Hi everyone! My name is Maria LeFebre, and I’m the founder of Your Local Girl Gang, Cleveland’s guide to women-owned businesses. The categorized list makes it easy to find a woman-owned business for all of your needs, whether you’re looking for a new happy hour spot or a marketing agency. The website also includes featured interviews with different business owners, so that you can get to know the woman behind the business. Read on to get to know the founder of Your Local Girl Gang in an interview originally published by She in the CLE.
Growing up, what was your dream job?
Growing up, I wanted to be a lot of different things. The earliest I can remember is wanting to be a vet. In college at the University of Colorado, I wanted to be an archaeologist, so I majored in Anthropology. Upon realizing that I would have to go to school for many more years, I joined the school of Education to be an elementary school teacher. When I moved to Cleveland, I began working for a small, woman-owned shop (shout-out Paper Trails!), where I fell in love with small business. I worked here until getting my Ohio teaching license, and then I went to work in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I’m currently a second grade teacher. So, it wasn’t quite my dream job, but it’s where I ended up.
When the idea for Your Local Girl Gang came to me and I started to build the website, I realized that this is my dream job–building connections with women in the community, coordinating networking events, and supporting local businesses.
When and how did the idea for Your Local Girl Gang come to you?
I was shopping online one day and found an amazing tee shirt that said “Support Your Local Girl Gang.” I loved the sound of it. It sounded like a call to action, during a time when my phone buzzed every day with a new jaw-dropping headline that made me and my friends ask “How is this real life?” “Support Your Local Girl Gang” to me meant empowering the women around me. The easiest way for me to do this is through making educated decisions about where to spend my money.
I wanted to start the very next day by getting my caffeine fix at a woman-owned coffee shop.
I started Googling, searching for a list of women-owned businesses. The only resources I could find were outdated, not easily accessible, and included very few businesses that I would actually visit on a daily basis. I felt that it should be easier to find my local girl gang. I decided to make my own guide, and make it available for anyone else who had the same goal.
What has been your greatest success since starting your own business?
Since launching the website, I’ve received more than 190 business submissions to the Girl Gang list. There are currently over 150 businesses listed on the website. It’s been amazing to connect with so many awesome women and help them promote their businesses. Business owners have reached out to me to tell me that they had customers mention that they found that business through the website. That was awesome, to know that the website was beneficial to both customer and business owner. (To submit a business to the Girl Gang, go to the Grow the Gang page.)
We’ve also been able to launch City Series, a series of monthly networking events open to all women, each in a different Cleveland neighborhood. So far we’ve had two successful events (and there are some really exciting ideas in the works for January and February.) Women are able to meet, connect, and share ideas with different business owners. I personally left with a sense that I had a whole group of new friends who were doing really exciting things in their businesses and side hustles.
It’s been exciting to see what can happen when someone has a good idea and a network to share it with. One new friend came to the first event in Ohio City and shared with us an idea she had for a fortune cookie company. We bounced around a ton of ideas, and everyone was really excited about the potential of this project. We were amazed when she showed up to the second event with a box of her fortune cookies for everyone to try. She brought her idea to life so quickly! (By the way, it truly is the best fortune cookie I’ve ever had.) It feels really powerful to have this strong network of Cleveland ladies to help launch and support each other’s businesses. I can’t wait to see how City Series continues to grow and evolve to incorporate all the women of Cleveland.
What characteristic do you most admire in other entrepreneurial women?
I completely admire entrepreneurial women. I was partially inspired to create the featured section of the website from the podcasts that I listen to regularly that highlight the stories of entrepreneurs and CEOs and how they got to where they are. I find those stories so interesting. I love the stories of women who hustled for years, didn’t take no for an answer, and believed that they would succeed, so they eventually did. They don’t necessarily have a business background, but they work the hardest and they don’t stop. I admire those extremely hard-working women. Women who continue to overcome obstacles and keep working through it are the women we should all look up to.
What piece of advice would you give to women starting their own businesses?
Take the first step. You don’t have to have it all figured out, you just need to start. Connect yourself with a group of women, some in the industry you’d like to break into, and some outside of it. Having a group to share your ideas with helps immensely. Ideally, this group will be there to give you hope when you start to feel like maybe your idea was not so great after all. You’d be surprised how far one nugget of support from the right person can get you. This has been the most beneficial thing for me so far. (Check out the Events page for details about the next City Series! We will help you find your group.)
What is something you could not go a day without?
I could not go a day without coffee and a podcast. I love a good comedy, business, or true crime podcast. I could go on and on about my favorites and I’m always looking for new ones, so if you have suggestions (or just want to talk podcasts), shoot me an email.
Name a woman, past or present, who you admire.
I admire the women of Cleveland. Cleveland is tough and gritty, but the business owners, entrepreneurs, and all the women out here to support them totally harness that. They breathe life and passion into the city every day. They are what makes Cleveland great.
To get to know more business owners in Cleveland, visit the Featured page.