Female entrepreneurs: Five strategies for overcoming barriers to business
Posted: Thu 7th Jan 2021
Did you know that women are grossly underrepresented as business owners, with three times as many businesses owned by men? And that women are over-represented in solopreneurship, with the majority of solopreneurs being women?
Another fact: the number-one reason that women with children start a business is to gain more flexibility for family care, meaning that more self-employed women work part-time compared to men (53% versus 17%).
In this situation, it is pretty unrealistic to expect women to build, grow and scale businesses at the same rate as men, even though we know that, according to our own Academy for Women Entrepreneurs data, more than 70% of women solopreneurs and micro-business owners want to grow their businesses.
COVID + the system = problems
We've witnessed this ambition first-hand through the work we've been doing throughout COVID-19.
I also heard the phrase "I became a stay-at-home mother overnight", with many women solopreneurs and micro-business owners having to drop their businesses and get back home to become tutors, cooks, cleaners, housekeepers and caregivers – while their partners had to be on Zoom calls from 7am!
The system, as it is, is not empowering women solopreneurs or micro-business owners to take their businesses to the next level. And this isn't just the case for those with families. The barriers to fundraising, access to networks and access to training or coaching are other reasons why women are not scaling their businesses at the same rate as men.
Acknowledging the reality of women entrepreneurship
This is the society and the system we live in, so providing 'how to grow and scale your business' advice would be a little bit presumptuous without first acknowledging the current reality of women entrepreneurship.
So, first and foremost I would like to take a moment to celebrate all women solopreneurs and micro-business owners for their resourcefulness, resilience and strength in the face of these challenges.
On a related note, I recently attended the re-inauguration of WEgate, an EU initiative to support women in starting, building and scaling successful businesses. The opening speech was inspiring. In essence, the message was "stop trying to fix women, instead fix the system… but let's admit, the change will come from within".
Five ways women entrepreneurs can take their business forward
1. Have an entrepreneur's mindset
I believe business growth can only happen if the entrepreneur is mentally ready to make it happen. If you're in the mindset of simply wanting to earn a 'good enough' income, I would suggest you go out and look for a job.
There are much easier ways than entrepreneurship to earn 'good enough' income. If you're in business, I strongly suggest examining what you have created as a profitable asset that can survive and thrive without you being in it.
This is the famous 'work on the business' mindset. Here are the main mindset ingredients for this to happen:
Conviction: Your belief in the fact that your dream business is possible and you can make it happen
Desire: You really want this
Commitment: You're ready to give 100% and find solutions to all challenges
2. Keep doubt at a distance by having a plan
Your energy, motivation and mood will fluctuate day by day. You'll face adversity and challenges. When the road is bumpy and things go wrong, the most common thing that happens to women entrepreneurs is that doubt and lack of confidence creep in.
Don't get me wrong, many male entrepreneurs I've coached suffer from the same scenario, but they are better trained socially to deal with doubt and failure. Entrepreneurship is a journey during which you take a lot of wrong turns, fall flat on your face and spend sleepless nights.
The only way to keep doubt at a safe distance, keep on top of things and prioritise in a strategic way is to have a plan. A dream that you can transform into a tangible goal, a strategic roadmap to get there, and a detailed, timely action plan.
This is the only way that you can make progress beyond the dark days of doubt. So, know your business type, size, your turnover, and make strategic planning and regular assessments an entrepreneurial habit.
3. Dedicate half your efforts to promotion
When I say 'promotion' I mean marketing in a large sense, and not just what you post on social media every once in a while.
Solopreneurs and/or micro-businesses who are serious about growth should dedicate at least half of their efforts (time, energy, budget) to promotional activities: marketing, sales, networking, speaking in front of your audience.
You must track and measure every single activity and make strategic adjustments where needed to ensure everything you do is providing value to you and your business.
4. Don't underestimate people power
Never underestimate the power of people, whether it's your clients, your team, or someone you meet on a plane.
Here's a little story for you: I have a client who had a handmade chocolate business in Paris. One day, she decided to fly to Belgium for a special truffle workshop with a renowned chef.
She sat next to a stranger on the Eurostar and they began talking about her business. When they arrived, she handed over her business card and a box of her chocolates. That stranger is now her main investor and helped take her business to a national level, making her the number-one supplier to one of the biggest luxury patisseries in France.
I have three philosophies when it comes to people:
Don't be afraid to expand your network. It only feels daunting the first time, then slowly strangers become your people.
Be generous and give authentically.
Don't be shy… ask! The worst-case scenario is they might say no.
5. Focus on the cash
Women-owned businesses unfortunately don't grow at the same rate as men. One of the main reasons is the fact that women are more risk averse when it comes to financial decisions.
On the other hand, women-owned businesses' survival rates are much higher. So what if we don't like to gamble or 'take risks'? Why don't we just ensure that we take the risk factor out of our financial decisions?
One strategy for doing this starts with planning. You have to financially plan for your business. And when doing your financial planning, focus on the cash: turnover is vanity, cash is reality.
So, let me ask you one thing, if you did a cash-flow forecast that showed you exactly how much cash you'll have in your bank account in six months' time – best and worst-case scenarios – would you still be afraid to invest in that special marketing tool that will actually allow you to grow your company?
When it comes to finance, grab the bull by the horns and transform your 'risk awareness' into a superpower!