It’s National Women’s Small Business Month, and that means reflecting on all the women leading the way for small businesses - the sector driving just under half (44 percent) of U.S. economic activity, according to a report published late last year by the Small Business Administration. Women entrepreneurs today are a powerful force in business, making significant contributions to U.S. economic growth. According to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, women business owners employ more than 9.2 million people and generate a whopping $1.8 trillion in revenue. Additionally, women own 12.3 million companies - that’s four out of every 10 small businesses in the U.S. In fact, the number of women-owned businesses in this country are growing at a rate five times faster than the national average.
That’s quite impressive. And, while there’s no doubt qualities like dedication, passion, and hard work contribute to the success of all small business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s worth digging into what really drives women to succeed.
At Capital One, I speak regularly with business owners about their financial priorities and prospects for the future. I spend time with thriving female business owners to gain perspective of both the benefits and challenges they face, as well as to what they attribute their success. They share their secrets to success to help others who have a similar goal of starting and growing a business. Here are my top six:
Trust your gut
It turns out that when our parents told us to “trust our gut,” they were right! Decisions should be informed by thoughtful analysis and also importantly from previous experiences, emotions and judgements. Founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, Christina Stembel explains: “Early on, I didn’t know enough about business, so I made decisions based on my gut instinct. As I learned more, I made decisions with my head instead, which didn’t always go well for me. I then heard Oprah say that every decision she made not trusting her gut ended up being a bad one, so I decided if trusting your gut is good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for me, too!”
Celebrate the wins, especially if they’re small
The big wins aren’t the only ones worth celebrating; all wins should be considered important. Katie Conovitz, founder and CEO of twelveNYC, notes that “success has always been about moving the needle forward. I made a lot of sacrifices but tried to take the time to share all types of wins with my team along the way.” Conovitz believes business leaders need to allow their teams to be a part of the wins since they are also a part of their success. Surprising the team with coffee, taking them to lunch, or celebrating over a happy hour are small ways to show employees how they are a part of progress.
Patience is also a virtue in business
Unquestionably, there will be ebbs and flows in business; and you may be well served to ride them out. Stembel thought that once Farmgirl Flowers grew in San Francisco, national shipping would quickly follow. She soon learned differently. In fact, it took five years before she would be shipping to customers across the country. In the meantime, she kept her focus on her home market and expanded from there, achieving 100 percent growth year-over-year. Success doesn’t always happen overnight so it can be important to not give up while continuing to evolve and focus.
Build your business around the life you want
In a study by the Harvard Business Review, workers ranked flexibility as a close second to health care when looking at the most desirable job benefits. Which makes sense that women business owners often cite flexibility as a key reason for venturing onto the entrepreneurial path. Who wouldn’t want to create work-life balance?
Brittany Hennessy, co-founder and chief relationship officer ofCarbon August, attributes her success in part to building her business around the life she wants to lead. This includes having the time to drop her children off at school. “Having flexibility has always been really important to me,” she notes.
Keep your eye on your own ball
While it’s essential to be aware of your competition, focusing too much on what others are doing may cause you to lose sight of what makes your business unique. If you’re providing the best possible product and customer experience, what the competition is doing may not be the right or only anchor point. Instead, over time, you’ll appreciate those copying you because, after all, imitation is the richest compliment.
Lean on experts for support
I fully believe that it is alright to not be an expert in every facet of your business. In fact, it may even be better. Instead, aim to be a generalist and talent magnet, hiring people who are the best in their fields for the areas they lead. The women I spoke with agree that each employee comes with their own strengths and weaknesses. My suggestion is to understand what strengths will round you and the rest of your team out and which areas will need expert advice - and don’t be afraid to find the right partners. People like attorneys, accountants and business bankers can also be invaluable resources to address specific questions and concerns. They also have extensive networks and can often point you in the direction of suppliers or other business owners.
Hennessy concurs: “I spent a long time honing my strengths. I know where I’m strong and where I need to hire someone. I’m good at branding, marketing and writing, for example, but in terms of finances and paperwork, I’m lucky my husband’s entire background is in economics. It’s very smart to work with people who know more about these things than you do.”
Capital One offers credit card and business banking solutions for Small Businesses. Learn more about Capital One's collaboration with Small Businesses here.