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Lesson in Overcoming Hurdles

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“If you think it’s hard to start a business, try it as a woman!”

While women are a growing force in American entrepreneurship, they still face daunting obstacles to success, many unique to women. Once considered a man’s domain the tide has shifted: more than 9 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 8 million people and generating $1.8+ trillion in sales, according to 2016 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

Think about these numbers for a moment. Yet in spite of these impressive numbers, women often face unique challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts. Issues such as: sex discrimination in lending or attracting investors, juggling the demands of running both a business and a household; lack of equal opportunities in certain industries; and many times the lack of a support network.

Most women I have counseled who want to begin their own business look first to their own savings to fund that enterprise. Men tend to look for investors or other forms of “external” funding.

Why don’t women begin the search for capital by looking beyond their own checkbooks?

The response I most frequently hear is that they don’t go to outside sources because they believe a woman will be turned down or not be taken seriously by the (mostly) men who are making the funding decisions. That feeling is also shared by members of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) who, in a recent survey, said the first place its members look for business capital is their personal savings. They believe they will be denied credit or other funding access because of their gender.

Here’s a tip that may help you find funding. Look for funding where you may already have a network you’re not aware of. For instance, check the alumni directory of your college (or other directory of an organization you belong to). Is there someone there who can open a door for you or, better yet, is in the business of funding start-ups?

Some women entrepreneurs I’ve coached and worked with exhibit the “superwoman syndrome.” They try to do it all. I’ve worked with a few of these “superwomen”, and some of them can actually pull off that high-wire act. …..for a while.

Then something gives.

A friend of mine, a senior-level executive at a major technology firm, was on the “superwoman” track…very successful in business with an equally successful husband. The couple made a joint decision not to have children. Instead they poured their passion into their careers.

Highly regarded in her field and traveling around the world, she and her husband met the highest-level executives and government leaders. They attended and hosted the best events. When they were in the same town at the same time, they even attended them together!

The stress of staying on that treadmill finally got to her…most likely to both of them. They’re now divorced. When I see her, she is unhappy and filled with self-doubt.

The sad truth is. No one can be all things to all people in their lives and do it all successfully. That doesn’t make you a top performer in all or maybe any of your roles. So don’t try. It doesn’t make you a successful business owner (or executive). The fact is, trying to do it all only increases your stress level and affects your health.

Although the number of women business owners is growing, there aren’t enough of them to serve as role models and business mentors for other women with the same aspirations. This lack of a business advisor or mentoring network is a big difference between male and female entrepreneurs.

Inc. Magazine reports that 48% of women founders report that a lack of available advisors and mentors limits their professional growth.

The woman who aspires to own her own business must seek out mentors and role models with whom to build relationships and get guidance. So, where does a businesswoman look?

Social media is a good place to begin. There are a growing number of online “communities” that offer guidance, opportunities to build networks, even potential funding sources. And, of course, they can be an excellent source of inspirational success stories to model.

Find other women with the same aspirations and facing the same issues. Join professional associations and make the time to attend professional networking functions for senior-level women and entrepreneurs. Building that strong business will help you through the inevitable tough times.

According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, fear of failure is at the top of the list of women who start businesses. But — here come those role models — you will find that most successful entrepreneurs (and this goes for men as well as women) have failed it least once, and probably numerous times before they achieve success. Ask any successful entrepreneur and they will tell you about their failures and how it made them what they are today

You will make mistakes. We all do. Yes, I make mistakes as well. The real question is how you will respond. Learning from the mistake, making the course correction and moving on is a good deal healthier and more productive than beating yourself up and letting self-doubt begin to occupy your thinking.

Stay healthy. Try to build a routine that balances work with appropriate exercise nutrition and sleep and interaction with others in your life not directly involved in your business.

And, remember: building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Set reasonable and achievable expectations for yourself and your funders. Put measurements in place to see how you’re doing and don’t be afraid to make the necessary adjustments if you begin to stray off course. And try to remember the reason you wanted to run your own business in the first place.

So, build a network you can depend on for ideas, guidance and support; stay focused and positive; make a healthy lifestyle a priority.

All of this will help you build and sustain the confidence, contacts and collateral needed to ride the entrepreneurial experience to a successful business.