October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and this month the Kabbage blog is featuring some special articles to share the stories of inspiring women in business. This is a great time to reflect on the accomplishments and promise of female entrepreneurs. For many years, women were underrepresented in the world of entrepreneurship, and we need to recognize how far we’ve come. We also intend for this special month to be a source of inspiration for all entrepreneurs – women and men.
For generations, women faced an uphill battle; they were often discouraged from starting their own businesses, shut out of the market for small business loans, and faced discrimination from suppliers, customers, landlords, and government officials. For far too long, there were prevalent attitudes in much of American society that women weren’t supposed to be “the boss,” and were only supposed to work in certain fields such as teaching, nursing, or other traditional “women’s-only” careers.
Fortunately, times have changed! More women are starting businesses than ever before. According to this article in Forbes (“Women Entrepreneurs: Faster Than A Speeding Bullet? You Go Girl!”), since 1997, the number of women-owned businesses has increased by 59 percent (1.5 times the national average), and women-owned companies have seen job growth of 10 percent and revenue increases of 63 percent.
The State of Women-Owned Businesses Report for 2014, commissioned by American Express, found that there are currently 9.1 million women-owned businesses, which employ nearly 7.9 million people and generate over $1.4 trillion in revenues. There are several interesting facts and insights from this report, including:
- Women business owners are becoming more diverse: Today, 32 percent of women-owned firms are owned by women of color, compared to only 17 percent in 1997.
- Women-owned business growth is happening in some unexpected places: Most people think of big, populous states like California and New York as being the biggest centers of American entrepreneurship. However, the states with the fastest growth in quantity, job numbers, and revenues of women-owned businesses are North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Wyoming, Virginia, Maryland, Texas, and Utah.
- Women-owned businesses make up a growing share of all privately-held businesses: As of 2014, women-owned firms make up 31% of all privately held companies in America, representing 14% of jobs at privately held firms, and 11% of revenues.
So if you’re a female entrepreneur, October is an ideal occasion to celebrate your successes and honor the legacies of all of the other enterprising women who are making a difference in the business world.
Here are a few examples of some inspiring female entrepreneurs who exemplify this month’s theme of “Women in Business: Remarkable Entrepreneurs, Real Leaders.”
- Sara Blakely: Sara Blakely was 29 years old when she invested her life savings ($5,000) trying to invent a new kind of underwear that looked good under white pants. Six months later, Spanx was named as one of Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Things, and now earns $250 million in annual revenues.
- Weili Dai: Weili Dai co-founded Marvell Technology Group in 1995 with her husband; she is the only woman co-founder of an American semiconductor company.
- Kathy Ireland: Kathy Ireland rose to fame early in her career as a supermodel, but didn’t want her future to depend on how other people thought she looked. Following the advice of Warren Buffett, who told her that housewares are a good market to be in, Kathy left the modeling world behind to start her own line of home goods and clothing. Her company is now worth $350 million.
- Oprah Winfrey: Oprah Winfrey had a severely disadvantaged and impoverished childhood. She was able to overcome hardship, rising to fame as the host of her very own talk show. Today she’s a multimedia magnate and the first African-American billionaire.
- Maxine Clark: Maxine Clark was 48 years old when she got the idea for a new sort of interactive store where children could make a teddy bear just the way they wanted. Many people doubted that her idea would succeed, but she took money out of her retirement account to launch Build-A-Bear Workshop. The company now has more than 400 stores worldwide.
We hope those stories of success have inspired you to redouble your efforts to grow your business! Here’s how you can do it:
There are a variety of resources and support available for women in small business, including:
- Small business loans for women: The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business loans that women-owned companies can apply for, including microloans (up to $50,000), general small business loans, and real estate & equipment loans. There are a variety of small business loan programs available, depending on your specific needs – whether you’re looking to start a business, grow your existing business, or invest in equipment or capital purchases.
- Small business mentoring: Even though there might not be many specific small business loans for women only, female entrepreneurs can get free advice, mentoring, and support. Whether you are looking for answers to specific questions, or would like mentoring or guidance on your business plan, you can contact your local SBA Women’s Business Center. Women’s Business Centers are located throughout the U.S. as part of the SBA’s programs to help “level the playing field” for female entrepreneurs.
- Government contracts for women-owned businesses: The SBA also offers some special programs to make it easier for women-owned businesses to compete for federal government contracts. Check out the SBA’s programs on Contracting Support for Women-Owned Small Businesses for more information on how your company can do business with the federal government. Many state governments also have programs for “supplier diversity” or other initiatives that help women-owned businesses and other historically underutilized businesses get contracts to supply products or services to state government agencies.
For more information on issues and trends affecting women-owned businesses, check out some of these useful resources and organizations:
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO): NAWBO is an organization of women entrepreneurs that aims to promote economic development and create innovative changes in the business culture. NAWBO has local chapters in 31 states, hosts conferences, and publishes business articles and advice, such as their free twice-weekly SmartBrief e-mail newsletter.
SCORE: Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) is a volunteer organization that offers free advice and mentoring to small business owners. The SCORE website offers a variety of free resources, such as webinars on topics ranging from how to write a business plan to how to get funding for your business.
U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce: This is an association of women-owned businesses that serves as a lobbying and advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Check out their website for information on summits, seminars, and special meetings that help women-owned businesses grow and thrive.
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): NFIB is the nation’s largest association for business owners, and many women entrepreneurs are proud members. NFIB has offices in every state, and members are encouraged to network through local events and use of the online member directory. Women-owned businesses look to NFIB for money-saving partnerships, business advice, and strong advocacy at the state and federal level.
Whatever business challenges you might be facing as a female entrepreneur, there are resources and supportive organizations out there that can help you! This year, let’s all have a happy and empowering celebration of National Women’s Small Business Month.
Who is your favorite woman in business? Who is a woman in business that has inspired you? Tweet @KabbageInc and let them know – at the end of October, they will do a feature article on the female entrepreneur who gets the most votes!
Content provided by Kabbage, NFIB’s preferred provider for small business lines of credit.