Starting your own business is one of the most empowering things you’ll ever do, especially if you’re a woman. Entrepreneurs often talk only about their successes, but the truth is every business struggles in its first several years and half of all businesses fail within the first five years.
This struggle, and the contrast between perception and reality, was the inspiration for Enterprising Women: Practical Advice for First Time Entrepreneurs, which was released in March 2013.
Enterprising Women: A Practical Guide to Starting Your First Business isn’t so much a second edition as it is, to borrow a term from the film industry, a reboot. All interviews and quotations were removed. The reason for this is simple. Since 2013, some of the interviewees’ businesses have gone through a name change while many others are no longer in operation. While the entrepreneurs’ advice is still sound, it no longer makes sense to talk about specific businesses. By removing the interviews, Enterprising Women becomes a timeless guide for aspiring business owners.
I interviewed nearly 100 business owners for Enterprising Women between August and October 2011 and asked them a series of questions. The interviewees spoke candidly, talking as openly about their failures as their successes. They also revealed the inspirations for their businesses, and gave advice for anyone who wishes to follow in their footsteps.
Patterns Emerge Among the Interviewees
Even though I had taken a random sampling of female entrepreneurs, patterns emerged. The majority of the participants were mothers or grandmothers, who struggled with balancing business and family.
The participants came from different walks of life and different parts of the world, but shared certain characteristics.
- The majority were mothers – some grandmothers – who struggle with balancing both business and family.
- Most did not start their professional careers with the intent of starting a business.
- Ninety-five percent of them ran home-based businesses.
- Most experienced the same types of struggles and learned similar life lessons.
Interviewees were asked if they felt enough support and networking organizations exist for female entrepreneurs. Nearly 68 percent said “yes”. Others said enough organizations existed, but wished they were easier to find and did not require a membership fee.
Gender Differences Still Exist in the Workplace
Nearly 41 percent of the interviewees experienced discrimination in the corporate or business world because they are women. Their experiences included being paid less than men working the same position, being passed over for promotions and not being taken seriously as entrepreneurs. Another common experience was being treated as if they were uneducated and uninformed.
Andrea Rozman, owner of Your Gal Friday a virtual assistant company, said in her 2011 interview:
“I was a contractor for several years for a very prominent, international corporation. The business was going through a major change due to an acquisition. People were losing their jobs, being moved around, etc. I had been with my particular group for a little over three years. I knew everything about our project. I had seen people come and go, including several project managers. The first two let go were women. Both strong. Both intelligent. The final was a man who would come in late and then sip coffee and read the newspaper in his cubicle. When the “executives” called meetings to discuss our finances, they called me, not him. It didn’t go unnoticed by anyone on our team. When it came time for our group to be reorganized, several employees recommended me to lead. The person making the decisions spoke with me. We had a great discussion; he told me how well-recommended I was and led me to believe I’d be leading the team soon. A short while later, at a large motivational event that I coordinated which brought our team together, he announced who the team leader would be. Not me. It was the lackluster coffee sipper. I remember feeling shocked, and I remember several employees coming up to me, also in shock, because they had also believed I was to be team leader. It was quite obvious what had happened.”
Not everyone, however, agrees that gender differences exist. One interviewee called it a pattern of segregation, not discrimination. She believed it was more about how men and women interact.
Knowledge is the Key to Success
Of the nearly 100 women interviewed for Enterprising Women, the majority fell into two categories: Those who started a business based on what they knew and those who followed their passions. The rest saw a niche in the market that needed to be filled.
Knowledge was the key to their successes. This doesn’t mean an entrepreneur has to be skilled in every aspect it will take to run a business. Instead it means they use job skills, education, hobbies and interests to their advantage.
The women who did so had a high level of job contentment.
“Be certain that’s what you really want to do,” photographer Suzanne Kattau-Kilcoin said in her interview. “No one else will make your business a priority like you. And you can’t make everyone happy. Running a business is time consuming, and you need to have the drive to make your business successful. You need to go get it and wrestle it to the ground then manage it while it’s there. … But the hard work is worth it. Very little else in life feels like that accomplishment.”
Do What You Love and Find Your Niche
Entrepreneurs have to love their businesses. It sounds straight forward, but it’s not. Finding what you love takes soul searching. You can listen to others’ advice and opinions but only you can decide what you want to do.
Niches are extremely important. The interviewees stressed again and again: You can’t be everything to everyone. Part of discovering a niche is doing accurate and thorough market research, which involves analyzing competition’s strengths and weaknesses.
Aspiring entrepreneurs need to take several things into account: Strengths and weaknesses. Type of jobs they like and dislike. Expertise.
You can pick something you’re merely interested in, but if you select a career field that you have no knowledge or experience in, I can tell you first-hand it will make the journey more difficult.
The interviewees also stressed that a person who doesn’t love her business is setting herself up for failure.
Inner Demons are Normal
It’s common for aspiring entrepreneurs to be excited about their business idea and to want to share it with others. The problem is that while some will be supportive, others will give unsolicited advice on how to take your business in a direction you never intended. They may even imply you’re foolish for trying. Such thoughts need to be pushed out of your mind.
Even those who have complete support will find themselves questioning their ideas. Self doubt was something most of the interviewees struggled with.
If running a business is your dream, don’t let the naysayers stop you. Instead, push through your fears and reach your dream.
Some of the advice that the interviewees gave on running a home-based business include having a private office, setting a schedule, spending time with friends and family and taking time out for self enrichment.
Stress is the number one cause of burnout, and burnout is one of the reasons businesses fail. Stress also can have a negative effect on our bodies.
What are some of the ways you can mitigate the effects of stress? Make time to sleep, exercise and eat right.
Many women dream of successful business ownership; few achieve it. The business world is, in many ways, still an all-boys club, but don’t let that dissuade you. If you’re smart and plan, the sky’s the limit. The Enterprising Women series will inform you of everything that’s involved in starting a business and help you determine if you’re an enterprising woman.
The Enterprising Women series is for women who have always dreaming of started a business, but never knew where to begin.
Updated: 26 October 2020