As somebody who spends her days working with entrepreneurs looking for their next venture, I’m often asked if I have advice for aspiring female business owners. Well, as a matter of fact, I do. Granted, a lot of my advice is probably not all that gender-specific. However, if you’re a woman who is looking to start a business, I have some tips.
Find a mentor.
I can’t tell you how important it is — no matter what stage of life you’re in, experienced or just starting out — to find a mentor. We can all use mentors. In college, it’s probably going to be a professor. At your first job, hopefully, you’ll be matched with a mentor, or you’ll at least have some veteran co-workers who can serve as a sounding board for your ideas.
But even when we’re older, as we climb the corporate ladder, we’re constantly trying to experience new things and we can all use some guidance. So, yes, everybody can benefit from a mentor — even the mentors themselves, who often learn a lot from their mentees.
When we want to accomplish something and don’t have the skills for it, we don’t agonize over hiring a plumber or a handyman or an accountant. Well, you should take that same logic when considering a mentor. Of course, the wonderful thing is that most mentoring is done for free. If you’ve never started a business or don’t know much about the business world, why shouldn’t you have a professional offering insight and advice?
Some of the mentoring programs worth checking out include Woman to Woman Mentoring, Women’s Mentoring Network and Pass the Torch for Women. Score is also a well-known mentoring organization, which likely has a chapter near you offering free business mentorship.
Hire a business coach.
I won’t spend much time discussing this. If you’re an aspiring female business owner, you may not have the money to hire a coach, and honestly, you can get so much good (and free) advice and counsel from a mentor.
But a talented and skilled life or business coach often can really help point you in the direction you want to go. If you’re a well-paid professional who is looking for that second or third act, a business coach might be a good idea. Life coaches tend to charge between $75 and $200 an hour, business coaches may charge $175 to $250 an hour and executive business coaches can run around $400 an hour.
Yes, you may be sensing a theme. To get where you want to go, it helps to have a network of people to connect with. Networking can make starting a business and running it so much easier. If you have people to bounce ideas off of (along with your mentor and possibly business coach), you’re probably going to make more informed decisions. Through your network, you might find new employees, names of people who can help you cut through red tape or better vendors.
It depends where you network, of course, but some good places to try to make new friends in business include your local chamber of commerce and local business organizations, like the Rotary Club or Lions Clubs International.
Search for women-specific grants and loans.
If you need a business loan, it’s smart to start with your bank or credit union. If you run into roadblocks, there are often grants or loans that you can tap into that are designed for female business owners. I’d suggest starting with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. There are programs, coordinated through the SBA’s district offices, that can help women entrepreneurs get access to credit and capital as well as business training and counseling.
Keep in mind that mentors can also often direct you to programs that offer grants and loans for female business owners.
Listen to your gut — not the naysayers.
We’re lucky to be living in the time we are. As tough as it is to be a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated workforce, it’s a lot easier than it was for our mothers and grandmothers.
Still, there are going to be people (even those who are well-meaning) who are going to ask you if you’re sure you want to start a business. They’re going to talk about how hard it is, they may mention the high failure rate or make other suggestions for what you might want to do with your life. And I’m guessing most of those people aren’t going to be business owners themselves.
They don’t believe they can do it, and so they’re likely transferring onto you their doubts about themselves.
Obviously, starting a business is challenging, and it’s risky. But if you know you can do it, then listen to yourself. Finding mentors, networking and searching for the right team to work with are all very important, and I don’t recommend trying to start a business without having people you trust and respect there to advise you. But in the beginning and end, like so many things, your success all depends on you. Follow your dreams!