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How 6 Top Women Entrepreneurs Grew Their Companies Like Crazy

Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) and American Express OPEN recently released the fourth annual ranking of the 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies in North America. The Top 50 generated a combined $4.1 billion in 2010 revenues (the mean is $82.7 million) and collectively employed 24,650 in 2010 (the average is 557 employees). "The businesses were much larger this year," says WPO president Marsha Firestone. Last year, she notes, mean revenues were $14 million and the average number of employees was just 215.

Those results reflect an improved economy, certainly, but I was also curious to hear from the women entrepreneurs themselves. So I asked them what strategies they thought had been most important in growing their companies. What struck me most was their fearlessness regarding the recession: Tough times didn't impact their commitments to employees and customers, and so all were positioned to charge ahead when the economy improved. Here's what six of the top ten had to say:

1. No layoffs -- and more healthcare benefits
Shelly Sun, BrightStar Franchising LLC (#1)

Revenue: $99 million

Health care staffing

"The downfall in the economy pushed us to institute new programs to accelerate sales results for our franchisees, enable access to capital for our franchisees and drive accountability at the corporate level to support franchisee unit economics. In addition, we've pursued financing options that both our new and existing franchisees can take advantage of so that they can help stimulate the economy by creating new permanent and sustainable jobs. Lastly, our corporate team is on the front line every day supporting our franchisees and we knew we needed them focused on that mission and not being worried about job security -- so we made a decision against laying off any employees regardless of the economic pressures, and instead increased healthcare benefits and added an accountability program with a short-term bonus opportunity tied to corporate, department and individual results."

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2. Find opportunities from far and wide

Theresa Daynter, Daynter Concstruction Group, Inc. (#5)

Revenue: $17.7 million

General contracting and construction management

"I know my supply chain in construction, and am always seeking ways to collaborate or edge my way into "adjacent" opportunities. [We think about] who feeds us business (bankers, property owners, developers, architects, engineers) and conversely, who we are giving business away to (general contractors, specialty subcontractors, suppliers, consultants). This has afforded us the opportunity to expand our service offerings and leverage existing relationships by going wider and deeper. We are always looking to add value to any project we touch, and that includes considering market sectors where we feel we can have a competitive advantage and excel in our core competence, which is how and why we expanded our construction expertise to the Federal government sector in the past several years."

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3. There's no substitute for a great product
Rebecca Minkoff, Rebecca Minkoff, LLC (#6)

Revenue: $17.7 million

Fashion brand

"I was able to grow my brand so fast and within a short time frame because I created a product that filled a void in the market and stood out. I also listened to my customers directly via social media and responded to what they wanted and needed. If they told me a bag needed a longer strap, I would try and incorporate a bag with a longer strap into my line. I also really tried to create a great product at a great price point."

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4. Get aggressive when everyone else pulls back
Ranjini Poddar, Artech Information Systems, LLC (#7)

Revenue: $267 million

IT consulting services

"Artech's recent success is an extension of those strategies implemented during last several years, specifically during the so-called Great Recession. We chose a counter-intuitive strategy -- we did not cut back as dramatically as a lot of other companies. Instead we retained our talent base and maintained an assertive sales and marketing program. The outcome is that we were well positioned to take advantage of the improved economic and market conditions. "

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5. Be good to customers and employees
Elizabeth Elting, TransPerfect (#8)

Revenue: $251.2 million

Language services provider

"I credit our growth to two key philosophies. First, spoil your clients. You don't merely want to satisfy them; you want to provide such great customer service and high-quality results that they equate your company's name with "Wow!"

Second, hire the very best people you can find and then give them room to grow and excel. Giving your people a high level of ownership over their individual domains means that as they come up through the ranks and then arrive at the top, they can look around and feel really good about what they have accomplished. Nothing was given to them, and there is a great deal of pride associated with that process of building something great from the ground up. It also helps us know that our managers aren't just collecting a paycheck; they are personally invested in ensuring the growth and success of TransPerfect.

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6. Work hard and play hard
Heidi Ganahl, Camp Bow Wow (#10)

Revenue: $51 million

Dog daycare and boarding

"I had to stay extremely focused and driven to meet our aggressive growth goals, but I also created an environment where our team had a great time working towards our goals! Our working environment is very flexible and fun -- we work hard and play hard. Our folks are allowed to bring their dogs to work, we do a monthly team fun event, our staff can work from home two days a week and we offer a lot in the way of personal development to them. We find employees through referrals from our franchisees, our team and our vendors -- and put them thru the ringer before bringing them on board!

We have a business created around our passion for animals and changing the way people care for their pets, so it comes easy to work hard and fast when we know we are helping our furry friends out!"

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