Shannon Ware and Melody Bowers are the founders of Her Data Method, an Nashville-based company that teaches online courses to women business owners on data collection — how to do it, why it matters and, most importantly, how to use it to grow their businesses. They also own and operate Virtual Collective, a business that builds and manages virtual teams of contractors for their clients. Find out how they got their start, how they won a coveted spot in an iFundWomen crowdfunding round, and learn why they decided to stop saying “sorry.” Meet these brilliant and beautiful FACES of Nashville!
Tell us about Virtual Collective (VC) and how that business idea came about.
Shannon: At the time I had been working as a freelance project manager for about 7 years. I had built relationships with other contractors and had a knack for creating successful processes and workflows that had proven pretty foolproof when executed correctly. With Melody’s encouragement and her business background, our skillsets worked together really well. We decided to partner together to build a company that builds and manages virtual teams for clients. Even though our services and methodologies have pivoted and refined over the years, our core mission has stayed the same. We have an incredible team of vetted and highly skilled contractors who make our clients look good!
Melody: The knowledge and experience we brought to the partnership complemented each other well. Shannon was clearly an exceptional project manager, and her ability to retain relationships with the team members she had worked with in the past was impressive. I enjoy the logistics of figuring out how to do something, and Shannon figures out how to get it done. It makes for a nice yin-yang balance. Both of us were also committed to acquiring zero debt and did not want to seek any outside funding because we are both serious moms. These two factors play a big role in how we make decisions, and it helps to know that she has my back when my parental duties require more of me than others, and vice-versa. Early on we agreed to stop saying “sorry” when it came to motherhood-related interruptions, and we knew that if we were answering to outside investors that we would lose that control. While those decisions have meant slower and steadier growth over the past five years, they’ve probably had the biggest impact on me because I didn’t have to sacrifice one role for the other.
Tell us about Her Data Method (HDM). What is it? Why “Her”?
Shannon: Her Data Method is a series of online courses designed to teach women business owners how to collect data and, more importantly, how to use it to grow their business. These courses aren’t for the marketing gurus who are looking to expand their knowledge on marketing data and analytics, they are for the women who cringe when they even HEAR the word “data” … the women business owners who know what they are doing isn’t quite working but they aren’t ready to throw in the towel. These courses teach you the fundamentals, like defining your value proposition, mission statement and customer personas as well as a how-to guide in setting up a data collection dashboard. We chose to cater these courses to women because we are women and we know first hand how intimidating it can be to talk about your business when you don’t really understand the world of digital marketing outside of social media and websites.
Melody: For the same reason that women often have an urge to add a disqualifier when someone offers a compliment to them about the skirt they are wearing. Instead of simply saying, “Thank you,” it’s coupled with, “I found it for $3.99 on the clearance rack at Target!” We wanted to make it easier to gather the information they need BEFORE they get too far into building their business. It is so easy to think that spending time writing a value proposition and defining customer personas is for someone with a “real” business, not the “little side hustle” they started that is taking off. We are so quick to sell ourselves — our knowledge, our expertise, our courage, our intelligence, our ability to keep everyone alive/fed/clothed/transported and our creativity — short while moving mountains and changing the world in so many impactful ways. Our belief is that you have already done the hardest part by having the courage to start the damn business! Learning the basics about what is happening behind the scenes in the digital world is what is now required of you as a business owner (just like keeping up with your accounting and taxes!) so that you can stop guessing and start making more informed business decisions.
You received investment funding via iFundWomen. What was the biggest lesson you learned from that experience?
Shannon: People say the world of entrepreneurship can be pretty cutthroat, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth about the female entrepreneurs we crowdfunded alongside. We built connections, friendships, and each of us has this ingrained group of cheerleaders watching and supporting us through all of our business milestones! The biggest lesson I learned is that people (women), more times than not, want to support you rather than compete with you and cut you down. The community that we were introduced to were some of the most well-versed, encouraging, smart and tenacious humans I’ve ever encountered.
