This article is part of “Celebrating Women Business Owners,” a four-week series highlighting the achievements of women business owners.
Read the 2012 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report that inspired this dialogue. See more on "Women-Owned Businesses: Fueling the Future" highlighting women business owners Laura Fitton and Sandra Yancey. View the infographic in our kick off article, "Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs' Business, Goals and Journey."
A recent Huffington Post article cites a study by the Kauffman Foundation that suggests financing is an issue that’s particularly salient for women-owned businesses. The article states that “despite owning nearly 30 percent of U.S. businesses, women attract only 5 percent of the nation's equity capital and when it comes to first-year funding, women receive 80 percent less capital than men.” The incredible women business leaders we’ve spoken to for this week’s #PoweringTomorrow discussion tell us that when it comes to financing, an entrepreneur must plan well beyond the start-up phase.
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How Much is Really Enough?
According to Nell Merlino, founder and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, “if you start out with a big vision and keep nickel and diming it—it gets smaller.” Her advice to entrepreneurs is to make sure there’s more than enough money to simply “squeak by.” She says, “Assess how much money is needed not just to start a company, but to really make a small company grow.” The women she’s met who have waited until they had enough money for the long term now have bigger companies. “It’s about being realistic about the financing and what is required,” she adds.
To help other women grow their businesses, Count Me In’s Make Mine a Million $ Business (M3) competition, in partnership with American Express OPEN, is an opportunity for women from across the U.S. to pitch their business to a panel of experts for a chance at a coveted spot in the M3 program, where they receive mentoring and coaching for one year.
Manage Your Hiring, as Well as Your Financing
When she looks back on the co-founding of BrightStar Care, a premium healthcare staffing agency that provides care to private clients in their homes, Shelly Sun says she would have done more projections, not just with financing, but also with regard to hiring.
“Think about where your business will be further down the road rather than where it is presently, especially when it comes to hiring,” she says. She realized the need to adjust how she was bringing in new staff. “I began hiring for where we would be two years out, rather just what I needed in the here and now. As we made that shift, we were able to grow in a much more accelerated, stable, but less chaotic rate then we had before.”
She told us that it might feel like you’re over-hiring, but if you give people extra responsibilities, they’ll grow into a larger role as the company grows. And she knows something about growth: her company was twice named the #1 “Fastest Growing Women Owned/Led Company” by American Express OPEN and the Women Presidents’ Organization.
Handling Aggressive Growth
SlideShare co-founder Rashmi Sinha wishes that in the early stages of her business, she’d planned to grow even faster than she did. “I think we tried pretty hard to be aggressive about growth but next time I would be even more aggressive about it. As soon as you have momentum, hire a bunch of people and put a lot of energy and money into growing fast.” For her business, that momentum continues with SlideShare’s recent $118.75 million sale to LinkedIn in May 2012.
Channeling Cash Flow
Some entrepreneurs, however, have experienced the opposite problems: unexpected rapid growth, and rather than a shortage of financing, too much money coming in. Entrepreneurs like Heather Stouffer had to learn to handle a quickly growing influx of cash once her business really got cooking, so to speak. Stouffer started Mom Made Foods, a line of healthy meals and snacks for children. Just six months into founding her venture she was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and landed her product in grocery stores, putting Stouffer’s company on the fast track. She refers to this time as a “rocket growth period,” which was ultimately her biggest challenge.
How did she handle it? “Cash flow is something my team and I closely manage on a weekly and sometimes daily basis,” Stouffer says. “With growth comes inventory, and with inventory comes a strong need for management. It’s a consistent flux of time, effort and resources that we have learned to delicately balance throughout our company’s lifespan.”
Properly assessing your financing is critical to successfully starting, running and growing your own business. How did your business overcome growth and financing hurdles?
Join the Conversation
Share and/or comment on Twitter, Facebook or your own blog about how you are #PoweringTomorrow in your community and within your business (Hint: Use this hash tag #PoweringTomorrow so we can all be on the same page!) As a start, complete the following sentence:
“I am #PoweringTomorrow by ____________.”
This is your space and your conversation. We want it to be thought-provoking and useful, and ultimately help you push through the challenges of the entrepreneurial journey.
Allison Silver is the vice president of brand, advertising and advocacy for American Express OPEN, a role in which her responsibilities include oversight of “OPEN Women’s Business Initiative" and “Victory in Procurement,” as well as other programs designed to advance OPEN’s mission of helping small business do more business.