For the past 20 years, I've spent a significant portion of my time giving advice to young entrepreneurs--about 30 a month--who come to me for help. I do it pro bono, and I'm happy to continue seeing them after our first meeting if they want. What's fascinating is that the women generally do, while the men generally don't. That's only one of many differences I've noticed in the way men and women approach entrepreneurship. My overall conclusion: Men have a lot to learn from women about having a good life while building a business.
I should note that among all the people I work with, women outnumber men by about 3 to 1. Men tend to get in touch when they have a specific problem they're struggling with, whereas women contact me because they want to become better businesspeople. They ask a lot of questions, and they're not afraid to admit what they don't know.
In the beginning, that usually involves numbers. Most new entrepreneurs are salespeople with no background in accounting. They don't understand the basics of finance. I find that women are open about this and are eager to learn. Of course, most of the men don't have a very good grasp of the financials either, but they're more likely to bluff, pretending they know more than they do.
The most striking difference between men and women has to do with what they generally want out of their businesses--and how they go about getting it. Almost without exception, the men are interested in growing their companies and making more money. At their age, I was exactly the same way. However, as I grew older, I realized that there's much more to life than business. The women I meet with already seem to know this.
Consider Heather Willems and Nora Herting, who, in 2009, founded ImageThink, a graphic recording business that does live illustrations of keynote addresses, brainstorming sessions, and annual meetings. It's become a leader in its field, and the partners are serious about their business. But they are also serious about their entire lives, which is why they take periodic sabbaticals to creatively recharge and avoid burning out. "We aim to build the business to support our personal life choices as well as run the company responsibly," says Willems.
Then there's the Event Studio, founded in 2008 by Elizabeth Busch, Anne Frey-Mott, and Beckie Jankiewicz. They had been at other companies but felt that, as employees, they weren't able to do their best work or engage with a wide enough variety of clients. They also wanted a more fulfilling lifestyle. They've since built an extremely successful company with a sterling customer list, while creating the kind of complete lives they had set their sights on.
I've been working with the women of the Event Studio since they started. I still see them once or twice a year, although the relationship has changed. In the beginning, our conversations were mostly about their numbers. Now they come back because they value a perspective from someone they trust. The world around them is constantly changing, the dynamics of their business are changing, and they realize the value of getting an outside opinion on how they plan to respond. If male entrepreneurs developed a similar relationship with me, I might be able to save them some grief as well.