Starting a business is hard. Being a female business owner can be even harder. Pay gaps, gender bias, and sexual harassment are just a few of the unique challenges women in business might face. Pair that with high business failure rates plus challenges getting new business loans, and it’s easy to see why taking the risk might not feel worth it. But being a woman in a man’s world can actually make all the difference.
Women have a personal perspective into 51% of the world’s population that men don’t, which is invaluable to any female-targeted business. One of the biggest advantages women have is their network—we don’t just lean in, we lean on each other. And depending on industry and location, that network can be huge.
Missouri and Alaska, for example, have the highest percentage of women-owned businesses, according to a new study by Seek Business Capital, which analyzed data from the US Census Bureau American Survey of Entrepreneurs to determine which US cities and industries have the most female entrepreneurs and which industries are most likely to have female entrepreneurs.
To make your time in business a little easier, we asked real women in business to share their best startup advice for women. If you have a network of influential businesswomen in your life, reach out and ask to hear their stories. If you don’t have that network, start building one now.
1. Invest in Yourself
“Investing in professional growth will always deliver ROI,” said Robin Rucinsky, president of Thrive Advertising. “It’s hard to pull the trigger on investing in that copywriting class or that accounting course, but it’ll pay dividends. When first starting a business, it may be hard to budget for investing in yourself. However, your brain is your most valuable asset. Growing your mind is never a waste of money. A free way I’ve invested in continued education is using my library membership. I use a library app to check out business audiobooks. I love to learn and while getting to a physical class is hard, streaming an audiobook on my phone is easy.”
2. Ask for What You Want
“Although you’re entering a male-dominated industry, don’t be afraid, timid or shy to ask for what you want,” said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, which helps new businesses form an LLC or corporation. “One of the unfortunate realities of being an entrepreneur is that no matter what stage your business is in, it’s highly likely that you may need some extra capital to help out. This is, unfortunately, an area where we as women in business face bias. For example, in a fashion business, some male investors may need more convincing that your products are necessary. I’ve also heard stories from other women CEOs who were refused capital and couldn’t be taken seriously due to their gender.”
3. Don’t Fear Failure
“In a male-dominated world of business, it is often a challenge to learn to be confident and understand that failure is just part of a learning curve,” said Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird, a tool that helps people manage multiple email accounts. “When the feeling of rejection is still fresh, I get out and hustle and begin networking as if my life depends on it. I also like to remember the other women fighting for the same goals, and especially the boundaries that we are knocking down for female entrepreneurs of the next generation. I know that I am equal with my male colleagues, despite the unique obstacles that I may face.”
4. Lean on Your Network
“Launching your own business can be intimidating at any point in your life, whether when you are straight out of school or more established and settled in life and looking for a change,” said Jen Lyon, founder of film production house Alphadu Productions. “You need to make the leap and open your own business and you’ll be surprised at how much support is available to you. Whether it is small business loans aimed specifically for women, social media chat groups that give advice and help out with frugal marketing ideas for those who are just starting out and your community…people get excited when others pursue their passion. Show that you are excited about your business and that becomes contagious.”
5. Stop and Smell the Roses
“Be excited! There are going to be a lot of challenges, nay-sayers, and long, hard days ahead, but remember to enjoy the experience of being an entrepreneur,” said Audra Hamlin, owner of The Gift Firm, a digital marketing firm that works with consumer product companies. “Stop every once in a while and just enjoy. Know who your go-to person is when you need a smile. This has been invaluable to me over the years.”
The Bottom Line
Regardless of your industry or location, talking to real women who were once in your shoes—or still are—is the best way to learn hard lessons the easy way. If you’re in a metropolitan area, take advantage of networking opportunities by attending industry events, maintaining relationships with existing contacts, and even reaching out to women you admire to see if you can pick their brains over a cup of coffee. You’ll never get a “yes” if you don’t try.