03/04/20: Meet the WBEs: Jen Portland

Jen Portland
Founder and Spreadsheeter, Portland Spreadworks, LLC dba Excel Rain Man

Tell us about your business.
We help companies streamline their business processes and analyze and better understand their data – whether it is due to a lack of spreadsheet savvy or merely not having the time to get their work done. Our bread and butter is taking Microsoft Excel, Access and Google Sheets work off of people’s desks with a focus on automation via Macros/Visual Basic. All of our work is custom. I like to think of us as a mail merge on steroids. As our work is very niche and does not fit into the typical buckets for RFPs and Commodity Codes, we best convey our capabilities by showing demos of our sample work to get people thinking of how we can help.

What inspired you to start your business?
Before I started Excel Rain Man, I was working at an insurance company buying reinsurance protection. My colleagues would always ask me for spreadsheet help. I thought to myself, “What happens at places without a spreadsheet guru?” Identifying the problem was the first step. That’s when I knew Excel Rain Man would make a good business. The first 6 years of my business, I worked full time elsewhere. My former employers and connections in the insurance/reinsurance space are now some of our best customers, referral sources and cheerleaders.

What do you love about being a business owner?
I really love making fast decisions with my team that we can directly see the results of. Whenever we see a way to better our business, we do it. When there is a problem, we fix it. I feel super fortunate that we do not have to get bogged down in the bureaucracy that larger organizations have to (understandably) deal with.

What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur?
Often a challenge I face is on the periphery when people (both men AND women) find out I have my own business – they assume that it is a hobby so I can have a flexible schedule with children. I get so annoyed by this. To me, family/personal life is separate from work, and it is not fair to put women in a place of not having a serious job/business or just assume that they have a family (many people don’t… hello?!?). That said, our customers/prospects have never felt this way or alluded to such. So, I just need to simmer down when people make these comments and know that we have a wonderful business that makes a difference to our customers and is a job creator.

How has being a WBENC-Certified WBE helped your business?
After getting certified, I started by email-blasting a WBENC supplier diversity contact list – basically cold-emailing everyone saying we were newly WBENC-certified and would love the opportunity to tell them about our business. It is AMAZING the number of meetings we got just by name-dropping WBENC! HUGE WIN!

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t give family and friends a discount! If you do, then what is the point of having a network? Plus, you don’t want to resent the people who love you that bring you business because you are working for less money.

What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
My advice is all about working smarter:
1. NO DISCOUNTS: Stemming from the best advice I ever received. Don’t discount your services… especially to friends and family.
2. FIRE BAD CUSTOMERS: We make most of our customers so happy. And then there is the customer that will never be happy. That keeps us up at night and maybe I shed a tear over it. NOT ANYMORE. We end that relationship with a soft email or call and suggest some other places to take their business.
3. WORK LESS, PAY OTHERS: Pay others to take things off of your plate… especially the things you don’t want to do. Worst case scenario, you make a little less money and have a lot more fun. More likely, you will get so much more done and be able to take on more customers, be happier and create jobs.

What’s your favorite WPEO/WBENC event you’ve attended? Why?
I made some INCREDIBLE connections at two WPEO NY events: Prime Suppliers and Second Tier Opportunities (at New York Life) and the NY Annual Breakthrough Breakfast. Because these events were so worthwhile, I am trying to attend as many events as I can and have already booked my tickets to Nashville (for WBENC’s Summit & Salute). While there are so many networking events to choose from across all of the organizations I touch, WPEO has moved to top and I am weeding out some of the others in the interest of time.

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