North Dakota
Women In Business Blog

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Featured Entrepreneur – Sommer Jacob

Entrepreneur: Sommer Jacob
Business: Studio North

The Basics:

Tell us a bit about your business; what do you offer customers and how can you help them?
I help build powerful brands for women entrepreneurs that uphold and honor their individual gifts and talents.

The Beginning:

How did you get started and would you do anything differently?
I have been in advertising and marketing since 1997 and started my first business, part-time, in 2003 while I lived in South Dakota. I didn’t carry the business over to North Dakota and took a break from entrepreneurship until 2009, when I started a concrete company with my business and life partner. We only ran the concrete business part-time until 2012 when we took it to a new level going full-time and I formed Studio North, simultaneously. Would I do it differently? Maybe. I wouldn”t recommend starting two full-time businesses at the same time. My husband and I had big dreams, and it’s worked out for us, but there were significant balance challenges along the way. I believe anything is possible and roadblocks just teach us lessons. The lessons we learned along the way make us better business owners and employers today and I am better able to relate with other women going through similar situations.

The Inspiration:

Tell us about why you do what you do, what keeps you going in business?
A lot of entrepreneurs are busy concentrating on working in their business, not on their business. Most women entrepreneurs are also struggling to balance their home lives and grow their business. The marketing and branding pieces are usually on the bottom of their lists, because they feel overwhelmed with choices and unsure what to do. It’s unfortunate because that piece plays a huge roll in building credibility and trust in a business which ultimately leads to success. When I’m able to help these women by taking the stress out of this particular area of their business, I feel like I’ve done my job. When they feel like their visual brand aligns with their product or service they get excited, they’re proud to promote their business and their businesses thrive. I truly love helping other women grow their business so they can do what they love and still have time for what’s important to them outside of work!

The Future:

What are your future plans for the business? What can customers look for or expect down the road?
As Studio North has grown, we’re expanding our services in the areas of social media marketing, website programming, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

The Successes:

What do you celebrate? What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?
I celebrate other women’s success, new products or services, partnerships with other WOBs, and helping our Bismarck-Mandan communities grow. I’m proud of the focus and clarity I have in who I most want to serve. When I first started out, I wasn’t clear on my target market and it kept me from being my best self, able to do my best work for those I was most excited to work with.

The Challenges:

What business mistake have you made that you will not repeat? What did you learn from these challenges?
The biggest mistake I made was wasting time and money on doing things the “cheap” way and without a very clear focus. “Cheap” actually costs you a lot more in the long run! Without clarity, I wasted so much time redoing things like my website, redesigning business cards, revising my facebook page, recording youtube videos and doing tasks myself that I could have outsourced. I would have had more time with my family, made more money and been a lot happier doing what I love, rather than struggling with the tasks I don’t like, had I just had a vision of who I wanted to work with, from the start.

The Wow:

What may people be surprised to know about you and/or your business?
That I’m also the owner and CEO of a concrete company.

The Best:

What are your most popular products or services? Or what’s your favorite thing you offer?
Marketing and printed materials such as business cards, brochures, logos and websites make up the majority of Studio North. I love when a client gets the “whole package” and we are able to help create a brand for their company by developing a plan for their social media campaigns, advertising, website, logo, merchandising and printed materials.

The Tips:

Any advice you have for women starting or growing their business?
Don’t try to do it alone, or at least know it’s a lot easier if you don’t. Network with other women entrepreneurs, use their specialized talents and skills, and get very clear on who your ideal client customer/client is.

The Details:

Where/How can someone learn more about your business?

The Certification:

What does ND Women Owned Business Certification mean to you? Why do you choose to certify? How does it help you?
It’s important to me to support organizations in our community that offer services to women who are looking to better themselves. CTB is a great resource for women just starting out and those of us looking to grow our businesses. They’re local, making them accessible, they’re affordable (business advising is free) and knowledgeable. I believe they really want success for us WOB and I’m proud to be part of that network and help support those who are new to business.

