Women entrepreneurs around the world are enthusiastic about their futures, and in the United States, where they have launched more businesses this year than their male counterparts, confidence is booming.
In a recent Paypal survey, 50% of 1,200 women polled from various countries said they saw few barriers to their future business success and described themselves as optimistic. In a report commissioned by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Web.com earlier this year, 89% of U.S. women business owners expressed optimism about their businesses’ prospects for 2014, and 92% expressed positive feelings for women entrepreneurs in general, predicting that more women would start their own businesses this year (and they did, at an unprecedented number).
The Paypal survey also shows that 55% of women from the U.S. place work-life balance as their top goal. Overall, 47% of women around the world named passion as their leading motivation, and 64% of American women named independence as one of their attributes.
These attributes are different from what male entrepreneurs typically list, and a Bank of America spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report points out other characteristics that distinguish women and men business owners. For instance, 58% of women considered multitasking to be one of their key character strengths, compared to only 40% of men. Women were also 10% more likely to list creativity and 5% more likely to list empathy as key character traits for employees. On the other hand, 30% of men listed confidence as their strongest attribute, as opposed to only 24% of women.
Though 72% of small business owners overall admitted they’ve made significant personal sacrifices in order to run their business, the Bank of America report found the sacrifices of female entrepreneurs to be much different from those of their male counterparts. Women are more likely to sacrifice time for themselves and their social lives for their businesses, whereas men will usually sacrifice time with their spouse and children. Women are also more likely to hire their children, while 27% of men stated they would not readily do the same.
Despite their optimism, women entrepreneurs face some daunting challenges once they get their businesses up and running. Though the economy and healthcare are shared concerns for both men and women entrepreneurs, reports show that women usually have more to lose because they are far less likely to get business loans, resulting in personal funds being invested in their companies.
Other concerns women have are significantly higher than men’s and illustrate the extra difficulties they struggle with. In the NAWBO/Web.com report, 80% are worried about business taxes, for instance, while 61% are uneasy about access to capital and 51% about fuel and energy costs. These significant numbers reflect the high stakes that women are playing in business ownership and the often go-it-alone nature of their enterprises.
Here are some additional challenges women say they face:
- Utilizing connections: Men have had more time to learn how valuable this is, and what has historically been perceived by women as a “boys club” mentality is a strategy more female entrepreneurs may want to reconsider as they look for ways to build their own success.
- Decisiveness: Women struggle with making decisions on the fly or when all the information is not available. They must cultivate their ability to do this while still being able to consider others’ viewpoints.
- Lack of role models: Men tend to get all the media attention for their successes and this is partly because they dominate professional fields that are the most lucrative and attractive, such as the tech sector. In general, the very low numbers of female employees in technology and other fields such as construction and transportation must increase if women are to gain the experience and skills that can lead to their own start-ups in these high-profile sectors.
- The expectation to succeed in everything: While men are primarily judged on how well they do in their careers, working women have long been scrutinized for many other things as well—how they manage their family, social life and their appearance, for instance. Women must periodically determine what is most important in the near-term and focus on those goals while realizing they cannot perfect everything at once. They need to allow themselves to be human.
- Time management: Most women entrepreneurs love what they do, but while they need to work on their businesses, they cannot get so caught up in them that other important things get crowded out of the picture. They must use their passion to inspire others that they can delegate tasks to, which will give them more time to plan their days accordingly.
- Fear of success: Too many women look at starting their business as their ultimate accomplishment, when in fact they may be overlooking golden possibilities to take the next step and gain further success. Women must learn to recognize the anxieties that come with levels of success, how to manage and grow from them, and seize new opportunities without requiring validation from others.
As women continue to expand into the small-business field, many are taking measures to transform their companies into larger, more profitable enterprises. The Bank of America report found that 56% of women were planning to hire more in 2014, as opposed to 50% of men respondents. The NAWBO/ Web.com report showed the majority are focusing on improving and investing in customer service (69%) and marketing (62%), while about half (48%) are enhancing their products or services.
Women entrepreneurs also indicated they would be investing more in mobile marketing, social media marketing and website/online marketing. But the focus on online marketing also reveals a major weakness that could keep women business owners from success.
Although 85% of respondents say social media is important for building customer relationships, just 67% use social media to market their companies and connect with customers. Only one-fourth of women business owners post on social media at least once a day, while 23% admit they rarely post at all. If this major marketing tool is to be utilized to its fullest potential, more women will have to commit to social media either by learning its full capabilities or employing someone with social media knowledge to handle it.
Meanwhile, U.S. women business owners are hopeful they can get elected officials in place who understand their needs. A flash survey by the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) showed that women entrepreneurs are researching political leaders and are voting in high numbers: 83% of those surveyed said it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that elected officials have a stated “pro-business” agenda. What’s more, their top expressed concerns for officials are in finding ways to market and grow women-owned businesses (58%), followed by the cost of health care (38%).
With women-owned business now a $3 trillion economic force supporting 23 million jobs, NASE and other economic watch groups are saying it would be wise for elected leaders to address the issues of health care, women’s entrepreneurship and tax reform for the small business community in the near future.