Basic by Instinct: Making Intuition Work for You

Trusting women

If Tina Hedges hadn’t relied on women’s intuition, she’d never have built a business with Beth Ann Catalano.

Two years ago, after both left the corporate side of the cosmetics industry to consult, they walked into an office within a few seconds of each other. Hedges took one look at Catalano and said, “‘Wow. I don’t know this woman, but I’m going to know her for a long time and we’re going to do business together.’ I just knew, ‘This is the perfect partner to create a business.’” Who knows what it was that prompted Hedges to think this way – she says it was a little voice inside, telling her what was right.

Although Catalano did not have the same immediate reaction, she took a chance. She’s glad she did. The pair created Twist New Brand Venture, a brand incubator that creates lifestyle, health and wellness businesses. Their first project, a hair care line called Jonathan Product, generated more than $13 million in six months.

“I defer to Tina a lot,” Catalano says. “Relationships are a key factor in any business success. When you meet an individual and get a sense of whether that individual should be a part of your business, it’s an inner voice you need to listen to.”

There’s Science Behind Intuition

If the fact that women-based startups are outpacing men 2-to-1 (according to the National Association for the Self-Employed and the Small Business Administration) is any indication, instinct seems the way to go. While the number of all U.S. businesses increased 7 percent between 1997 and 2002, the number of women-owned firms grew by 19.8 percent, according to an SBA report.

Studies also show that women use both sides of the brain at the same time while men don’t. In business, that’s a powerful combination — and one reason why women who listen to their gut often succeed.

“My business was all about using intuitive vision,” says Vickie L. Milazzo, owner of the Houston-based Vickie Milazzo Institute, a division of Medical-Legal Consulting Institute, Inc. Milazzo pioneered a new industry — legal nurse consulting, in which nurses interpret medical records for court cases. Before 1982, when Milazzo created the job of legal nurse consultant and started training herself and others to do it, lawyers mainly hired doctors to read charts.

“It wasn’t the hot job that year,” says Milazzo, whose business is expected to gross $14 million this year. “It was something new. I trusted my intuition. A lot of successful business owners can see ideas the rest of the world would tell them [are too risky].” They take a chance anyway, she adds, strictly on gut-instinct – whatever the market seems to say.

Women’s intuition is a “powerful secret weapon,” says Lynn Lieber, founder and CEO of Workplace Answers, in San Francisco. “Not enough people listen to that little voice.”

Lieber relies on intuition a lot – starting in 2000 when she launched her business with no capital and a lot of skepticism from others, and continuing anytime she makes a hire or finds new office space.

“I’m not sure you can ask interview questions that can tell you whether the person has integrity, whether they’re smart, whether it’s someone you and your customers would like to work with,” she says. “It’s just a feeling.”

While Hedges and Catalano worked for blue-chip cosmetic companies like Guerlain and Loreal, they spent a lot of time and money doing research on products they just knew would succeed. Male execs wanted hard facts, not women’s intuition.

“Women know intuitively why products need to be launched,” Hedges says. “Having a sense of the marketplace, a sense of trends, a sense of what’s right for that moment for consumer demand — those are ways we use our instincts.”

But to compete in a man’s world, it’s important not to let on that intuition is driving your business decisions. “When you’re in an environment that is male-dominated, find the facts to support what you already know,” Milazzo says.

Get a Clue

Much of intuition is based on experience. And while women are often more clued in to the emotions and social interplay that affect a business, intuition isn’t just their game. Men can get in on it, too.

Want to clue in to your intuition and use it to guide your business? Consider it an innate resource — one that doesn’t cost a penny to acquire, but can cost you dearly if you ignore it. Take these tips from those who know:

  • Quiet down. Make time each day to just sit and ponder or stare out the window. “Silence arouses intuition,” Milazzo says.
  • Eliminate clutter. Even if your office is piled high with papers, files and to-do lists, keep your immediate space clear. Getting rid of physical clutter is the first step in eliminating emotional clutter and listening to your inner voice.
  • Don’t worry. It’s a wasted emotion yielding no productive results. Instead, take action and think strategically.
  • Keep good people close. “When I’m surrounded with a tremendous team and the right relationships within the company, we’re all clicking,” Milazzo says. “Negative relationships can be clutter. They block intuition and your ability to make the right decisions for your company.”

In the end, intuition is just one tool a good entrepreneur needs to succeed. The rest comes down to thoughtful planning and attention to detail.

“Just as important as intuition is trust,” Catalano says. “It’s not [just] about sizing up a customer intuitively; it’s about asking questions, honest and straightforward communication and yearning to fulfill the needs of the consumer.”

Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a StartupNation contributing writer.

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