Over the past two decades, women business owners have learned quite a bit about priming their companies for growth. They contribute more than $743 billion and 6.4 million jobs and are garnering more recognition than ever before. Dr. Marsha Firestone, President and founder of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), has seen firsthand how women-owned and women-led businesses have evolved and advanced.
She predicts that 2017 will be a historical tipping point as women seize opportunities and gain recognition for their innovation, passion, and perseverance across many industries. Dr. Firestone shares her insights on the growth of women’s business ownership and leadership.
The sheer number, size, and scope of women-owned businesses have grown incrementally over twenty years. As of 2012, women-owned firms made up 36.2 percent of all non-farm businesses classified by gender, up from 29.6 percent in 2007 (National Women’s Business Council 2015 Annual Report).
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When WPO was founded in 1997, female-owned/led enterprises were practically invisible. Here’s how the landscape has changed:
- Women are thriving in cutting-edge industries, including technology, healthcare, logistics, construction, and finance – versus forty years ago when most women business owners worked in “female industries,” such as fashion, beauty, and fitness.
- Entrepreneurism is increasingly appealing to women who are seizing opportunities to launch businesses at 1.5 times the national average (2014 State of Women Owned Business Report).
- Today, women business owners are running larger businesses with substantial annual revenues. This is especially evident in the number of women who own second -stage businesses that have moved beyond the startup phase to employ more people and expand revenues. These businesses are a significant employment resource and are making an economic impact around the globe.
Power of Peer Advisory
Women entrepreneurs at the second stage of business growth encounter unique challenges. Having achieved a certain level of success in the startup phase, their priorities shift from survival mode to challenges inherent in growing their companies. Faced with the everyday responsibilities of running a business, these CEOs cannot confide in their employees or share experiences with them. It can be lonely at the top.
Women business owners learn best when they decide what to learn, as well as when and how they want to learn. This de-emphasizes the teacher-centered approach in favor of an engaged learner-centered environment.
“The peer advisory approach provides an informal board of directors or sounding board. The ability to tap into the wisdom and experience of one’s peers offers support, empowerment, and inspiration,” adds Firestone. Participants from a variety of non-competitive industries share common aspirational and strategic business problems such as hiring, technology, funding, and more. Peer advisory provides myriad benefits to both male and female business owners:
Focus on Problem Solving: Peer advisory provides collective wisdom on a particular business problem. This allows participants to focus on solving one issue at a time, a great benefit to business owners who can be overwhelmed because they juggle so much.
Challenge Your Goals, Create A Success Path: There are many paths to success. If a business goal is to increase sales by 15 percent in the next fiscal year, peer advisory can provide a variety of perspectives on how to get there, simply because the group is comprised of experienced individuals with ideas that are different from one’s own.
Group Sense: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, including business owners. One of the best ways to be innovative is to crowdsource ideas. Having peer advisors with abilities you may lack can be game-changing. This happens by tapping into the intellect and experience of those around the table.
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Being an Entrepreneur Is the Great Equalizer
According to Dr. Firestone, the sky’s the limit for women’s entrepreneurial success. In fact, it is estimated that by 2018, one-third of all U.S. jobs will be generated by women-led businesses (The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute).
She encourages women to seize the moment and take charge of their future success. “I always say that being an entrepreneur is the great equalizer. You can have more power, more influence, and pay yourself more. The opportunities are infinite,” Dr. Firestone concludes.