Nell Merlino on Why Women Are Driving Small Business in the U.S.

by Katherine Gustafson on December 30, 2013
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When it comes to starting businesses, women are running circles around men. Female entrepreneurs have been hanging their shingles at a higher rate than men for the past two decades and will create over half of the 9.72 million new jobs in small business that are forecast between now and 2018, writes Natalie MacNeil for Forbes.

Women are most likely to start home-based businesses, and they often stick to microenterprises and solopreneurship, MacNeil adds. And, while the blossoming of these small enterprises indicates great progress, the companies’ limited size and scope points to the ways in which women continue to hold themselves back from greater success.

“What we’ve had is a massive movement of women into small business, but their revenue has stayed fairly static and very small,” says Nell Merlino (pictured), founder of Take Your Daughters to Work Day and CEO of Count Me In, a nonprofit organization that champions and supports female entrepreneurs. “There are somewhere between 8 million and 8.5 million women-owned businesses in the United States, and 75 percent of them are at $50,000 in annual gross revenue or less.”

A New Mindset

Count Me In encourages women to think bigger, giving them resources and inspiration for reaching the next level. The organization runs a series of business competitions around the country and describes its signature program, Make Mine a Million $ Business, as “an exciting, yearlong business growth marathon.”

Women must fight their tendency to think too small, Merlino believes, by “breaking the isolation.” The key is involving other people in the business, whether they’re customers, employees, or community members.

“You cannot, cannot, cannot do this by yourself,” she says. Women tend to have “the idea that ‘for it to be mine, I have to do everything.’ We help them understand what it means to be the CEO of an enterprise.”

Leadership Tips

To lead as CEOs, women must become more comfortable with money, “in terms of making money, spending money, and having money,” Merlino says. “Money and power have been used against women for so long. People who haven’t had money or power might assume it’s going to be bad. We are in a powerful position to change that, in terms of how we act and what we make and how we run our businesses.”

While financial smarts are important, doing business is ultimately about connecting with people. Merlino emphasizes the importance of meeting others face-to-face, getting in-person feedback on ideas, and investing time and energy into building community.

“Keep going out there, keep talking about your business,” she advises. “I’ve seen this huge emphasis on social media, which is very important, but that’s not a substitute for actually getting out there and meeting people.”

Merlino believes that once women recognize their own potential for creating bigger and better businesses, the sky is the limit: “I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface in the creativity and innovation that exists in women.”

Photo courtesy Linda Russell.

Katherine Gustafson is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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