Women entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing segment of business owners in the U.S. But, compared to male-owned businesses, women-owned businesses generally fail at a higher rate, employ fewer people and generate less revenue.
The reasons for the disparity are complicated and varied: difficulty in accessing capital, entrenched social norms, and differences in the industries male- and female-owned businesses tend to cluster are a few of the reasons behind the imbalance.
But some factors may have more to do with women’s internal landscape than external conditions.
"I spend 90% of my time traveling around the world talking with women and women entrepreneurs and exploring the challenges to women starting, growing or scaling a business. What I’ve found is that the number one reason is the lack of confidence," said Ingrid Vanderveldt, founder of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW2020) and Dell’s former entrepreneur-in-residence.
But, she added, "the antidote to a lack of confidence is simply action. We take action when we have mentors. This is why EBW2020 made it our top priority to connect women to mentors through our free mentor matching program"
Historically, men have held the helm in the business world, providing visible examples of what it means to be a leader. But, Vanderveldt said, that means women often struggle to find other female role models who can share their career paths and experiences.
"That’s what’s keeping women from coming in even more and from elevating to the corner office," she said. "We have a lack of role models but there certainly are amazing women out there creating amazing companies."
In a thoughtful post on Re/code, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy echoed that sentiment, highlighting the dearth of examples of women entrepreneurs in recent press coverage. Her piece focused on the tech industry, but her arguments could be applied across the business world.
Women entrepreneurs may be harder to spot in the media but they’re making powerful strides in real life. Here, six of them offer up their tips for taking your business to the next level:
Michelle Garcia, Owner of Heirloom Catering
There is no one who owns a company who knows all the answers or has all the skills. The best advice I could ever give anyone is to never be afraid to ask other people for their help or advice.
I have definitely not launched my business by myself. I’ve had a ton of support and a ton of great people who have supported me. You’re always going to find yourself at a roadblock, whether it’s learning about a sales tax, developing a new website, or creating a new marketing plan. Always just ask for help. It’s so simple and it sounds so trite but it’s true. People want to see a person be successful. The key to success is to help others succeed.
Before you file for anything, talk with an accountant and see if it’s humanly possible to hit the revenue goals before you start investing the time. The relationship you have with your accountant is very important, so find someone with the right experience and whom you trust.
My other piece of advice is to forge genuine connections with people inside and outside your industry. So much of our business is referral-based, one relationship can make or break your year. Be truly interested in them and try to cast a wide net.
Bridie Picot, CEO of Thing Industries
My advice to anyone with an idea for a startup would be to go ahead and start it. The more research you do upfront as to how much work is involved and how much you need to learn could easily put you off. I had no idea when I first started Thing and I'm glad I didn't! It's much easier to tackle new tasks once you've already got things going.
My father told me two things about owning a business when I was really young. He said: "Everyone is going to break your heart, and you’re generous. Don’t let anyone change that about you." He also said: "Owning a business is the loneliest endeavor in the world." He was right, and his advice made me feel less alone, and more blessed by the fact that my clients are business owners themselves, so it’s less lonely.
If there was anything I wish I knew starting out, it would be to not hire any middlemen—it’s just not worth it if it creates distance between you and your core team.
Carrie Spindler, Owner of Goodiebox Bake Shop
Cliffside Park, NJ
Define your business and your brand and commit to it—everything you do should be consistent with your business's identity. You simply cannot be all things to all people. This is especially important if you are starting a business with limited upfront capital. You may be tempted to do things outside of your scope in the interest of either driving business, or just paying the rent.
That's a very slippery slope that most entrepreneurs don't take into consideration at the outset. You can end up stretching yourself thin, or providing mediocre service because it's not what you do best. That said, I learned a lot about staying true to my product/service offerings and refraining from taking business that is not in my wheelhouse.
Christine: "Keep a healthy balance. Starting a new business can consume you to a level that’s not healthy—keep a balance so that you’re still in touch with family and friends."
Jennifer: "Don’t let what you don’t know scare you. There’s so much that we have taught ourselves. And there’s so much that you can learn if you have the passion to learn it. But you’ve got to be prepared to work. We look at each other and, combined, we’re putting in unspeakable hours—but every one of them is worth it because we love the business."
Amy Vetter is the global vice president of education and head of accounting-USA at Xero, an online accounting software for small businesses.