Lady Business: An Interview with Women’s Cash Flow Expert Debbie Whitlock

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For aspiring ganja-preneurs, accountability is key.

The modern-day entrepreneur is often called upon to be a ‘charismatic’ – someone with a message, both bold and serene, who beams self-belief and gives good brand. But turning one’s sublime agenda into substance is a chancy ride. And many entrepreneurs start to lower their sights once the world starts poking holes in their Big Vision.

Enter Debbie Whitlock.

An entrepreneur and award-winning business leader who now uses her expertise to coach women business owners, Whitlock’s specialty is helping her clients to take the ‘glass ceiling’ off their dreams, and arming them with strategies to navigate the fundamentals of starting a business – or taking it to the next level.

She hosts two radio programs – Femmenation, a series of solution-oriented conversations for women about their lives and relationships, and Femme Finance, which offers guidance and support for women who desire greater mastery over their money.

Whitlock recently spoke at the MJBA’s Women’s Alliance ‘Power to Lead’ gathering on November 6th. There she reflected on what she has seen of the nascent marijuana industry, and urged women to seize the opportunity before them with brio – and strategic smarts.

In a world full of hot-air prosperity pundits, Whitlock offers a refreshing blend of inspiration and grounding. Here she talks about common pitfalls for women entrepreneurs, and what every gal in canna-business needs to have and know so she can hit the ground running.

In your coaching practice you teach women to take the fear and shame out of money. How did you come to this particular mission?

I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I graduated in the early ‘90’s not really knowing what my own version of success was. I grew up watching Working Girl, and basically aspired to that – upper middle management and a corner office.

In 2002, I was given the opportunity to create my own insurance agency. I knew nothing about running my own business – but you set out to change the world and make a difference. For the first few years I have to say that my ego and my pride were the greatest detriment – because I wouldn’t ask for help or counsel. I had no advisors.

The most successful people all have advisors. So If I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it alone. I would have a business coach – right out of the gate.

When you’re running the company, it can be a lonely place. You can’t necessarily confide in your office manager or sales director. It took me 5 years to reach some of my goals. I got there, but I was miserable, exhausted, and running in circles. But it was a good thing – because it made me stop and redefine my view of success.

I had to take a good hard look at my company. From a revenue standpoint, we were really standing on a house of cards. Almost everything came in from one channel, one revenue stream – and that was housing. I made a plan, and transitioned out before early 2008, when things really fell apart in that market.

Debbie Whitlock, entrepreneur and business coach.

So even though I escaped in time, when I closed the doors on the business, it was very hard. My ego was very much identified with it.

I had to figure out the next step, and I was speaking with a lot of women business owners in the community. I realized that women have a lot of questions and that there is a whole segment that isn’t being talked to. So that became my business. I approached it like: They’re me. They’re trying to do it all alone. They have no guidance.

But what would that ‘guidance’ look like? There were accountants and there were bookkeepers, but no coaches teaching more comprehensively about the financial end of business. I contacted a mentor of mine, a business coach who teaches internationally, and I began teaching under his model. Several years ago I sold my practice and focused on coaching women. And it’s been beautiful to watch the results.

It seems that one of the hardest conversations for women is about charging what they’re worth. We’re made to think that it’s a very ‘chin-up’ negotiation, but for many women it becomes an emotional one. The ‘worth’ of the service or job they are providing is tied up with feelings of self-worth and deserving. How can women approach these conversations in a more powerful way?

I tell women that you have to start with the end in mind. Too often we start working with numbers without any context. I ask them, ‘What’s your ultimate revenue goal?’ Then we look at the sources for that, and their current pricing model. And we do the math of: well you would need to move this many units to get there. How do you feel about that?

So we start at the end and back into it. And she’ll say, “2000 units! But I’m only one person!” And she’s freaking out about it. So then I can educate a client to either change the pricing model or figure out how to leverage what they have. They will often lean into going with a higher price point, and watch the units go down, at which point they tend to ask, ‘OK, now how do I leverage for that next revenue bump?’

I completely get the internal dialogue. These are the questions I’ve been asking myself for about 20 years. But if they can take some of the emotion out of it – and by that I’m not saying, “Don’t be emotional,” but really just taking more of a big picture view, then it’s much easier to have them really stand in the value of what they are offering.

What would you say is the most important issue for women starting their own businesses?

Accountability. There is a part of us that doesn’t want accountability, because it’s easier to stay in the safety of our story.

People who have accountability are simply more successful. If we say on Monday we were going to do something, and on Friday you didn’t, then a good accountability partner will hold you to it and not listen to your stories and excuses.

