Personal Finance

Three women who started successful businesses reveal six top mistakes women make 

Key Points
  • If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, here’s what three CEOs advise.
  • Misconceptions are common, the CEOs say, and include thinking you have to have everything figured out in advance.
  • Women work in the gig economy for several things, but flexibility is the clear favorite.

It makes sense that women would dive into the gig economy with enthusiasm.

Side hustles and gigs are perfect when you want flexibility, the chance to control your own destiny and get a taste of entrepreneurship.

And that is exactly what three CEOs found when they joined forces to poll 1,000 of their female workers. They conducted their survey online in July to get a better understanding of how women feel about the gig economy.

"It's not a competition between traditional work and a side hustle," said Anna Zornosa, CEO and founder of the shapewear and fashion site Ruby Ribbon. The company has had year-over-year growth of 60 percent to 100 percent since starting in 2012, Zornosa says.

Anna Zornosa 
Source: Anna Zornosa

Most of the survey respondents already work full-time or part-time – the side hustle is for extra income. And nearly half of the women who answered make $19 or more per hour.

"A lot of women simply want to work in a flexible fashion they can control," Zornosa said.

Most of the providers on Fran Maier's baby gear rental site are moms.

"The No. 1 reason they have a side hustle is so that they can have more time with their children, while also earning a rewarding income," she said.

BabyQuip is available in more than 250 markets, and Maier says the company's revenue is in the millions of dollars over the past year.

Fran Maier
Source: Fran Maier

Running a business through an existing site is a chance to become an entrepreneur, Zornosa says.

Some people will continue on with a gig, and some may want to strike out on their own.

Making the leap to CEO and founder is big, but others have done it and offer up tons of useful advice.

It's natural to pick something you're passionate about.

Lynn Perkins, CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter, a platform that connects babysitters with parents through community recommendations, loves matchmaking. "I was frequently introducing my mom friends to nannies and sitters," she said.

Lynn Perkins, CEO of UrbanSitter

UrbanSitter was the natural result of Perkins' search for a more efficient way to connect parents and childcare providers, while building in recommendations from friends. Revenue for the last two years is around $270 million, based on 3 million hours of babysitting, according to Perkins.

In some ways, it's never been easier for women to start businesses. With organizations like Women's Startup Lab in Silicon Valley, Girls in Tech and W2.0, support and resources are plentiful.

You probably don't need to spend a ton on so-called executive clothes. Maier said. "It's OK to be more casual," Maier said. "It can signal that you are working hard and that you are more confident. Certainly the boys don't dress up."

Watch out for other roadblocks that can trip you up – some of these are attitudes that may come more easily to men. From convincing male investors that your product and idea are valuable to presenting yourself in the best possible light, Maier, Perkins and Zornosa have great advice on navigating what is still predominantly a male world.

Don't apologize

Maier credits another entrepreneur, Margot Schmorak, CEO of Hostfully, with this bit of advice.

"She doesn't say, I'm sorry," Maier said.

Of course you should apologize in your personal life. But in business, no. Women say it a lot, and it can cut into their standing.

Whether you're late to a meeting or you've slipped up on your numbers, don't apologize.

"It's really powerful to take that out of your vocabulary," Maier said.

Entrepreneur: Not enough funding going into women's businesses
Entrepreneur: Not enough funding going into women's businesses

Don't over-explain

How you speak and present yourself matters. Even emails can make a difference.

"Women write longer emails justifying [business decisions]," Maier said. But that need to over-explain can come off as insecurity.

"Men write shorter emails: boom, send," Maier said.

Don't forget your top investor

Here's a common question from young women who want to start a business: "What data do I have to have to get an investor?"

Wrong question, Zornosa says. Since you're the one who will have to cancel trips and go without sleep, "the biggest investor is you," she said.

In other words, frame the question and answer with yourself at the center. "What data do you need to have to make sure that year after year, this is the right investment for you to make?" Zornosa said.

Ask what has to happen for the investment to pay off, and ask what it will cost you.

Don't be a tightwad

A cliché, but true: It takes money to make money, Maier says.

If you want to succeed at being a supplier on the BabyQuip platform, for instance, you'll need to spend money for cribs or playpens that are of good quality.

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In addition to equipment, you might want to spend money on marketing materials to spread the word. If spending money is difficult, you might look at it as investing in yourself.

Don't get hung up by perfection

"Aim for excellent, not perfect," said Perkins of UrbanSitter.

If she stopped to nail down every single aspect of how her platform would work, Perkins says she would have missed a key metric.

Perkins knew she wanted recommendations from friends to figure into choosing child care providers. But it turned out that contacts from the provider turned out to be good substitutes.

"By starting with 'good' we wound up with a better product," she said. "If you put out something incomplete you can learn more." It's a tough lesson, but you need to take in feedback and fold that into your model.

Don't flinch

Let's say you're in front of a roomful of investors. The last thing an investor wants to see is any hint of uncertainty.

"They want to see total passion, commitment and confidence," Maier said. "Unfortunately, many women are uncomfortable saying they have everything well in hand when they don't."

Practice your pitch with friends, of course, but even investors who may not be the right fit can provide constructive feedback, Perkins says.