you and your team can help. Then, connect the dots.

A lot of what we do day-to-day is making connections. We have a pulse on our community and people come to us directly with problems. As leaders, our job is to triage the issue and connect them with someone on our team who has the skills to help. Again, you don’t need to do everything yourself. In fact, you won’t be able to do everything yourself, which makes knowing your values, your strengths, and your team all the more important.

5. Take action.
There will be risks. There will be roadblocks. There will be fear. We can’t sugarcoat it. Even when we knew we had the skills to create and grow successful businesses, the lack of confidence, the worries about finances, and so much more were all still there.

And, IT WAS WORTH IT! We’ve received incredible encouragement and coaching throughout the years. We’ve built amazing, smart, strong teams at MarCom Group and LMD. And we want others to experience that same sense of accomplishment. We encourage you to take that first step into leadership and business ownership.

These lessons taken together help create a successful work culture. That culture needs to be purposefully and intentionally planned. In a recent Glassdoor survey, workers ranked a strong workplace culture as more important than salary. And two-thirds said culture was one of the main reasons for staying in their job.

Florence Nightingale once said, “We must be learning all of our lives.”

We continue to learn from our teams and our community every day. And we can’t wait to learn from you, too. As a female entrepreneur, what’s your best tip or lesson learned? As a future leader or business owner, what’s your biggest concern? Or share your biggest dream so we can join in encouraging and supporting your goal.


About the authors: Debbie Rainford is the president of MarCom Group, Inc., a full-service advertising agency. Karen Killian is the president of LMD Agency, a full-service strategic communications company. MarCom Group acquired LMD Agency in January 2022, strengthening the competitive advantage of both companies in the advertising, marketing, communication, and federal contracting space. The partnership is an investment in the continued growth and success of their teams and customers.