In Georgia, where I live and write, women have always owned businesses. Even our fictional heroine Scarlett O’Hara was a business owner, as the proprietress of a sawmill.
Georgia women have historically been entrepreneurial – from the rural housewife, whose hens laid more eggs than the family would consume and sold the surplus to her neighbors to Juliette Gordon Low, who not only founded the Girl Scouts, but also helped establish a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the Spanish-American war.
Contrasting the accomplishments of male Georgians in business however (Ted Turner is a conspicuous example), women have not fared quite so well. Only a few years ago, GWEN (Georgia Women Entrepreneurs, an element of Georgia’s Small Business Development Centers) published a report that indicated the average annual revenue of a woman-owned business in Georgia was $25,000. There are, apparently, still eggs to be sold. And homemade jams, and colorful quilts or dried herbs.
But progress has been made. Witness the success of woman-founded and operated companies such as Media Solutions, PS Energy Group, and MD&E, all of which are routinely profiled in the multi-million dollar groups of Georgia businesses.
So, how does one become a business owner? It is ridiculously easy!
Come up with an idea, consult a lawyer and an accountant, set up a legal structure for the business, hang out a shingle – a real one or a virtual one – and you’re in business!
Some years ago, over lunch with a Japanese banker who was researching woman-owned businesses in the United States, she remarked that American women had both an advantage and a disadvantage in comparison with Japanese women who wanted to start businesses. The advantage was in the start-up requirements and costs; in Japan, she said, it took tons of paperwork and start-up capital in excess of $100 thousand (cash in the bank!). The disadvantage, in her view, was the fact that many American women did not take their businesses seriously. She had, she told me, met many women on her tour who had mentioned to her that they were very happy as business owners, but “my husband has a good job, so if my business does not work out, he is there to support the family”. That, she thought, was a clear obstacle to success for many women. The idea of “dabble a little and see what happens” did not exist in Japanese society.
Most of the woman business owners I know in Georgia have established their own enterprises after leaving a corporate career. Some were working for companies that did not value them, did not listen to their ideas and, as an engineer formerly employed by a large defense contractor once said, “were expected to check their brains at the door and just follow orders”. These women started their own businesses almost as a protest, certainly with the idea of finding greater fulfillment in their lives. Others abandoned the corporate world after multiple lay-offs, with a sense of wanting to do something meaningful in their lives before middle age turned to old age.
All had visions of success at the start; for some it worked and for others it did not.
Next week, I’ll continue this tale with a view of businesswomen as committed do-it-yourselfers.