Women have a unique stake in economic markets, policy and outcomes. We contribute to the U. S. economy; we have driven the creation of new businesses and jobs, moved into leadership roles providing financially for our children and families our employees and the community and hold the majority vote.
With the progression from the home to the workplace and into business ownership we now own 36% of all businesses and control between $5 trillion and $15 trillion in purchasing power, and we are expressing our unique views and needs from this position of power.
Unfortunately, women in business have not realized their full potential as our revenues are not commensurate with our numbers — women-owned firms produce only 4.23 percent of all firm revenues an annual opportunity shortfall of more than $10 trillion.
So what can you do to start and grow a successful in business in 2016?
- Build a Solid Foundation. If you are starting a business, build your foundation before you quit your day job; make sure you have a sound business and marketing plan and that you have the capital you need to start.
The most important thing I did was visit my accountant before I launched my business; when reviewing the numbers for my new business, I learned that I would have to work a lot harder to achieve the same pay that I was receiving in Corporate America. I would have to play several roles to start including building sales and I would not be receiving benefits. I tabled my idea and at the next business idea, prepared myself and started with a solid plan.
- Protect Your Assets. When starting your business, understand both the startup costs and the cost to operate your firm. Make sure you have a plan on how you will fund your business. How much money do you need and from where will it come? Build relationships with your banker to access traditional loans; do not use high interest credit cards or rob your retirement savings which may put your financial security in jeopardy.
- Position Yourself as the Expert. Whether you are offering a product or service, make sure you position yourself as the expert. If you have 15 years of industry experience, highlight your years of experience and expertise rather than telling everyone you just started your business.
Additionally, I hear consistently from buyers — they want to hear from the person with the most experience, passion and focus, typically that is the owner. If you have sales people on the front line, instead of yourself — make sure they communicate knowledgeably about the firm and the industry and deliver a strong message professionally.
Avoid the, “I do everything” trap. Many new business owners take on too much and present themselves as an unfocused “jack of all trades.” Build your business in one, solid area of focus.
- Make the Most of the Opportunities Nearby. Identify buyers and potential buyers within a five mile radius of your business. Look at consumers, small businesses, schools, local, county and state governments, large corporations and any federal agencies, including military bases.
Make a target list and reach out to these buyers to begin building relationships. You can also volunteering or serving on not-for-profit boards for causes with which you are aligned, gives you the ability to meet other professionals that may be in need of your product or service.
- Above All, Follow Up! The biggest downfall to potential business is the lack of follow-up. Send a follow-up email, keep in touch with relevant information and deliver on promises. One buyer I know says he sees the 80/20 rule reign here: 20 percent of the businesses he meets, respond 80 percent of the time.
What happens to the 80 percent? They make contact, don’t follow up and lose his business; there are a lot of good firms with which he would have welcomed the opportunity to do business.
Margot Dorfman is the CEO and co-counder of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a 501c6 not-for-profit trade association based in Washington ,D.C. Dorfman is a visionary leader who has dedicated herself to promoting the economic and leadership interest of women. Her extensive background in business, business ownership, publishing and nonprofit leadership has prepared her to set the vision for the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (uswcc.org).