It’s crucial to discover your passion, if you haven’t identified it yet, and then pursue what you love with a vengeance. What gets you out of bed on the weekends—besides the cat jumping on your face? What do you dream about accomplishing before you die? If you’re not sure, or if you have a few possibilities but are still deciding between a couple different options—say, between starting a catering business and becoming a bestselling author—perhaps try both for a bit and see what you like more. The bottom line is you should feel free to pursue your goal without obstacles. Here are three woman-specific tips on how to become your own boss and pursue your dream via entrepreneurship.
1. Find some funding sources to help get your business up & running
Consider grants first: You won’t need to worry about paying any of it back, as you would with a loan. However, be prepared to put a lot of time and consideration into your application. After you apply for whatever grants you qualify for, look into small business loans. You can find information about each of these via the Small Business Administration website. After you’ve looked into small business loans and grants, investigate some specifically female-friendly investment funding resources.
Virtually all the information I’ve encountered about obtaining venture capital as a woman has included one common piece of advice: Be more confident when pitching business ideas to potential investors. As women, we constantly have to remember to forge a new model of how-to-exist than the shallow standard we’ve been given by the marketing and entertainment industries. Angel investors are great—and there are a number of investors for women, specifically—but these investments are, on the whole, smaller than venture capital investments.
One encouraging trend is a recent rise in the number of female venture capitalists. Not surprisingly, the CEO of an e-commerce and crafts site called Brit & Co., Brit Morin, speculated, “There will be more female entrepreneurs if there are more female venture capitalists. Luckily, there is a new group of female-dominated firms and investment networks such as Aspect Ventures and Aligned Partners that stand to disrupt the status quo.
Lakshmi Balachandra, now a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, conducted a study that found the entrepreneurs most successful at obtaining venture capital investment were also the most stereotypically "masculine." "Part of the explanation," Balachandra thinks, "may have to do with the fact that all but 6% of venture capitalists are men." (Read more findings straight from Babson College’s original Diana Report, conducted in 2014, here.)
2. Think bigger!
In a recent TED talk, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon argued that women entrepreneurs should be considered examples, not exceptions. Too often, she points out, successful women are thought of as outliers and are too easily dismissed, due to their supposed exceptionalism. Lemmon discusses this phenomenon in light of the prevalence of female entrepreneurs in the world, at the moment, and says that women too often sell themselves short. "We should be reaching for the sky," she argues.
Too often, female entrepreneurs who obtain microloans are held up as exemplary; however, microloans are a far cry from venture capital investment sums. Lemmon offered, as an exception to the rule, an example of a female chocolatier from Ghana seeking serious venture capital funding from investors in Washington who might be interested in backing her growing business. She wanted to employ more than the twenty people already working for her, as well as to export her chocolates abroad.
Another figure in the entrepreneurial world trying to inspire more women to think bigger is Julia Pimsleur, who has a few tips for how to do so. First, she says, adopt the right mindset: avoiding self-limiting beliefs will go a long way to allowing you to reach your business goals. Second, acquire the skills you need: for example, learn some successful pitching techniques and read up on other important business skills. Third, surround yourself with knowledgeable and savvy business people (see the next section for more on this). And fourth, learn to be persistent and realize that you’ll need to put in a lot of legwork in order to be successful: you’ll need to network in order to be introduced to the right people, who in turn can introduce you to others. Eventually you’ll find the few choice people who will help you succeed.
3. Be careful who you listen to, and seek out mentors.
First of all, make it a point to avoid know-it-alls and self-proclaimed gurus. For most women, the know-it-all is often a well-meaning, usually-male friend, colleague, or family member who attempts to "mansplain" a few apparently important points to you, oftentimes while discounting your experience and failing to practice good listening. Second, seek out someone you respect who can act as your mentor. Sitting down over coffee and explaining your situation to someone is worth much more than generic advice from a self-help guru on Twitter.
Seek out professional advice specific to female entrepreneurs, such as the information offered on eLuminate specific to funding for women-owned startups. There are nation-wide groups such as the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), as well as local networking groups specific to geographic regions, such as the Women’s Business Exchange in Seattle, Washington. Lastly, remember that all your friends, family, and colleagues are potential connections to someone who could end up being immensely helpful to your business planning or funding, so always be networking so that you don’t miss any potential opportunities.
We need to start thinking outside the box and taking our power back, as artists and creatives. Sometimes that means keeping our day job until we have sufficient resources to support ourselves without that primary income. And sometimes it means learning how to be an entrepreneur and thinking like a business woman, regardless of whether our offices are located in a high-rise building or at home.
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Daphne Stanford writes poetry & nonfiction, and she believes in the power of art, education, and community radio to change the world. Since 2012, she's been the host of “The Poetry Show!” Sundays at 5 p.m. on Radio Boise. Follow her on Twitter @TPS_on_KRBX.