Starting a business isn't easy.

Every entrepreneur encounters challenges, but female entrepreneurs have additional obstacles--especially if their business is in a male-driven industry.

I've spent the last several years building up my credibility as a capable project management consultant in the IT industry--a very male-dominated space.

And while I've found success as an entrepreneur, it wasn't easy. 

My motivation was never to be the best female consultant, it was simply to be the best. But I did run into stigmas along the way. I was able to overcome them, and hopefully, what I've learned will help your path.

1. Be the best.

When you're good, you're good. No one questions your gender when you're at the top of the game.

So, get to know your profession inside and out. Learn as much as you can. Ask yourself the difficult questions, because someone will surely test you. And if you fire back with a bulletproof answer, they'll have nothing but awe and respect.

Being the best isn't about gender--it's about your capabilities. And it crosses all barriers.

2. Meet criticism with confidence.

One of the biggest ways to crush skepticism or doubt is with confidence. People will doubt or oppose your ideas, your age, or your gender. And the best way to battle opposition is by trusting yourself. You've put in the work--now show it.

Don't let feelings of uncertainty impact your performance. If you question yourself, you invite doubt in. You won't always have the answer, but you should work to get the answer.

If you're asked a question you don't know the answer to, simply pause and confidently reply, "That's a great question. I'm going to look into that and get back to you because I want to be sure to give you the most accurate information."

It's okay to not always have the answers, just be confident in your ability to follow up. People respect honesty. Hold your head up high and trust in your skills.

3. Don't be afraid to show your personality.

Early in my career, I overcompensated for being a young female by being overly professional and conservative. I was all about business. I never opened up about my hobbies or personal life.

But I was actually hindering myself. People wanted to know more about me. Having my guard up created distance, and I couldn't really connect with people.

Once I opened up, I changed from a stern, no-nonsense project manager telling people how to do their job to myself--someone who was there to help them do their best.

Authenticity helps you connect with people. It's always better to be yourself.

4. Brand yourself.

When I first launched my business, I wanted to be taken seriously. Sometimes, I was the youngest person--and the only female--in the room.

Early on, I realized I was doing higher quality work than those around me. I couldn't add years of experience to my life, but I could become an expert in an area others weren't interested in.

So, I became an Agile expert. I spoke at conferences and started my own company, putting quality and brand first. People began asking me to speak or lead a training class. I traveled to companies around the world, which became part of my brand.

Your hard work will pay off if you create (and maintain) an impeccable brand for yourself.

5. Build a strong team.

Having a great team to back you up is huge.

It can be challenging to win people over on your own. Being female adds another element. When I first started attending networking events, I couldn't tell if people were interested in working with me or just interested in taking me to dinner. So, I hired a director of business development to vet leads. He added another layer of credibility to my business.

As an entrepreneur, having a team adds major credibility to your business. It demonstrates growth and organization--and provides a certain level of comfort to your clients. It can be challenging to outshine the competition as a one-person show. Having a team creates layers, prestige, and validity.

6. Embrace the opportunity.

One of the great things about being a woman in a male-dominated industry is standing out. People don't know what to expect from you, which is an opportunity.

Others will look to see what you can do. Even if they're watching and waiting for you to mess up, you can exceed their expectations. And that only increases your determination.

It all comes down to being the best you can be. Don't consider gender a limiting factor. While there may be benefits and additional challenges, sharpen your skills and run with the best.

For female entrepreneurs out there, put in the time, learn as much as you can, do your homework, and know your stuff. Knowledge builds confidence, confidence builds trust, and trust builds business.

Published on: Jan 26, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.