DEARBORN — Nearly three decades after founding ChannelNet, tech entrepreneur Paula Tompkins still finds that she is frequently the only woman in the room. The room is friendlier now than it first was when she was the only woman working in General Electric’s marketing and sales department. Yet, the female tech executive still typically finds herself in the minority. Studies show that while 50 percent of small businesses are female owned, the percent of female-founded technology companies remains in the single digits.
Tompkins holds two technology patents and is celebrating 28 years of tech entrepreneurship and her eighth recertification by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Her company is a leading provider of web technology designed to bridge the multichannel customer gaps in marketing and sales. ChannelNet specializes in customer self-service microsites and dealer lead generation solutions for the automotive, finance and home improvement industries.
Her advice to women today is first and foremost: Be yourself.
“Pantyhose and pants go on the same way,” said the resilient female founder. “Business is uncomfortable and women shouldn’t let themselves be intimidated. But they do need to carefully speak their mind. Whether you are a man or woman, customers typically don’t respond well if you are too direct.”
Her second recommendation is to create an advisory board: “It’s important to surround yourself with executive-level talent that you can trust. They should have real-world experience in a number of key areas such as finance, operations, and small business.”
Tompkins is taking her advice to the bank. She has survived several harsh economic downturns, and in 2013 ChannelNet is experiencing a 25 percent growth rate. She credits WBEN with giving women a competitive-edge. She does say that joining the organization doesn’t automatically generate business.
Summing up her experience she stressed: “Owning a small business is a different ballgame than working in a big corporation. You have to make sacrifices and you can’t have it all. You need to make decisions quickly and understand you won’t necessarily be popular.”
While some decisions may not be popular, small business owners typically are happier. According to a TD Bank Small Business survey, 69 percent of small business owners describe themselves as very happy. After 28 years of business, Tompkins wholeheartedly agrees.
ChannelNet is a privately held company based in Dearborn with a location in Sausalito, Calif. It provides Web-based multichannel marketing services for the home improvement, automotive, retail, and financial services industries. The company’s services include corporate, brand, and sales channel Web sites; personalized microsites; guided selling tools; and communication portals. Each one is powered by ChannelNet’s patented software, SiteBuilder, which enables customers to seamlessly research a purchase, view incentives, and complete their transaction at a store, through a call center, or on their mobile device.
Founded in 1997, the national 501(c)(3) nonprofit WBENC is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States, as well as the country’s leading advocate of women-owned businesses as suppliers to America’s corporations.