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Women Business Owners

Around the world, women-owned companies make up between 25-33 percent of the businesses in the formal economy, and are likely to play an even greater role in informal sectors. Surprised?

That's what was uncovered in research by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO), a United States-based research institute that studies the growth of women business owners and their enterprises.

Entrepreneurs are those who freely assume the risk of developing businesses, points out Kathleen Allen in Launching New Ventures. Female entrepreneurs share a common set of characteristics, according to an overview of research by NFWBO and others, and women business owners are a fast-growing segment of the business community worldwide. These characteristics include:

  • Optimism about the future and the potential of their business
  • Self-confidence, an independent mind-set and a willingness to take risks
  • A healthy dose of common sense, realism and an ability to avoid self-delusion
  • High energy level and can-do spirit that propels them through the toughest days
  • Ability to balance work and family (most are married)

If you're not confident in your abilities, and see no way that putting in all that hard work now will pay off in the future, there's little incentive to invest in the agony of owning your own business.

"Hope is what feeds the person who lives in the future, and, if you have your own business, the future is where you are going to live most of the time," said John Aylen, author of The Commonsense Guide to Running Your Own Business. Entrepreneurs "passionately seek new opportunities," according to The Entrepreneurial Mindset by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan.

Risk-taking includes both triumphs and tears. Most successful female entrepreneurs no doubt have a few failures they'd rather not think about. But, mother was right (again): nothing ventured, nothing gained. You've got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. Entrepreneurs are able to "pursue opportunities with enormous discipline," say McGrath and MacMillan.

It's good to have advisors who not only know their stuff but also are able to get your attention when you're doing something stupid. If you're unwilling to seek or listen to advice because the dazzling light of your own brilliance blinds you, you'll never get that enterprise off the ground.

The ability to persevere involves not only the intellect but also the body. If you're not eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise, and taking the occasional "time out" for personal pursuits, you won't have the stamina to keep going.

Finally, if you're not willing to do what needs to be done to launch and sustain a business while keeping the home fires burning, failure is assured in either - or both - aspects of your life. "There is no shortage of time," counsels Aylen, "just a limited amount of energy." Successful entrepreneurs know when and where to invest that limited supply. "You can't do everything," says Aylen, but "you can probably do some thing." McGrath and MacMillan agree. Entrepreneurs "pursue only the very best opportunities and avoid exhausting themselves by chasing after every option."

Women entrepreneurs have common areas of concern. Oft-published futurist Faith Popcorn of BrainReserve points out six general topics:

  • Nurturing/growing her business
  • Multiple obligations to family/business
  • Stress of too much work/too little time
  • Fear of running out of resources in later life
  • Lack of access to capital
  • Desire for individual attention to problems

Research by the NFWBO adds survey statistics to her conclusions. In a 1994 study, the NFWBO found that women business owners consider being taken seriously as their greatest challenge. Their biggest reward is the empowerment that comes with gaining control over their destiny.

According to 38 percent of women business owners, the most significant challenge they face is being taken seriously. Being taken seriously includes:

  • Proving their capability and credibility (18 percent)
  • Competing/succeeding in male-dominated environment (13 percent)
  • Overcoming sexism, discrimination and stereotypes (8 percent)

Maintaining the growth and competitiveness of their business is also a significant challenge. Around one-in-five women business owners (21 percent) cites this as one of their top challenges. Balancing family and work responsibilities was cited as an important challenge by 12 percent. Most of the women in the study were married (66 percent) and many had children at home (41 percent). Most women business owners surveyed by NFWBO agree that the greatest rewards of entrepreneurship come from within and are strongly related to the empowerment derived from being in charge of one's own fate. Nearly half the women business owners (45 percent) mentioned issues related to gaining control and independence as the greatest reward of business ownership, including:

  • Having control over their own destiny (26 percent)
  • Gaining independence and freedom (13 percent)
  • Achieving growth and personal balance (8 percent)
  • A feeling of pride and self-esteem (6 percent)

The rewards of business ownership, according to the NFWBO survey, also include the satisfaction of building and growing a business (20 percent) and employing people and helping them achieve their full potential (15 percent).

Financial rewards are mentioned by 8 percent, and the number of women mentioning such increases with the number of years spent in business. In the early years of a business, when financial rewards may not be great, only 3 percent say money is the most rewarding aspect. That number quadruples after women have been in business for more than 10 years.

Other challenges cited by the women business owners in the NFWBO survey are:

  • Learning and keeping abreast of change (8 percent)
  • External forces (ie: gov't regs & economic conditions) (7 percent)
  • Access to capital (6 percent)
  • Breaking into new markets and getting new business (6 percent)
  • Building and maintaining relationships with colleagues and clients (5 percent)

Other rewards cited include:

  • Feeling a kinship with other women entrepreneurs (15 percent)
  • Receiving recognition for achievements and acknowledgment of capabilities (12 percent)
  • Building satisfying relationships inside and outside the company (10 percent)
  • Financial rewards (8%)
  • Quality and creativity in products and services (7 percent)
  • Overcoming gender-related obstacles (6 percent)

In 1997 and 1998, the NFWBO studied women business owners from 16 countries. They reported being optimistic about the future and, regardless of their nationality, shared many of the same business concerns. They considered furthering the growth of their enterprises as a high priority. The most important issues, according to the research, were maintaining business profitability, managing cash flow and bill payment, and finding and keeping quality employees. Other issues of concern were gaining access to technology, access to capital for business growth, and government corruption.

Most used some form of computer system, and most make use of the Internet for business purposes. They'd use more if technology cost less and was easier to upgrade. Difficulty in finding service and training were also cited in the study.

If you're interested in learning more about the entrepreneurial spirit, check out this book:

What's Luck Got to Do With It? By Gregory K. Ericksen (John Wiley & Sons, 1997)

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