Though there is still plenty of room for improvement, the opportunities available to female entrepreneurs in the U.S. are looking brighter these days.
At the start of 2014, Forbes reported that the number of $10-million-plus firms owned by women increased 57 percent from the previous year. And the U.S. ranked No. 1 out of 17 for countries with the conditions to foster female entrepreneurship.
Still, despite these modest signs of improvement, there are still barriers.
"Both career women and those in business have faced many obstacles in past decades and unfortunately, still today," says Sylvia Browder, who blogs about female entrepreneurship on her site. "Women in the workforce have battled glass ceilings, unequal pay for equal production and undeserved stereotypical barriers. As business prototypes have changed with the advent and growth of the internet, so have the unique issues encountered by women in business."
Sylvia recently checked in with us to share her insight on starting and running successful businesses. Here's what she had to say:
What excites you about entrepreneurship?
The ability to positively influence and grow my business using my expertise and skills to help clients that I chose while learning and growing both personally and professionally...is very exciting!
What's the one piece of advice you find yourself repeating over and over again to fellow entrepreneurs?
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times, so a suggestion that I find myself sharing repeatedly to other entrepreneurs is to always surround themselves with like-minded people. Why? Well, they understand the highs and lows of business ownership and tend to be very empathetic and supportive.
In addition, having a mentor can be tremendously beneficial. I always suggest that you choose someone whose work you admire, who possesses strong leadership abilities and is an inspiration to you and others. I can attest that I have had quite a few unofficial mentors in the past and I just took advantage of the time and wisdom that they gave me.
What do you think are the most common mistakes novice entrepreneurs make? How can they avoid making them?
Great question! There are many, however, these are the top three:
1. No Business Plan
The worst mistake an entrepreneur can make is to launch a business without a plan. I have seen it happen time and time again. As a result, many small business dreams fail or fall short of their actual potential.
For your readers who may not be familiar with a business plan, it is simply a document that you create when you take an idea and work through all the factors that will have an impact on the successful start-up, operation and management of your business.
- It defines your business,
- identifies your goals
- and serves as your company's blue print or resume.
Smart entrepreneurs plan because they understand that it increases their chances for success.
2. Poor Relationship with Your Customers
A few questions that I ask my clients are:
- Do you know your customers' preferences and spending habits?
- Can you predict their buying patterns - what they want now and will likely want in the future?
- Are you regularly scoping out changes in your competitors' products and/or services or checking out what they are doing to grow their client base?
If any of the answers are NO, then I suggest they take some time and research. It is vital that they understand who they are selling their products or services. Not understanding can be detrimental to a business.
3. Ignoring Your Financial Position
I've seen it so many times...someone thought they planned it out...they launched the company and the customers are supposed to be knocking at their door. As much as we would like for this to happen, this is not the real world. Customers are not going to buy your product or service just because you are in business. So, the key is to financially prepare yourself for the slow period of your business. Otherwise, if you poorly plan, you can create an unnecessary financial crisis.
What about ideas for increasing a business's cash flow once it's up and running?
It is important to be proactive in managing finances in order to increase it. By not watching your bottom line, can be risky. Here are three suggestions:
1. Create a budget and a measurement process to keep track of how you are doing monthly. If you don't know where you stand financially and have neither short- nor long-term financial goals, then you are just letting fate dictate your success, and we know those odds aren't too good. Control your own destiny!
2. Forecast your cash flow. By simply looking at your next three months' projected income or revenue and your expenditures, this will enable you to forecast what you need to keep the business running. The difference is your cash flow. By taking a little time and creating this on a simple spreadsheet, you can avoid surprises.
3. Preplan cash flow issues by prearranging a line of credit at your bank. This will give you a piece of mind if you get into a crunch, at a time when you need it.
The wage gap in the U.S. continues to make headlines - what advice can you offer women on making sure they're being compensated fairly?
In my opinion, the most important thing you can do before accepting a new position is to research the industry and latest salary ranges; then negotiate a competitive compensation range based on your experience and education. You should be prepared to negotiate your worth. I also believe that preparation and the ability to negotiate can influence the final offer.
Which female entrepreneurs inspire you the most? Why do you look up to them?
I am so grateful to have had so many amazing women at various stages of my life.
Personally...my grandmother was the greatest influencer in my life. She always insisted that whatever I committed myself to, do it to the best of my ability! So, I always make it a point to give 100 percent.
Professionally...Brenda Blueford first introduced me to entrepreneurship in 1999. We both worked for a major cable company in Southern California...during our walks at lunch, she always shared her experiences as the owner of a commercial cleaning business. I was intrigued, and when I expressed to her that I wanted to start a similar business, she helped me to launch my business and outsourced jobs to me and was always there for any questions I had. I learned a lot about business from her, but the single most important lesson of all was a statement she made to me. She said, "Sylvia, there is enough work for all of us." And I share that simple but profound message to the many women that I encounter through my many networks.