The past several years have been fruitful ones for women-owned small businesses. The numbers from the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report help to illustrate this, including these statistics, as reported by womenable.com:
- The number of women-owned businesses is now 11.3 million (38 percent of “the business population”). Those businesses employ almost 9 million people and earn more than $1.6 trillion in revenue.
- More than 1,000 new women-owned businesses have launched each day since 2007.
- Women-owned businesses have increased by 45 percent since 2007. The total number of businesses grew by 9 percent.
These are encouraging figures. Yet women business owners aren’t necessarily on a level playing field yet.
Successful business owners have the opportunity to help those who are just starting out by offering valuable insight. Here are a few lessons learned from a variety of entrepreneurs and writers, along with tips for women on small business hurdles.
Follow your passions
This is one of the important first steps in developing a small business. It is essential that small business owners care deeply for their industry and area of expertise, and that passion can help to get them through the more difficult times. Author Jacqueline Whitmore puts it at the top of her “Six Startup Tips for Women Entrepreneurs” list on Entrepreneur.com.
“You are going to spend many long hours working in and on your business, so pick an industry that you don’t just like, but are passionate about,” Whitmore says. “When you are passionate, it shows, and your enthusiasm and belief in what you are doing translates to your customers, sparking their enthusiasm about what you are offering.”
Consider your identity
How you define yourself can have an impact on your business, according to Sara Mohammadi, founder of Eventbox. She was featured in an Entrepreneur.com story, and advises women to define themselves primarily as a “startup entrepreneur.”
“That supersedes any other identity that you have,” she says. “ … The minute you put another identity above that it becomes a limitation for yourself: limitation in your own mindset, and in your own perception of your abilities. If [entrepreneurship] is what you want to do, think of yourself first and foremost as an entrepreneur; not as your nationality, not your gender, nothing.”
This is a constant challenge for many small business owners. Brittney Helmrich examines the balance in a story for Business News Daily, and features Laura Miller from Chase, who looks at home duties as a potential benefit to business. As Helmrich writes, “Many women entrepreneurs have the responsibility of taking care of their homes and their kids, too, but instead of letting it stress them out, Miller suggested women take inspiration from their home responsibilities.”
“Regardless of whether they own a business, many women already hold the title of CEO … of the household,” Miller says in the story. “Managing the needs of a household, including children, spouse, multiple schedules, school obligations, extracurricular activities, etc, is definitely akin to running a small business. By translating what may already come natural to you in running your home into the workplace, you can create a seamless transition as you try to balance it all.”
When a small business has developed a brand — one that is deemed positive and effective — it’s important to know it inside and out. As Whitmore explains for Entrepreneur, that knowledge will translate to consistency.
“Carefully define your brand: what does it look like and what does it stand for?” she writes. “And stick to it. Make everything you do and offer conform to the brand, from color schemes, logo design, packaging, correspondence and presentations, to customer service, and the company culture and mission. Do not deviate from your brand. It is the message and consistency by which your clients know, remember and trust you.”
Stay hungry for new leads
Entrepreneurs may need to call upon all available sides of their personal network when getting a business off the ground, for insight, contacts and word-of-mouth marketing. Helmrich suggests going beyond all that in the Business News Daily story. As Miller, the executive from Chase, recommends, this can mean joining professional organizations to learn more about industry-related issues and clients.
“Knowing where to look for leads can make all the difference,” Miller says in the story. “Industry groups are a great first stop, but only if you’re thinking of them beyond sources of support and camaraderie. … [They] can also be a valuable resource for business development — whether you’re keeping in touch with audiences that care most about your business, scouting potential talent or sharing knowledge you’ve gained in your area of expertise.”
If a small business owner has not established herself as a leader, there may be difficulties ahead in gaining respect and pushing the business forward. Christina DesMarais explores this in a story for Inc.com, and features Sandy Rubenstein, CEO of ad-engagement group DXagency.
“In an industry dominated by men, it’s important to be intentional about your image,” DesMarais writes. “So, while you may be friendly and social, you also need to act and communicate as a leader, with the understanding that you alone are responsible for your destiny.” Rubenstein adds: “The perception needs to be that you’re the boss, that you’re the one in charge. You can have a relationship with [others], but there are barriers to how far those conversations should and could go.”
Be careful with outside voices
There is no shortage of guidance and wisdom out there for entrepreneurs. As consultant and writer Megan Broussard says in a story for QuickBooks, not all of that advice is worth taking, and sometimes the gut feeling is the right one.
“I would say to take all pieces of advice from others with a grain of salt and trust your instincts and new ideas,” she says. “I have a series on my site called ‘The Worst Advice I Ever Took.’ It features a woman entrepreneur each week who shares the advice she regrets taking. The moral of the story: There are rules of thumb that are generally [considered] true, such as creating an intricate business plan and mimicking popular business models in your industry. Those are two pieces of advice that women on my site have wished they’d never listened to. It just reinforces the fact that being a successful entrepreneur is mainly about being creative and trusting yourself.”
Build a strong support team
It may be natural for small business owners to surround themselves with like-minded people. But there can be significant value to having someone on the team who isn’t afraid to take the opposite point of view. Nicole Crimaldi Emerick, a social strategist, describes this in the QuickBooks story.
“Make sure you have a personal board of directors,” she writes. “It is so important that you have a team behind you, because things are going to get rough at some point, and you need people who think differently than you in order to prosper and problem-solve. And beware: You’ll need more than the cheerleader-types on your board. You also need the person who tells you what you don’t want to hear, someone who’s always thinking about the dollar, and perhaps someone else who is an innovator always thinking about new ideas.”
The downside of multitasking
Small business owners may find themselves constantly putting out fires, all while trying to build a customer base, foster employee engagement and lead the business to a profitable path. But different entrepreneurs have different approaches. Take one of the most renowned entrepreneurs in the country, media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Granted, her success means she doesn’t have the same stresses as typical business owners. But she emphasizes the need to be “fully present” to focus on a single issue, as she described in a story by J.J. McCorvey for Fast Company.
“I have learned that your full-on attention for any activity you choose to experience comes with a level of intensity and truth,” she says. “It’s about living a present life, moment to moment — not worrying about what’s going to happen at 3 o’clock and what’s going to happen at 7 o’clock. … That whole thing about multitasking? That’s a joke for me. When I try to do that, I don’t do anything well.”
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