Women today own 38 percent of all U.S. businesses. They employ at least 27 million people. They even begin new businesses at twice the rate as their male counterparts – a total of nine million companies, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners
Whether it’s running a one-person operation or a multi-million dollar enterprise, thousands of women today call their own shots, take the heat and make the payroll.
They’re smart, resourceful and dedicated. They’re entrepreneurs of diverse fields and backgrounds demonstrating exceptional determination and drive. And they contribute more than $3 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.
Finding the funds
Despite a stunning display of entrepreneurship, the funding picture for women isn’t as bright. Access to credit remains the number one issue raised by most self-employed women, regardless of their economic circumstance.
“The challenge for women always has been to raise the capital needed to start and operate a business,” says Carolyn Leighton, founder of Women in Technology International (WITI). “In today’s market, online business owners need to know how they’ll raise this capital. Because of current market conditions, it’s only going to get tougher.”
Women historically have entered the workplace in a variety of nontraditional ways, and financiers often believe that women’s businesses will not have the same return on investment as men’s will. Even with hundreds of independent, lesser-known lending programs, many women fall between the eligibility cracks.
Women tend to start smaller, service-related businesses. They usually don’t have traditional forms of collateral, have no credit or messy credit histories due to divorce or other life circumstances, and want smaller amounts of money to start a business, leaving them with little to no funding at all.
The timing couldn’t be better for Count-Me-In for Women’s Economic Independence, a nonprofit organization that raises capital for women-owned businesses.
Contributors to Count-Me-In have created a multi-million-dollar national fund for women. The money is redistributed in the form of small business loans and scholarships for business training and technical assistance. Count-Me-In hopes to strengthen women’s position in the economy by addressing the challenges they face in traditional lending institutions that don’t account for the realities of women’s lives.
Many women don’t have a credit history of their own or have a bad credit rating. Their mortgage and credit cards might be in their spouse’s name, and they might have a sporadic work record because of raising children. Count-Me-In understands that factors like divorce and domestic violence affect women’s economic lives and credit history.
Making influential contacts
Most women business owners agree that the best advice they received when starting out was to establish a network. Your networking community should include your own field as well as related fields that affect yours: buyers, suppliers and potential advertisers. If you’re a successful networker, you’ll have sufficient information, resources and contacts to reinvent your company according to market needs.
“Establish a network of potential customers, mentors and competitors,” Leighton says. “Remember that everything starts with your market. You need to talk constantly to your market and understand what to deliver and how to deliver it differently than your competition. Pick up the phone and call someone who might have what you need.”
Networking helps you understand the effect of events happening in business, because you receive and share the distilled expertise of field experts. It helps you take risks, learn and even get something you need.
“Networking gives women access to incredible business leaders,” says Andrea Learned, creative director and co-founder of ReachWomen, a marketing consulting firm that focuses on reaching professional women ages 18-35.
“Go after the top thing you want and know that you deserve it,” Learned advises women. “Network on a personal level and just ask.”