If you had told me three years ago that I would soon be a founder of not one but two small business—my side hustle and this blog—I would have said you were nuts. I am not a risk taker, I would have protested. Besides, I hate sales.
And yet, here I am.
What changed? There are several reasons why I decided to jump feet first into entrepreneurship, as well as why I think it’s working out for me and for so many other women right now. It’s not all fun and games, however. As we work to grow our businesses, there are a few pitfalls we must be on the alert for.
Women are Rocking Startups
Here are three reasons I was motivated to start a business (or two).
Strength in Numbers
A big reason why I went from “I couldn’t possibly” to “I think I can make this work” had to do with meeting other female entrepreneurs.
As I wrote about here, I struggled with anxiety after my brother’s suicide, and found myself avoiding activities I had previously enjoyed including meeting new people. In an effort to overcome my reluctance to be engaged in my community, I joined several organizations, including my state’s association of women lawyers.
Many of the members were small business owners and in meeting them, I learned two things. First, they were really interesting women working hard to be successful while also having a life. And second, they weren’t that different from me.
This was a revelation! Through my interactions with them, I realized I didn’t need to wait until I was perfect to start a business. I did need to work hard and provide great customer service. I would even go so far as to say I needed to over deliver. But perfection? Not a requirement.
It also helped that I wasn’t the only one in my social circle seeing entrepreneurship in a new light. According to The 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express, women start businesses at a rate significantly higher than that of non-women owned businesses:
Over the past 5 years, the number of women-owned businesses increased 21%, while all businesses increased only 9%.
Having a cohort of other women venturing out on their own creates a sense of camaraderie. In my case, this is true whether it is getting to know other female personal finance bloggers via Twitter (see this list compiled by Tread Lightly, Retire Early if you are curious), or meeting up with other female entrepreneurs in my area for wine and tacos (true story!).
Women are Naturally Suited to Being Entrepreneurs
Another reason why I decided to take a chance and start a business had to do with realizing that my temperament and my experience made me well suited to being my own boss:
- I am not afraid of hard work and am able to set and meet deadlines
- I (mostly) like to network and knew I could learn the art of the soft sell
- I am able to persevere in the face of challenges, understanding that it’s not about getting rich overnight but building a reliable income stream for years to come.
This won’t be true for all women, of course, but there is a surprising amount of overlap between the skills needed to run a household and those needed to run a business. Many women are already doing the former. Doing the latter may not be as big a leap as they expect.
Technology Makes Launching a Business Easier than Ever Before
Finally, as I discussed in a previous post, Is a Side Hustle Right for You?, today’s technology means small businesses no longer need a brick and mortar storefront to announce to the world they exist.
When I started my side hustle, I didn’t even need a separate phone line! With Google Voice, I could—at no cost to me—pick an available number with the right area code and have it ring to my personal cell phone. How cool is that?
The Risks are Real—But not Insurmountable
This isn’t to say that there are no risks involved with starting a business. In fact, not only is it still risky but I think there are some risks more likely to affect female entrepreneurs.
Being Over-Leveraged When it Comes to Both Money and Time
There is no denying it: women struggle more than men to raise funds to launch their businesses. Data from 2016 show “[v]enture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders . . . [while] women received just $1.46 billion.” This is an enormous disparity!
I was fortunate enough to be able to self-fund my ventures but if you are struggling, you may be tempted to charge up a personal credit card or take out a second mortgage. My recommendation is to think long and hard before doing so.
If you can’t cash flow your business, consider seeking out a small business loan (and if the first bank declines to invest, go to a different one!). Local banks especially often have as their mission to invest in local businesses. Give them the chance to do so!
For me, time has been a much bigger issue. I even spend lunch breaks listening to podcasts or taking online training to ensure I am continually building my skills. I also am less likely to get a full 7 hours of sleep each night, something I am not proud of.
My problem is—and I don’t think I am alone in this—I’m not sure what to do about it. Prioritizing the tasks I need to get done has been helpful but is not fool-proof. When I read about a new tool or training that promises great results, it is difficult not to be distracted. I am still a work in progress in this area.
Under-Valuing Our Services
Knowing what you are worth and then asking someone to pay you what you are worth are two separate skill sets (and both hard as heck!).
When it comes to setting your prices, ask around to find out what others in your space are charging. That can’t be all that you do, however. This helps you identify what the market will bear but it ignores what you in particular add (or subtract) from the equation.
Once you figure out your pricing strategy, you will then have to tell your clients and, more importantly, collect from them what they owe you. I found this terribly hard the first year I started my side hustle. I think I was still so amazed anyone would hire me that I treated my fee as an afterthought. But then, as I started to put in the time and my confidence grew, asking for what I was worth became much easier.
Equating a Business Failure with Being a Failure
Growing up, I remember watching TV shows like Dallas where the characters would regularly screw each other over, excusing their behavior with the phrase “it’s just business.”
While I don’t recommend you turn into J.R. Ewing anytime soon, I do think it’s important to not invest so much of your identity into your business that you lose perspective on where you stop and the business begins. This is true even if the business is a success.
Think about it: if every decision about your business has to flow through you, how much harder will it be to delegate tasks to your staff? Don’t be the roadblock limiting the growth of your business. Repeat after me: I am not my business and my business is not me.
Do You Dream of Starting a Business?
If you have been pondering starting a business, what’s stopping you? While I don’t want to push you to begin something before you have a strong foundation in place, I also don’t want you to not act simply because you don’t yet have all the answer. You will likely never have all the answers—I sure don’t!
One thing I do know is that my life is better for having challenged myself to accomplish more over these last several years. How are you going to challenge yourself? Let me know in the comment section below!