Story and photos by Mary Martin.
In a year that has proven difficult for all small business owners, Tarsha Hearns has put the resiliency of women entrepreneurs on full display. Tarsha’s experience in corporate America, combined with her own entrepreneurial journey, is creating a path at the LiftFund DFW Women’s Business Center, where women from all backgrounds can find success. LiftFund is a national organization, and the DFW Women’s Business Center serves 72 counties across North Texas, offering not only access to small business loans and funding, but also training, counseling, and coaching specifically geared toward entrepreneurs.
Raised in Norfolk, VA, Tarsha moved to Dallas 23 years ago, just after graduating from college. Her career began in corporate sales and marketing in the hospitality industry, but after interacting with small business owners on a daily basis, Tarsha’s next step seemed clear: entrepreneurship. “I’ve owned my consulting business for 17 years, coaching and training over 500 small business owners, helping them start and grow their businesses,” Tarsha says. It was during her tenure as the chapter president for the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) that she was approached by a LiftFund donor who let Tarsha know they were looking to open a Women’s Business Center in Dallas. “I had spoken at a few LiftFund events, and they had spoken at NAWBO events, so I was familiar with their approach, but I wasn’t looking to pursue a full time job,” Tarsha explains. But when Tarsha took a closer look at the proposed role and the impact it would have across North Texas, she knew her passions and experience had lined up.
Tarsha took on the role and helped launch the LiftFund Women’s Business Center in 2018. Now serving as its director, she is living out her purpose. “I am inspiring people to live their dreams through entrepreneurship. It’s clear that’s what I’ve been put on this earth to do,” Tarsha says. “In 2018 prior to getting hired by LiftFund, my word for the year was impact. I wanted to impact 20 young adult women. But now I have been given the opportunity to impact over 1,000 women.”
One of those women is Tracee Holloway, CEO of T. Jackson PR. “There is lots of anxiety as we all try to adjust to this new way of life,” Tracee says. “The Women’s Business Center’s emotional wellness program with Dr. Gladney has added more wellness tools to my belt. I don’t know of any other program like WBC’s that supports business owners in every aspect needed, including mental and emotional wellness. It has helped me increase the amount of self-care time I carve out for myself when business, family, husband, or even dinner is calling my name and pulling me in different directions. I’ve enjoyed meeting other businesswomen who also wear many hats and share a common goal of staying focused on our goals, not the pandemic challenges we all face.”
Self-care has been a central theme as Tarsha works side-by-side with women who are running a business in the era of COVID-19. While the team at the Women’s Business Center initially focused on ensuring that each entrepreneur knew how to access PPP loans, economic disaster funding, and other resources from the Small Business Administration (SBA), Tarsha quickly recognized that her own feelings of overwhelm and anxiety were shared by the women she served. “There were times I would take a call and both men and women would be crying on the other end. I couldn’t sleep because I was going to bed worrying about someone else’s business,” Tarsha admits. Out of that time came a new three-month emotional wellness program. The first class of this program finished in early September with a new cycle launching in January. “I needed to do self-care—for me it is meditating and praying,” Tarsha says. “Business owners have to make space for some downtime. Get out and walk and get some fresh air. Sometimes the easiest things to do are also the hardest things to do. As women, especially entrepreneurial women, our own needs are still important.”
Other current programs at the Women’s Business Center include, COVID-19 business assessments & recommendations, small business specific trainings by industry experts focused on hard-hit areas such as day care centers, beauty/hair salons, retailers, and food services, and also the Recovery, Resiliency, Restarting Survival Guide, which teaches entrepreneurs how to rebuild, recover, and prepare for a future crisis. “Whether it’s COVID or not—it’s about leveling the playing field for women—especially in the area of getting access to capital and government contracts,” Tarsha explains. “We are helping women, helping them navigate through their journey as an entrepreneur, and if needed, teach them the tools to turn their business around.”
In the two years since Tarsha opened the doors for the LiftFund Women’s Business Center, they have helped 1,600 clients, 78% of whom are women. And just this year their team has walked alongside 20 entrepreneurs as they start a new business. “I know what mistakes I’ve made and I share my mistakes all the time,” Tarsha says. “I am sharing options to show where I made a mistake and the path where someone can avoid making that same mistake. I wish there was a Women’s Business Center 17 years ago when I was first starting out.”
If you are in need of assistance with your business, the team at Women’s Business Center is ready to help, even if all you need is a quick brainstorming session via video chat. Tarsha is also looking for women with business experience to serve as speakers and coaches if you are interested in getting involved.