By Monica McCoy, Founder and CEO of Monica Motivates
I’ll never forget the day five years ago when I decided to leave my job in one of the most recognized companies in the world to start my own business. I knew there was no guarantee of success, but I’ve found that having a passion for an idea, a burning desire to call your own shots, and a willingness to take a calculated risk to be among the best reasons to launch a startup.
Starting a business as a female entrepreneur comes with its own set of challenges. There are the hard realities: in the UK, only 9% of funding for startups goes to women-led businesses. There are also the subtler obstacles: a smaller share of female founders means fewer role models and less advice available. Self-doubt, partly as a result, is one of the most-cited reasons women struggle to found businesses.
On top of building a solution that helps customers, then, women in business still have a way to climb – often mired in historical disadvantage – to reach the top. For this reason, it’s still important we all offer a helping hand – and don’t pull up the ladder behind us.
Women building businesses
This is an exciting time for female entrepreneurs. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of women starting their own businesses is increasing around the world. At the forefront of that trend is the U.S. where almost half of startups in 2021 were formed by women. In the UK, more young people, women and ethnic minorities are also starting small businesses (those with fewer than 10 employees). In their Venture Forward study of 2.3 million microbusinesses in the UK, GoDaddy found a 32% increase in women-run microbusinesses since before March 2020.
Our progress is impressive. But the outlook is not all rosy, and it’s even more difficult for women of color. The World Economic Forum reports that, across the globe, male business owners still outnumber women three-to-one. Women receive less investment funding, have a more difficult time getting loans and pitch their businesses far less often than male founders.
While there are still many challenges to overcome, I am a staunch optimist and I know that informed is empowered. These are some of the things I wish I’d known when I first started out as a female entrepreneur.
Doubt is natural when attempting something new and you need to expect it. In business, it can even be desirable. Like Icarus, high-flyers can be prone to hubris, dismiss limits and overestimate their abilities. To be an entrepreneur requires unwavering belief in your capacity to learn and grow, tempered with a healthy respect for real risks.
Business owners who exhibit over-confidence, and those who struggle with Imposter Phenomenon, both have a more difficult time shepherding a profitable enterprise. Successful entrepreneurs are not blind to risks (and we do everything in our power to mitigate them) but we are perhaps more willing than the average person to bet on our own abilities to avoid, manage, or overcome them.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey at times and having a robust professional and personal network is critical. But be careful not to surround yourself with a cocoon of comfort. You need a diverse network that includes people with backgrounds, skillsets and viewpoints that do not mirror your own.
I suggest building your network with mentors who will push and challenge you, fans who provide a soft landing when things get tough, subject matter experts who can help you explore new competencies, and critics who will provide candid feedback others may be reluctant to share. Accept help from others just as often you offer it and don’t try to be a superhero who goes it alone.
It’s unfortunate how often we must be reminded that self-care is not selfish. Prioritizing your own well-being is the responsible thing to do and a smart success strategy.
Of course, it is easier said than done. It’s been a tough couple of years. The lockdowns disrupted cherished work patterns and siloed teams. However, there have been benefits as well. Remote working caters, for example, to that 68% of millennials who say that flexible arrangements make a job opportunity more attractive. But sudden changes – whether in career, housing, relationships, and more – are never not going to be stressful. The question is one of management, particularly for entrepreneurs, who typically do not have the safety net and built-in support common in larger organizations.
There are so many ways to deal with stress, so you need to identify those that work best for you. Consider meditation, exercise, healthy meals, time with friends and family, getting adequate sleep, learning to say no to overscheduling, or enjoying a compelling audiobook. However you choose to do it, prioritize taking care of yourself first.
Successful entrepreneurs are curious and quick studies. Every small business owner confronts that moment when a major problem arises and there is no one to fix it but you. There is no IT department down the hall, HR a phone call away or legal team ready to offer advice. Despite the myth of the entrepreneur who knows it all, most small business owners are constantly learning, mastering new skills and getting advice from others.
The bottom line
Starting and growing a business is not easy for anyone. Failure can occur due to lack of access to funding, misreading the market, underestimating the competition or a myriad of other reasons. You cannot eliminate all the risks, but there is some good data that helps us understand common traits successful entrepreneurs tend to share.
Research with Harvard Business School alumni and data from a Gallup study of 2,500 U.S. entrepreneurs found many traits in common, like a degree of comfort with uncertainty, an ability to spot opportunities, financial acumen, vision and influence, and the know-how and willingness to build strong networks.
I know from personal experience that the founder’s journey requires incredible energy, persistence and passion, but I believe any of us can learn to do just about anything if we want it badly enough. We must all take a role in helping women and underrepresented founders get the information, access and opportunity they need to bring their ideas to life.