Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Whether they face cash flow problems, marketing woes or saving for retirement, business owners must overcome myriad obstacles to achieve and maintain success. These challenges are especially notable for women, despite the increasing share of women-owned American businesses.
We’ll explore some facts and figures about women-owned businesses in the U.S. and share tips from successful women entrepreneurs on how they overcame some of the challenges females can face in the entrepreneurial world.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are over 12 million women-owned businesses in the United States. In turn, these entrepreneurs employ more than 10 million people and generate around $2.1 trillion in sales a year.
Aside from the typical entrepreneurial pitfalls, the female business owners we interviewed cited several specific challenges women entrepreneurs face. These include problems obtaining funding, difficulty growing a support network, and reckoning with feelings of inadequacy and the fear of failure. Some other hurdles are bucking social expectations, being seen and heard, and achieving a positive work-life balance. [If you’re having trouble getting a conventional loan, explore these private funding sources for small businesses.]
Women have made significant strides in the business world, but they still face obstacles that men don’t encounter as frequently. We talked to a few successful women entrepreneurs about the challenges they face and how they overcome those obstacles.
“One of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is creating an authoritative first impression. We are often stereotyped by our looks and not immediately recognized as a serious entrepreneur.”
The solution: “To overcome this challenge, I’ve started to introduce myself — first and last name and my business — as I shake hands. ‘Hi there. Sarah Pendley, Sarah Theresa Communications.’ This establishes authority and immediately clears up any confusion as to my role. I’ve found that conversations go further and I’m taken more seriously as an entrepreneur.” [Related article: Key Steps Women Can Take to Be Strong Leaders]
— Sarah Pendley, founder of Sarah Theresa Communications
“As a mom of two and owner of three businesses, my greatest challenge as a female entrepreneur is finding balance. It can feel like your heart and your time are being tugged a million different directions at once.”
The solution: “However, one thing that has helped me achieve the balance I’ve been craving is by creating schedules and systems.” [Related article: How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today]
— McKinzie Bean, founder of Moms Make Cents
“As a mother, most of our personal friends have kids, and a large percentage stay at home — or, if they do work, they don’t have the same business risks and demands as an entrepreneur has. It is easy to feel like nobody feels like you do or has your struggles.”
The solution: “In this day and age, it is helpful to listen to podcasts, read books, [and] connect outside the geographic confines that may make you feel isolated. There are stories out there that can inspire you, and we all have days we need inspiration.” [Related article: Read a Book! It’s Good for Your Career]
— Tara Youngblood, co-founder at Catapult bpm
“Everyone and their cat wants to give you advice on what to do, especially men and people who are not even remotely in the pit with you. I have been talked down to, not taken seriously and even ridiculed.”
The solution: “The kindest way I have learnt to tackle this is to be graceful and repeat a silent mantra in my head: ‘I am not here to prove anything to anyone. I release this thought from sticking to me or having the need to react to the comment. The people meant for you will understand and find you.’ And I smile and get on with my work because my energy is limited, and I need to show up every day.”
— Neelam Tewar, founder of Maven Magpie Consulting
“The big thing I didn’t realize was that going from an office of 30 and a position where it was my job to build community to being a solopreneur would result in feeling really lonely in my professional world. Even though I was meeting with clients and hosting one-on-one meetings, I couldn’t unload my concerns, questions, fears and doubts on existing or potential clients.” [Related guide: How to Succeed at Self-Employment]
The solution: “I started by reaching out to those I had met in the community through the local Chamber of Commerce Women in Business group, then went online to start scouring for other women in business-focused events, meetings, conferences, book clubs, etc.”
— Christine Flynn, public service consultant
“My crazy expectations were mostly from myself. I expected to be Super Mom, wife of the year and build a successful business all in the same year. Even though I was (and am) doing great in all the key areas of life, I often felt inadequate, which is exhausting.” [Related article: Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Business]
The solution: “I overcame this by starting a ‘what got done’ list and gauging my success by that, rather than looking at the items still on my to-do list. This one little shift has made a huge difference, and I let the guilt of not getting every single thing done go.”
— Brie Sodano, founder of Cash Confident
“I believe the biggest challenge female entrepreneurs face is their own self-doubt stemming from a past negative experience or relationship … Insecurity can get the best of some and lead to a less-than-supportive community of women. It is only when women support each other [that we can] squash our self-doubt, take a risk and breathe 100 percent confidence into our new endeavor.”
The solution: “The first step to overcoming this challenge is to dig deep and identify the source of any insecurities. Why do you doubt yourself? These are the barriers to our success and cannot be overcome unless they are recognized, validated and released.” [Learn how to beat the biggest confidence killers for women in the workplace.]
— Marissa S. Costonis, owner of Change Bites, LLC
In addition to the above advice, we recommend that female entrepreneurs also embrace these strategies.
If you’re looking to become a business owner, consider following your purpose or pursuing your passions and creating a company around that. This will help you stay motivated and interested.
As an entrepreneur, you might have a one-track mind or a specific plan to reach your version of success. However, it can be more beneficial to open your mind so you can learn and adapt as you go. While remaining focused on your goals is important, rolling with the punches and shifting your approach as your business progresses will ensure you are creating a sustainable company.
Cultivating a community of other like-minded individuals who understand your unique challenges as a woman entrepreneur can help you feel more supported and less alone. Loneliness is a major risk of entrepreneurship, but connecting with other professionals can help alleviate the issue and provide a more inspiring network of passionate business owners.
Many people will look to others for guidance, inspiration and permission — especially in entrepreneurship. However, a powerful step to take as a female business owner is to become your own source of inspiration. This might look like regularly checking in with yourself, reviewing your accomplishments and considering your next steps to stay on track and remain excited in your endeavors. If you’re turning inward for inspiration, you likely won’t want to let yourself down and will naturally hold yourself more accountable for your business.
Women often feel the need to prove themselves to be taken seriously in business. However, more women than ever are embracing entrepreneurship today, which means female ownership is more commonplace. That said, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused or even burnt out as a business owner, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Regardless of your gender, business owners should not expect to do it all alone. It’s okay to request assistance and reach out to contacts for a helping hand.
Never see your gender as an unbreakable barrier to becoming an entrepreneur. While female entrepreneurship comes with certain challenges, there are many solutions and benefits that outweigh these obstacles. If you follow the above advice from seasoned female business owners, you’ll be on your way to success in no time.
Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.