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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Live on a Shoestring

Keeping overhead low during the startup is often the only way a founder can build a strong foundation.

Key Question:


Cheryl started her business in her basement with one phone line and call waiting. It only took her a few weeks to land her first customer and she has always been profitable because she held her expenses to nearly zero.

Q: Why does it seem as if it was so easy for Cheryl to sign up her first customer?

A: Business is built on relationships. In the job she left, Cheryl had worked to constantly bring in new business. She was the human contact between customers and the business, so, when she left to start her own business, she was able to take customers with her. Unfortunately for her former boss, he did not have Cheryl sign a non-compete agreement when she was hired.

What is a non-compete agreement?

A: When employee signs a non-compete agreement he/she commits not to leave the employer then compete directly with the employer. If Cheryl's former boss would have required Cheryl to sign a non-compete, then Cheryl would have had to refrain from being involved with the customers and the products of her former company.

Why has Cheryl always been profitable?

She has built the business carefully. Cheryl didn't have debt and didn't want debt. She bought what she needed with cash, or, she didn't buy it. In some cases, she negotiated payment plans with suppliers so she would not have to get a loan from a bank. 

Think about it

How would you organize your life to live on a shoestring until your business generates plenty of cash?

Clip from: VCW- National Association Independent Truckers

Kansas City:  In this episode of the show you meet Cheryl Womack.  Way back in the 1980 she became unhappy  with her job when her boss  hired a person for Cheryl to train to become her new boss. She left that company both sad and exasperated because she felt she deserved the promotion.

Cheryl spotted a niche to serve.  That was 1981 when she started a company dedicated to providing insurance to the owners of the 18-wheeler trucks moving cargo up and down our highways. She worked for the first year out of the basement of her home with one phone line that had call waiting and no computer.  She barely had enough to eat and admitted that she would go on dates just to get a decent meal.  At the time of this taping, she had 75 employees and was doing $45 million in annual sales.

In 2002, when her annual revenues had reached $100 million, she sold her National Independent Truckers Association and now focuses almost entirely on encouraging women.  She launched a non-profit called, Leading Women, to recognize women in business.

VCW Holding Company, L.L.C.

Cheryl Womack, CEO

11020 NW Ambassador Drive
Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64153

Visit our web site:

Office: 8008218014

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1994

Live on a Shoestring

CHERYL:  Whether I did it subliminally or whether I did it more deliberately, I only hired women for a while because women are very detail-oriented and also very customer service-oriented. They could do a lot of the things to bring the skills to a service company that I needed, and we were certainly small enough, starting in my basement, that I could handle the financial pieces and things like that. Although not even knowing how to read a financial statement, it did take a while.

HATTIE: So at 31, you started your own business. How did you get the first piece of business? And how did you fund yourself?

CHERYL: I moved in with my sister for about three months and then got an apartment. I was making about $17,000 a year. I dated to eat, which was something you could do back then. It was wonderful. It was a financial thing.

HATTIE: Cheryl is the third of 11 children. Her father immigrated to the US from Panama, and she believes his influence played a significant role in her choice to start her own business.

CHERYL: Partly because I'd watch my dad be the boss, and I always grew up saying, `I'm gonna be him, not her.' My dad spoke to us like we were adults and talked about the world as we were adults. Dad made us pay rent to live in the house once we had full-time jobs.

HATTIE: The "Managerial Woman" was a book written in 1967 or so, and the research on these women who had made it to management positions in large companies said that, `They had the attention of their father.' And I think some of the courage that it takes to step out comes from our fathers. We need the blessing of our fathers. Your father treated you like an adult. He expected you to pay rent?

CHERYL: Exactly, just like the boys. All I ever wanted to do and all I ever want is to be in control of my destiny. By 50, my lifetime plan has been not to work. Well, I don't think I won't be working, but I'll only choose what I want to do. I mean, part of what I've just recently done with the employees here, by all the promotions we've just done, is to make sure people start practicing in place the next four and a half years what they're going to do taking it on. I'm going to sell the business to the employees, these three primary businesses, so that they will run it and profit themselves. I'm benefiting now, I'll benefit later because I'll maintain some of the ownership, but it gives me all choices. It gives me total flexibility on what I want to do with my life, and that's what I wanted.

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