LOVE being a Woman in Business
By Kathey Porter, MBA, CPSD
There has been no better time to be a woman in business than now! It is no secret that women entrepreneurs are crushing it when it comes to starting businesses. Yet, for all of our enthusiasm and passion, women still lag when it comes to critical indicators for long-term success. While there are many societal and socio-economic challenges that contribute to this gap, generally, women entrepreneurs tend to have the least access to strategic networks and successfully find a mentor, are least likely to be funded or have sufficient operating capital, and are challenged to scale and reach $1 million in revenues. According to the National Women’s Business Council, there are more than 10 million women-owned businesses in the US, making up more than a third of the nation’s privately-held businesses. Yet only 3.4 percent of women-owned firms generate $500,000 or more in annual revenues.
In my experience as a supplier diversity director and strategic business development consultant, I have interacted with and advised a number of small businesses on winning contracts with organizations. Here are a few of my takes on how women can overcome these challenges and make being a woman owned business work for them!
Go where you are welcomed
Many women-owned businesses fall into two categories (1) not aware of opportunities and programs that exist to help women-owned businesses do business with corporations, universities, and government (federal, state local,) or (2) are too intimidated and afraid to pursue these opportunities. One of the best ways that women entrepreneurs can strategically scale and grow their businesses is through their interaction with supplier diversity programs. Supplier Diversity is a proactive business program, which encourages the use of minority-, women-, veteran-, LGBT-owned businesses, and other distinctive categories of small business vendors or suppliers. From the federal government to corporations and higher education institutions across the country, there are programs that support the development and success rates of these businesses and specifically seek to increase the amount business they are doing with these groups. This focus is not about being nice…it is a business imperative. Specifically, women are the primary purchasers, spending $7 trillion a year and are getting a higher number of professional degrees – 58 and 60 percent of bachelor’ degrees and master’s degrees, respectively. It is only natural that they would become an important force when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Realize events are OUR golf courses
We have all heard the phrase, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” I’ve come to learn not only is this statement true, it also extends to how men and women do business. While this does not mean that one way is better than the other, it confirms our different styles for communicating and collaborating. I recently had a conversation with a colleague and she expressed her weariness about the number of conferences and events for women, and went on to say she was experiencing “event fatigue.” As an attendee, speaker (and host) of many events for women entrepreneurs, I reflected on that statement and totally understood her perspective. However, I recalled that women have a history of congregating, whether engaging in activities, addressing community issues or talking about the latest news around town. Only in the last few years has this congregating evolved to talk about business and professional opportunities. Women are still new to this game and playing catch up. While I agreed that it could sometimes be overwhelming, these events serve a critical purpose in the continued success for women. I can remember not long ago, and even, early in my career, outside of sororities, there were few, if any, organizations or events centered on the success of women in business. The key to preventing “event overload” is to be strategic about expected outcomes. Men are old hands at this game. For years, they discussed business and made deals on the golf course, at the cigar bar, the strip club (yes, that still goes on) or some other establishment. While most of these women’s events are never exclusionary, they are OUR golf courses (and, I usually see a forward thinking man or two in the audience).
Think outside the “mentor vision” box
It is no secret that having a mentor is critical for business success. Yet, many women lament finding a mentor as one of their biggest challenges. Even though women are climbing the corporate ranks, starting businesses and achieving success across industries like never before, sometimes women have to be strategic when it comes to finding and establishing mentor relationships. For starters, women should think outside the “mentor vision” box, or look beyond the specific vision they have for what their mentor looks like, how the relationship will develop, and the role the mentor will play. Mentor relationships can take many forms including formal or informal; career, company, or industry specific; long standing or short-term, to name a few. In reality, this could be ANYONE that expresses an interest and commences activation in your long-term success. After all, you are in search of a mentor, not your next bff.
Understand Scalable is the new ‘Black’
Many women tend to start a business following a passion. However, this does not always equate to a successful, scalable (or profitable) business model. Additionally, there is a considerable lag between funding between businesses for women and men entrepreneurs. There is a direct correlation between the scalability of a business and the ability to get funding (note, this is one of the first questions on Shark Tank). Developing a business model that incorporates a business-to-business strategy is key to building a business that is scalable and, thus, attractive to institutional investors, venture capitalist and other funding sources.
Women entrepreneurs will continue to play an integral role in the continued growth of the business community. Women embracing themselves as entrepreneurs, developing a deliberate business strategy, and leveraging their status as a woman-owned business can ensure that women are not just leading in business starts but building viable and sustainable businesses that can last.