According to the World Economic Forum, 2023 will see a new form of entrepreneurship emerge–one that is “more diverse, more socially-minded, and not afraid to multi-hustle.” This new age of business ownership sounds like a perfect environment for women entrepreneurs to flourish in since they come to business ownership with an abundance of courage, tenacity, and innovation.
My dad owned a small business, as did my grandfathers and uncles. So, in 2008 I felt pretty good about starting my own business and thought I could get my company off the ground without a hitch. Many years later, I look back and laugh at the casualness with which I launched my new venture, but I am proud of the company I’ve built and what I’ve learned riding the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship.
Here are 14 tips for aspiring women entrepreneurs I’ve learned over the years:
- Get Networking
This is almost nothing more powerful for aspiring entrepreneurs than the reach and help of their network. Think of all the people you know (friends, relatives, current and former co-workers, fellow soccer moms, or people you know from the yoga, etc.) who possibly can help you get started—or know someone who can. In addition, networking with contacts in different industries can help you narrow your focus on the type of business you want to start and get a realistic view of entrepreneurship.
- Be a Joiner...
Once you narrow your choices, join relevant organizations, go to trade shows and other events, and find local networking groups, where you can hopefully expand your network…
- ...and a Pest
I don’t mean you should stalk other women business owners, but do reach out to the women you want to emulate in your community. Most women entrepreneurs are mindful of the challenges of business startup and happy to give advice and help other women succeed.
- Find a Mentor
Mentorship is crucial—particularly if you’re starting in a new industry. A SCORE mentor can help you navigate all phases of business ownership and can often connect you with other key players, such as vendors or suppliers.
- Form a Pod
I have always tried to surround myself with people I trust and rely on them for advice and support. In return, I support them. Don’t hesitate to ask for favors (when we first started, I subleased space in a friend’s office at a discount).
These people have stuck with me through my business’s startup phase and as my company has grown. Your pod doesn’t need to consist only of women—mine doesn’t—but the women in my pod are badass and brave.
- Save for Startup
I immediately learned that starting a business is more expensive than you think. If you can keep your current job while you plan your startup--and save, save, save as much money as you can, so you’re not caught short. Startup funding is hard to get whether you’re a man or a woman (though typically, it is harder for women), so it’s smart to build and keep an emergency fund in the bank for unexpected expenses.
- Barter for Services
Initially, it’s always a good idea to trade skills with other businesses when you need help and can’t afford to pay for it. For example, if you know a good graphic designer, you can offer to assist with their marketing copy or accounting services in exchange for a new logo.
- Promote Yourself as a Women Business Owner
Consumers want to support women business owners, particularly other women. Make sure you are the face of your company and that your story is a part of your marketing efforts. Create an “About Me” page on your website and tell your audience what makes you tick. Then spread the news across social media.
- Hire Slowly
It’s expensive to hire an entire staff when starting, so consider using part-time employees, independent contractors, and interns. Not only will you save some money, but you’ll give yourself time to figure out exactly what roles you need to fill in your company to make it a success.
Hiring slowly doesn’t mean you should do everything yourself. Many women have a problem delegating because they’ve personalized their businesses and tasks so much that they feel no one can do them as well as they can. Focus on the big picture and delegate the smaller jobs to someone else.
- Manage Your Time
I’m going to be brutally honest: There is no life/work balance when starting a business. This can be a massive trigger for guilt in women—especially those with families to raise. Women still tend to handle the bulk of household responsibilities, which takes valuable time away from investing in their businesses. It’s okay to ask for help! Tell your family and friends you may need extra support during your business’s startup stages and let go of the guilt.
And full disclosure: To this day, I still struggle with managing my time.
- Get Used to Hearing No
Starting a business is exciting and one of the most fulfilling things you’ll ever do. But it can also be heartbreaking and full of rejection. Be prepared to be told “no” more times than you’ve ever heard the word. My advice is to follow the wise words of Taylor Swift—“shake it off” and keep on going.
- There is No Such Thing as Perfection
So many women are stymied in their startup pursuits because many of us were raised to be good little girls, play by the rules, get straight A’s, and be perfect. Unfortunately, this aim for perfection follows us into business. That can be a significant roadblock.
One of the best pieces of advice I received early on was from a successful female entrepreneur. She said, “My mother raised me not to talk to strangers and never ask people for money. Then I grew up, started a business, and found out that I not only had to talk to strangers, but I had to ask some of them for money!”
I’ve learned that striving for perfection can be a waste of time and money. Sometimes good enough is good enough. That’s one of the lessons of the lean startup: launch BEFORE you think you’re ready. And keep iterating.
- Be Confident
It’s hard, especially for women, to overcome the fear of failure (see #12). But that’s what your pod, mentors, and network are for—to remind you of your value.
To use an adage: “Fake it till you make it.” It may sound hyperbolic, but everyone fakes it at one point or another. And faking it actually helps you build your confidence. And once you believe in yourself, others will believe in you, too.
The Glenn W. Bailey Foundation serves Florida, New York, Connecticut and DC area organizations working to help us realize our vision and continue our mission of fostering pathways to success in STEM careers and entrepreneurial opportunities. Our Foundation’s focus also includes solving complex environmental and high-mortality disease research funding issues.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.