There are three challenges that can deeply hinder the progress and growth of a woman-owned business: access to funding, contracts, and resources. Fortunately, they are not impossible to overcome.
It’s no secret access to capital has consistently been a thorn in the side of women entrepreneurs and prevented them from scaling to the next level, but so have scoring major accounts and resources. With basic fundamentals in place, a viable product/service, business infrastructure, and a professional brand; access to the “troublesome three” can be within reach.
Reinvest in Your Business and Keep Your Finances in Order
Offset your funding needs and display your fiscal management by reinvesting in your business, first. To increase your chances of acquiring necessary funding, remove all obstacles before you apply. Be mindful of your finances, budget and revenue. Clean house and make sure your financial package is professional, up to date, accurate and complete.
Investors will want to see your commitment to the success of your business and confidence in its future. Have your books in order; know your numbers and be able to clearly convey why the funding is essential to your productivity and growth.
Your ability to organize your finances and exercise good fiscal management will go a long way in removing that thorn. In addition, with the advent of microloans, angel investors, and peer-to-peer lending; financial assistance has never been more within reach.
Microloans can be found via sites like Accion, Grameen Bank, Key Bank, Kabbage and Kiva City. Angel investors and venture capital can be found via sites like 37 Angel’s directory (many of their resources are directed towards women entrepreneurs), Pipeline Fellowship (female venture capitalists funding female entrepreneurs), Inc.com’s directory of Angel Investors, Make Mine a Million, American Association of University Women, GoldmanSachs 10,000 Women Inititative, and by researching like-minded companies at the next level and locating their financing sources. Peer-to-peer lending can be found via UpStart, Prosper and Lending Club
Take Advantage of and Exploit Certifications
Before you can take advantage of and exploit women-owned business certifications, you must first know how that certification will benefit you and your business. How will you use it? What will it add to your business? Will it give your business access to government contracts? Private contracts? Do you need a local, state, or federal level certification? What certification is an industry standard for your type of business?
The certification process is can be arduous. It could easily take weeks, often months. Be prepared to deal with lengthy requirements.
Not all certifications are created equal. Certifications are provided by state and federal agencies, National Women Business Owner Corporation, Women Business Enterprise National Council, Women Owned Small Business (via SBA), National Association of Women Business Owners, and a variety of private entities.
Do your homework and find out which certification is applicable to your business and industry (i.e. which state agency certifies women-owned businesses for local government contracts). The prerequisites may be the same: be a U.S. citizen, own 51% of the business, hold the highest position, and be actively involved in the daily operations; but each certifying agency will have their own additional requirements and process.
Having access to government contracts or private contracts with set-aside provisions could be what separates your business from standard to leader.
Actively Participate in Power Networks and Associations
There’s something to be said for joining professional organizations; camaraderie, networking, credentials. Not all are the same, so you want to be selective with your choices and commit to active participation. Dynamic professional associations are a boundless source of energy, support, resources and knowledge.
Do a search for local and regional professional associations, organizations, and networks in your industry. Check their events and activities to ascertain their activity. Google their name to see what they’ve been up to recently. Attend a couple of meetings and introduce yourself. The experience will only be as good as you make it.
If it’s a good fit, take full advantage of all of the benefits and resources that come with membership. Some memberships are not cheap, so be sure to get your money’s worth. At the same time, be prepared to give more than you receive. Join a committee, chair a committee, host an event, offer to speak, offer to provide training in your area of expertise, attend events, etc. Actively participate. The more you interact, the more you’ll increase your access to a variety of resources through your newly expanded and broadened network.
With a few adjustments to your finances, being formally acknowledged as a woman-owned business and accessing the diverse business acumen found in professional associations and networks, you will be better prepared to present and take your business to the next level.
M. Powell says
This is really thorough information. Thank you so much for posting! I am in the early stages of staring a small business (working on LLC now) and I am surely projecting issues related to all that you mentioned. Thanks for sharing!
A.Michelle Blakeley says
I’m so glad you found it helpful, Marley. Please let me know if I can be of any help in your endeavors. Continued success to you! AMB
Vilma Betancourt-O'Day says
Michelle – thank you for sharing your knowledge with women business owners. I am a Certified Site Visitor for the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC), a 3rd party WBE certifier and a Women/Minority/Small Business Certification consultant.
I wanted to point out that:
1. In addition to states, local municipalities (cities, counties) also have their own certification programs;
2. State agencies typically certify for state contracts, not for local governments (cities, counties only accept state certifications when they have a reciprocal agreement, which many do not)
3. The National Association of Women Business Owners does NOT certify WBES, rather it’s a great organization that advocates on behalf of women;
4. The Federal WOSB/EDWOSB certification laws have changed – self-certification will no longer be accepted, but they will start accepting state certifications. This change will take effect when the SBA issues the new guidelines.
5. Although WBE/WOSB/EDWOSB certification is definitely a badge to proudly advertise, if the women business owners are not properly marketing, networking and building relationships with their target market, it doesn’t make sense to go through the time and expense to get the business certified. WBE/Minority/Small Business certification is not for everybody. Being certified does not guarantee that your business will be awarded contracts. Record of performance is key. A Capability Statement is a must.
I urge any women business owners interested in entering the Federal Contracting arena to join Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), a nonprofit organization that works hard to change the contracting laws to help women. Also, WIPP and AmericanExpress OPEN have teamed up to provide FREE online training focused on Federal Contracting for WBES (http://www.giveme5.com/list-of-courses). As a member of WIPP you’ll have access to the more advanced courses, they are available 24/7.
Thank you and much luck to all!
Thanks so much for the additional insight, Vilma!