Women are running more than a third of the privately owned businesses in the United States. With their job numbers, income, and overall growth rates accelerating at a rapid clip, it’s no surprise they are feeling optimistic about business conditions and their prospects for the future. In fact, our Spark Business Barometer recently showed women business owners were more likely to have experienced higher sales over the past six months, feel good about current business conditions, and feel optimistic about the future economy. Indeed, women are making headway as business starters and leaders, and they are a driver of growth and optimism in the small business marketplace.
But there is also evidence suggesting that gaps remain — from earnings statistics to the percentage of women executives at larger companies. We still have work to do to ensure there are equal opportunities for women to pursue their dreams to lead businesses both big and small. Throughout my career, I’ve learned my share of lessons and observed a variety of workplace dynamics and barriers to success for women at enterprises of all sizes. Here are a few opportunities that we — as women and as business leaders — can leverage to enable our success as entrepreneurs and leaders.
Have a plan. My first piece of advice to every entrepreneur who is either on the cusp of start-up, or looking to scale and grow a business: Have a well-thought-out, well-communicated plan. Map out your financials, do your homework, know your market and customers and have a growth strategy outlined. Then, be prepared to share it confidently with potential partners, investors, bankers and other influencers who may be able to support or enable your business goals.
Be willing to take risks. I’ve mentored many talented women whose biggest hang-ups stemmed from their fear of failure. While being prepared and doing your research is important, you’ll never be fully prepared for what the future may bring. Believe in yourself and your ideas, and don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes along the way. Those mistakes will prove to be valuable lessons and experiences that make you an even smarter business woman.
Don’t do it all by yourself. Great leaders take charge and delegate (or outsource) supporting responsibilities and business functions to other experts so they can focus on leading their business. Taking on all the responsibilities and micromanaging will rarely get your business to its full potential – so don’t be afraid to take the reins, lead the way, and empower your teams.
Find balance. Our research shows achieving work-life balance is especially important for women, yet men are the ones setting more guardrails – like limiting work hours, travel time and speaking events – to achieve it. Studies also show that even as their employment rates increase, women tend to take on more housework and family responsibilities, demonstrating how critical it is support networks are to ensure roles at home and work can work seamlessly and enable success. Aligning on roles and expectations with spouses, family and friends up front is also crucial – as starting and running a business requires a lot of flexibility, patience and support.
Ask for help. Nine out of 10 women business owners do not have a mentor – a huge lost opportunity! We should all seek out mentors to help guide and support us as we pursue our dreams and navigate the inevitable ups and downs that come with starting, owning and running a business. And the great news is there are some terrific resources (like BusinessAdvising.org) that can help you make those connections and get on the path to growth.
Women bring a critical perspective and diversity of style to the workplace and business landscape, and it’s exciting to see the enthusiasm and positivity they’re expressing about their businesses and the future. And with the confidence to lead, a well-thought out plan, and quality resources (including a support team and technology) they can be better enabled to drive business results, and have an even greater impact on our local and national economies.
Keri Gohman is the head of small business banking at Capital One.