Female Entrepreneurship Guide
Recent years have seen more gender equality in the world of business. And that signals good news for women who have visions of starting their own companies. In fact, an American Express report found female entrepreneurship has grown by more than 114% over the last two decades — far outpacing startup growth overall. Today, nearly 40% of small businesses are women-owned.
Despite these promising trends, women still face some barriers to entrepreneurial success. Even if women do get their businesses off the ground, their companies may not grow as quickly as male-owned businesses.
Consider this fact: Although women own more than 11 million U.S. businesses, those companies employ just 8% to 9% of the U.S. workforce. According to the Center for Women in Business, 90% of female-owned companies have only one employee.
For many women, securing adequate funding to launch and grow a business is one challenge. Also, entrenched social biases about women hold some women back. And women may lack access to the mentoring and support needed to pursue their business ambitions. Although these roadblocks are universal, women of color can experience even more struggles in pursuing business ownership.
Still, many tenacious women have beat these obstacles and started thriving small businesses. If you want to own a business, learn how to secure the resources you need and get inspiration to bring your dreams to life.
Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face
Starting a new business venture can be hard for anyone. But women often face more hurdles than their male counterparts. However, for every challenge, there are solutions for female entrepreneurs.
Although more women are founding businesses than ever, women still lag behind men in securing traditional bank funding. As noted in a U.S. Senate Report, just 39% of women-owned companies had a bank loan, compared to 52% of men-owned companies.
This discrepancy is just one example of the credit gap facing women entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, unconscious gender bias persists in the financial industry. Today, women still make less than their male counterparts for performing the same work. These suppressed wages may cause women to accumulate wealth more slowly and use more credit. Lower credit scores and a less favorable financial picture can cause women to lose access to funding, even if they manage their money responsibly.
Still, women can find avenues to gain the money they need for their businesses. Maintaining a high credit score is critical. Shop around for lenders, seek business credit cards, and look at alternative sources, such as crowdfunding and grants. Another option is to apply for business mentoring or development programs that offer business funding. For women of color, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is a valuable resource.
Some businesses rely on investors to get off the ground. But women often have a disadvantage in securing business funding. Why does this happen? Investors often support people like themselves — such as fellow alums from their alma mater. And a Babson College study found just 6% of venture capital (VC) firms have female partners. Entrenched biases about women’s ability to run a business can come into play as well.
How can women entrepreneurs overcome these issues? Building a strong team and creating an exceptional business plan are essential steps, according to Business News Daily. If VC investors can clearly see the potential of a business, they are more likely to support it. Also, women shouldn’t be shy about asking for what they need — or even more. Often, male business founders inflate their numbers, so VCs automatically offer less than the amount requested. This situation can leave women entrepreneurs with inadequate funding.
However, women should know there are other ways to source funding. We’ll cover several options later in this article.
Despite the progress, women still struggle to access the adequate support needed to become leaders. In the corporate world, the Harvard Business Review notes more women take on internal staff jobs. Men are more likely to be in roles with profit and loss responsibility. This unfortunate disparity limits women’s connections to executives who could provide critical career advice. And it can stifle the dreams of women who want to own businesses. But according to SCORE, a small business support organization, mentoring increases an entrepreneur’s chances of success. Often, women prefer mentoring with other successful female entrepreneurs — especially in certain fields, such as fashion and retail. Fortunately, many programs exist to ensure women entrepreneurs can get the support they need:
Even though more women own businesses than ever before, being an entrepreneur can feel isolating, according to Business News Daily. Women who attend networking events often find themselves in a room mostly populated by men. In those situations, women face a dilemma. Do they act like male executives — who are typically more competitive and aggressive — or remain true to themselves? Women business owners can feel that their peers take them less seriously, and self-doubt can surface.
How can women overcome this social bias? Building a network of supporters and advisors is essential. With a strong support network, women can get advice to propel them through challenging passages in their business journeys.
Also, women entrepreneurs need to take pride in their accomplishments and value their own knowledge. As girls, many women are taught to build consensus and share credit with others. But women leaders need to recognize their own strengths and take credit for their own hard work.
How to Fund Your Business
Most entrepreneurs rely on several funding sources to get their business off the ground. For female business owners, getting educated on varied funding options is a crucial task.
The term bootstrapping applies to small businesses that get started with little to no outside funding. In these scenarios, entrepreneurs use personal funds and income from first sales to fuel business growth.
If you have confidence in your business premise, using personal savings for initial business expenses can make sense. If you do seek outside funding, investors may feel more confident knowing that you have “skin in the game.”
Start with a solid business plan and have a realistic budget from day one. According to Entrepreneur, you should always have at least $5,000 in reserve to cover unexpected costs. You may use a mix of personal savings, loans from a 401(k), and low-interest loans from friends or family. Be sure to document all your loans and create a paper trail.
Credit cards are also great options for founders. With business credit cards, founders can stagger expenses and pay for them over time instead of taking on a large debt. Choose from credit card options with favorable interest rates, cash back rewards and other benefits. Some cards offer expense tracking or options for short-term loans. Some prepaid or debit cards for business are available without a credit check.
Unlike loans, grants provide funds that don’t need to be repaid. Grants can be very worthwhile, but know that competition for them is fierce. You’ll likely need to put in effort and be consistent to gain grants for your small business.
Like personal loans, business loans must be repaid over time with interest. Entrepreneurs can seek loans from banks, credit unions, or the Small Business Administration.
