How She Got There: Sierra Barter, Co-Founder & CEO of The Lady Project

Name: Sierra Barter
Age: 29
Job Title and Description: CEO & Co-Founder of The Lady Project and Social Media Coordinator at Johnson & Wales University
College Name/Major: Johnson & Wales University/Marketing Communications. Currently pursuing my MBA with a concentration in Non-Profit Management at JWU (I’m a Wildcat for life).
Twitter Handle: @sierrabarter

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Sierra Barter: Since I work full-time and run Lady Project, it’s really important to maximize time and be as efficient as possible. I wake up each morning around 7 a.m. and hit the snooze button (in my dreams, I am a morning person who goes to Spin at 6 a.m. and is a good person at 7 a.m., but that’s not actually the case). I get ready for the day, hang with my dogs, drink a cup of coffee and grab breakfast to take on the road (usually yogurt and a piece of fruit). I usually have an 8 a.m. meeting downtown for Lady Project business before heading to work at JWU at 9 a.m.

I leave my “day job” around 5 p.m. and usually head to drinks with friends, a board meeting or another Lady Project-related meeting. My favorite days are when I don’t have anything after work and can head home and be with my dogs, a glass of wine and Netflix.

What is the best part of your job?

SB: Easily, meeting all of our amazing members. We have over 1,000 Lady Project members across the country—we are currently in 10 cities (Providence, New Haven, Boston, Nashua, NYC, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia and Boulder) and are expanding to five more cities this spring (Dallas, Tampa, LA, Raleigh and Portland, Maine).

All of our members are awesome and are doing such cool things, while defining their own success. There’s nothing more inspiring or empowering than meeting and connecting with a bold, driven woman who’s making her dreams come true.

You are constantly doing a million things between your work at Johnson & Wales, The Lady Project and your plethora of other side hustles. What time management tips do you have for young women hoping to do the same?

​SB: Thanks! I try to be very productive. If a meeting is an hour, it’s an hour, not two. I also put everything from meetings to drinks with friends to a call on my Google Calendar; it’s literally my life. It’s really important for me to write everything down to stay organized. I also utilize Google Tasks (and the Go Tasks App) to keep tasks in separate lists and add the due dates to my Google Calendar—it’s great for items that have a hard deadline.

Also, I write lists and I keep a notebook with me everywhere. I reference my “blue book” all the time to follow up on meetings or my to-do list. I also try to do a meeting follow up within 24 hours—otherwise, it will likely get pushed back and forgotten. I easily lose focus when I’m online and I have to remind myself to “finish what I start” and to just get it done.

One of my team members asked me the other day how I stay productive. I was surprised, because I don’t always feel productive, but I reminded her that it’s a life skill that needs to be honed and trained; it doesn’t happen overnight. I am definitely still learning. It’s incredibly important to find a system that works for you—some people write everything down in their Notes app on the phone, and some keep it all in their head—know what works for you and stick with it.

Your work with The Lady Project also proves that you’re a star networker! Networking can be really intimidating for young women just starting their careers—what are your best practices for building strong professional relationships?

​SB: Thanks so much! Networking is hard and sometimes awkward. I believe networking and connections should be 100 percent authentic; don’t be that guy with their business card in everyone’s faces. I like to ask questions like “What are you passionate about?” instead of “What do you do?” Networking also doesn’t have to be in the typical setting of “after work drinks and business cards.” Networking can happen anywhere—the gym, the park, on a date—you never know who you’ll meet.

And the more you network, the better you get. You will get as much as you put into events—so show up, get out there and talk to people. It may be helpful to even make a rule with yourself or another friend like, “Once I talk to five people, I can leave” or “After I get 10 cards, I can go swing by the taco bar.”

For young professionals, it’s especially important to follow up. If you meet someone who you want to learn from or meet, follow up with them, don’t wait for their email. Email them the next day and if you don’t hear back within a week, send another note. And, after that meeting, keep that relationship going—follow them on social, reply to posts on Twitter and suggest grabbing coffee every few months if you feel the connection is solid.

It’s always impressive whenever I receive a handwritten thank you note from a student or young professional; it’s unexpected and really sets them apart. Just a quick note can make a big impression, whatever it’s an interview or professional connection.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

​SB: Julie Sygiel (Lady Project co-founder and COO & founder of Dear Kate). Julie and I met in late 2011 when I had my first company, Clementine Lime (an event/organizing business) and when Dear Kate was named Sexy Period. She had asked me to write a post on organizing your lingerie for the Sexy Period blog. When we met a few weeks later, she said to me, “You’re my people!” From there, we became fast, close friends and launched Lady Project in 2012.

Business partnerships are a lot like romantic relationships; you’ll fight, you’ll spend all your time together and you’ll love them no matter what. Julie and I are very lucky to have a great business relationship but more importantly, a great friendship. Julie is one of the most driven and honest people I have ever met. I am so lucky to call her one of my best friends and have her in my corner. She’s the best.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

​SB: “Work hard and be nice to people.” I think this sums it up—you need to work hard and give everything you have to your business, your career, your passion, but don’t let that stand in the way of being nice to people. I am originally from Wisconsin, and folks from the Midwest have a reputation of being nice people. I like being a nice person—and it goes a long way. People want to help you if they like you—and likeability and kindness go hand in hand (and it’s a good thing to be kind). There’s nothing worse than undeserved entitlement—be kind to everyone around you.

I also love the quote “If you need something done, ask a busy woman” because it’s 100 percent true!

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

​SB: I have made so many mistakes…but if there’s anything I’ve learned, [it's] that no one starting a business or organization knows what they’re doing. Entrepreneurship is full of failures and learning and getting through it day by day.

A mistake we made with Lady Project was not positing ourselves as a non-profit from the get go; we went back and forth a lot on whether or not to be for-profit or apply for 501c3 status. We chose the latter and didn’t start asking for support for almost a year after we got our tax-exempt status. As a non-profit, you have to ask your supporters for support early and often—while we did have a great response once we did, I do wish we asked sooner.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​SB: The Glamour Hometown Heroes Award was pretty amazing—I was honored and totally floored. I love Rhode Island and was so excited to represent the Ocean State!

Each time we launch a new chapter it is beyond amazing—I have women come up to me at each launch who tell me they heard about Lady Project through a friend in another chapter or have been following us on social and have been waiting for us to launch in their city. It’s pretty amazing.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

​SB: Start before you’re ready—there is never going to be a “good time” to start a business, travel Europe or do that one thing that you have always been meaning to do. When you’re a 20-something, you generally have the least amount of responsibility than you’ll ever have again. Move to Hawaii. Take the job at the startup you have been dreaming about. Launch that business. Listen to your gut and just try—you won’t regret it.

And, don’t be afraid to work hard. Work really, really hard. Forgo nights with friends or Netflix and chill—you need to work all the time. Every leader I know is incredibly driven, super passionate and works a million hours a week. If you want something, you not only have to believe in your mission 100 percent, but you will also have to work incredibly hard.

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