Each year, more women head out on their own as entrepreneurs.
Women currently are majority owners of 39% of U.S. small businesses, a 45% increase from 2007 to 2016, according to SCORE, a network of volunteer business mentors sponsored by the Small Business Administration. These businesses employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.6 trillion in revenue each year.
Women entrepreneurs have an uphill road, says certified financial planner Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial in New York. “Around 20% of small businesses, in general, fail in the first year, and 50% do not survive beyond five years,” she said.
The pandemic has been especially tough on small businesses. Seventy percent are concerned about financial hardship on the heels of prolonged closures, according to the July MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll, and 58% said they worry they will have to close permanently.
Even in the best of times, funding is a common headwind. “Most businesses that fail simply run out of cash,” Francis said. She advises creating a business financial plan, as well as a personal financial plan. “Make sure you are tracking all your income and expenses so that you can review your financials on a monthly basis, at least.”
Women who take the entrepreneurial leap may find it’s easier than ever, at least when it comes to support and resources.
Organizations such as Women’s Startup Lab offer online learning. Women 2.0 aims to make an impact on gender equality in the world of tech companies and startups. Entrepreneurs can look to Girls in Tech for funding and mentorship, as well as coding boot camps and leadership training.
And plenty of women who have started thriving businesses are eager to share advice on what works and what doesn’t.
From convincing male investors that your product and idea are valuable to presenting yourself in the best possible light, here’s advice from three women who have successfully navigated a predominantly male business world.
1. Don’t forget your top investor
Young women who want to start a business often ask, “What data do I have to have to get an investor?”
Wrong question, says Anna Zornosa, founder of the shapewear and fashion site Ruby Ribbon.
Since you’re the one who will have to cancel trips and go without sleep, “the biggest investor is you,” said Zornosa, who says her site had year-over-year growth of 60% to 100% after starting in 2012.
What data do you need to have to make sure that, year after year, this is the right investment for you to make?
In other words, frame the question — and answer it — 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?” she said.
Ask what has to happen for the investment to pay off, and ask what it will cost you.
2. Don’t drown in details
“Aim for excellent, not perfect,” said Lynn Perkins, CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter, a platform that connects babysitters with parents through community recommendations.
Perkins’ company started in 2010.
Stopping to nail down every single aspect of how her platform would work might have caused her to miss a key metric, Perkins says.
She 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.
3. Don’t apologize
Fran Maier, CEO of rental site BabyQuip, credits another entrepreneur, Margot Schmorak, CEO of Hostfully, with this bit of advice.
“She doesn’t say, ‘I’m sorry,’” said Maier, who said her company’s revenue is in the millions of dollars. She started the business in 2016.
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.
4. Don’t over-explain
How you speak and present yourself matters. Even emails can send the right or wrong message.
“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.
5. 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 her BabyQuip platform, for instance, you’ll need to spend money on high-quality cribs or playpens. You might want to buy marketing materials or pay an expert to help spread the word.
If spending money is difficult, you might look at it as investing in yourself.
6. 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.