Often, bank loans are the best option for business owners if you can secure them. Banks typically offer the lowest financing rates. But they require signs of business growth and potential before providing a loan. This can make it hard for new startups to secure bank loans.
Getting a loan from a credit union may be another avenue to pursue. However, some credit unions have exclusive membership requirements that you must meet to join. Others — such as NASA Federal Credit Union, Teachers Federal Credit Union, and American Heritage Credit Union — allow anyone to join after making a donation or paying a membership fee.
Another source of loans is the Small Business Administration. If you have a strong credit history, you can seek an SBA loan with a low rate and favorable terms. The SBA does not fund loans, directly but works through intermediary lenders, such as credit unions. Since the government guarantees a large portion of each loan, these loans are less risky for lenders to take on. Although the loan process is arduous, securing an SBA loan can give a big financial boost to your growing business.
Advice from Female Founders
Today, more women than ever have started their own businesses. You can look to them as role models and learn lessons from their entrepreneurial experiences.
Mercia de Melo
Founder and CEO, Organization Solutions LLC
After spending several years as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, Mercia de Melo wanted to re-enter the world of work. Although trained as a teacher, she felt pulled to pursue her passion for bringing beauty and harmony to homes. Her business, Organization Solutions LLC, works with people in all stages of life — from busy parents who crave order to seniors who need to downsize.
Find Your Passion. “If you are interested in starting your own business,” said de Melo, “take the time to understand what gives you joy and uses your unique talents. Start with a vision of how your work can give you pleasure and excitement. Imagine what it would feel like to wake up every morning and conquer what is ahead of you with enthusiasm, even it’s challenging.”
Build a Support Network. “Find business support resources — such as a Small Business Development Center — in your area,” suggests de Melo. “Get to know social media and use it to connect with like-minded people and spread the word about your business. Surround yourself with people who encourage you and help you become the best version of yourself!”
Founder and CEO, Three Trees
Jenny Eu’s passion for delicious and nourishing plant-based foods led her to start Three Trees in 2013. Her food philosophy drives the company to create organic, clean almond milk that showcases the natural goodness of the almonds that go into every bottle. With nationwide distribution and a loyal following, Three Trees is a leader in the plant-based milk category.
Believe in What You Do. “Your product should be great,” said Eu. “Great without the packaging. Just by itself. Marketing and packaging are important, but I’m a purist. It’s important that you provide real value and believe in what you’re doing.”
Make Smart Financial Decisions. “I might have raised capital sooner to accelerate growth. But truthfully, there are cons to that as well,” reveals Eu. “Because I didn’t raise, we couldn’t overspend on sales, marketing or PR. The growth we’ve achieved is 100% solid, not driven by marketing dollars. I was able to stay razor-focused and true to our mission and our uncompromising product quality standards.”
Founder and Executive Director, A Place at the Table
After working for a non-profit assisting people experiencing homelessness, Maggie Kane knew more needed to be done for vulnerable individuals. She turned her passion for inclusion and service into a restaurant that serves everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Her pay-what-you-can cafe, A Place at the Table, has served thousands of affordable, healthy, and dignified meals to her local community.
Seek Support and Celebrate Your Successes. “Ask for help,” said Kane. “People want to help and love helping. We all have different talents and skills and can’t be good at it all. It makes it more fun to do it together! Also, celebrate everything — every small moment, every large moment. Make sure you take the time to celebrate it. You’re doing something so cool and valuable — it is worth celebrating!”
Know the Value of Your Hard Work. “If I had to do anything differently early on, I would have started paying myself sooner,” shares Kane. “I spent three years working multiple jobs and running around like crazy. I would have invested in myself earlier, and we probably could have opened quicker!”
Web Designer + Brand Strategist, Katie O’Brien
Katie O’Brien is a web designer and brand strategist who specializes in blending clean and crisp designs with smart strategies for professional coaches and consultants. With simplicity steering the ship, she’s driven and committed to delivering a custom made, chic (frustration-free) website for each and every client.
Trust the Process. “My best advice to someone starting up their own business is to trust the process,” said O’Brien. “Taking small steps every day in the right direction to build the business of your dreams is better than trying to take leaps in a week. My motto has always been slow and steady, rather than trying to rush the process.”
Be Authentic. “If I had to do things over, I’d be more transparent,” said O’Brien. “I felt I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t for too long. Today, I have much stronger boundaries. I also had some clients early on who were very demanding and not understanding the importance of my role as a mother. Now, I’m firm on my boundaries. My kids, school-age now, know they come first, but also know my work is important.”
Bring Your Entrepreneurial Dreams to Life
Starting a business is a dream for many women. The road to business ownership can be bumpy, but pursuing your passion every day makes all the hard work worthwhile.
In recent years, more female entrepreneurs have taken the plunge and opened their own businesses. These trailblazers are finding ways to gain support, secure funding and overcome social biases. You can follow their lead. Create a robust business plan and surround yourself with talented team members and advisors. Look for creative ways to finance your startup and celebrate your accomplishments.
When it comes to financing, you should know that 61% of female entrepreneurs self-fund their startups, according to a recent study. You can draw from your savings, of course, but remember that other financing options are available. For many new entrepreneurs, business credit cards are the best way to pay for startup expenses.
No doubt about it: The future looks bright for female entrepreneurs. Examples of successful female business owners are popping up in every city and community. Make your small business dreams a reality — all you need is a strong vision, a clear business plan and tenacity.