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8 Strategies Successful Women Entrepreneurs Use
It’s always exciting to see someone you know – in my case, Sharon Hadary – publish a book. Even better when your interests overlap with the topic of the book. I thought I would see how the factors that Hadary and Laura Henderson laid out in How Women Lead: 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know apply to the women entrepreneurs I’ve written about.
1) Empower the woman leader within. Women lead differently than men; qualities such as being holistic, collaborative, inclusive, and consultative are strengths that will help you succeed in a global economy.
Theresa Daytner is founder of Daytner Construction Group, which manages and constructs multi-million dollar projects. The company is one of Inc.’s 2011 500 Fastest Growing Companies. Daytner places great importance on shared vision, values, and goals. She included her staff when developing the company’s vision and goals. Everyone who works for Daytner knows how each person contributes to the bigger picture, which makes the company more successful, she says.
For Jana Francis, founder and president of Steals.com, a network of daily deal sites aimed at women, it’s not just about her employees, but her customers and vendors as well. She takes the concerns of customers seriously. The sites don’t overwhelm women with tons of offers. Each site focuses on two deals per day, each specifically geared to the women who visit the site. Products are in stock and ship the same day. Not so for other daily deal sites. Steals.com vendors are highlighted in a way that showcases their boutique qualities so they don’t get more orders than they can handle.
Successful women entrepreneurs don’t just take time to consult with others; they listen to them as part of their strategic planning process. For Cristina Mariani-May, Co-CEO of Banfi Vintners, a family winery, listening is how she’s built a thriving business. The right relationships can help you enter new markets, expand product offerings, source suppliers and employees, spot challenges and grow the business.
2) Own your destiny. In Women CEOs Dish: 4 Secrets to Fast Growth, the women I interviewed discussed how coming up with their own definition of success allowed them to become masters of their destinies.
If you push only to the edges of your comfort zone, content with what you have, your growth may be stifled. "If you have your mind on growth and success, that will flow to your employees and support team," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, a document-filing service company. "Engaged leaders who think big and are passionate about business growth are far more likely to see growth and success than those who are merely content."
Whenever Dareth Colburn reaches a goal, she sets a higher one. The founder of USABride sells wedding accessories online, used to think that making $1 million was an impossible dream. After all, she'd started with five veils and five tiaras, $30,000 in debt, and work out of her apartment. But when the first $1 million came, she moved her target to $3 million, then to $5 million.
"Entrepreneurs who made it really big also lost really big," says Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, which helps companies sell to government agencies. Women are uncomfortable with losing but unless you're willing to risk it all, you can’t win it all. Or, as Woody Allen said, "If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative."
3) Be the architect of your career. I’m taking liberties with this strategy and interpreting it differently than the authors intended. For entrepreneurs, building success includes putting together networks that can connect you to money, markets, management and suppliers.
Who you know does matter. To speed up business growth and avoid pitfalls that can stunt growth, you need multiple networks: those that provide support and those that provide connections. Often, the two overlap; sometimes they are separate.
The value of networks to improve access to financing, innovation, and resources is a given. As the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor: 2010 Women’s Report found overall, the men and women entrepreneurs who had larger and more diverse networks, and those who emphasized non-private advisors (business, professional, etc.) reported greater levels of innovation, internationalization, and growth expectations.
Yet, even though women are great communicators and collaborators, we don’t excel at building networks. Our networks tend to be small and less diverse than men. "Women don't know how to build and use their business networks, said Jeanne M. Sullivan, General Partner, StarVest Partner, a venture capital firm. “Men do this by playing sports or grabbing a beer or meal. Women are hesitant to do this with people they don't know well." It's not just meeting in-person that builds networks. I've had success building meaningful business relationship via social networking.
During the past decade or two, organizations have formed to help women entrepreneurs build the networks they need to succeed as high-growth companies. Astia and Springboard Enterprises not only help high-growth, women-led companies make connections, but also train women entrepreneurs to make a good impression. Women Presidents' Organization is a peer advisory group for women presidents of multimillion-dollar companies. Its members, all women who lead large companies, learn from each other.
Growing your company also means stepping back. In the beginning, you may do much of the day-to-day work of your organization, but to grow, you must delegate those jobs so you have time to run the business, as Margery Kraus, CEO of APCO Worldwide, a global consulting firm, and Hester Taylor Clark, founder of The Hester Group, a project management company, explain in Growing Means Learning to Work On Your Business Not In It.