Featured Entrepreneur – Gail Hrdlicka

Entrepreneur: Gail Hrdlicka
Business: Advanced Virtual Office Services

The Basics:

Tell us a bit about your business; what do you offer customers and how can you help them?
A-VOS offers administrative support, telephone answering service, office space, mail receiving & forwarding, receptionist and more.

We are skilled in managing boards, associations, commissions, etc. on a contracted basis. We work closely with Solopreneurs working at home, small startups or other small businesses that don’t need a full-time staff member to handle their administrative needs.

Our professional office allows them to meet clients, receive their mail, have their phones answered while they are out doing other business. A-VOS makes it easy for individuals and small businesses to operate in a professional atmosphere, with professional staff, and without the huge cost of signing a lease, installing phone lines, hiring a receptionist, etc.

The Beginning:

How did you get started and would you do anything differently?
A-VOS began as Management, Clerical & Consulting Services, LLC and has now expanded into d/b/a Advanced Virtual Office Services.

I started out in my home basement as an administrative assistant to an Executive Director of several boards and associations. After 10 years, I decided to move into a leased office space and expand my services. After 16 years in the business I have learned so much by making mistakes, picking the minds of other successful business women and working with a variety of industries.

Would I change anything or do it differently? Yes! I would have reached out more to other business people for mentoring and brainstorming. I had the mindset that I had to make this a success by myself. My advice to anyone starting a business is to reach out, reach out and keep reaching out to others for advice.

The Inspiration:

Tell us about why you do what you do, what keeps you going in business?
What inspired me and keeps inspiring me to continue this type of work is that I’m good at what I do. I love paperwork, people, organizing, assisting, managing, leading and being my own boss. Right or Wrong, my decisions are mine and I live with the results. I can correct what doesn’t work and initiate new ideas without being limited.

The Future:

What are your future plans for the business? What can customers look for or expect down the road?
My future plans are really more of dream I have had since High School. I will own my own building, with 100 employees. A-VOS will be known as the “Best Place to Work” in the region or United States (think big). The expansion will be a place of business services as well as a place of learning. I will teach future administrative assistants how to be that person that knows exactly what needs to be done to accomplish any project.

The Successes:

What do you celebrate? What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?
I am very proud of the fact that I developed this business into what it is today; Successful!! There are many ways to look at success; one being financial success, but the one I relate to is being a 100% Successful Women Owned Business! It’s not easy to be a woman business owner and compete with corporate offices.

The Challenges:

What business mistake have you made that you will not repeat? What did you learn from these challenges?
The one mistake I made that I would not repeat is, again, not reaching out to other business owners for advice and taking the initiative to be more visible in the community. I have really changed that in that past few years and make sure I take part in memberships of like industries and become active in the Bismarck Mandan Chamber, Center for Technology & Business and Women Entrepreneurs.

The Wow:

What may people be surprised to know about you and/or your business?

The thing that people may not know about my business is that my company is the only virtual office service in North Dakota. There are other virtual office companies advertising here, but none are located in North Dakota.

The Best:

What are your most popular products or services? Or what’s your favorite thing you offer?

The most popular services would be the office space rental, administrative support, telephone services and local address. I really don’t have a favorite. I like to do them all.

The Secrets:

Share your secret weapons – what business apps, products and tools help you run your business/life efficiently? What could you not function without?

I don’t know of any secret weapons that I use to operate my business, but I couldn’t do without the computer and the telephone for sure. Without those, I might as well close my doors.

The Tips:

Any advice you have for women starting or growing their business?

As I said before, be sure to always reach out to others when you need advice or want to brainstorm some ideas you have. Most business people want to see other small businesses be successful and are willing to share what they have learned.

The Details:

Where/How can someone learn more about your business?

To learn more about my business you can always contact me personally, check out my website; email; call 701-224-8113. Google, yahoo, Facebook, twitter, phone book, etc. I am a member of the Better Business Bureau, Dunn & Bradstreet, Bismarck Mandan Chamber of Commerce, Home Builder’s Association, Small Business Administration, etc..

The Certification:

What does ND Women Owned Business Certification mean to you? Why do you choose to certify? How does it help you?

