10 Tips for Aspiring Female Entrepreneurs
The number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has risen 54 percent over the last 15 years, and at a rate 1.5 times faster than that of any other group. The nation's 8.3 million women-owned businesses represent 29 percent of businesses overall—but female business owners still fall behind their male counterparts in several areas, including funding and revenue.
For instance, when it comes to first-year funding, women typically receive 80 percent less capital than men. Women-owned businesses generate $1.3 trillion in revenue—a 58 percent increase since 1997— but that only accounts for 4 percent of all revenue in the U.S. Their businesses employ 7.7 million people -- 6 percent of the country's workforce -- but research by American Express OPEN shows many female-owned businesses beginning to falter once they reach the $250,000 income mark, and/or they begin to employ five or more workers.
How to avoid such pitfalls? Here, business-owning women share 10 tips to overcoming obstacles.
MAKE A PRE-FIRST IMPRESSION
Amy Zhang, founder of Affinity Fund Services LLC, a hedge-fund administration firm, says people label each other within the first 10 seconds of meeting, so establish some credibility before going face-to-face.
"You want to warm them up so your feminine look won't be the first thing they remember about you. Send a brief email covering what you both want to talk about during the meeting, and how you or your team may address the issues that they need. Women are known as better communicators than men, so use it to your advantage."
PROTECT YOUR IDEA
In 2010, Joy Huber was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Soon after, she saw the need to offer resources, support and encouragement to people coping with and effected by cancer. So she launched Cancer with Joy.
"When I got the idea for 'Cancer with Joy,' I was convinced it was surely already done. I'm not the first Joy to get cancer. But when I checked, the domain was available. I filed 'Cancer with Joy' with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, so I own it. When a cancer treatment center wants to bring 'joy' to their patients, there's only one. This creates supply and demand, and makes the idea more valuable. It also eliminates brand confusion: 'Are you that young brunette or are you the blonde doing this?' There's only one."
FOCUS ON FRIENDSHIPS LATER
"Women tend to put a high value on building relationships, and get easily put off when others don't operate on the same page. But to enter into the more highly profitable markets that are male-dominated, we have to adjust our idea of what it means to form a relationship, from the model that focuses on personal commonalities first and builds on business later, to the more mutually beneficial partnership model that helps you and the other person become more profitable. In a male-dominated field, the audience is often looking for ways to get ahead first and for a relationship second."
Ayo Hart and her husband started Dolphin Organics, a line of natural skin and hair care products, last year. While in meetings, consultants more often addressed him with their words and body language, but when her husband returned to his long-time career, Hart developed her own "mantras" as a means to success.
"Surround yourself with loyal employees. Some women can be catty. They don't like being subordinate to another female; they'll undermine that superior at any given opportunity. The rumblings can threaten business relationships before they start and have immeasurable repercussions. But there are probably twice as many supportive women. They can be the most loyal, trustworthy friends and colleagues. Foster those relationships and seek out that mentor, networking group or complimentary partner who will help you look at your business with an objective eye. These sisters can be an invaluable source of information, funding and support."
ASK FOR HELP
"Women, particularly super-moms, are so used to handling everything that they don’t realize they can be more productive and successful if they don't do everything themselves," said Leanne Babcock, founder of consulting firm Babcock Coaching & Training.
However, noted Lorrie Ross, CEO of marketing agency Web Marketing Therapy, "Men are more likely to 'do what they do best and hire others to do the rest.'"
Women business owners need to be assertive and aware of their needs, said Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder of Voices.com. "Ask for help when you need it, seek direction from successful businesspeople you admire, and don't be afraid to speak up," she said.
Kelsey Meyer, senior vice president of Digital Talent Agents, a professional branding and online public relations firm, recently attended a conference where people kept referring to her male co-founder as her boss. They automatically assumed that he had started the company, and that she worked for him.
"I decided that my only choice was to be very confident in my abilities and not fall prey to the stereotype that women-owned businesses perform worse than men-owned businesses. Be as confident as your male counterparts and don't take on a defeated attitude."
ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM...
Zhang adds, "In presentations, I'll sometimes say something like, 'I know you may be wondering what this young Asian lady can do for my sophisticated hedge fund, but I am here because I have the knowledge and experience in this industry and profession, and I am going to help your fund start and grow in the following ways...' It takes off the edge in the audience and steers them towards what I want to share."
Hart adds, "Don't always enter the room feeling you have something to prove. If businesswomen come to the table feeling as if they have to put their best foot forward because they are a woman, they've already put themselves at a disadvantage. Don't try your best because you think you have something to prove, do your best because that's who you are as a person."
DRESS (WITHIN REASON) TO IMPRESS
Robin Wilson knows style. And as president and CEO of her eco-friendly interior design firm Robin Wilson Home, she advises you do too.
"Dress comfortably. Wear heels to meetings, but feel comfortable wearing flats around the office most of the day, as your comfort may help maintain your focus."
DON'T BE SORRY
Studies show that women say "sorry" much more frequently than men, but Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory, an online public relations firm, says there's no room for regret in the workplace.
"If you spend too much time worrying about what other people think of you, or apologizing for things that you shouldn't be sorry for, people are going to walk all over you."
Melissa Brodsky, founder of Smart Savvy Social, a full-service social media agency, adds, "Stick to your decisions and convictions without apologizing."