More women than ever before are grabbing the reins and starting their own businesses. The number of women-owned small businesses is growing approximately twice as quickly as the national average for all start-ups.
For entrepreneurs of all stripes -- women and men included -- the pre-start-up phase is typically characterized by a flood of questions about what exactly it takes to make it in business. Are there different answers to these questions for men versus women? Not really. Every business needs to be based on a solid idea, aimed at a profitable market or niche, have solid systems in place, and market itself effectively. And of course, the legal and bureaucratic rules facing women entrepreneurs are exactly the same as those facing men.
But as many women business owners will tell you, the road to success for women often involves its own unique set of curves. Surveys of women business owners show that women's business concerns tend to skew towards issues such as finding work-life balance, start-up (or expansion) financing, and marketing. The following tips address some of the issues and concerns that are most commonly faced by women entrepreneurs.
- Start a business that works for you and fits with your personal life. There are no rules as to what a "real" business looks like. For some businesspeople, success might mean an international operation with hundreds of employees and annual revenues in the tens of millions. For others, a small consulting firm or artisan business that pays a healthy salary and allows generous personal freedom might be considered the pinnacle of success. The key is to take the time early in the planning process to consider this question and decide for yourself what your ideal vision is for your business and your personal life.
You can usually start a sole proprietorship (the legal term for a one-owner business) or a partnership (a business with more than one owner) by registering with just one government office. And for business owners who want protection from personal liability for business debts -- often referred to by the legal jargon "limited liability" -- the simplest corporations or limited liability companies (LLCs) require only a couple more registration tasks to complete.
Of course, there's a lot more to launching a successful small business than dealing with bureaucratic requirements. For starters, you'll need to have a sound business idea, and you'll need to be able to develop good management skills to guide it to success. This is where you should put your mental energy and good ideas; don't waste precious brain cells worrying about the legal hurdles.
Also, though it's important to start your business with enough capital, that doesn't mean that every business needs piles and piles of money to get off the ground. Plenty of mega-successful businesses were started on a shoestring: Apple Computer started in a garage; Hewlett-Packard started in the dining room of the Packard home; the list goes on and on. Generally speaking, a business that can find creative, thrifty ways to provide its product or service -- especially in its early days -- will typically find more success than a business that adopts a "spend more money" approach.
Two resources that women should definitely look into are Women's Business Centers and community development financial institutions. Women's Business Centers (WBCs) exist nationwide and focus on supporting women entrepreneurs through business training and counseling, and access to credit and capital, among other services. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which are certified by the U.S. Treasury, are a fast-growing segment of the business financing market specializing in loans to underserved communities and populations. CDFIs usually -- but not always -- have a specific focus such as improving economic opportunities in blighted communities or supporting women- or minority-owned entrepreneurs. Both WBCs and CDFIs can be especially helpful for start-ups, businesses with poor credit, and businesses seeking relatively small loans, generally up to100,000. Even better, they often offer guidance and expertise to your business in addition to financing, which will help your chances of success.
As an example, the fabulous nonprofit where I teach entrepreneurship classes -- WESST in Albuquerque -- is both a WBC and a CDFI. It offers a wide range of high-quality classes on business planning, financial management, and marketing, plus offers loans and one-on-one counseling. With an organization like WESST on its side, a business gets a major boost in its chances of success.
I look at networking more as a self-employed lifestyle than a specific activity. You are "networking" every time you attend an event held by a local trade association, get to know other business owners and community leaders, send an email introducing two of your contacts to each other, write a letter to the editor, participate in an online discussion group, or have lunch with another local business owner.