Sometimes to start a business, you just have to take that first step.
Recently, I had the pleasure of serving on a panel regarding women entrepreneurs for the Social Enterprise Symposium moderated by Christine Beckman, academic director of the Center for Social Value Creation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. The goal of the panel was to offer tips for women interested in becoming entrepreneurs. A lively audience, they were definitely interested in knowing what should women do to become successful entrepreneurs.
Research from the U. S. Census Bureau shows that women-owned businesses have increased almost 70 percent in the past two decades and that women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national average. They own almost 11 million businesses in the United States and employ one in seven employees. The majority of them are in the services area followed by retail trade, finance, insurance and real estate, and then construction. In addition, when looking at the number, employment, and revenues of women-owned firms, the Washington metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing in the nation.
There are many reasons why women start their own businesses. One reason is that they have grown disenchanted with corporate America, feeling they get less respect and recognition for their work and lack advancement opportunities. Some have experienced outright discrimination. Others face difficulties balancing work with family. Many simply desire more freedom and want to be in charge of their own future or destiny. If they are socially minded, they want to start their own businesses in order to have a stronger impact on society.
Despite all the growth of women-owned businesses, women still face a number of obstacles to their success. For example, research has shown that men have an easier time securing funds. Women still have to overcome biases in the workplace.
So what recommendations can we give to women entrepreneurs? All of the panelists talked about the importance of having a business that you are passionate about. Given the amount of work that is involved in running a business, it is critical that the enterprise be something that you are keen on since you will need to be persistent in order to succeed. As Michelle May, founder and chief executive of Shenami, a networking and marketing service for businesswomen, noted “You have to get support from family and friends, listen to them carefully, but also not let uninformed people talk you out of something you have prepared for”.
Another thing that sometimes holds women back is their own need to be 100 percent prepared before taking the first step. We sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be. As Amy Millman, president of the nonprofit Springboard Enterprises, a venture support organization for women, noted, “Stop worrying about whether you are good enough or ready enough. No one is ever 100 percent ready for every possible issue. At some point, you just have to jump in. So, stop thinking about it and just do it!”
Erin Andrew, assistant administrator for the Small Business Administration’s office of women’s business ownership, said Websites such as www.sba.gov can assist women in setting up their businesses, securing loans, acquiring licenses, getting support, among other things. In addition, there are many Women’s Business Centers around the country to assist women entrepreneurs.
In order to prepare, we advised women to be pragmatic in order to secure funds, get business training, and be able to use social media to sell your business. You need to have enough capital to get started and to last for a period of time. You also need to be able to use Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media to interact with customers and conduct day-to–day business. You will also want to know your competitors and your unique selling point – what is your brand proposition and how is that different from others out there?
Women often try to do it all themselves so we suggested that women find trusted employees, train them, and develop a strong team that you can delegate to. In addition, it is critical for women to find mentors, preferably in their chosen industry, who can guide them and sponsors who can put them in positions where they can get the visibility they will need to be successful.
More than anything else, be persistent and not give up. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by a fear of failure. Rather, be willing to take some risks. Listen to others, but also follow your own instincts. Clearly, many women have followed this advice as the number of women-owned businesses continues to outpace the national average.
Joyce E. A. Russell is the vice dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.