There's Never a Right Time, So Why Not Right Now?
Sharon Owens Robustelli
For women looking to start businesses, there is never a right time, so why not now? While we continue to make strides, there are still myriad obstacles to overcome. To put this in perspective, just 50 years ago, there were only 402,000 women-owned businesses in the US. And as late as 1985, as the song "Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves" by Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox was climbing the charts, it would be three more years until many actually could. Indeed, in the late 1980s, individual state laws required women to have a male co-signer to secure a business loan.
If this was the situation for women in general, the picture for Black women was and continues to be wrought with even greater obstacles. Let’s fast forward to the present time. According to JPMorgan, 61 percent of Black women were forced to self-fund their businesses instead of securing a loan from a bank. In comparison, only 47 percent of white women self-fund their businesses.
Today, women's entrepreneurship is flourishing almost thirty-five years after passing the Women's Business Ownership Act, eliminating the aforementioned state laws. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, the U.S. has 12.3 million women-owned businesses, generating $1.8 trillion a year. And since the pandemic, there has been a 22% increase in Black female active business owners according to research by University of California economist Robert Fairlie. So clearly, we are doin’ it for ourselves despite the odds.
Several words come to mind when I think about my journey so far including passionate, hard-working, determined, and the one that particularly resonates with me - Resilient.
As Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange research suggests, as women business owners we often see the term "entrepreneur" as something beyond our reach which isn’t true. While each person's entrepreneurial journey is unique, there are some common barriers that will require you to call on your inner resilience. They are connection, valuation, and recalibration.
Here are three tips to navigate a successful path forward:
It can be daunting when you don't have regular contact with other business owners. Not only that; it can be counterproductive to making your company a success.
So, where to start? There are like-minded women who are starting businesses, and a number of groups designed for us to share ideas, obstacles, and motivation. Be quick to listen, share, and learn from others in your position. For example, listening to what resource centers and peer groups other women are a part of has proven incredibly helpful. I tend to check everything out and then select the ones that provide the most value for me. The next step is to make time to take advantage of these resources.
Here are a few:
● The Small Business Association (SBA) provides free to low-cost counseling and training and focuses on women who want to start, grow, and expand their businesses. The SBA has more than 100 Women’s Business Centers around the country, where women can receive training, mentoring, and more.
● The Urban League’s Entrepreneurship Center Program provides management counseling, mentoring, and training services geared toward developing management skills that will enable minority entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, obtain financing or contracts, and preserve or create jobs.
● Ladies Who Launch carries the mission to empower a global community of women and non-binary entrepreneurs by providing educational resources, funding, mentorship, networking, and community. They host experiential events and connect women through digital platforms.
● SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer expert mentors for entrepreneurs and small business owners, has a website designed especially for women that offers resources, tools, and confidential business advice. There are webinars, infographics, and blogs on topics such as winning federal contracts, and getting certified as a woman or minority-owned business.
I’ve found that as women, we tend to undervalue our work and are often unwilling to “take credit” for the knowledge and know-how we possess. I have certainly been guilty of celebrating the wins without celebrating the effort it took to make them happen.
Understanding the value of not only your time, but your knowledge and experience is a key to being able to communicate the value of your business. It’s helpful to have a simple value statement that clearly expresses what you and your business bring to the table. It concisely explains why a consumer or client should choose your business over others. Make sure you include facts about:
● Your target market
● Your competition
● What differentiates you from others in the field
● Your core values and mission
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant in life.” So if something isn’t working, find a new approach and keep moving your business forward.
Strategic planning is job number one for business owners. It is our guide for detailing our business and value proposition, our goals, and, importantly, potential obstacles. Unfortunately, this last point often leads business owners to abandon ship.
Don’t abandon the goal; recalibrate the strategy.
In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked with one of our nonprofit clients to quickly shift from in-person fundraising events to virtual ones. The team not only leveraged technology to livestream events, but took advantage of the opportunity to offer the events to new and prospective supporters around the country who otherwise would not have had access to what the organization offers.
As a result, 2020 events had record high attendance and donations increased 100% from the prior year. Today, the organization’s leadership is taking what they learned and recalibrating their strategies to transition into a long-term sustainable platform that integrates virtual and in-person events.
A few considerations to know when it’s time to recalibrate:
● Are your customers’ needs changing? Conduct regular focus groups or surveys to help identify changes in market trends and prepare to pivot accordingly.
● What contingency plans do you have in place for both recovery and continuity should your business stumble or face a major disruption to business as usual?
● Have you increased or added new capabilities that can help you attract new customers?
Make sure you’re taking stock of what you’ve learned and are adding that to your value proposition.
The future of women-owned businesses looks bright. So, while we're doin' it for ourselves, by incorporating these principles to remove the barriers of connection, valuation, and recalibration, we don't have continue to do it by ourselves.