Top Five Tips For Women Small Business Owners
Women-owned firms account for 40% of all privately held firms, employ more than 13 million people, and generate $1.9 trillion in sales, according to the National Association for Women Business Owners. However, most of these businesses (97%) have revenues below the million-dollar mark.
Maria Coyne, Executive Vice President of Business Banking at KeyBank, hopes to change that. In 2005, she founded Key4Women, a program dedicated to offering women access to capital, ongoing education and networking opportunities. In 2009, it committed to lending women-owned businesses $3 billion over three years, and Coyne says they are on track to meet and even exceed the goal.
ForbesWoman caught up with Coyne to find out successful owner’s best practices and where women fall short. Below are the management secrets that every female business owner should know.
1. Crunch the numbers.
A couple years ago, Coyne commissioned a report that analyzed the strategies of successful women-owned business. She discovered that financial knowledge does matter. “Women with high-growth companies really ran the business by the numbers, understood cash flow, and had a handle on balance sheets,” she says. “They focused on using financial reporting to grow their business.” Do you need an MBA? No, just a mentor, business partner or good accountant, says Coyne.
2. Form an advisory group.
“The other distinguishing factor of successful female business owners was that they often had formal or informal advisory groups. We’ve encouraged our clients to tap into that expertise.” According to Coyne, working with other business owners is critical. Advisory groups can inform finances, but also offer strategies on marketing the business and managing vendors.
3. Remember, this is business.
“The hardest thing for women has been the human capital side,” says Coyne. “Women business owners treat employees like family and are slow to make decisions around staffing.” She recalls one struggling female owner who desperately needed to cut workers but felt terrible to do it. After laboring over the decision for months, she finally decided to place several people on her 20-member staff on part-time schedules. They were thrilled to be given the opportunity they had wanted all along—a steady income and more time with their families. The moral: Talk to your staff, and make the decision that’s good for them but best for business.
4. Make use of contract workers.
Coyne says that many female owners are thinking about growth and want to expand, but are still nervous about the economy, health-care costs and changes to the tax code. She’s seeing many use contract workers instead of making the commitment to hire full-time workers. It’s a good time for it, says Coyne, as so many talented people have been displaced by the bad market and are looking for work.
5. Embrace new technologies.
Smart business owners should take advantage of new tools to manage their business and leverage social media to grow their consumer base, Coyne advises. “Businesses of all sizes are using electronic transfers so that they can send and receive money in real time,” she says, adding that money-management software can be useful in cash-flow visibility. Coyne also suggests that businesses use social media to reach new customers, but also to find and network with business owners in the same industry that aren’t competition. “Business owners want to connect in a way that’s meaningful. This is an area that we continue to innovate in ourselves.”