It’s no secret that female entrepreneurs face some specific and difficult challenges when launching their businesses. Especially in industries typically dominated by men, female founders often struggle to find other women to act as role models or with whom to engage in business deals. Additionally, women who run their own companies may find that friends and peers view their work as a hobby or side project rather than a serious business venture.
Here are four tips to help female entrepreneurs give their startups the best shot at success.
1. Pursue Minority Grants
These days, many small businesses are struggling to find funding, and female-led startups are no exception. In fact, studies show that women lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to finding equity financing for their startups.
One way that female entrepreneurs can level the playing field is to pursue minority loans and grants. As a first-time business owner, you may be eligible for startup loans with a lower interest rate than you’d typically receive at a bank. For example, the Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans without the credit reports required by larger institutions, and they give preference to businesses with female and/or minority founders. Additionally, groups like Elizabeth Street Capital provide guidance and operational funding for women business owners.
2. Network With Other Women
Experienced business owners know that success depends not just on what you can do, but also on the people you know. For female startup founders, networking with other women is especially important, as it helps create shared value for both businesses.
From sourcing female suppliers and vendors, to meeting up with other women entrepreneurs to discuss common challenges, networking is a crucial part of growing your business.
Can’t find a women’s business network in your community? Leverage the power of the internet by joining a business group like Everywoman or The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, both of which champion female-led businesses. Meetup.com is also a great resource to find local business groups that share similar interests, including female entrepreneurship.
Additionally, female entrepreneurs can gain a great deal by networking with other women one on one. Consider sending an email or card to a female business owner whose work you admire. For best results, brainstorm a few ways in which your businesses can support each other’s missions and suggest the next steps for meeting up.
3. Find a Mentor
Despite the growing number of women in the business world, entrepreneurship is one field that remains largely male-dominated. As a result, female entrepreneurs may have trouble finding other women to act as sounding boards. However, the truth is that having a trusted advisor is invaluable when your business is first starting out.
From providing training and support, to talking you through challenging situations, a good mentor will help you grow your business while developing your leadership skills. Additionally, women mentors can help you navigate some of the unique challenges associated with female business ownership, including gender discrimination and similar issues.
Of course, finding a good mentor is easier said than done. If you don’t already know a female business owner in your field, you may want to reach out to friends and family to ask for referrals. You can also mine your LinkedIn network for possible connections to industry leaders. If you’re still at a loss for female mentorship, consider signing up for a site like MicroMentor. Designed to help small business owners succeed, MicroMentor matches entrepreneurs with knowledgeable mentors who will provide their services free of charge.
4. Trust Your Leadership Instincts
Leading others is a challenge for any business owner, and female entrepreneurs are often held to a different standard than their male counterparts. In fact, a 2013 article by The Washington Post reveals that employees rate chatty male CEOs higher than females who do a lot of talking. Even more unsettling, female bosses were seen as more confident and competent the less they spoke in the workplace. In light of this type of double standard, it’s only natural that some female founders struggle to determine the most effective styles of leadership.
“Confidence and believing in yourself are key,” said Megan Keller, founder of Keller Marketing, which provides comprehensive marketing and design services to a wide array of businesses across the U.S. “You have to be able to trust yourself and your instincts. When in doubt, relying on your gut is helpful and is a good gauge for moving forward.”
Understanding that there isn’t one style of business leadership that’s superior, the most successful female entrepreneurs tend to incorporate various strategies depending on the situation in question. While some situations may require you to be firm and decisive, others allow for more inclusive decision-making. However, in general, good leaders excel at motivating their teams to work hard and think creatively. By taking the time to acknowledge ideas and contributions from your entire team, you will encourage them to continue working hard for your business.
A New World of Entrepreneurship
While the startup world remains a male-dominated one, women are gaining more traction every day. In fact, a recent study by the Harvard Business Review indicates that, while the majority of business leaders are still men, women rank higher in 12 of the 16 competencies related to outstanding leadership on the job. By networking with other female business owners and encouraging younger women to become entrepreneurs, female startup founders can slowly but surely change the landscape to one that is more inclusive.