According to a report released by the BMO Wealth Institute, women in the United States control $14 trillion in personal wealth. Part of that comes from small business ownership and partnership in the nearly 10 million women-owned businesses that the U.S. Small Business Administration counted around the country in 2012. Because 1 in 5 of those woman-owned firms earns $1 million or more in revenue, they play an important role in the vivaciousness of our nation’s economy despite major barriers such as securing adequate capital, building a strong support network, and balancing successfully personal and business life.
I’ve had the honor and opportunity to interview women in various stages of life and business over the years and I’ve learned what drives many of them to succeed. Understanding yourself is key, of course, but it’s just as important to evaluate why you want to own a business in the first place.
Elise LaPrade told me that after working with multimillion dollar web projects and seeing that the final results were based on “false savings” and excessive charges, she knew she could do better. She started her business, Caught in the Web Consulting, LLC, in 2008. The growth of her business has been tremendous, and has led her to opportunities with numerous, high-dollar projects for Conservation International, Health & Human Services, and Leading Age.
Serial entrepreneur Marissa Levin was taught by her Mom to never let anyone else determine her worth. She started her first business, Information Experts, in 1995 after her boss capped her salary—and essentially her value to the organization—at just $34,000. Since then, Levin has launched several other businesses. “I started my second business, Successful Culture, because my greatest professional passion is to help other business owners and leaders realize their potential,” she said.
Marsha Haygood, empowerment coach, talent development expert and president of Stepwise Associates, admits that in the past, she’s spent too much time trying to help clients who just weren’t ready to take steps to move forward. She strives to learn from that lesson as well as her other successes and failures and the mistakes she’s watched other business owners make. Being an entrepreneur has definite rewards, but there are also definite challenges. Raising capital tends to be a major barrier in the life and death of a small business, for example. Still, these women—and millions more with an entrepreneurial spirit—have demonstrated the resilience to grow their businesses and their business wisdom. Here, they share some of their tips:
- Determine your revenue goals. “Even when I was still working for a company full-time, I was being asked to consult or freelance. So I had income coming in before I fully stepped into my business,” said Elise. Before she left the safety net of her day job, she determined a comfortable revenue/net profit goal she wanted to reach in order to make the move into full-time business ownership.
- Build and maintain a solid reputation. Exceptional entrepreneurs know their best referral comes from happy clients, so they pride themselves on building great reputations. “Consistently exceptional performance is the best marketing strategy. Both of my businesses grew a lot from reputation and referrals,” said Marissa.
- Be wholly invested in the process. “Running a business really takes your heart, soul and time. If you’re not willing to fully commit, if you’re not ready to give up weekends or evenings to plan, strategize and work, don’t do it,” said Elise. “Be honest with yourself.”
- Find great business mentors. Sherrell Martin, founder and CEO of Nitram Financial Solutions, says having seasoned advisors and a personal board of directors helped guide her through the ups and downs of her business. Because they’ve lived the experience of business ownership, they have a helpful perspective and serve as a unique sounding board for her questions and concerns.
- Don’t be an expert at everything. Focus on an area of business where you truly excel, build your start-up around that skillset, then hire or develop a team of experts in areas that are not your strengths. Marsha adds that participating in mastermind groups and some form of continued education—whether it’s a podcast, webinar or networking event—are always on her to-do list. Personal growth translates to business growth.
For these women business owners, creating a legacy is important. It matters most to Elise that her clients know she not only does good work, but truly cares about their success because integrity means everything to her. Sherrell wants a sustainable business that provides a comfortable, debt-free lifestyle. Marissa has a mission to educate, equip and empower 100 million leaders to reach their greatest personal and professional potential. All of them have set a personal standard that has not only helped them achieve, but establishes a model for other women hoping to do the same in their business of choice.