Melody: I learned that women across the board have such an odd relationship with money. It is HARD to make the ask even of your friends, family and followers. It is even harder to make the ask at large because we generally think one of two things: We don’t want to bother someone with an invasive sales-y pitch, or we feel dumb and don’t really know how to ask, so we just keep figuring out how to do it ourselves. Having the iFundWomen founders model a smart, supportive, badass attitude was refreshing and empowering. The phrases that have stuck in my brain are, “Leverage what you’ve got.” and “Perfect is the enemy of done.”
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about female entrepreneurs?
Melody: Someone once used the following generalizations to describe the difference between the way a woman and a man present a business idea: When a man pitches an idea, it is assumed that he is representing a broad 30,000-foot overview with a plausible financial business model, demonstrates that investors are already interested, can throw stats, numbers and revenue projections around that are grounded in enough of a realistic scenario that his odds of securing an endorsement to begin development of the idea are highly probable. When a woman pitches her idea she is expected to enter with proof that her product or service has been created, tested and validated, which means that she would have already had the product/service developed, conducted market research and analysis, and proven there was enough demand and interest BEFORE investors would take a chance on her. Men have an amazing network of other men who they call upon to get things done. If they have a proven track record with each other, then even less evidence up front is required to get approval for the funding to launch the venture to find out if it is worthy of a larger investment. Women need this kind of network too. It’s okay that we approach the process differently. That is a strength, not a weakness! It is encouraging to see how many more women are starting businesses, but we still have a long way to go.
What has been the hardest part about starting your own companies?
Shannon: Being your own boss can be a blessing and a curse. As much as I love making my own schedule in order to play an active role in my kids’ day-to-day activities, the work still has to get done. The balance struggle between motherhood and business ownership is tough and exhausting.
Melody: 1. Learning how not to work for free. It is so easy to spend hours doing the thing that needs to be done and not include that time and the knowledge you contribute to the client’s project. Just because I know how to do something and it’s easy for me to do doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Time literally is money when you own the company! 2. Learning how to “make the ask” from a place that feels authentic in order to sell the things.
What has been the most rewarding?
Shannon: Celebrating the milestones. We decided from the beginning that we wouldn’t seek funding if that meant giving up any control of our business. Being our own boss means WE get to decide which milestones are worth celebrating!
Melody: Hands down my favorite part is when you can watch a client “click” into a place of understanding on how all these once-daunting moving parts work together as a whole and their confidence skyrockets!
What’s the next step for VC and HDM?
Shannon: Now that our first course, Intro to Data Collection, is completed and our second course, Data Collection 101, will be live by the end of March, we are ready to grow our community of badass businesswomen who are ready to learn more about data collection and how to grow their businesses. We have been working hard on rebranding and connecting our two brands so we can be a one-stop resource for not only DIY learning, but also affordable and smart execution, from website design and development to building out a full-fledged virtual team for you. Now women can visit HerDataMethod.com to learn how to use data to make smart decisions for their company, and then they can click over to VirtualCollective.io, where our team can help you use the data you have collected to help you determine which digital marketing projects make the most sense for you to invest in next in order to take your company to next level.
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received and from whom?
Shannon: I took a class on the Enneagram and how to apply that to my every day, and I was told by my teacher, “You are wisdom in human form. You know what to do.” That has resonated with me for years. Anytime I think I’m not enough or start to second guess what my gut is telling me, I remind myself of this and so far, no major letdowns!
Melody: Growing up my dad always encouraged me to speak my mind. But, he also made it very clear that just because I spoke my mind didn’t mean he had to like or agree with what I said! He ran a business for 40 years and was very good at navigating client and employee conflicts because he was always willing to see both sides. When a client isn’t happy or something goes wrong that I need to be responsible for fixing, I have to address the situation whether I like how they respond or not.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Shannon: Sour candy, Bravo TV and my bi-weekly manicures
Melody: My dog Rose, reading glasses and Coconut Chia granola
Our newest FACE of TriStar is Dr. Michelle Luschen, an interventional and vascular radiologist at TriStar Skyline Medical Center. She has risen to the top of her field and has made a name for herself in this innovative specialty. Get to know this dynamic wife, mother and radiologist as our newest FACE of TriStar. Click HERE!