6 Women Entrepreneurs Share the Secret to Their Success
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It’s a golden age for women entrepreneurs, with women owning 36% of all businesses in the U.S., more than ever before. But there’s still a long way to go before female entrepreneurs achieve parity with their male counterparts.
This imbalance is most obvious in the huge gender gap in venture capital funding. In 2017, women-led teams only received 2.2% of all venture funding. Note that this 2.2% statistic refers to companies founded solely by women and doesn’t include companies with both male and female founders, as pointed out by financial data and software company PitchBook. When taking into account companies with male and female founders, they collected 12.5% of venture capital in the first six months of 2018.
So how can women succeed as entrepreneurs and increase their representation in the business world? Here’s what six successful entrepreneurs had to say about running their own company and overcoming challenges along the way.
1. Don’t be afraid to come off as ‘bossy’
In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer and founder of Lean In, launched a campaign to ban the word “bossy,” stating: “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’”
This negative label can discourage women from speaking up and stepping into positions of leadership. Jocelyn Voo, a New York City-based wedding photographer who founded Everly Studios, is familiar with this struggle.
“I have had to assert myself in certain situations, such as when guests are being rowdy or not paying attention to direction,” Voo said. “Those situations require a take-charge attitude for me to complete my job adequately.”
During these times, Voo feels she needs to “tread the line between firm and bossy.” But after pushing through her reservations, Voo found her clients tend to appreciate a “forthright demeanor on their big day.”
By overcoming her aversion to being perceived as bossy, Voo found she was able to do her job better — and she’s been running her business successfully for the past five years as a result.
2. Plan to keep yourself on track
For the past four years, Amber Temerity has supported herself as an online business consultant and the owner of Thrifty Guardian and The Lunar Woman. For Temerity, the secret to her success as a small-business owner comes down to “consistency, planning and purpose.”
“It can be hard to be your own boss, but if you can stay consistent with your work, you’ll struggle far less than those with a tendency to slack,” she said.
To keep making progress, you must be willing to plan. “Don’t hold yourself back and only plan for the next month or the next quarter, but rather [plan for] next year, the next five years,” Temerity said. “Map it out and you’ll find your way to profits.”
Working hard with no guarantee of success is one of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurship, but Temerity said a solid roadmap will keep you going.
3. You might have to work twice as hard to get recognized
As the CEO of VRARE, a company that provides consulting services to virtual reality developers, Reekita Gala doesn’t have a lot of fellow female entrepreneurs in her field. According to virtual event solutions company Evia, women hold less than 20% of jobs in tech. And a 2017 report by Crunchbase found that women run just 17% of startups.
Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. shows that this disparity starts early, with girls only making up 23% of exam takers in Advanced Placement computer science in high school and women making up 19% of graduates who earn their bachelor’s degree in computer and information science. After college, McKinsey’s data shows that women represent just 26% of the computing workforce and hold 11% of leadership positions in tech companies.
“Especially in the tech field, there is a shortage of female entrepreneurs,” Gala said. To stand out in this male-dominated culture, Gala said she sometimes has to work twice as hard as her competition.
“Make sure your product and service shines as gender should not be an issue when you offer massive value,” Gala said. “Be sure to always add value to the people buying from [you] and don’t let anything stand in the way of your mission.”
4. Know your stuff inside and out
As the founder and CEO of OpenSponsorship, Ishveen Anand connects brands with athletes for sponsorship deals. But her road to success wasn’t without obstacles.
“I’ve noticed that women entrepreneurs are perceived as being not analytical enough,” Anand said. “The best way to combat these sorts of perceptions is to be prepared to answer any and every question that could come your way.”
Of course, it’s not your responsibility to open the minds of those who would underestimate you based on your gender. But being well-versed in the ins and outs of your business and the services or products it offers is essential for any CEO, male or female.
“You have to be comfortable speaking about the big story of your business as well as being able to get into the numbers,” Anand said. “My secret to success is super simple: Know your stuff really well.”
5. Embrace change, but stay connected to your core purpose
After earning her Master of Business Administration at Georgetown University, Angela Li moved to New York to start a career in finance. Five years later, she established a jewelry brand, Azura Jewelry, a company that uses ethically sourced materials and donates 5% of its profits to charity partners who help women gain an education.
“When I first launched Azura Jewelry, I didn’t want it to be just another jewelry brand,” Li said. “I wanted it to be a purpose-driven business with a good cause. Every aspect of Azura Jewelry revolves around our core value to help women look and feel their best, to embrace their stories, milestones and wisdoms.”
Li said setting core values for her business helped her build a loyal following and “break through all the noise.” In a competitive market, Li said having a clear mission helps you focus on the bigger picture.
Plus, it helps to have a guiding force as your business changes. “Progress is impossible without change,” Li said. “Especially in this ever-evolving world, we need to constantly test to see what works and what doesn’t. Be flexible and adaptable. Try, experiment, fail, reflect, change and try again.”
6. Don’t underestimate the power of persistence
The road to success as an entrepreneur is full of twists and turns, and you can’t expect overnight success. But instead of seeing setbacks as failures, view them as opportunities to learn and improve.
That attitude is what kept Carlota Zimmerman going for 10 years and counting as a success strategist who helps her clients achieve their personal and professional goals. Zimmerman, who’s based in New York City, counsels people individually and also leads career development workshops for groups.
“A major secret to my success was just dumb, desperate endurance and tenacity,” Zimmerman said. “I simply wasn’t willing to give up on myself, my talent and my dreams, and over time, I got smarter and started attracting the types of clients that would be receptive to what I had to give.”
Zimmerman said she didn’t start with a lot of business knowledge or startup money. Instead, she learned through experimenting and trusting her gut.
“A great part of being an entrepreneur is making it up as you go,” Zimmerman said. “You’re on the edge of a yawning precipice and you sort of jump.”
Along the way, being an entrepreneur can be “terrifying and lonely and frustrating and wonderful and liberating,” Zimmerman said. But the key to success, she said, is to keep learning and improving, even when you feel like giving up.
More women are starting businesses than ever before
Although women still have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, there are more opportunities than ever for women to succeed as entrepreneurs.
But the path of an entrepreneur is not an easy one, and you might have to manage feelings of fear, self-doubt and impostor syndrome along the way.
By connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs, you can build a support system that will keep you going through tough times. You could also seek a mentor to help you chart the course of your career.
Along with building your network, you could seek grants, angel investments, small business loans and other resources designed for female entrepreneurs, such as the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program or the Amber Grant.
With the right network, resources and mission for your business, you can focus your energy on turning your entrepreneurial vision into a reality.