What are some of the most prominent challenges women-owned small business owners face, and how do you overcome them?
To help women entrepreneurs and small business owners overcome their challenges, we asked founders and CEOs this question for their best advice. From finding the right network to securing funding, there are several challenges and tips to overcome them that may help you feel seen and supported as a woman in business.
Below are 12 challenges female small business owners face and solutions to overcome them.
Finding the Right Network
After hundreds of hours spent at various networking groups, I struggled as a woman to find a community where I felt I truly belonged. Time and again, I was told that I was too young and inexperienced or looked down upon because I was a woman networking in an older man's world. This challenge disappeared as soon as I found a group called Women Belong. Even the name told me I was in the right place. As soon as I tapped into a community with other strong and empowered female leaders, I knew I was in the right place!
Audrey Hutnick, Smallwave Marketing
When I started B.Komplete, I was the one doing just about all of the content development, programming, and more. There would be times when I would work on one PowerPoint slide for hours until I realized that no one besides me would notice if the font were "exactly" the proper size or if the shade of the background was a little too bright. When I let go of the idea of perfectionism, I gained massive productivity and business growth. Perfect is boring! And one of my mantras now is, "good enough, move on."
Beryl Krinsky, B.Komplete
Achieving a Work-life Balance
As business leaders, it is often difficult to have a work-life balance. With the added responsibilities of being a wife, mom, and caregiver to our families, there is never enough time in the day. When it comes to business, you have to show up and do your best work every day and support your team in the process. Each day there is so much responsibility on our shoulders that we can't take for granted. While these roles and responsibilities are a blessing, they ultimately challenge our ability to find and maintain a work-life balance.
Alisha Taylor, Alisha Taylor Interiors
Fear of Failure
Female entrepreneurs face much more scrutiny than males, preying on their confidence and amplifying the fear of failure. I believe a fear of failure is natural, but giving in to it is never an option for me. I have too much to do and too many goals to achieve to let this kind of fear paralyze me. Rather than let it rule me, I use my fear of failure as fuel for my continued success.
Vanessa Molica, The Lash Professional
Don't Be Shy, Speak Up
Being taken seriously is sometimes a challenge. I'm a blond, Southern woman, so I'm immediately stereotyped before I even utter a word. To overcome this challenge, I entered every business meeting and interviewed prepared. I know my company inside and out, and I'm not afraid to show my expertise. I don't believe you can be shy if you want to be a successful woman entrepreneur. You have to find your voice and speak up for yourself.
Katie Lyon, Allegiance Flag Supply
Working in a Male-dominated Industry
I was working at a tech startup with an overwhelming number of male employees, which occasionally brought in an unbalanced spirit. Meetings, communication, and the entire company culture are different when there's a lot of testosterone on the table. Sometimes that's fun to watch, but it's generally rather exhausting. I had the idea of building a women's group with two other ladies (four, actually, at that time). We mainly discussed our thoughts on how we could have a stronger voice in the company, for example, by bringing in female engineers and promoting more women to leadership positions.
Saskia Ketz, Mojomox
Gender-based stereotypical prejudice, including my team, was one common challenge I faced at the initial stages of my entrepreneurship journey. In those early days, I quickly realized that some employees had a problem with a woman making all the decisions and telling them what to do. Such employees were also prone to misconstruing my intentions or actions and actively sabotaging my efforts. I had employees like this in my team who made the work environment toxic and ineffective. I had to let go of some of these staff members because they refused to change and be better. From this experience, I also learned how to identify and dismiss interviewees who would find it problematic to have a female employer if granted employment. This saved the rest of my staff and me the trouble of dealing with such people. As a result, we haven't experienced a problem of this kind since this initial experience.
Lisa Richards, The Candida Diet
The Loneliness of Being a Solopreneur
This isn't limited to female small business owners only. Anyone starting as a solopreneur or operating as a company-of-one for many years understands this challenge. You don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of, someone to brainstorm on a new brand strategy, or someone you can turn to when something doesn't work out as planned. When I experienced this myself, I initiated three things to overcome this challenge. One, I joined different communities where I could connect with other solopreneurs. Two, I reached out to people I met within those communities to who I felt an instant connection to chat one-on-one and then set up regular check-in calls afterward to stay in touch. Three, I organized coworking events with other solopreneurs.
Leang Chung, Pelora Stack
Lack of Respect for My Expertise and Experience
One of the common challenges I face in my industry is the lack of respect for my expertise and experience. Clients are generally more inclined to consult my husband regarding our products and services despite having the same level of experience as him on the field.
Overcoming it was not easy, but working on my communication skills has greatly helped change our clients' views on my role in the company. Commanding the respect I deserve can be translated through clear and confident delivery of my knowledge and expertise in this industry.
Georgia McBroom, Camper FAQS
Continue Showing Up
One of the most challenging parts of being a small business owner is staying the course. In 8 years of business ownership, I have found that the least glamorous part about making a business work is showing up every day and doing the work.
We know that consistent action in our vision is how we can get where we want to go. However, as a leader, you often have less external structure and accountability to hold you to your commitments by default. This usually means we have to be self-starting and very disciplined, even on the days we're not motivated.
Building a successful marketing strategy, client pipeline, sales process, cash flow system, product, etc., is all the result of showing up every day and doing the work that needs to be done. It's not glamorous, but it works.
I have the mindset to show up and do the work every day. That mantra keeps me on course to achieve my big dreams, one day at a time.
Jen Hope, Hey Jen Hope
Bias, Bigotry, and Bullying
These are all part of the same challenge. As a female small business owner, I frequently find myself dealing with people who still, in 2022, think I'm the admin. I've had people breeze past my introduction, hand me their card, and very brusquely say they'd love to speak with the owner. Not only is this incredibly ignorant on their part when women own 31% of small businesses, but if that's how you treat my admin, we won't be doing business. It bothers me that we have to incentivize people through diversity metrics to work with women business owners. Still, until the double standards evaporate (and this is true no matter what non-dominant groups you're a member of), it's sadly true that assumptions like this are alive and well. I overcome it by making it abundantly clear I am a woman-owned business on my website and other marketing materials. We don't necessarily need "Lady Boss" bumper stickers, but we need to represent our organizations as leaders proudly.
Sarah Ratekin, Happiness Is Courage
A common challenge that I face is accessing funding. The money allocated to women-led founders is abysmal. The funding that is accessible to women of color is even worse. To gain the funding that I need to run my organization. I had to network, build relationships, and join communities that were not only supportive but offered resources.
Alicia White, Project Petals
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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.