By Nell Merlino, Founder of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence
Economists are predicting a year of economic growth for the U.S. economy and competition will be tough for American businesses. It’s important to note that many of today’s small businesses are owned and operated by women. They represent 50% or more of privately held companies but only 4.2% of their businesses generate more than $1 million in revenue.* So how can female entrepreneurs take advantage of the upswing in the economy and take their businesses to the next level?
As the founder of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, the leading not-for-profit provider of resources, business education and community support for women entrepreneurs, it’s my mission to help the over eight million women business owners in the U.S. to substantially grow their businesses. The benefit of helping this group of entrepreneurs will result in increased revenues and job growth in communities across the country.
Photo: Dell’s Official Flickr Page
A new year means new opportunities to reassess and explore new avenues that put women entrepreneurs on the path to growth. Here are five tips I recommend that small business owners consider for success:
1. Retail Giants – Turn this competition into a partnership
Working hard to drive business to your own store or website is important but small business owners have to pay attention to opportunities and understand what it takes to become a player in the global supply chain. Bottom line, to compete in the marketplace you need to produce something that is new, better and different.
There are a growing number of opportunities for small American businesses to work with retail giants such as Walmart and Sam’s Club. Rather than just waiting for business to come to you why not seek it out in places where a large portion of consumers shop? Two years ago, Walmart, a generous supporter of Count Me In, invited me to help create its Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative. One of their goals is to purchase $20 billion worth of goods and services from women-owned companies by the end of 2016. Another door into big box opportunity is through the Sam Club’s Showcase event. Local vendors can approach the manager of their nearby Sam’s Club for the chance to sample and sell their goods for a limited time with the prospect of establishing a more permanent relationship. Beyond brick and mortar opportunities, Amazon and other ecommerce sites can also deliver big results.
2. Know your financials and have solid financial goals
This is something many women tend to avoid. If you’re going to grow your business sustainably, you need to understand how your business is spending money. Know where every dollar goes, right down to the last dollar. You need to fully know where you’re going and what you need to achieve in each quarter. It’s important to understand profit.
3. Learn how to be a CEO
This is one of the biggest transitions women we work with need to overcome. Just because it’s your company does not mean you have to do everything yourself. In order to grow your company you need to be out there selling it. It’s called working on your business, instead of in your business.
Your role as CEO is knowing how to hire the right people to help you make money. To start, write down the things you don’t like to do, don’t know how to do, and where you just aren’t skilled. Be honest! For these things it’s perfectly OK—and more efficient—to have someone else handle them.
Then, think about what other areas of your business need to be addressed? What are the skill sets they require? Is it an assistant to deal with the manufacturer when you have a big order? Or a salesperson or a sales force if that’s the least favorite part of your work? What about a bookkeeper to take charge of getting your invoices out on time?
4. Get Involved
There are lots of great resources and communities out there that provide opportunities to connect with other women small business owners in person. These groups provide important places to be heard, to share ideas, and find encouragement and support. Count Me In offers lots of resources like the upcoming competition for women from military families taking place in April 2014.
Networking opportunities can make a world of difference for entrepreneurs. One of Count Me In’s supporters has been Ariela Balk, whose Smart & Sexy lingerie line is in Walmarts nationwide. She has been instrumental in helping Count Me In members find opportunities they wouldn’t have held otherwise, to do business with Walmart and other big box outlets.
Also consider attending at least one conference per quarter. And no—they don’t have to break your bank. Think of it as an investment. If carefully chosen and carefully planned, you can earn the money back in terms of vital new contacts, new ideas and keeping up with your industry.
5. Don’t Fear Failure
In facing challenges, I find it helpful to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Once I face that possibility and the consequences that go with it, some of that fear subsides because I know I can handle it. Being in business isn’t all about wins, it’s about learning from your failures in order to move forward.
Change in the business is happening at a faster pace than ever. Consistently striving to improve yourself and company will help you keep move toward revenue growth. Here’s to a successful 2014!
*American Express Open Forum’s 2013 State of Women Owned Businesses Report
Nell Merlino is Founder, President and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, the leading national not-for-profit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million dollar enterprises.