It’s a great time to be a woman in business. According to the Center for American Progress, 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees are now earned by women, and women make up more than half of the professional workforce. Yet, when it comes to upper management, there’s still a distinct lack of female representation, only about 14 percent of executive officers are women.
While some women business leaders feel they still face an uphill battle in the boardroom, female small business leaders are making great inroads. In fact, nearly eight million U.S. small and midsized businesses(SMBs) are owned by women. These opportunities come with a unique set of challenges, and it’s important for women to carefully consider and navigate their path to success.
Here are four ways women can get the most out of their careers and businesses.
As the Latin proverb teaches, “Fortune favors the bold.” More women are taking risks and being heard and now is the time to build on that momentum. Risk-taking builds confidence and inspires fellow entrepreneurs. Stepping outside your comfort zone allows you to grow by experiencing new things.
SMBs around the world take risks and face challenges every day as they follow their dreams. They must adjust and adapt to whatever is thrown at them. It may be difficult, and even scary, but risk-taking is necessary to take your company to the next level.
The U.S. economy is improving, and that’s encouraging, but there are still challenges faced by many small business leaders. Taxes and regulations are consistently identified as a top concern for SMBs. Too much legislation and high tax rates pose the greatest obstacles to business formation and growth.
While government restrictions and compliance with new laws will always be part of doing business, consider approaching these challenges in a new way. Devote whatever resources you can to mastering the legal aspects of your industry. More familiarity with applicable laws can help you find ways to improve your business efficiency. You might even develop insights for improving your ability to compete in the market.
Partner closely with your accountant; let them be your trusted advisor. They have tremendous knowledge to share, including best practices in dealing with changing business regulations.
Also, consider getting involved in local politics. After all, most politics is local, and when you're an SMB, that's absolutely true. The SMB voice—your voice—needs to be heard.
One of the greatest advantages of doing business in a 24/7 global economy is having access to an almost unlimited pool of customers. SMBs, in particular, are no longer confined to local markets. There’s never been a better time for you to explore international opportunities.
Take the time to perform market research about what your company has to offer, and how to make the most of it in other countries. With an effective Internet presence and the ability for customers to conduct business with you anytime, anywhere, the sun will never set on your sales.
No matter your level of experience, you’re never going to know everything about business or your customers. Many companies, unfortunately, make decisions on out-of-date information. One of the best things you can do is find ways to engage with your customers on a regular basis. And when I say “engage,” I mean you should get out and talk to them, face-to-face. The more information you have about your customers’ likes, dislikes, needs, and challenges, the faster you can make adjustments that will improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Don’t let your LinkedIn profile become just an online resume. Dust it off and make sure it lets people know what you’re up to. Join groups and share ideas; you’ll be surprised what a little group support can accomplish. If you’re not tweeting regularly, get on Twitter and talk to people: your customers, professional colleagues and anyone else you interact with in a professional way. Facebook still has a huge user base, so try using it to reach out to new people. Don’t be afraid to be bold, but showcase an online persona connected to what you want to accomplish.
It’s so important that women do more helping—and less competing with—each other. We can be each other’s best allies. If you’ve been out in the business world for a while, you probably still remember what it was like when you were just starting out. Chances are, if you could go back and chat with yourself, you’d share all kinds of tips and tricks to boost confidence. But since you can’t go back, you can do the next best thing: find someone else to mentor. It’s a great way to help an up-and-coming woman learn the ins and outs of the business world, and you might even learn from your protégé along the way.
It can be hard to justify anything that isn’t directly tied to the bottom line, especially for small business leaders. But becoming a more integral part of your community can be a great long-term investment. Get out there and make a difference in your local community. As you give, you just might find that you receive, as well.
Perhaps you’re ready to forge into new territory and conquer new opportunities, but not sure where to start. Don’t let doubt creep in and stop you from achieving great things. Nothing radiates confidence like someone who knows where she’s going and what she’s doing. Sharpen your skills, focus on your capabilities, and move forward. Ask for help and get advice, but don’t question whether or not you can do it. You’ve got “this,” whatever “this” happens to be for you!
In a saturated marketplace, building a customer-centric business is one of the most important ways your company can distinguish itself from the competition. And few things build loyalty as much as showing your customers that you’re truly concerned with meeting their needs.
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