Women in the U.S. gained the legal right to attain a business loan without a male relative co-signer three decades ago. Since then, the rate of women-owned businesses has increased exponentially, with women of color leading the way. But even as the numbers rise, the National Women's Business Council points out that only “1.8 percent of women's businesses scale successfully past the $1 million revenue mark (versus 6.3 percent for men)." From leaving work to care for their families and bias against women in the workplace to enduring other forms of systemic prejudice, women and WOC business owners often fall through the cracks—unable to develop the business development strategies necessary to get ahead.
As a mom, wife, strategist, woman of color and business owner, I can certainly relate. In order to succeed, I have to break one statistic after another.
It's encouraging to know that some big solutions begin with the basics. Having trouble getting started? Create a business development strategy. No support? Build your own. Sometimes your skills, your goals and your circle are all you have. Lean on them to help you break through. Advice from my network has helped me create strategies to achieve business goals. Together, we've found solutions to tackle some of the most common obstacles that can impede progress.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Fear of failure is a powerful deterrent to business development. During my corporate career, I lacked support and as a result I often put myself last. When I left to start my own business and build a better life for my growing family, a feeling of inferiority was never far behind. My biggest challenge was overcoming imposter syndrome.
But I learned to approach problems holistically, keeping the people they affect at the forefront. I find the best solution is usually a comprehensive business development strategy. You have to understand your end goal in order to reach it. Position yourself to see what's coming and you can pivot accordingly to hit your goals. My colleague, K. Renee Ward, founder of the marketing agency, Creative Umbrella Consulting, speaks to this point.
“It is very important to plan marketing and sales initiatives 12 months ahead and have scheduled checkpoints along the way. When initiatives are scheduled it's easier to make strategic pivots and decisions."
When you prepare and invest energy and resources strategically, you can begin breaking down barriers to create the industry firsts your business needs to hit (and exceed) your goals.
A business development strategy can also help you overcome that nagging imposter syndrome.
“The best way to conquer fear is strategic planning," Ward says.
And she's right. I had to sharpen my lens and get clear on strategies for achieving my business goals. I relied on my experience in product development and strategy, reached out to my network, dug into the market research and emerged with a brand I am proud to put my name on. I created Tote + Pears (a branding agency with a female focus) and am putting my imposter syndrome to shame, one client at a time.
Figuring Out Where to Start
Oftentimes business development stagnates because of a lack of direction. Once you've homed in on your offering, developing strategies for achieving business goals can help to maximize your return.
My colleague Charles E. Gaudet II is the CEO of Predictable Profits, a small-business growth consulting firm that helps business owners scale and become more profitable. He breaks down business development into four phases.
“The most common cause of startup failure is not due to the lack of a great idea, but lack of momentum," Gaudet explains.
Business growth strategies rely on this momentum to drive traffic, leads and sales, so it's a great place to start.
Next, Gaudet encourages clients to “turn hard work into 'smart work' by strategically analyzing what's working and what's not."
To do so, he advises business owners to establish KPIs (key performance indicators) and strive for incremental improvements among the most important ones.
Once your business is successfully optimized, “put systems around areas of momentum so that no part of the business is dependent on the owner or any one person," Gaudet suggests.
An owner's job is to make sure the business has fuel to keep going, so you often end up wearing many hats in the process. Systems help you get out of your own way. If you've done the work and implemented good business growth strategies, you are able to identify what your business needs to thrive. You can systematize and outsource the rest.
Lastly, when a business development strategy is solidly in place, you can build brand new profit centers and generate breakthrough profits.
“If optimization puts your company on the growth tracks," Gaudet says, "it's innovation that keeps you there."
Making Sales and Marketing a Priority
When you're just starting to scale, funds are often tight. It is smart to monitor cash flow to keep your business afloat. However, there are crucial parts of business development that no business owner should skip.
As a branding and marketing agency, we often see business owners who are reluctant to invest in marketing and sales initiatives. However, as my colleague Ali Mirza, president of boutique sales agency Rose Garden Consulting, points out, “sales is the lifeblood of every company. Regardless of your product/service/solution, there are two problems [to solve for]:
- Getting enough people to raise their hand and show interest in your solution
- Turning those raised hands into cash in your bank account
There is no business development without sales. Mirza explains that regardless of your product or service, you have to attract customers to your brand and keep them coming back. Smart business growth strategies are built on sales and marketing, so preparing to make the investment is critical.
There will always be hard odds for entrepreneurs, particularly women and WOC. Knowing where you are today and taking inventory of who you can look to for support is the first step toward moving forward. A business development strategy should be the second. When you prepare and invest energy and resources strategically, you can begin breaking down barriers to create the industry firsts your business needs to hit (and exceed) your goals.
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