Kay won over 30 broadcast awards for her work, but she came to a point in her career where she needed to make a decision. Did she want to stay in broadcasting, or take another path?
Her decision, already fairly cemented, was resolved by an outside force.
"I got fired," she said. "It's pretty common in broadcasting."
Thirty years later, Kay is the president and owner of her award-winning media production company, an author of two books, and has been named one of Grand Rapids Business Journal's 50 Most Influential Women five times.
Here, she shares some insight, expertise and advice on starting a small business.
What prompted you to start your own business?
I wanted more control over my life and the work I wanted to do. When you work for someone else, you're subject to the direction that company wants to go. I also come from a small business background. My father owned a small business, and I have him as a role model. I loved what he was able to do—when you run a small business, you have an opportunity to grow and change your business, to keep things fresh, and to work with people who are just as excited about your direction as you are.
What barriers did you face while you were trying to launch your business?
You have to do everything. When you own a small business, you wear all the hats. You're marketing, you're sales, you're advertising. You do it all. The biggest barrier that I encountered is still a barrier for businesses today: access to capital. When you're starting out, people don't want to take a chance on you. I mortgaged my house. Gave the bank a personal guarantee, and I didn't take a salary for quite a while.
What inspired you to write Stop Wishing. Stop Whining. Start Leading: A No-Nonsense Guide for Women Who Aspire to Lead? Why is this book important?
I'm going to be honest: When I started my business, I didn't face any challenges that were specific only to women. Did I face skepticism from time to time? Yes—but women are more than capable of starting businesses on their own. Currently, women are starting businesses at a higher rate than men. It's a great time for women to be in business, but they're putting barriers in their way. They unknowingly do things that can cause them to remain stagnant in their careers.
There is certainly evidence that some organizations put up barriers for women. In that case, women need to decide if that is the right organization or company for them.
Stop Wishing. Stop Whining. Start Leading. is important, because it outlines the choices women need to make and the strategies to get what they want out of their career.
What's the one thing you wish you would've known at the start of your current career that you know now?
I have two.
First, you need to be strategic about your career over your lifetime. Don't just focus on moving from one job to the next, but ask yourself how you're going to achieve what you want big picture.
Second, I don't need to know everything. I always thought I needed to know everything, and I don't. You just need to know who to talk to for the answers and right resources.
Want to hear more from Cynthia? Cynthia Kay is a speaker for West Michigan Woman's Wine Down event, November 9, 2016, at City Flats Hotel – Grand Rapids.