Female entrepreneurship has always lagged behind men’s – for decades, women couldn’t even open a bank account without a husband or male relative co-signing – but women are making up for lost time. Between 1997 and 2013 the number of women-owned businesses leapt by 59 percent. Today, according to American Express Open’s annual report on female entrepreneurs, there are 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the US. Almost a third of firms are owned by women. And female entrepreneurship is undergoing a demographic shift: back in 1997, 17 percent of firms were owned by women of color. Today, that number is 31 percent.
Julie Weeks of Womenable, a consultancy, says all this reflects women’s growing educational accomplishments, experience in the workplace, and confidence. Still, entrepreneurship is far from an easy road.
“Only one in ten or so adults in the US owns their own business,” she says. “It is a daunting thing to do. If you don’t work, you don’t get a paycheck. You have to have a certain iron gut to take that step and do it.”
Although plenty of women have that iron gut, women-owned businesses bring in just four percent of business revenues. In short, most women-owned firms stay small – very small. Julie Weeks spends a lot of time talking about how female-owned businesses can grow, employ others and help the economy. But she recognizes that many women want to be ‘solopreneurs’ - to build their work around their schedules, to serve clients on their own terms.
When going our on your own for the first time, a few rules apply:
· Be prepared to work hard – probably harder than you ever did in an organization. You are now responsible for landing all your own work. Many entrepreneurs need to be in perennial marketing mode to get that next gig.
· Make sure your online presence is up to scratch – that means having an attractive website that accurately describes what you do, and using social media on a regular basis. Depending on what you do, you may also want to start a blog. Have an opinion. You need to stand out amongst many competitors.
· Stay on top of your finances. You no longer have a regular paycheck, and to bring in money you’ll need to spend some money. If being your own accountant terrifies you, don’t let it: there’s tons of software out there that can help.