I am very proud to be a Certified ND Women Owned Business. What better way to let others know that you take pride in your business and your State and that you have made the effort to apply for this distinction.

The CTB:

If you’ve been part of CTB programming outside of WOB Certification, we would love to know if and how that programming helped you personally or within your business. 

Being involved with CTB has been a great opportunity for my business. I have met wonderful women owners and other professional women through CTB programs. I was a graduate of the first Women’s Leadership Program and I have had a booth at one or two of the Women’s Business Summit events. There breakout sessions are so informative and inspirational. Don’t miss them!

Featured Artist – Marci Narum

CTB is proud to present Marci Narum as our featured artist through mid March 2014 with some inspiration for the new year.

Marci’s creative art began as a hobby in 1999. She began rubber-stamping greeting cards because she likes to send cards and let people know she’s thinking of them or how special they are to her. But then she discovered how much more she could do with this “hobby”.

Marci says “It is now a passion, requiring its own studio in my home. My Leaving Impressions artwork features positive and inspirational messages, quotes and scripture. From more than a thousand designs, I make framed creations, greeting cards, wine bottle wraps, and decorative tiles which stand on a small easel, or can be used as beverage coasters.”

Marci chooses high-quality cardstock, decorative papers and embellishments. In her framed items the embellishment is always a touch of nature. She frequently use pressed leaves, but also incorporates heads of wheat, feathers, seashells, sand or tree bark.

Stop by the CTB office at 3333 East Broadway Ave, Suite 1219 in Bismarck to see her work in person.

Click here for more information on Marci and her work on Facebook.


Featured Artist – Mary Jo Cayley

Our walls are alive with the bright and cheerful works of Mary Jo Cayley this fall! Stop by CTB (3333 East Broadway Ave, Suite 1219 in Bismarck) to see her beautiful paintings, on display until December 1, 2013.

Mary Jo has an at-home studio of Acrylic Abstract Paintings and Ukrainian Egg Folk Art in Fargo, NOW & ZEN, that is open by appointment. She is an Artist, Educator, Consultant, Crisis Intervention Specialist and Licensed Massage Therapist. Truly a creative individual with lots of talents to share, we are proud to have her as our current ND Featured Woman Artist.

Featured Artist – Emily

Art is an involuntary movement for Emily Williams-Wheeler – like breathing. She began her career as a professional artist in 1992 and says “Color is my strength and passion and it shows in all my paintings. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to create all the art I would like to. I just love to paint!”

Emily leads painting and creativity workshops throughout the region. You can find her art in homes and businesses from coast to coast as well as in Europe and Southeast Asia.”Not only do I believe art enhances all aspects of my world, I believe creating and interpreting art make us better thinkers,” says Emily. Her studio, Studio e, offers “Art Enrichment and Creative Thinking” classes for children ages 6-18+ years where she shares her love for color, texture, intrigue, and wit.

CTB is proud to display Emily’s work until the end of September 2013, visit us at 3333 East Broadway, Suite 1219 in Bismarck to view her featured paintings.

For more information on Emily’s work visit

Walking Safety

When the snow leaves the asphalt and trails, our feet like to take over. Walking increases in popularity during the warmer North Dakota months, when people of all ages like to get out and enjoy the nice weather. I find myself lacing up my sneakers quite frequently during this time of year. I love the fresh air and sunshine, but I also appreciate the mental clarity and stress relief that I get during the many walks I take.

Even though I like to “zone out” and enjoy the sunshine and fresh breeze (or ND wind, let’s be honest!), I know that I need to stay aware of my surroundings and make smart decisions.

