Historically, women business owners have been more optimistic than their male counterparts. But today, men are more optimistic than women, according to Capital One's Fall 2018 Small Business Growth Index.
In fact, male optimism has spiked dramatically: It's up 12 percentage points from a year ago, at 69 percent versus 57 percent last year. Optimism among female business owners, on the other hand, has risen just one percentage point year over year to 64 percent.
There are many reasons for women business owners' stalled optimism: More women than men think they will pay more in taxes based on the new tax plan (23 percent compared to 16 percent of male business owners). And women are less likely than men to say economic conditions are driving their optimism (49 percent of women compared to 57 percent of men).
Rosalie Hagel-Martin, founder and executive vice president of Blue Whale Public Relations in Seminole, Florida, says she echoes the cautious optimism of the women business owners surveyed. "While I have been fortunate in building my business and clientele faster than expected, a flurry of business consolidations and mergers, executive changes and movement, positive economic gains one day, followed by steep drops in the stock market the next, and a wave of dramatic cultural, sociological and political changes that remain in flux, give me reason to be conservative and steadfast when it comes to operating my own business," she says.
A positive business outlook can be an important perspective for driving growth. There are many ways in which women business owners can take steps to support one another, improve outlook and boost their success.
While economic growth and the labor market has improved, business owners who operated through the Great Recession may have "an expectation for the pendulum to swing," says Ashley Plack, founder of Strategist Marketing.
For instance, Leslie Saul has owned architecture and interiors firm Leslie Saul & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for more than 25 years and has lived through four recessions -- but the worst was 2008 to 2012.
"Perhaps women have longer memories of the pain of the recession. My business was off 90 percent, while the big firms [complained] about a 30 percent drop in 2009," she says. "This recovery has been so long and steady that we are all anticipating the coming drop." Saul calls herself "an optimist" but notes that it's hard not to worry about the economy, even if it's unlikely that the Great Recession will repeat itself anytime soon. "Women are practical," she adds.
Maintaining Positivity in a Challenging Climate
Maintaining a future-focused, generally positive outlook can have both short- and long-term business benefits. "Positivity helps you think clearly, whether about staffing, marketing or doing the work," Saul says.
Consider these six tips from other women business owners for staying positive:
- Hire strategically. If you need another worker in your business, but you're worried about a revenue drop due to economic changes, consider hiring a contract worker rather than an employee. That way, it will be "easier to reduce your staff if it's necessary," Saul says.
- Boost marketing efforts. Rather than waiting until January to launch a new marketing plan, Saul recommends doing it now. Hagel-Martin plans to step up marketing efforts to aggressively promote her business and make business development a daily priority. While she believes many of the current marketplace changes and shifts will result in new opportunities "once the dust settles," she also thinks continued marketing is the best way to be prepared for those opportunities when the time comes.
- Build--and rely on--your network. Women business owners face unique challenges. Banding together can help overcome them. "Partnering with other female business owners can be motivating and provide valuable insights into taking on these challenges," Plack says. "Whether through networking groups, formal or informal mentorship, or simply getting coffee, developing digital and in-person opportunities for knowledge-sharing is valuable to many female business owners," she says.
- Be inclusive when it comes to your network. Don't solely rely on relationships with other women: Male business owners can also be valuable mentors and connections. Moret believes recent high-profile, pro-women movements have encouraged more men to support women "by hiring women-owned businesses, promoting women within their own organizations, and attempting to create a more level playing field within the workplace."
- Celebrate small successes. Running your business involves dealing with many unexpected challenges.So, try to constantly stay on the lookout for opportunities to celebrate wins. "Celebrating client or customer successes can be a great way to shift the culture within your business and support leaders' focus on growth opportunities," Plack says.
- Let realism work for you. It's important to avoid letting cautiousness keep you from taking risks that are necessary for growth, but it's also crucial to inject a dose of reality into your business plan. For instance, a recent study found that people who are too optimistic are more likely to start unrealistic business ventures that are guaranteed to fail. "Perhaps that dose of pessimism or realism is what's going to make your business have great processes or properly allocated budgets, and will ultimately lead to your success," says Amber Hinds, owner of digital marketing agency Road Warrior Creative.
Learn more about the Capital One Small Business Growth Index here.