I've been running my email marketing technology company, VerticalResponse, for more than 12 years. That's a really long time, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I've had the opportunity to be a part of lots of women-oriented business organizations, and to dole out advice about entrepreneurship and the challenges (and successes) that women come across when building their own companies. I've gotten to know some pretty amazing and super smart women along the way, too.
I met Geri Stengel, the founder of Ventureneer, about a year ago at a conference in New York. She consults for small businesses and non-profits, among many other things. We instantly clicked, and recently she agreed to do a webinar for my company's new Pro Webinar Series .
Geri's topic was on how women entrepreneurs can break the glass ceiling, a topic near and dear. She had three great secrets that I'll share here.
Build Out Your Networks
According to Geri, women tend to build deep but not broad networks, while men tend to build wide and shallow. To succeed in business, you need to do both. After all, it's your networks that will take you to the next level, whether it's introducing you to someone new, or providing capital, resources or advice.
How do you broaden your power network? Here are a few of Geri's ideas:
1. Join the right business associations. You want people who can provide resources and knowledge, and who are willing to share them. How does the organization communicate? Are its members movers and shakers?
2. Leverage social media. In her webinar, Geri said women are great at sharing, bonding and engaging with others. Why not use that to your advantage, especially now when social media makes it so easy to reach across the table, not to mention the other side of the world?
3. Don't leave out the men. It's not "us versus them," says Geri. This is very true. One of my longtime mentors is a successful, visionary businessman who has helped me build my company and kept me focused all along the way; VerticalResponse wouldn't be what it is today without him.
Seek Outside Funding
Many women find it difficult to ask for favors or money. I know I sure did. But it's something you just have to do, especially if you want to grow quickly and scale up. According to Geri, women start businesses with less capital and are less likely to tap into outside funding throughout the lifecycle of their business.
For me, I ended up asking friends and family to give me the initial funds to start VerticalResponse. (That's the short version; for the full story, check out this Inc. post I wrote several years ago, "A Woman in Tech Speaks Out.") To show them that I was in it to win it, I invested a huge chunk of my own savings into the company as well. I set very specific goals those first couple of years, met them, and then asked them to give me more money. They did, and the rest is history, as they say. Sure, bringing on investors will mean that you'll have a set of bosses to report to, but I think that's a small price to pay for the all the great things that new funding can provide your business.
Take Center Stage
Women sometimes think that shouting from the rooftops and talking about their accomplishments are "not ladylike," says Geri. It's time to toss that way of thinking aside. If you're not tooting your own horn and getting people excited about what you've done and what you can do, who will?
Here are a couple of tips from Geri on how to shine that spotlight your way:
1. Go after awards and "best of" lists, like the Inc. 5000. There also are smaller awards, too, like the Small Business Influencer Awards and I'm sure there are awards in your specific industry. I'm a huge believer in this, because it gives you third-party validation and lots of visibility. Every time VerticalResponse wins an award, we post it to our website and send out a press release. We get tons of coverage online so that when people are searching for us, they'll see that we're credible.
2. Position yourself as a leader. Sign up for speaking engagements, host a webinar (like Geri did) or conduct workshops. Of course, you're there to help others and teach them, but a nice side benefit is that you're exposing yourself and your company to a new audience. Every person in the crowd is a potential customer, and all eyes (and ears) are on you.
As Geri said in her webinar: "You've got the goods, so get out there." Now is not the time to hold back or second-guess your abilities. Just go for it!