Here are a few safety precautions I take when I go for a walk:

  • Walk defensively. I always assume that drivers do NOT see me. This means scanning the street well before I cross, even if the WALK sign is lit and indicating that it is okay to go.
  • Vary your route. I never take the same path at the same time of day. This is actually a fun, personal challenge of mine – finding a different path each time I go for a walk!
  • Bring your cell phone with you. I put my phone in a case that fits around my upper arm. These can be found at places like Target and Best Buy.
  • Consider carrying pepper spray. My spray comes in a nice size that fits in my hand and is actually a key chain. You can find pepper spray at sporting goods and farm fleet stores.
  • Walk with confidence. I like to call on my inner-actress and put on my “I-own-this-world” persona when walking, which means walking tall with my shoulders back and head up and making eye contact with those I am approaching.
  • Choose well-populated paths. I avoid certain paths because, although nice and quiet, they are too secluded for my safety.
  • Trust your intuition. Just the other day I switched my direction based off of gut feeling in regards to another individual on the trail. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Those are my personal favorites, but there are many more tips to follow in order to ensure safety while walking.

Also, consider attending the NDSC’s Self Protection and Predator Awareness course. This course includes a classroom section on predator/stalker awareness and location safety, as well as practical hands-on training that teaches you techniques to escape an attacker – all helpful to know when walking. Visit the ND Safety Council website to learn more or to register for a course.

With education and awareness your walks can be enjoyable AND safe.

By Kayla Schramm, NDSC Marketing Assistant


Featured Artist – Dawn Kopp

We’re very happy to announce that Dawn Kopp is our new Featured Woman Artist and work will be on display at CTB until August 1. Stop by 3333 East Broadway, Suite 1219 to view her beautiful photography.

A native of Mandan, North Dakota, Dawn S. Kopp graduated with honors from NDSU in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Apparel & Textiles. After college she ventured east to work as a nanny in New York. During this time Kopp completed a photography course taught by Robert Sabo, a photographer for the New York Daily News. Kopp has won numerous awards for her photography and was chosen to display as a member artist at Bismarck Art & Galleries Association in 2009. Kopp believes in using specific techniques to create her images. Aside from a small amount of cropping, the images displayed have not been retouched or edited in any other manner. Kopp’s subject matter varies greatly as there is interest in most everything in life.

Kopp is currently the executive director of the Downtown Business Association of Bismarck, a position she has held for over 6 years and lives in Bismarck.

For more information about Dawn’s work or purchase any of her pieces contact her at 226-6818 or

Heat Stroke Prevention

As a working Mom, my days are fairly hectic. From the moment I wake up I’m thinking about my to-do list at work, my grocery list on the counter and my supper plans for that evening. But what makes my life the most difficult is my ridiculously horrible memory! And a bad memory can get you in trouble – a written, but forgotten, grocery list, lost keys, low fuel light, late projects… the list goes on and on. Luckily for me, most of these things are relatively harmless. It’s not like I’d forget my SON… right? As much as I’d like to believe that, thankfully my job has taught me otherwise.

When stories hit the news about a child being found dead in a hot vehicle, people are very quick to criticize. But we’re all naïve to think it can’t happen to us. It can happen to a caring, loving, middle-class mom just like me. And it can happen to you. But it doesn’t have to.

Be a responsible parent and recognize that no one is perfect, including you. Educate yourself and take steps to prevent losing the most precious thing in your life.

  • Be especially careful if you are changing your routine. If you don’t typically drop your child off at daycare, set a reminder on your computer or ask your significant other to call you near the time you’re supposed to be getting to work.
  • Put something in the back seat next to your child, such as your cell phone or purse that is needed at your final destination.
  • Never leave your child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute. Not when you run in to the post office and not when you run in to the store. Never.
  • Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-1-1. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.
  • Teach your children that vehicles are not a playground. And keep your keys out of their reach. 

Heat stroke tragedies can happen very quickly. In just 10 minutes, the temperature in your car can rise up to 20 degrees. And on an 80 degree day, temperatures can reach deadly levels in that amount of time.

Fifteen precious children have already died this year because someone did the unimaginable, or because a child was playing somewhere they shouldn’t have been. Before you judge those parents, please remember, it COULD happen to you.

