Discover more in the Women in Business series

Tips To Help Women Business Owners Focus On Growth

Women open businesses at a rate 1.5 times the national average. Ana Recio Harvey, director of the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. shares what women can do to keep this growth up.
Director, Customer Advocacy, American Express OPEN
May 24, 2011

Recently, OPEN published a report on women-owned firms that confirmed women’s impressive record when it comes to opening businesses. The report showed that women open businesses at a rate 1.5 times the national average. What’s also true is that these businesses face a significant hurdle when it comes to growth: only about 1.8 percent of women-owned businesses exceed $1 million in revenues.

I recently discussed this challenge with Ana Recio Harvey, the director of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership, and asked her advice on what women can do to improve growth in their businesses.

“OPEN’s report really corroborates what we’re seeing at the Women Business Centers at the anecdotal level,” Ana acknowledged. Based on what she has learned working with countless women-owned businesses, and through her own experiences as a small business owner, Ana offered the following recommendations:

Set goals for growth

If you don’t have goals, then you probably don’t have much of a plan either. Setting realistic goals for where you want your business to be next quarter and next year allows you to build a plan to get there. This kind of planning can help keep a business looking toward the future, instead of focusing on daily operations and the next deadline.

While it means work upfront, planning can really be less work over the long term. “Improvisation, as opposed to planning, really multiplies the level of effort. And having goals and a plan to accomplish them also helps get rid of a lot of anxiety for business owners,” Ana observes.

The SBA and its many resources available to women business owners—including Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)—work with entrepreneurs to establish goals and plan from the start. “What we want to do is catch women business owners early and make them sit down and think things through. And then we help support them as they grow,” Ana explains.

Hire when you need help

Making the decision to hire your first employee is a big step.  Unfortunately for many women business owners, it’s also a step that often comes too late. If you’re consumed by everyday operations, you can’t properly pursue new opportunities to grow your business. Consider how much of your time is dedicated to operations and how much is devoted to growth.

If you’re considering hiring, two simple questions can provide a good place to start. First, who can do a significant portion of what you’re  doing, and do it well? Second, who can perform the tasks you’re not qualified to handle? Commenting on the second question, Ana suggests, “Get an accountant as soon as you can. You might be fantastic at what you do, but if you’re not an accountant, you need to get one. An accountant is an incredible first hire for a business.”

Build in accountability

Some people dream of starting a business so they can be their own boss, but in reality, your clients are your boss. “You’re trading one boss for 10 bosses,” Ana notes, “and not one of those bosses is looking out for your business.”

Many times, small business owners get caught up in serving clients and unwittingly neglect their own interests on some level. To maintain a focus on your own business, Ana recommends being accountable to someone for your goals. “You need a mentor, counselor or a board—someone you can turn to every quarter and say, ‘this is how my business is doing.’ It’s always a good idea to have someone ‘check your homework,’ so to speak.” Having an advisor or mentors can help you see beyond daily operations and focus on the goals that will keep your business growing.

Whether you’re just starting a business or are simply looking to expand, these three basic tips should help you focus on attaining the growth you desire. For more information on SBA resources that can help you grow, visit

Director, Customer Advocacy, American Express OPEN