Unlike many ‘rags to riches,’ stories will have you believe, entrepreneurship isn’t an easy path. In fact, honest talk with an entrepreneur will reveal that starting a successful business isn’t an easy feat. There are quite a few hurdles to endure. Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint-hearted and succeeding depends on how well one navigates the challenges they encounter.
However, although every entrepreneur faces obstacles, there are special challenges that female entrepreneurs face as it no secret the world of business is dominated by men. Before going into business, there are a few things every female entrepreneur should be aware of to be better equipped to navigate through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
Network with other women
Networking is important for every entrepreneur. It is even more important for female entrepreneurs. Bear in mind that to be successful in the business world, a woman should approach networking differently. Make sure you connect with more women than men. Even though the popular belief is that women are each others’ worst enemies, studies prove otherwise.
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According to a February 2019 study published by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University, more than 75 per cent of women in high-ranking positions have female-dominated inner circles or strong ties with women in their network whom they are frequently in contact with. The study also found that women with either mixed-gender or male-dominated inner circles were likely to hold lower-ranking positions. Unlike women, the study showed that men’s success in the corporate or business world isn’t affected by the gender make-up of their network.
The results of the study could be a sign of the ingrained sexism in the corporate and business world. What this means is that because women don’t benefit from “the boys’ club”, any woman who wants to succeed should invest time in creating their own “girls’ club.”
Women entrepreneurs should, therefore look for like-minded women and create mutually-beneficial relationships. This could be vouching for them to investors, referring clients, being their customer, or just listening to them when they need someone to vent to about business challenges.
Fundraising will be harder
Women have a harder time raising outside capital for their businesses. According to a global survey of more than 3,000 entrepreneurs, there is a significant funding gap between the genders- with men being twice as likely as their female counterparts to have raised at least $100,000 (Sh100m) or more to fuel their business.
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The Women’s Day Entrepreneurship Survey found that 28 per cent of the men polled had raises $100,000 (Sh 100m) compared to just 15 per cent of the women.
The study also showed that women were more likely to be operating home-based businesses, sole entrepreneurs, and work a “second shift” at night. This is because the funding disparity makes it harder for women to hire employees, rent office space, and set reasonable work hours.
Supporting the results of the above survey, American statistics show that in 2016, venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders, while companies founded by women only received $1.46 billion.
Although there are many reasons to explain the funding disparity, one of the main reasons could be down to how women in business are perceived. Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of The Muse put it aptly, “There’s a lot of research that in business, women tend to be judged on performance and men on potential.”
Knowing this, female entrepreneurs can’t afford to be sloppy when pitching to potential investors. Learn everything you need to about your business and get your facts right.
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You don’t have to cater exclusively to women
Many women make the mistake of assuming that they can only achieve success in businesses catering exclusively to women. While there’s nothing wrong with running a business catering exclusively to other women, don’t be intimidated to venture into other types of business.
There are many female entrepreneurs who have achieved success with unisex products, or even products catering to men. For instance, Arianna Huffington - the founder of The Huffington Post, Barbara Corcoran – a real estate mogul who’s an investor on the TV show Shark Tank, and Folorunso Alakija – the richest woman in Africa, didn’t limit themselves into women-catering businesses. Folorunso Alakija, a Nigerian businesswoman, is involved in fashion, real estate, oil, and printing industries.
It is true that unisex businesses are mostly run by men. But that’s not because women are incapable of running such businesses, but rather the harmful limitations placed on women. Notice that men rarely feel incapable of marketing products to women. So why should women limit themselves to only serving half the population?
Play up your feminine advantage
In a man’s world, women entrepreneurs should play up every little advantage they can. Men in leadership are often seen as decisive, direct, strong and logical. On the other hand, women are expected to be more community-driven, empathetic, patient, and trustworthy. Overall, men might be seen more fitting of leadership roles than women.
Unfortunately, many women tend to imitate men in an effort to progress in business or the corporate world. But women entrepreneurs might be more successful by embracing their feminine strengths and incorporating them into their leadership style.
A study by the University of California, Berkeley found that companies that embraced the distinctive traits of female employees and valued gender diversity saw a boost to their bottom line, while companies who clung to old boy network mentality didn’t do as well.
Women are generally more emotionally intelligent than men. This can come in handy when persuading a client to make a purchase, dealing with employees and boosting their commitment; showing humility and vulnerability which inspires trust in all stakeholders. However, female entrepreneurs should use these feminine strengths wisely to avoid coming off as weak or desperate.
Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you
As a woman entering male-dominated space, you’re likely to experience imposter syndrome which is a psychological pattern where an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent and internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Imposter syndrome is particularly an issue for women. This might be because of the social conditioning that women are not supposed to be as successful in business as their male counterparts. Women entrepreneurs might therefore feel like they’re fakes and that their success is down to luck and not hard work on their part. Many women tend to downplay their success and give undue credit to others.
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you’re in good company. Successful women including Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey have all revealed that they have experienced imposter syndrome.
To overcome it, share the feelings with a good mentor or a supportive network of entrepreneurial women who can affirm you. Turn your inner critic into a coach and cheer yourself on when you feel unsure about your capabilities. It will also be helpful to make a list of your achievements to prove to yourself that you’re worthy of admiration and aren’t a fake.