Each October, the U.S. celebrates National Women in Small Business Month. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses are making a positive impact on the American small business landscape. Data shows that since 2007, the number of women-owned firms has grown at five times the national average, with 1,072 new women-owned firms starting every day.
Women are currently majority owners of 38% of U.S. small businesses, up from 29% in 2007, with these businesses employing nearly 9 million people and generating more than $1.6 trillion in revenue each year.
While we recognize the contributions and successes of female small business owners in our country, the road for women entrepreneurs is only going uphill. By 2020, women are expected to control more than $22 trillion dollars. Many women have turned to entrepreneurship to follow their passion, gain flexibility, and/or take control of their future and their earning power. Sadly, around 20% of small businesses, in general, fail in the first year, and 50% do not survive beyond five years. Here's what women entrepreneurs can do to avoid falling into this disheartening statistic.
1. Do what you love and love what you do. Have a strong passion for what you do and you will be good at it. If you are truly happy at work, you won't have to drag yourself out of bed every morning, and you'll find the time flying by during the day. Your optimism will radiate and positively influence the people around you.
2. Be generous with you time for clients, and strive for the highest quality in everything you do. Personalize and customize your work for each client. You don't want to create generic plans and ideas that apply to everyone, just because it saves time. A small amount of extra effort goes a long way. Clients will appreciate the attention and detail you have provided to tailor your services to their needs. Even a handwritten "thank you" card can make a difference.
3. Network. Women face challenges, including breaking into male dominated networks, finding mentors and gaining access to outside funding. Networking hard is the best way to market yourself and reach individuals who can help and support your business. By meeting other people, not only can you advertise your products and services, but you will learn what makes some businesses thrive and others crash and burn. Networking events are a great way to connect with other businesses owners to share ideas.
4. Fake it 'til you become it. This idea was recently popularized by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. Through her research on nonverbal expressions, she provides insights on what we can do to influence our own minds, and although it may be cliché, positive thinking really can change your outlook and your behavior which then positively influences your thinking. Focus on how you would like to see yourself in your business until you embody that vision. Try a power pose when times get tough, as they inevitably will.
5. Listen to feedback. Always be open to positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback reinforces a job well done and helps build a certain level of confidence. Try to allow the positive to sink in as deeply as the negative inevitably will. But criticism can be just as important as praise because it highlights areas for growth and may elicit ideas to stimulate your business.
6. Create an inspiring work environment. Surround yourself with things you love: pictures of family and friends, walls painted in your favorite color or a beautifully scented candle. Being surrounded by these relaxing and cheerful elements every day will make you feel motivated and inspired to press on with your work.
7. Hire a motivated staff. Successful businesses are always a collaborative effort, so make sure to hire a motivated staff that understands and shares your business goals. Working toward a common goal will unite and encourage your team. If you have an employee that doesn't share your vision, you may have to let them go before they infect your other team members and become a liability.
8. Never lose curiosity for learning new things. Seek fresh inspiration and always be open to new growth opportunities. Don't be afraid to break your routine, as small changes in your daily patterns can lead to invigorating experiences and creative thought patterns. The businesses that succeed are always looking to tweak their operations and products to make them better.
9. Set goals. Always set personal and business objectives. Goals give you something to work towards and leave you feeling accomplished when they are achieved. And don't be afraid to ask for help! If you are feeling lost or discouraged, sometimes all you need is a new objective, and goal setting will help to get you back on track.
10. Maintain the balance between work and life. Even if you love your work and want to channel all your energy into it, don't forget to prioritize family and loved ones. Spending time with them will give you the support and encouragement you need to achieve your goals at work. Some entrepreneurs give up because they become workaholics, burn out, and stop loving their work.
11. Have a business financial plan and personal financial plan. Most businesses that fail simply run out of cash. Make sure that you are tracking all your income and expenses so that you can review your financials on a monthly basis, at least. Be a Scrooge when it comes to parting with your cash, every dollar that stays in the coffers flows down to your business' bottom line and, eventually, your pocket. Review your office leases, supplies, equipment purchases, phone usage, etc., for opportunities to cut down or eliminate costs. However, do not cut back on essential costs that are required for long-term business growth.
You can also set up your own tax-advantaged retirement program, and you may be able to contribute to a Roth or Traditional IRA, as well as a 401(k), SEP IRA or Keogh Plan. Business health is also a function of your personal financial health. Many business owners are consumed with the finances of their business but ignore their personal balance sheets.
With more women than ever starting their own business, and with the increasing rate of success of these businesses, one could surmise that women may especially be well suited for entrepreneurship.
— By Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial