Published October 17, 2011
October is Women's Small Business Month. Keep an eye out each Monday for stories for, and about, women entrepreneurs.
Female entrepreneurship has been steadily climbing in recent years, but these new opportunities and growth are not without a unique set of challenges.
Jane Wesman, president of Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc., and president of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, said women entrepreneurs face many different "stumbling blocks," throughout their careers and offered the following advice:
No. 1: Not having a plan. Wesman said one of the top issues she experiences with women entrepreneurs is that they lack having a set plan in place because so many women fall into their business accidentally.
"They seem to fall into the business because it's something they like doing, so they don't create a specific plan or strategy," she said.
Wesman advised all women entrepreneurs to write up a business blue print when starting out that includes a clear description of the product or service, their target audience and how the business will be run on a daily basis. This blueprint should also touch on the specific responsibilities of the business owner and employees, as well as an estimate of what it will cost to run the business in the first year.
No. 2: Lack of Business Articulation. If an owner doesn’t understand her business, neither will her customers. "I meet a lot of women at meetings and ask them what they do, and it's not really clear what the business is," Wesman said. "You need a clear description of what the business is—something you can say."
No. 3: Trying to do it all. Many female entrepreneurs try to handle every aspect of the business alone, according to Wesman, and that’s a recipe for failure. It’s important that female entrepreneurs surround themselves with team members that have different strengths and expertise that can help run a successful business.
"Women think they can do it all themselves, and aren't thinking about team building and tapping resources the way that men are," she said. "Men in the business world tend to realize that, whereas women are used to multitasking."
No. 4: Taking things too personally. Women often try to build relationships with prospective clients or customers, which can set themselves up for disappointment, Wesman said.
"When they can't make the sale they take it too personally because it was a relationship they tried to build," she said. "Instead of stepping back and thinking, 'what did I learn from that sales experience?' or 'how can I use this to improve my next sales experience?'"
Wesman blames this on how women have been conditioned in society, and being uncomfortable with competition and wanting to be liked.
"Then you take it really personally, because you are trying to sell based on people liking you," Wesman said.
She said women need to build relationships, but shouldn’t be scared to be competitive when pitching sales.
No. 5: Under-pricing services. Money can be a touchy subject for many women, Wesman said, and many have trouble discussing pricing terms. This uneasiness often leads females business owners to under value their products or services.
"It's not understanding what it actually costs you to produce a product, or what it costs you to deliver a service," Wesman said. "Women also under price themselves in the workplace, and the same thing happens when you are an entrepreneur."
No. 6: Hiding from cash flow issues. Managing cash flow and following up on owed money and payments is critical to every successful business, but women tend to be less assertive when it comes to collecting money, according to Wesman.
"This goes along with the issue of it being unladylike, or not feminine to discuss money, or think about money, or to collect it," she said.
Owners need to face those they debtors head on, and get what they are due.
No. 7: Getting too close with employees. While many small businesses adopt that "family" mentality, female entrepreneurs are often very guilty of getting too close with their workers, Wesman said.
"They treat employees like family and friends," she said. "It's about having a good business relationship, but not getting involved in too personal relationship."
When a relationship reaches that point, it becomes harder to make decisions in the best interest of the business, she said.