4) Advocate unabashedly for yourself. Building street cred by increasing your visibility can take many forms, from pushing an industry agenda to winning awards.
Sandra Wilkin is president of Bradford Companies, which provides project and budget management for large public construction projects. She is advancing her industry – construction -- while advancing her own business by organizing an industry conference about technology for construction. She is being selfless — a character trait many women possess — but she is also being selfish — advancing her own agenda -- which more women need to do.
Colleen Molter is president of QED National, which provides IT staffing and systems solutions. Karen Barbour is president of The Barbour Group, which provides surety bonding and commercial insurance. Both women have built their reputations by advocating on behalf of small businesses.
Winning awards is great way to show you have the right stuff. Don’t be shy: Nominate yourself.
5) Translate the stories that numbers tell to drive strategic results. To run a successful company, you must understand the financial fundamentals of your company.
Women put their heads in the sand when it comes to doing their financials. Their company numbers often aren’t in order or presented well. “It’s not enough to want something, you have to prepared to receive it,” says Nina Vaca, founder of Pinnacle, which supplies contingent IT labor to Fortune 500 companies. “You have to have the balance sheet, all the number of things prepared ahead of time.” Shelly Sun CEO of BrightStar Care, which provides homecare, has some great advice about what you need to know about finances and how to get that knowledge.
It’s not just about the financials. Even in a slow economy, opportunities emerge that, if you use them well, can rocket your business to success. Investors will want to know how you’re taking advantage of or countering marketplace trends, as Alice Wang and her partner Pegah Ebrahimi are doing with Spark Box Toys, which is the Netflix of educational toys.
6) Create exceptional teams. Women are naturals at building teams.
A recurring theme among the 2012 list of 50 Fastest Growing Women-owned/led Companies in North America was the importance of teamwork to the success of the company.
Women may have an advantage when it comes to running teams. “Women are really good managers. People love working for them … Women attract teams that are very driven. That’s because they subvert their egos and allow other egos to shine,” said Tim Draper, Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman supports that women are better leaders than men.
7) Nurture your greatest asset - you. Know that you can’t do it all and that’s okay. Find ways to support yourself personally and professionally.
It’s a myth that you can do it all. Sun, for example, balances work and life over time, but not on a daily basis. On any given day, she says, she is either a good mother or a good CEO, but not both. Others extol the virtues of delegating jobs to others, especially if those others are better qualified at that particular task.
Adopt the attitude of Talia Mashiach, CEO and founder of Eved, an online event-planning service. The most important lesson: “You can’t get to your end goal by doing it all by yourself,” she says. "Having mentors, investors and, most importantly, clients that are going to be there to support you and help you get there is the most important thing I’ve learned.”
Jennifer Adams is an interior designer, TV personality, and founder of Jennifer Adams Home, which produces home furnishings. She advises entrepreneurs to never stops learning. She asks lots of questions of mentors and professional advisors, listens to employees and customers and read business books and publications. Don’t be afraid to try new things. The worst that could happen is you fail. Failure can be a great teacher.
8) Turn possibilities into realities. Be open to all that life brings your way. Having fun will keep you fresh and able to take on more. And, very important, reach back to bring other women along. Give back to the community.
Take time for yourself or you’ll burn out. “Women entrepreneurs tend to take care of everybody else - employees, clients, family and friends - before taking care of ourselves,” Jane P. Newton, Partner and Wealth Advisor, RegentAtlantic Capital, LLC, an investment adviser company. “Scheduling time for yourself is the key, whether that's to be with family or friends, exercise, or take a vacation. Whatever it is that takes you away from the everyday rigors of running a business and helps you be present in the moment will re-energize you.”
What goes around comes around. Research bears this out. Successful entrepreneurs believe that philanthropy and volunteering make their companies more successful.
Women need to recognize the importance of supporting each other. “They aren’t looking for mentors,” said Jorge Calderon, founder and executive director of Springworks, which creates pathways for women and minorities to have a greater role in the innovation community. But they should be. Mentors give you connections, steer you in new or better directions, and save you from making costly mistakes.
For Barbara Nagel, partner at Perlman + Perlman, a law firm that specializes in working with nonprofits and social enterprises, being on the board of a nonprofit is great way for her to give back. It is also a way she improved her leadership skills.
While you may not be able to incorporate all these strategies at once, latch on to the ones you can implement. You need to play to your strengths and offset your weaknesses. Where will you start?