Starting a business is far from easy. And unfortunately, it’s even more difficult for female entrepreneurs when compared to their male counterparts.
While there has been an increase in the number of women embarking on various business ventures, the reality is female-owned businesses are still in the minority.
Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves and navigate the seemingly male-dominated business environment. We list the five fundamental challenges faced by most female entrepreneurs. Good news: some of them can be overcome.
Tough Competition from Male Entrepreneurs
With every business, you are bound to meet with tough competition—regardless of your gender. But as mentioned earlier, the business environment is predominantly male for the longest time. Often female entrepreneurs aren’t taken seriously in leadership roles.
Patriarchy dictates that men are supposedly more superior than women especially in the workplace. The same concept also suggests that women best excel in managing kids and family.
While that narrative is changing fast, many women are evidently venturing into the workplace and starting their own businesses. Unfortunately they have to deal with a few hurdles which include:
- Constantly having to prove themselves
- Reassuring potential customers that they’re indeed capable of running a business
- Earning the necessary respect they deserve in their field of specialty while facing prejudice
Faced with such hurdles, how then can women defend their position in the marketplace and remain competitive?
- Self confidence: The first step lies in having self-confidence and believing in your abilities to successfully run a business. Entirely eliminating negative self-talk is key.
- Competitive edge: After fixing your perception, it’s time to devise business strategies that’ll give you a competitive edge over your competitors including:
- Conducting an in-depth market research of what your customers want and need. Thereafter you provide a service or product that meets those needs.
- Going all-out in designing an effective brand identity strategy that ensures your business stands out. This includes designing a professional logo and website that’ll captivate your target audience attention.
- Conducting effective marketing campaigns based on all your research.
Striking a Balance Between Family and Business
It’s no secret that women are the primary care-givers in most household settings. They’re expected to handle a large chunk of household activities; from cooking to cleaning to childcare. Taking care of the family is undoubtedly a huge responsibility which requires plenty of time and attention.
When a woman then decides to start a business, it automatically means both her time and attention are split between work and family.
It’s safe to say it’s nearly impossible for equal attention to be awarded to both aspects. Unfortunately, one may take priority over the other. Running a business is extremely demanding, but so is taking care of the kids. As a result, you may end up:
- Working longer hours in an attempt to fulfil both obligations
- Giving more attention to one aspect than the other
- Missing business deadlines
- Suffer from stress, fatigue and exhaustion
In worst case scenarios, you may decide to give up on the business altogether. This is why it’s not uncommon for women to either be career oriented at the expense of starting a family or vice versa.
Fortunately, there are some men who are moving away from this perception and stepping up where running a household is concerned. In addition, there are more and more women who are devising ways to manage both their work and family life. And the following tips can prove to be useful:
- Prioritize: Distinguish between family and business tasks that require urgent attention and those that can be compromised on. This way you can prioritize and decide on what you’re prepared to handle at any given time.
- –Delegate: We understand that the success—or failure—of your business solely rests on your shoulders. But it’s advisable to delegate certain tasks to suitably qualified individuals you work with to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
- Get rid of time-wasters: Eliminate distractions where possible. This includes limiting casual internet surfing or chatty employees. Stay focused on being productive.
- Make time for yourself: In between juggling your business and family life, don’t forget to make time for yourself. Engage in activities you love that can help ease your mind and recuperate. Book into a spa or go watch a movie. You can even do nothing—your mind and body need that break.
Starting a business requires funding which usually comes in the form of loans from financial institutions. And to access these loans, lenders usually need some form of collateral such as housing or cars.
Compared to their male counterparts, not as many women have these assets thereby limiting their access to funding. Studies have shown that the proportion of men owning land is 21% higher than that of women.
Fortunately, financial institutions aren’t the only sources of business funding. Women should embrace other alternatives which include:
- Crowdfunding: Over the years crowdfunding has become a viable finance option for female entrepreneurs. Here you allow other institutions or individuals to invest in your project. In most cases, this exercise is conducted via the internet. Your best bet is to look for crowdfunding sites and raise that much needed capital
- Women welfare organizations: Certain organizations who understand the plight of women have stepped-up to offer financial support to emerging start-ups driven by women such as SBA, Kiva, etc.
- Women investors: Established business women have also taken it upon themselves to assist fellow women with the much needed finances required to start a business.
Lack of Support
Women entrepreneurs lack the necessary support needed to guide them through their new business projects. As mentioned earlier, there’s minimal support from financial institutions as well as other stakeholders.
When you’re starting a business, you need as much support as you can get from industry experts in your area of speciality. This includes engaging the services of a qualified business mentor or advisor to help you navigate the business landscape.
Support is also crucial on a personal level. You need your family to actively support you with regards to helping with household chores etc. Minimal support from the above mentioned parties will make it increasingly difficult to make your mark in the business world.
Building a support network is crucial if you expect to thrive in the competitive business environment. We’ll admit that knowing where to find the right support network is never easy. But an ideal place to start is looking for women-focused networking events such as:
- WIN Conferences
- Bizwomen Events
- Ellevate Network
Take advantage of these groups by asking anything—and everything—you aren’t sure of regarding running a business. Be specific about what you want and you’ll get the answers you need.
Lack of Necessary Skills
Running a business requires certain skills, experience and education. Not all female entrepreneurs have formal qualifications needed to run a business. This unfortunately results in women facing numerous problems regarding various aspects of running the business such as:
- Business development: You must be able to devise business growth strategies that ensure your company remains viable
- Understand financial matters: You need to be well versed on money matters to successfully run a business. This includes having a basic knowledge of accounting skills to better manage your business’ funds.
- Get resources: You need to have the necessary resources, be it financial, human or equipment to successfully run a business.
Knowing how to attain these resources is crucial. Do you know how to access funds? Do you know the specialized equipment needed to run your business and how to get it? Is your workforce qualified to achieve your business goals? Knowing in this case is achieving.
The solution is pretty simple in this regard. Before you even think of embarking on a new business adventure, ask yourself this: do you have the necessary qualifications? Do you have the experience and skills? A business idea does not translate into a business unless it is backed by solid financial and marketing strategies.
Enrol in an academic institution to attain the necessary qualifications. Also, start by working for someone in a similar industry to gain experience in your intended field before starting your business. Look for a mentor who can give you the necessary advice regarding how to best tackle your new business project.
This preparation is worth the investment of time and money as it increases your chances of future success.
It takes a collective effort from family, industry experts, investors and society at large to change their perception regarding female entrepreneurs. It’s high time all parties involved break the glass ceiling and give women an equal opportunity to shine in the corporate world.