“While the number of women-owned firms is increasing faster than the national average, we see time and time again that women remain less likely to grow their firms to scale. Just 2% of women-owned firms have passed the million-dollar revenue threshold, compared to 6% of men-owned firms – and this gender gap is seen in every industry,” said Julie Weeks, President of Womenable, a consultancy focused on enabling women’s entrepreneurship.
Many women struggle with issues related to confidence that impede their ability to scale their businesses past that million-dollar ceiling. Becky Blalock shares her own experience of rising to the very top of the male-dominated information technology industry and the experiences of others who also broke through in her book, DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge.
Like other skills, confidence can be learned. Based on Blalock’s book, here are 10 skills that women entrepreneurs need in order to dare to grow their businesses big.
1.) Seek mentors and sponsors, mentor and sponsor others
Women entrepreneurs can shorten the path to success by learning from the success and failures of others. Finding entrepreneurs who will share advice is critical. Equally important is sharing the lessons you’ve learned with others.
Go beyond mentorship, find and be a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who uses his or her clout to open doors for you. For entrepreneurs, these doors include referrals to funders, clients, suppliers, employees and media visibility.
2.) Take risks
Step outside your comfort zone. Take on new challenges. “Entrepreneurs who made it really big also lost really big,” says Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, which helps companies sell to government agencies. Women are uncomfortable with losing but unless you’re willing to risk it all, you can’t win it all.
3.) Never stop learning
Every entrepreneur I know has built a successful business on the many varieties of learning available. Admitting that you don’t know everything — and never will — is key to growth. Seek outside counsel from mentors and advisors, participate in a peer advisory group, such as Women Presidents’ Organization, listen, read business books and publications, and attend professional development training, etc.
4.) Take on new roles
By taking on a role outside your cultural and intellectual comfort zone, you can improve your leadership skills. Being on the board of a nonprofit is great way to give back and develop your leadership skills.
Decision-making on a nonprofit board requires building consensus, a very different skill from influencing someone who reports to you. Learning how to work within a group of equals is particularly useful when the time comes for your small business to form alliances and partnership.
5.) Dream big
“Women don’t dream big enough,” said Larkin. She’s not alone in this critique of women. It’s another way of saying that women need to lean in. “To flourish, you need to have both the courage to dream big and the practiced ability to paint the vision clearly and engage others in the plan,” wrote Blalock.
The Girls Scouts is one organization that encourages girls to dream big. They have an impressive track record. More than two thirds of U.S. Congresswomen and an incredible 80% of women business owners were Girl Scouts. While it may be too late for you to get training from them. It isn’t too late for you to get involved and help girls dream big.
5.) Know what’s most important to you
You can’t have everything. Life requires prioritizing and making choices. There is no one right solution for everyone. By knowing what is important to you, you’ll be able to make trade offs that are right for you.
6.) Put yourself in the news
One way to build credibility, visibility, and brand loyalty is through thought leadership. It’s a powerful tool in helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses, according to Denise Brosseau whose book on the topic will be coming out in January.
If you earn a reputation as a thought leader, journalists, analysts, and conference producers will seek you out and want to put you in the spotlight. If you are a thought leader, other respected people in your industry will want to connect with you. These supporters and followers can open doors, which ultimately will grow your businesses.
7.) Become an asking machine
Women don’t like to ask, especially when they don’t know people well. If you want customers, partners, money, employees, you’re going to have to ask and keep on asking. Never accept “no” at face value. A “no” might be due to timing, not the merits of your case. Treat “nos” as maybes.
8.) Look the part
Create the “it” factor: As a women entrepreneur with big plans for growth, you’ve got to have “it” — Executive Presence, that is. Working on your presence will help you fake it until you make it.
9.) Dare to fail
This may be my favorite tip. “Celebrate failure as the fast track to experience and reward,” wrote Blalock. Sallie Krawcheck did. She was fired from two big jobs in the financials services sector. She didn’t hide. She picked herself up, dusted herself off, and bought 85 Broads — a networking organization for women who want to advance their careers.
10.) Build out your network
If women entrepreneurs want to punch through that million-dollar ceiling, they need to network. That means stop behaving like shy little girls. “Women tend to build deep and narrow networks, and men [build] wide and shallow ones,” said Kelly Hoey, Connector, Catalyst and Co-Founder of Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) Accelerator. The weaker ties built by casting a wide networking net are the greatest source of new ideas, information, and opportunities.
How will you start building your confidence?