Why are so few women business owners passing the seven-figure mark? Experts have attributed this trend to several issues, including math anxiety among women, the “good-girls-don’t-ask-to-get-paid” myth, and the “superwomen-can-do-it-all” complex. “I believe it is a stereotype that women are more interested in feeling good and helping others than making a profit,” says Nicole Fende, an independent consultant who runs a small business finance forum and author of the book How to Be a Finance Rock Star. Several women business owners who broke through that $1 million barrier spoke out on five ways to overcome these stereotypes.
1. Embrace Your Balance Sheet
Some sources contend that women, even the most successful ones, suffer from math anxiety, which hampers their ability to focus on their financials. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Commerce confirms that women are still shying away from science, technology, engineering, and math jobs, and a study commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences indicates that women teachers who are themselves anxious about their own math abilities are passing their anxiety on to young girls. The Los Angeles Times, which published the results of the study, said, “Perhaps math-anxious teachers call on girls to solve math problems less frequently; praise boys more effusively; or simply imply that it’s not important for girls to be good at math.”
Dawn Fotopulos is the founder of BestSmallBizHelp.com and an associate professor of business at The King’s College in New York City. She counsels women business owners on how to overcome math fears and manage their businesses better. “Some women have difficulty asking for money feeling like they’re being greedy if they ask for payment,” says Fotopulos. “Many want to be liked more than respected. Women often abdicate the interpretation of their financials to their accountants and treat reading financial statements like riding on a motorcycle with their boyfriend; it’s the guy’s job to steer.”
If you are fundamentally not a math girl, admit it and get some help. “Acknowledge the fear and lay out a plan to get some basic knowledge,” says Fende. “Look for free training, take a community college course, or pick up an easy-to-understand book. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions and ask for help.”
Sarah Endline goes by the title of mastermind and chief rioter of sweetriot, a thriving candy company. She has used an open-book financial management system with all full-time rioters (her employees) since the company’s inception in 2005. “I believe openness about all numbers, from revenue to cash balance in the bank, empowers team members and creates a higher level of accountability across the company,” she says.
2. Conquer the Capital Conundrum
Julia Pimsleur, founder and CEO of Little Pim, which produces multi-media language-learning products for children, raised $1 million in capital, and used it to hire staff and take her product line from DVD to digital distribution, including iPad and iPhone apps. Pimsleur believes that securing funding was more difficult because of her gender. She asserts, “I may not have raised as much capital as a man would have in my shoes. As a woman, I feel the desire to ‘play it safe’ is fairly engrained.”
Knowing where to spend money is as important as having it to spend, according to Pimsleur. “If I had it to do over again, I would have raised more capital and spent more on marketing. Launching a new brand in a very crowded and competitive space takes more than just grassroots marketing efforts such as social media.”
As a result of the funding issues women face, there are now several organizations focused on working with women entrepreneurs. WomanOwned.com features a list of resources that they view as “woman-friendly” capital sources. Golden Seeds is a venture capital firm that focuses on women entrepreneurs.
3. Think Scale and Delegate
Some women start businesses based on a passion or personal connections or interests, but then need to think through how they can scale up their concept for growth. Lynne Lambert, president/owner of NYC Subway Line, is a former actress with no prior experience in product manufacture and marketing. Inspired by a subway sign during a commute, she started out designing and marketing transit-based clothing in 1995. She was able to generate $1 million by 2007 and has since expanded her line to include accessories such as laptop cases featuring transit maps. She recently signed a deal with Apple for a New York–based retail test. If successful, the laptop cases will be tailored for other cities’ transit systems and Apple stores. “In order to hit the million dollar mark, I had to accept the fact that I needed to get help—especially administrative and sales manpower. I’ve found that women have a tendency to want to do things themselves because they don’t want to over-spend and they are used to doing many jobs—both personally and professionally—without assistance. Maybe we feel we don’t deserve the help. I had to have the concept of delegation knocked into my head. I couldn’t build my overall vision and grow while doing every job.”
Nancy A. Shenker is the CEO/founder of theONswitch, and is the co-author of Don’t Hook Up With the Dude in the Next Cube: 200+ Career Secrets for New Grads. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.