When Susan Brooks, co-founder and former owner of Cookies From Home, first came to the Valley more than 30 years ago, business owner groups were created by and for men, so the challenges facing women entrepreneurs went unanswered.
“Sometimes I would be the only woman in these meetings,” she said. “I made cookies, so they didn’t take me seriously. Then I made my first million and they became my customers.”
Based on her struggles to defy the odds and grow her business into a multimillion-dollar corporation, Brooks has launched the “Million Dollar BreakThrough” program through the Phoenix chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which she helped to co-found. The program is for women business owners at the $250,000 level and above who are looking to cross the $1 million mark.
“There are 10 million woman-owned businesses in this country, yet only 3 percent achieve that $1 million benchmark,” Brooks said. “We have plenty of women who are innovative and creative, but something happens between the startup and that $1 million mark. That’s not good enough.”
The program aims to fill the gap between resources that help startups and those that assist in selling successful companies.
“When we made our first million I was absolutely exhilarated, but I was also exhausted,” Brooks said. “For companies that are in the growth spurt or figuring out how to grow, there are not a lot of places that can serve in that way.”
Brooks’ 12-month program offers access, connections, coaching, exclusive workshops and activities, professionally facilitated small Mastermind groups, receptions with sponsors and NAWBO board of directors, and a one-day retreat. Brooks hopes the program — which needs 30 to 40 participants to get fully off the ground — will be adopted by other NAWBO groups across the country. She is also asking women business owners in the Valley who have crossed the $1 million threshold to each contribute $1,000 to partially fund the program, which is also supported by an almost $2,000 fee for participants.
“This program fits with our mission to serve women in all stages of business, and we feel very fortunate to be able to offer this in the Phoenix market,” said Phaedra Earhart, NAWBO Phoenix president, in a press release.
Even before launching her new program, Brooks began coaching other women business owners who were on the brink of making it big — an effort that accelerated when she sold Cookies From Home seven years ago.
“I decided to take my 30 years in the trenches and help those women business owners who have momentum but don’t know how to grow their products,” she said. “The first six months we work on the infrastructure of building a foundation where the costs and the expenses are evaluated.”
As Brooks discovered firsthand, moving a business past the $1 million mark requires having clear eyes and making tough choices. She recalled that when her company was in its fourth year, an attorney told her it was time to make the business profitable.
“I put up a time clock and three people walked out,” Brooks said. “They didn’t like the structure. They liked the family feeling, the mission, the cookies, the fun, but when it came to running the business where I had to be accountable for every dollar, it wasn’t OK that people were late. It wasn’t OK that other employees were working longer.”
Brooks said she’s been “on a mission since the day I was born to help other women,” and her faith informs that work.
“Without faith and the commitment for doing the right thing, I think it’s easy to quit because it’s hard work,” she said. “I think that the integrity that faith requires absolutely propels me to always want to serve, to always want to do the right thing. Faith is trusting that God will show me the way.”