As a female business owner I can attest that as a group we have been an underrepresented for a long time. But gradually, and thankfully, this trend is starting to change — in fact, women are now opening businesses 2.5 times faster than the national average with 11.6 million women-owned businesses, generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenue.
As a female entrepreneur myself, I’m aware of some of the specific and arduous challenges that we often face when launching a business – especially in areas that are typically dominated by men. But lucky for me, I’ve been given some valuable and formative advice along the way – advice that I plan on sharing.
Join the sisterhood of female business owners
For female startup founders, there’s much to be said for making an effort to network with other women. Not just fellow female business owners, but suppliers and vendors as well. Any seasoned business owner will tell you that success is just as much about who you know, as what you do. Together, you can share and solve mutual challenges – and most importantly, you’ll realize you’re not alone.
Start by searching for a women’s business network in your local area. Dedicated groups such as Everywoman are also worth looking into, as they’re aimed at advancing women in business. You may want to try a website like Meetup to discover female business owner groups near you.
Both joining a group and networking one-on-one can really boost your confidence and help you get into your stride as an entrepreneur. If there’s a specific business woman you particularly admire, don’t be afraid to connect via email or LinkedIn to suggest meeting for a coffee. Best case scenario, you end up with a new mentor!
Successful Female Business Owners Seek feedback
If you want to be sure your business is heading in the right direction, gathering objective feedback is essential. You need to test your business idea and concepts with the market — it’s the best way to ensure that you have a good enough idea that’s going to galvanize a customer community around it.
Not sure whether your idea has merit? Nowadays, it’s easy to test-run an idea without spending a lot of money. If you’re getting into ecommerce, a subscription CMS like Shopify will only set you back $29 per month – and the first 14 days are free. Crowdfunding is another great way to assess demand for your idea, with websites like Kickstarter and iFundWomen aimed at providing a launchpad for new small businesses, along with coaching.
When you start out with your first business iteration or crowdfunding campaign, be honest with your audience about your journey. Seek feedback on products, branding, and service features in exchange for exclusive deals or ‘grandfather rights’. Make it clear to early adopters that part of your whole launch strategy is gathering their feedback in real-time.
Another form of feedback gathering comes from concurrent competitor analysis. By closely analyzing what your competitors are up to, you can start to form a clearer idea of what your customers look for. A strong analysis means more than simply browsing your competitors’ websites – you need to read their reviews (both positive and negative), scrutinize their web presence, and find out what their customers are saying about them online.
By doing this you can uncover their strengths and weaknesses, and in doing so, make strategic decisions about how you can fill in those gaps for your customers.
Once someone gives you some important feedback, re-invest in that relationship. Open a dialogue with them and make them feel valued as an advocate.
Be giving with your personal brand
It’s important to be strategic about how you come across — your personal brand will have a big impact on your success as female business owner.
Devote time and effort into crafting a mission statement and go all-in when it comes to creating an engaging personal brand. Not only does it paint you in a good light, it can also pave the way to new leads and opportunities.
Make an effort to actually get involved in communities – both on and offline. What subjects and causes are important to you? Join the conversation and speak up. Make the most of networking and speaking opportunities. Get involved in Q&As and expert advice sessions to help solidify your reputation. Volunteer with nonprofits and community groups to give back.
Focus on finding a specialty or a unique hook — this will help you stand out. From your website to your business cards and social media profiles, cultivate a coherent and compelling message.
Financial Matters Every Female Business Owner Should Know
One of the best pieces of advice I had starting out as a fresh-faced, idealistic female entrepreneur? Live below your means and save money. Frugality is one of the best skills you can master as the mistress of your own financial destiny. As your business expands, you will need to keep investing as new opportunities and ideas arise. Make sure you have the ability to do that – aim to save and/or re-invest around 50% of your earnings within the first few years.
What about when you need a financial injection that you’re unable to provide yourself? Raising capital is, unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers that female entrepreneurs can come up against. So another word of advice: if this is the case for you, seek the help of a professional investor. A pro investor not only validates your business venture, they may also offer useful feedback along the way that will make your business stronger. At the same time, they will also want to see evidence of your profitability and current financial standing — don’t seek investment without doing some number-crunching yourself first.
Find a mentor
I cannot overstate the value of having a trusted advisor in the early days of running your business – right when there’s a million and one things to do, and only you making the big decisions. Not only will they train and support you, they will also be there for you to call on in a tricky situation. After all, they’ve seen it all before.
Naturally, as a female business owner, I would recommend finding a female mentor who has herself experienced similar challenges associated with starting a business, such as gender discrimination. Without my own mentor, Jennifer, I highly doubt my own business ventures would be where they are today. Having also a male mentor, however, can help you with any gender-related blind spots you may have.
So how do you find a mentor? If you don’t already have someone in mind, try reaching out to your existing contacts for referrals. LinkedIn is an excellent place to start – this is how I found Jennifer, who was a 2nd degree connection I was able to forge an introduction with. Alternatively, you may want to look into services aimed at matching mentors with entrepreneurs, such as MicroMentor.
Be a sponge
As a female entrepreneur, you need to learn to soak up knowledge. Not just at the start, but consistently throughout your business journey. We must never stop learning and growing.
We all learn differently: you may prefer books, audiobooks, videos, or interactive learning. Personally, I favor podcasts and extensive reading. I had no idea how enlightening podcasts can be – or how many of them are out there – until relatively recently. It changed my world.
Below I’ve listed five of my favorite podcasts for women in business, along with five of the best books I’ve read on the subject of being a self-taught entrepreneur.
- Being Boss – a podcast for creative entrepreneurs
- The Great Girlfriends Show – personal and professional development
- Raise Your Hand Say Yes – behind the scenes of creative businesses
- She Means Business – incredible stories of female entrepreneurs
- Women of the Hour – a podcast about friendship, love and work
- The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay
- Female Innovators at Work: Women on Top of Tech by Danielle Newnham
- If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You by Kelly Cutrone and Meredith Bryan
- In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
- Worry-Free Money: The Guilt-Free Approach to Managing Your Money and Your Life by Shannon Lee Simmons
I believe that when we equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge, we will be closer to achieving an equal and innovative business landscape that will make the world a better, more vibrant, and more tolerant place. Why don’t you tell us about your journey? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.