I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. In part, that could be because I’m the only child of a mother who started her first business in the late 1940s. Imagine what it must have been like for her. After the war, very few women even worked outside the home. Times have changed. During Women’s History Month, it’s good to reflect on pioneering women like my mother who broke through barriers to create more opportunities for the next generation.
Women have definitely made significant strides in terms of business ownership. According to the most recent Census Bureau, 36 percent of all businesses are owned by women. For at least the past decade, we’ve been told that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. The problem: Very few ever gross more than a million dollars in revenue.
The first time I grew a business to a million-dollar-plus entity, I became intrigued by this statistic. At the time, (2006) fewer than three percent of women business owners were members of that elite club. So I wrote “The Girls’ Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business” to help other women build successful enterprises. After all this time, you’d think things would be getting better. Sadly, I recently discovered an article on Forbes.com which noted that now fewer than two percent of women-owned firms become million dollar businesses.
So where does that leave us? In my opinion, this could be the year where the tides change, and women business owners come into there own. Here’s my take.
1. The Crowdfunding Phenomenon. Obtaining the necessary capital to start or expand a business is challenging, but it has been a particular obstacle for women-owned business. Now, after the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) which, among other things, was intended to make it legal for non-accredited investors to own shares (equity) in companies raising funds through crowdfunding platforms, the Securities and Exchange Commission finally approved the regulatory structure. This should open up a vast, new source of capital for small business growth.
Equity capital is often used by fast-growth companies, but women-owned firms only receive a very small percentage. This changes the game for women who want to grow and expand their enterprises — taking them to the next level of success.
2. The Good ‘Ole Girls Network is Alive and Well. Virtually non-existent 20 years ago, there are many more targeted programs to help women succeed. For example, I participated in a venture capital boot camp through Springboard Enterprises, which trains women how to pitch to venture capitalists. Additionally, there are organizations such as the National Women’s Business Owner Council (NWBOC) and the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) that provide third-party certification and training to women-owned businesses to help them obtain corporate contracts. Through organizations such as these, women are learning to partner to compete for larger contracts providing them with greater growth opportunities.
3. Technology enhances growth opportunities. In the late ’80s I had a small advertising agency. I was so excited when I got a fax machine for the office. A virtual work environment – what’s that? Now, technology gives women the opportunity to start businesses from their guest room and do business around the globe. But even more significant is the plethora of cloud-based business solutions that give small businesses the opportunity to have the power of a big business at a fraction of the cost. And mobile applications give small firms the ability to do business from anywhere at anytime. While watching a child’s soccer practice, a woman business owner can check her inventory, review her cash flow statement or review a proposal for a new client right on her mobile device.
4. If you can envision it, you can become it. My friend’s daughter was studying U.S. Presidents in grade school and she came home and announced to her mother, a successful Wall Street lawyer, that a woman could never be President. “Why,” her mother inquired.
“Because a woman has never been President,” the daughter stated matter-of-factly.
Out of the mouthes of babes, as they say. There is a considerable amount of truth in the daughter’s statement. If you can’t envision it, if you don’t have a role model, then it is hard to become it. Thankfully today there are women role models who have built wildly successful businesses. Just think, Oprah Winfrey made $12 million from a Tweet about Weight Watchers recently — theoretically anyway based on the increase in the company’s stock price. The popular show Shark Tank has two amazingly successful women entrepreneurs who have become household names — Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner.
So could 2017 be the year of the woman entrepreneur? I think the signs are pointing in that direction. Now, what’s your take?