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Is Risk the Key to Giving Female Business Owners a Competitive Edge?

A new survey suggests that women-owned businesses are conservative when it comes to taking risks.
Contributing Writer,
April 20, 2012

While women-owned businesses continue to grow in number and strength, they are still catching up to businesses owned by men in terms of their financial success. There’s been endless debate in the small business community about why this is so. Some cite tangible issues. For example, female entrepreneurs may face challenges getting access to capital and credit for growth and expansion. Others cite intangible issues. Key among them is that female business owners may be more cautious taking risks.

Risk, of course, is a huge factor in starting and growing a business. The Hartford’s “Small Business Pulse” survey of small business owners found 55 percent of the female entrepreneurs said they take “a conservative level of risk,” compared to 47 percent of the men. Also, 80 percent didn't believe they'd be more successful today if they’d taken more risks in the past. By comparison, just 67 percent of men felt this way.

Nearly all—96 percent—of these cautious risk-takers considered themselves successful, compared to 83 percent of the women who identified themselves as less cautious risk-takers. And only 46 percent of the cautious risk-takers felt good about the economy, compared to 62 percent of the less cautious risk-takers.

In reporting the results, a Hartford spokesperson theorizes that female entrepreneurs get their businesses to a level they’re happy with, and then focus on protecting what they’ve built. After the economic roller-coaster ride we’ve all been through, this approach might make sense.

But is that all that’s impacting action—or inaction? Several years ago I was discussing entrepreneurial women with another business owner, who observed, “Women have an endless appetite for business advice and information.”

As a veteran of countless women’s business conferences, events and networking organizations, that statement still resonates with me.

This behavior is smart. After all, no business owner should go into a new venture blind. Being informed before you launch a new product, form a new partnership or move into a new market is the best way to mitigate risk.

But there are times when too much input leads to “analysis paralysis.” You think you’re moving forward because you’re taking action. But actually, you’re simply gathering more and more data. At some point, to clean up one of my dad’s favorite expressions, it’s time to fish or get off the boat.

We’ve been through tough times, but things are finally looking up. If you’re an entrepreneur, this is not the time to stay the course. Your business isn’t going to grow itself. Take a risk, do something new and see what happens.

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