You can operate on a level where you’re doing all the things you completely love at a level that’s beyond your imagination every day. But there’s a portion of our brain that doesn’t want us to be there all the time – the amygdala. It is hard-wired to keep us safe. But it’s very primitive, and unless we retrain ourselves, it keeps us in self-sabotage mode. As women I believe we are creating an artificial glass ceiling for ourselves. Most women survey the market, look at other people doing what they’d like to be doing and they grade themselves – usually based on their level of experience. Women tend to discount their experience, and say, ‘Oh this other person has done so much more, so I should charge less. Whereas men will say, ‘I bet I could do it better than that guy, and I deserve to make three times more.’

When I ask people to figure out their pricing they will usually say, “I’ll do it for this smaller amount and then grow it over time.”

And that is really the biggest mistake you can make. Because it’s all externally driven – it’s not about one’s internal goals or dreams or sense of unique value – it’s determining your worth by this shifting external variable. We need to make the commitment to change that to something more internal.

What would you recommend for women entering the cannabis industry, in terms of keeping themselves protected and creating something sustainable?

They better have their team together. Have money in the budget for an amazing attorney and an accountant who is familiar with the industry. Don’t get your sister who is a bookkeeper to do it for you. Invest in experts – people who understand the moving components. What you save in the front end without this investment costs more on the back end. And it is always beneficial to have some kind of a coach – someone who sees challenges as opportunities.

What I saw in the women I spoke to at the MJBA meeting was that their passion is so deep and so strong, which is wonderful. But I’m concerned that it will get in the way of a necessary objectivity. I love that passion – but I love being the sober set of eyes. When we’re making all of our decisions from an emotional point of view we may not be seeing certain opportunities.

Usually when men look at business it is the opportunity that drives them. They may not be in love with the subject, but they will get behind it if it’s offering a good opportunity. I ask men why they chose a certain business, and they say, ‘I saw an opportunity,’ and women will say, ‘I just love this so much.’ Women are driven by their connection.

If we wan to go back to caveman times, the man hangs out where they can get the dinosaur, right? They see the opportunity and want to capitalize. Women see an opportunity and are passionate about the cause. In some ways it’s similar. But sometimes for women the passion will get in the way. A man can see an opportunity, and run down the path a certain distance, but because he has some objectivity he can disengage if he feels it’s not going to work. Whereas women will go all the way to the end – and go down like the Titanic – because they love what the business is about. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system, someone who will say – this doesn’t look like a good investment. I know you want to feel good about what you’re doing but this doesn’t make the biggest impact or make you the most money.

The women I spoke to [at the MJBA event] kept saying to me, “The cannabis industry is different. It has all of these legal hurdles.” But at the end of the day they’re still running a business. The principles are the same for any successful business.

From your point of view – what are you seeing as you are look at the marijuana industry as a whole and it’s potential impact on the economy?

Debbie Whitlock with Diane Fornbacher at the MJBA Women's Alliance meeting.

I’m not an expert, but when I take a look at the layers of offerings in the cannabis industry – [edibles, topicals, oils, flower, and hemp-based products like clothes], there are so many ways cannabis can be incorporated into people’s lives. Frankly, all I see is revenue. There is a strong market for every single avenue – In my opinion this will be one of the single most powerful contributors to the economy over the next 10 years.

So, let’s be real. As this develops, the federal government will want a piece of the action. And if we look at alcohol prohibition, it will come in the form of taxation. That’s going to be the fight. When you have 20-some states with it legal, they need to address that. But it will likely be one of the most significant emerging industries in the US. It will stimulate the economy, and offer amazing products to people who need and desire them.

But I think many of the advocates have taken the hardest hit. There’s that phrase, ‘The first guy through the fence gets bloodied.’ And the advocates were the first out of the gate. We’ve also got a population that grew up with very negative messaging. I’m 44 and grew up in the age of D.A.R.E. “All drugs are bad.”

There is the opportunity for education. I see a lot of fractured conversations as well, but not one unified, strong message. If the industry could come together and create one strong message, a beautiful marketing campaign that says what this is and what it’s really about, then that’s education, and it’s great PR.

I think some would say that legalization has brought about competition in the legitimate market – and that competition is necessary for it to flourish.

Collaboration is the new currency. Competition is not as effective. It’s important to see where we lay in the market. We can’t be everything to everyone.

Just make your offering and stand confidently in it. It’s really knowing your niche and narrowing it down. It seems like a contradiction, but more narrowing actually means more growth. That’s how you can really own and dominate that market.

On December 15th Whitlock is teaching a 4-hour virtual workshop, “Rock Your Revenue,” which features online exercises, strategic business planning, and tips on revenue calculation, marketing, and accountability.

And in January, Whitlock will launch an 8-month online group program to ‘catapult your cash flow.’ Her radio shows Femmenation and Femme Finance air on Tuesday and Friday mornings on Seattle’s 1150 AM. For more information you can reach out via her

The preceding text was original published on the Solstice blog.

For previous pieces about women in weed on Ladybud, click here.

Photo Credit: Blair Lyonev