In January, my company, Stella & Dot, was featured on the CBS reality show "Undercover Boss."  I had the great fortune to put on an Urbandale in-home trunk show that featured our CEO, Jessica Herrin, in disguise.  She also joined me for coffee and conversation at Mars Café.


The episode, which aired Jan. 30, was an amazing ride, and I am one lucky stylist. As a single woman entrepreneur from Iowa it was a surprise, to say the least.


But being featured on a national reality show also was a huge learning experience, and taught me much about my company and the future I'm working to create here in Central Iowa.  Here are three things I learned by appearing on CBS' Undercover Boss, lessons that can be applied to anyone trying to grow her business:


1) Be open and take chances. When I met with producers, I wasn't told about the project, when it would air, how I might be characterized, or how many people would see it. Producers came to our 2014 national conference and met with stylists. Saying "yes" to the show and being open to new experiences and avenues to promote my business was what made it happen for me.


2) Build your personal brand. I assumed, proudly, that my business was my brand.  But when you conduct business in customers' living rooms, they want to feel very comfortable with you. It didn't take much Google searching to realize I lacked my own web presence. As a woman, I felt sheepish - am I up to this? Am I worth it? I was thrilled to discover folks who specialized in creating web presences for business, and did it with no muss and no fuss.  


3) Embrace and give back to those who support you. I'm indebted to my team, hostesses, customers and the great community we have in Des Moines. Ours is an incredibly welcoming community, with people and businesses who are always ready to help.  I learned that firsthand. I really loved sharing the spotlight with Des Moines. I also lead an international sales team of almost 300 stylists. I brought leaders on board early, made invitations to view the show with me and urged them to grow their teams using exposure from the show.  They are the people who allowed me to become one of the youngest leaders in my company.


The bottom line is there's no overnight success. My business is growing at 30-40 percent, year over year. But I'm still on the phone daily lining up hostesses, looking for the chance to introduce my company's products to Iowans. "Undercover Boss" was a huge boost, but what it really did was provide a new way to open doors - doors I still must walk through to grow my business.


Grace Van Cleave is the youngest senior director at Stella & Dot, leading a team of nearly 300 stylists worldwide. Before moving to Des Moines in 2010 and building her business from scratch, Grace worked as a political fundraiser in Washington, D.C. for six years. She's a graduate of Kenyon College and a member of the Junior League of Des Moines.



Connect with Van Cleave on LinkedIn, or learn more about her on her website.