24 Oct Women Owned Businesses | Turning Challenges Into Opportunities
October is National Women’s Small Business Month and according to WBENC1 there are 12.3 million women owned businesses in the US. Last year, 1,821 women owned businesses were launched every day with women of color launching 64% of those new businesses. So, in thinking about what to write in celebration of this month, I wanted this post to be helpful and encouraging for anyone who reads it whether you are a woman who owns a business, work for a woman owned business or support women owned businesses.
Women owned businesses face many of the same challenges other businesses face like access to capital or unfavorable business environments, but they also face challenges that are more unique to women like gender equality in male dominated industries. In fact, there is a great summary of the “8 Major Challenges Women Face in Business” in an article posted by Forbes in this very month last year. In general, as I searched for information, I found it much easier to find the problems than the solutions. So, to celebrate women owned businesses this month, I’d like to share positive experiences and encouragement. Here is a crack at turning the 2018 Forbes Top 8 Challenges into a 2019 Opportunities List!
- Instead of “Limited Funding”, how about “Funding Is Out There” – Funding can be tricky because we worry about risk and it depends on how capital intensive your business is. First, if you are a startup don’t worry about the end game, just worry about getting started. Make progress. Show some wins. It will build confidence for you and for others. Don’t be afraid to be a little uncomfortable (see #3 below). Second, don’t just take risks, take smart risks you feel good about. Some awesome women owned businesses started in a woman’s home or mother’s garage like Bourbon and Bowties or GoldieBlox. If you are looking for investors there are great incubators, angel investors, and institutions that can help. Look for organizations that have strong women leaders like Tampa Bay Wave, Embarc Collective and Pilot Bank. There are amazing women leaders in these companies and, as a general rule, women want to support other women.
- Instead of “Balancing Responsibilities”, how about “Embracing Imbalance” – Work and Life Balance is like Bigfoot in that it is talked about a lot but can’t really be found, though some say they have seen a glimpse. Striving for balance is just frustrating. It’s not really about balance. It’s about the give and take…and feeling comfortable with the tradeoffs we make. A good way to embrace the imbalance is to be a master scheduler. Prioritize the most important things in your personal and business life and do the best you can. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or support when you need it. And if some stuff doesn’t get done, it might just be okay. Approach juggling work and family the way you would a business problem. Have a schedule and know what and to whom you can delegate. Use your leadership skills at home AND at work.
- Instead of “Fear of Failure”, how about “Plan for Failure” – There may be a dozen reasons why we fear failure whether it is financial or emotional. Fear can be paralyzing. The best way to eliminate Fear of Failure is to plan for it. If you play out the scenarios and have a plan for all the “what-if’s”, then they don’t seem nearly as scary. In the world of insights, we do a lot of “test and learn” projects. Turn your failures into test and learn scenarios. When it doesn’t work, adjust and try again. Take smart risks. Be uncomfortable, but plan for the “what-if’s”.
- Instead of “Inadequate Support System”, how about “Personal Board of Directors” – Whether you are an entrepreneur, small business owner or corporate executive, everyone needs a support system. Women are great at this. We are collaborative and great at supporting each other and our families. You may already have a board, but even if you do, a personal board is all the rage. It doesn’t have to be formal or all at once. Take your time and recruit the people that you need as you need them. Look for people across functions like finance, operations, marketing, legal, technology, etc., depending on your business. Be clear about what advice you might need and make it easy for them to help you. Then find special ways to thank them for their support.
- Instead of “Gender Inequality”, how about “Act Like You Belong” – If you look at the definition of gender equality, it is basically that equality is achieved when both men and women have access to the same resources and opportunities. So, is anyone telling us as women that we don’t have the same access and opportunities as men? Probably not directly, however, as women we put some of this on ourselves. I heard a story that some of you may be familiar with and that stuck with me. A man and a woman are both up for a promotion and when reviewing the job description, the man looks at the list of 10 things and says something like “I have 8 out of 10 which is great” and the women in the same situation hesitate to go for it saying “but I am missing 2 out of 10 things”. Be confident that you have 8 out of 10 things; sit at the head of the table; insist on driving; make decisions; lead by example. You got this.
- Instead of “Limited Knowledge”, how about “Surround Yourself with Knowledgeable People” – There are two ways to tackle a challenge like this. One is to educate yourself, and often that comes with experience. The second is to surround yourself with people who do have that experience. The second option is usually the better path. You will, by default, be educated along the way, but leaning on others who have been there can help get you there faster. You can also include these people in your “personal board of directors” from #4 above. And guess what? You WILL make some mistakes, so just own them, learn from them and move forward. The people with all that “knowledge” have already made their mistakes, so try to leverage them but don’t be afraid to make your own but plan for risk accordingly.
- Instead of “Unfavorable Business Environment” how about “Rich Network and Growth System” – The Forbes article defines “Unfavorable Business Environment” as “less-established business networks, and social and traditional constraints”, which can be even more challenging in countries outside of the US. Turning this into a “positive to-do list” starts with developing a Rich Business Network. Where to start? If you are already in business, be sure to stay connected to people in your network. Build it into your calendar to ensure you make time for it. Touch base with current and past clients, vendors and/or customers. Build your network by asking great people in your network to introduce you to other great people in their network. Have coffee, be helpful, and be open to new and unexpected relationships. If you don’t have a network at all, now is as good a time as any to get going. Start with family and friends who have great business contacts and are willing to make introductions. And join the Chamber for the city you want to do business in, they are a great way to get connected to the business community. The second part of the definition is about social and traditional constraint which is more challenging in some countries versus others. In the US, this may be more driven by male dominated industries, so I would refer to #5 above and “Act Like You Belong”!
- Instead of “Timidity” how about “Bold and Courageous” – Marguerita Cheng, author of the Forbes article, said it well: “Humility is not shyness or timidity. Women need to stand by their success and let people around them recognize it.” Celebrate the good and the bad. Think to yourself, what is the worst that can happen if I make this bold move or if I have the courage to ask for support from someone important? Find a few women who may be in similar business situations and create opportunities to share with and support each other. Join women’s networks and get certified as a women owned business (check out WBENC certification here). We are your comrades and will welcome you with open arms.
I hope this perspective helps other Women Small Business Owners and even if all 8 points don’t apply to you, you might find a few nuggets that are useful. So, leverage your strengths as a woman, communicate and collaborate often, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. At The Marketing Posse, we worked with the SBDC to help guide us through the certification process and have been certified as a woman owned business since 2016. We are proud members of both WBENC and the Florida Office of Supplier Diversity.
1 WBENC Blog, Behind the Numbers, The State of Women Owned Business in 2018, posted Oct. 2018