By Serena Schmit, NDSC Marketing Coordinator

For more safety tips, visit, or

How to Tame Your Inner Critic

When starting a business, it is common to have great expectations for success. For many of us, this involves wanting everything to go exactly as planned. However, as we move forward, we find that this is not always the case. No matter how prepared we are, we will face the unexpected. This includes dealing with sudden changes and challenges. As a result, your inner perfectionist may tell you what you “can’t do” and push you to give up. Here are four ways to handle that critical voice:

  1. Allow your best to be good enough. Sometimes you might feel that you should or could be doing more to ensure the success of your business. While it’s great to put forth your best effort, there’s also the danger of overdoing a task or overthinking a problem. When we think that our efforts aren’t good enough, we tend to push and overexert ourselves in the process. During these times, it’s important to give yourself some credit and acknowledge that you’ve done your best. Then you can give yourself time to see how a situation progresses before taking the next steps.
  2.  Take a chance and do it anyway. Have you ever been afraid to take action because you weren’t sure if you would achieve the perfect results? A wise woman once shared that “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” If you never try, you’ll never make progress. And what could you gain if you did take action? Perhaps exactly what you’re looking for? Or the opportunity to move one step closer to your goal? Give yourself a chance to just do it and see what happens!
  3. See mistakes as important lessons. Perfectionists often view mistakes as weaknesses or failures. But how would we know what to improve if we didn’t make mistakes? Without mistakes there’s no true learning. Mistakes can help us to make beneficial changes for the future. They can also lead to new discoveries about ourselves. The next time you make a mistake, resist the temptation to feel bad. Instead, excuse yourself and ask, “What can I learn from this to help my business?”
  4.  Be open to whatever comes next. There may be times when you want to take action, but you’re not sure what to do. If you believe you “must” find a solution, you could be forcing a situation that may not be in your best interest. When in doubt, encourage yourself to let go and remain open to the next opportunity, idea, or action. This requires patience and trust that you will discover your next step. 

It can be difficult to calm the demands of our inner critic; however, it is possible if we are willing to practice being gentle and patient with ourselves. Sometimes this means taking action in the face of the unknown, while other times we must be willing to slow down and reflect. If we are open to learning and trusting that challenges and mistakes can guide us, then we can build a solid foundation for ourselves as savvy business women.


Stacey L. Brown, Certified Life Coach & Facilitator
Owner, Self Reflections – Minot, ND
Stacey offers coaching services and workshops to help women discover their strengths, build confidence, and improve their lives.

Road Trip Smarts

I took a road trip with one of my new co-workers yesterday, and during our long commute from Grand Forks to Bismarck, we started reminiscing about how we lived our lives before we were ‘safety people’. As we shared stories, I was struck by the realization of how naïve I was just a short time ago. Now, as a wife, mother, and provider for my family, I don’t have the luxury of being naive.

Our state is changing and, as my co-worker would say, I can’t be an ostrich with my head in the sand. Don’t get me wrong, I feel safe in this beautiful state and I’m proud to call it home. But what my co-worker has taught me is, no matter what your city or crime rate, you need to be aware of your surroundings so you can identify what unique and dangerous situations you could potentially put yourself in. By being proactive, identifying your risks, as well as your personal strengths and weaknesses, you will be more prepared to handle yourself if faced with a challenge.

As business owners, women often work independently and travel alone, women need to empower themselves with the knowledge to avoid dangerous situations. And we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge to escape if we were ever attacked by a predator.

My co-worker had these tips to share with me, and I hope you take the time to read and pass them on:

  1. If you think you are being followed, cross the street or change directions a few times. Go quickly to a well-lit area with lots of people. Do not go home. 
  2. Avoid talking on your cell phone or texting while getting out of or walking to your car. 
  3. Never agree to be kidnapped. Drop the car keys, run and scream for help. 
  4. If you are forced to drive, consider crashing your car near a busy intersection to draw attention to your situation. 
  5. If someone bumps your car in traffic, wave them to follow you, and drive to a busy gas station or business. 

My co-worker, a former highway patrolman and member of the US Air Force, developed a new Self Protection & Predator Awareness Course. I encourage you to take the initiative to educate yourself, whether through this course or another. Click here to learn more or to find a course in your area.

By Serena Schmit, NDSC Marketing Coordinator

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