Normally I don't focus on male- or female-specific entrepreneurial challenges, but having received two books by women entrepreneurs in the last few weeks, I thought it was a good time to review this topic.
Entrepreneur Susan T. Spencer grew her first business in the late 1960's when her self-designed tennis dress caught on in popularity. A divorcee with kids to support, she took on a partner who drove her business into the ground – by selling too much!
'Cash flow and partnerships are key lessons I learned early. Don't ever go into a 50-50 partnership if you don't have a great lawyer and a clear understanding of where the business is going. In fact, you should probably never have 50-50 ownership. Come up with a list of responsibilities each is willing to take. If 99% are on one person's side, and the rest are on the other side – that's a problem with that partner – don't do the deal.' Spencer's partner, a man, refused to listen to her and the company was unable to supply the product to stores.
On cash flow, Spencer said 'One of the most important things about cash flow, and I was in business for 4 years before I figured this out, is to know the terms companies are setting, what they're going to pay you, and when. I didn't know at the time that department stores paid net 90 days, and that sunk me.' Spencer's book, Briefcase Essentials has a number of tips that women can use to leverage their talents and abilities to help them grow their own businesses or careers. Her site also has a link to some of her useful YouTube videos.
Spencer went on to a career as the first Woman General Manager of an NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles (admitting that her dad owned the team and let her work up through the ranks.) From there, she bought and built up companies in the meat industry and the trucking industry, both stereotypically male fields.
Spencer told me 'I think women have a need to understand that when they are in a business, they need to grow it, not baby-sit it. If you don't grow, you don't have power. When you grow, when you add employees and grow your bottom line, you get opportunity to do what you do well and let others do their work.'
Carol Roth, business strategist and author of the The Entrepreneur Equation, isn't a fan of having women-only networking (or women-only business books.) 'Women shouldn't have a league of their own,' said Roth. 'What we're up against is an old boys network in a new digital age. Look at the Web 2.0 company boards, and there are no women, even though it is widely quoted that more women than men participate in social media. The concept of women's groups can be damaging for your career as it singles out women as a 'special needs' group. It's like sitting at the kids' table during holiday dinner. Instead of joining the women's group, don't be afraid to grab your seat at the men's table, even if you are the only women. You need to establish those relationships if you want to play in the same league.'
Having played in the real big leagues, Spencer would definitely agree with that last point. 'Do not try to be a man. It's not effective and it wastes your talent,' Spencer told me. 'If you do homework and you're disciplined and detailed, you'll succeed with male suppliers and customers. When you're the expert, men will come to you for information and will rely on you for it.'
Roth's book drops on March 22nd, and Spencer's book was supposed to be on sale next week (but I see it listed as available via several online book sites.)
What do you think would be helpful to women starting businesses? Let us know in the comments.
A note: I'm doing some interesting stuff this week over on Twitter and increasing my interactions on my Facebook Fan Page – are you following @HowardGR?
Last updated: Feb 23, 2011
HOWARD GREENSTEIN is a social media strategist and evangelist, and president of the Harbrooke Group, which specializes in helping companies communicate with their customers using the latest Web technologies. @HowardGr