Starting a small business can be a struggle for any entrepreneur, but women often face far more obstacles than men do.
“Women seeking first-year financing to get their companies off the ground receive about 80 percent less capital than men,” Lesa Mitchell, vice president of innovation and networks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, tells Forbes.
And that’s just one example. Yet, despite the extra challenges, female-owned small businesses are growing in number and outpacing male-owned companies in job creation.
Want to join their ranks? Here’s some powerful advice from five of the nation’s most successful women in business — and how to use it to your advantage.
1. “[Children] don’t do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Organizations don’t necessarily, either. You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to learn how to influence.” ―Ellen Kullman, CEO of Dupont
Action item: Pick one staff member to meet with for a one-hour feedback session today. Find out what’s going well for the employee and what isn’t. Ask for ideas about improving the business and the work environment. Really tune in. Figure out ways to address any issues and implement his or her best ideas. Meet with a different employee each week until you’ve connected with everyone. Repeat the process at least once a year. Actively listening — and acting on the feedback you receive — is one of the surest ways to gain employee respect, loyalty, and buy-in.
2. “Done is better than perfect.” ―Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Action item: Striving for perfection can cost you time and money. Accept that perfection is rarely attainable and learn to run with “good enough.” Set performance standards and expectations for each of your responsibilities — and then strive to meet them. Note that not every task requires you to exceed expectations.
3. “Women need to continue building strong networks that help them access information and be successful. I always tell women ‘networking is working.’” —Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Co.
Action item: Make both expanding — and nurturing — your network priorities. Schedule an hour per week to focus on expanding your LinkedIn network and calling or emailing people with whom you haven’t connected in a while. Next, attend at least one industry or networking event this month. Set personal goals for the event. Examples: “Talk to three people I’ve met only virtually.” “Pitch my business to two new people.” “Connect with two current contacts.” “Talk to five people I’ve never met.”
4. “Don’t be afraid to fail. My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome; failure is not trying.” —Sara Blakely, inventor and founder of Spanx
Action item: Foster a workplace culture that supports innovation and creativity by accepting failure. When you or your team members fall short, discuss and reflect on what you can do better next time. Remember that every failure provides an opportunity to learn.
5. “We may not be able to tune our inner critics out entirely, but we don’t have to let them run the show.” —Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group (pictured)
Action item: Work to build your confidence. Pick one area in which you feel inadequate right now. Decide what knowledge and skills you need to learn, and then take the first step in doing so. For example, if you struggle with public speaking, join a Toastmasters club. With each perceived weakness you improve, you’ll gain confidence. That will be the key to making stronger decisions and to silencing your inner critic and any self-doubt.