When it comes to starting a small business, challenges are everywhere. In the early stages, crucial efforts like seeking funding can be major mountains to climb.
For women entrepreneurs, these mountains can appear to even bigger. But there are positive signs: The numbers of women-led small businesses have increased significantly in the past 20 years. According to American Express’ annual State of Women-Owned Business Report, the number of businesses owned by women has grown 114 percent since 1997, while the overall national growth rate for all businesses is 44 percent.
An example of the more challenging side is this survey by 99designs, which polled more than 3,000 entrepreneurs — men and women. Among the results:
- “Men are almost twice as likely as women to raise at least $100k in funding: 28 percent of men raised $100k or more to start their own business, compared to 15 percent of women.”
- “Men are twice as likely as women to have more than two employees (53 percent of men compared to 32 percent of women).”
Here’s a look at some of the challenges women face in starting and maintaining a small business.
Funding and perception
There are many fund-raising methods available for any prospective entrepreneur, including bootstrapping, crowdfunding, venture capital and a variety of loans and grants. Women may find the funding path to be a more difficult one than it is for men, as Jared Hecht, founder and CEO of Fundera, examines in a story for Entrepreneur.
Stereotypes: Hecht notes that the “profile” most often connected to successful entrepreneurs is that of a man. “Hence, when investors are approached by women entrepreneurs, there is an unconscious bias that they will not be as reliable an investment as their male counterparts, and therefore not as fundable,” he says.
Connections: Venture capitalists can focus on entrepreneurs they relate to, Hecht says. The problem with that, he says, is the “overwhelmingly male” business world: “In the venture capital world, where 89 percent of investors are male, women entrepreneurs are getting overlooked for funding in favor of giving the money to men with whom they share a connection (think same college fraternity, hometown, friend’s brother, etc.). “
Bias: Hecht uses Kathryn Minshew, CEO and cofounder of career-development platform The Muse, as an example of what women face in seeking funding. Venture capital firms “claimed they weren’t in the market to hear her pitch,” Hecht writes. “When she pushed further, she received hateful responses — tones mirroring the likes of saying, ‘Don’t get too big for your britches.’ Even when her pitch was heard, she felt most mistook her leadership and confidence as charm, rather than signs she could effectively grow a business.”
This is a universal need to be successful in business. Having supportive mentors and a well-developed range of contacts and peers can serve entrepreneurs well as they get a business off the ground. Writing for Inc.com, Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media, points out that women excel at two key parts of networking — communication and collaboration. Yet they may be more hesitant to reach out to their contacts, she says.
“This presents some challenges when it comes to building our careers or building our businesses,” she explains. “As research has shown, professional men are more likely to be comfortable asking someone in their business network for a favor or for advice — even if that connection is relatively weak. Women are often more hesitant to ask a connection for anything, often out of the fear of being perceived as opportunistic, or even weak. If we’re going to achieve equality in the workplace, we’ve got to push past these fears and learn to ask for the things we want. We need to put some time into building these work relationships, just like we do all the other relationships in our lives.”
Here is a struggle that goes beyond gender. We all can have trouble navigating where work life ends and personal life begins, and knowing how to keep a line of separation between them. The additional stresses that go with parenting can amplify this struggle. A story by USA Today examines the pressures for entrepreneurs who are mothers — from other parents sneering at their work hours to other entrepreneurs sneering at their home duties: “Sometimes, it feels like women entrepreneurs just can’t win.”
“Striking a balance is tough, even for the best-intentioned mother, and it’s important for working mommas to cut themselves some slack when it comes to this mastermind juggling,” the story states. “Any successful working mother will tell you this: you can’t please everyone. Take care of yourself and your family, and let people think what they want to think.”
When a business is in its infancy, entrepreneurs may feel the need to tackle every aspect, from the most crucial decisions to the most minor details. Having a strong support system is naturally an important aspect of running a business, as is having the confidence to share the tasks with that staff. In a story for Entrepreneur, Mohita Indrayan points out that women “often fear failure,” and that they “need to understand that they need to work on their business, not in it.”
“It is a must to delegate relentlessly, and inspire people to want to do a job that you want,” she writes. “Own the business and the scale, so you are understood as owners and not cogs in the larger machinery. They are to be the driving force and not the driver!”
Credit and confidence
There is a certain amount of self-promotion that goes along with owning a business. This may not be entirely comfortable for some, but it remains a part of spreading good news. Writing for Forbes, Ashley Stahl says that women don’t always allow themselves to take credit for their good work, while men are more likely to share news of their accomplishments. In order to avoid bragging, women often “express accomplishments as group achievements as opposed to individual successes, or downplay the accomplishment altogether,” she writes.
“Having confidence to sell yourself on your accomplishments without fearing how others perceive you is necessary,” she notes. “Leveraging your accomplishments is one of the best ways to grow and build your business, so stop selling yourself short. The world needs what you have, and that means learning how to communicate about you in an effective way.”
Though the hurdles involved in starting a small business may seem overwhelming, it’s important to keep the ultimate goal in mind. It’s also important to celebrate the successes along the way. As Shannon Gausepohl writes for Business News Daily, “Overcoming a challenge is satisfying, undeniable proof that you can weather a storm.” She features Frances Albán, CEO of Albán Communications.
“Adversity really does make you stronger,” Albán says. “It builds character and resilience. The key is to not let your ego interfere with your ability to stay afloat during hard times.”