The Key to U.S. Economic Growth? Unleash the talent of women entrepreneurs
We are officially in political rhetoric season, and I’m fascinated by the candidates’ economic narratives on how we can shift our economy into high gear. One fact stands tall above the opinions as a powerful common denominator—everyone agrees we need more jobs. What we really need is more job creators—entrepreneurs, producers and big idea people. How do we achieve that? The rocket fuel for our economic growth, and for U. S. competitiveness, is to unleash the entrepreneurial potential in women.
That’s why a conversation around “Celebrating Entrepreneurship” is a much-needed call to action. At 45 percent of the workforce we are more than a niche audience; we are the prescription to economic anemia. Our aspirations combined with our potential is the game-changer for our future.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, in mid-career, or an on-ramper, your potential as an entrepreneur is in demand. The road to small business ownership is not limited to BA, MBA, Wall Street or board seat. I never took a business class in college nor imagined that I would pursue entrepreneurship.
“Women represent 51 percent of the nation’s Ph.D.s, 51 percent of business school applicants, and more than 70 percent of last year’s valedictorians. Women are well equipped to become entrepreneurs and are primed to look at different ways of approaching challenges to find better solutions. As a nation, we must make sure we tap into this supply of able business leaders,” says Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia in “The Decade of the Woman Entrepreneur.”
My own path to entrepreneurship was non-traditional: I started my business at the age of 40 after spending 15 years as a stay-at- home mom. Two days after college graduation, I started work for a non- profit publishing house. Five years later, I went on maternity leave with our first son.
Unsure of what my future looked like, I negotiated a part-time at-home position so I could keep my hand in the business world. Fifteen years and two more sons later, I was deciding where and how to on-ramp. I could return to work at the publishing house, or I could dive into the deep end and start my own business. With unconscious competence, I decided to bet on myself.
I saw a need for professional communications in business and believed that the market would pay for quality writing and marketing materials. I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family, but no one had ever said, “Anne, do you want to start a business?” Nor, I discovered, do clients knock on your door asking to hire your services.
I had been busy volunteering in classrooms, leading Cub Scouts and directing Vacation Bible Schools. As I embarked on entrepreneurship and built my network, I leveraged these skills into the workplace: If you can put three boys to bed on time, you have negotiating skills. If you can plan and execute Astronaut Day for third graders, you have operational skills. If you can persuade 100 children and 40 adults—who have worked hard all day—to sign up for a week of Vacation Bible School, you have leadership skills and passion.
Regardless of your background, there are two co-existing realities that the successful entrepreneur must master:
1. The business reality: economic climate, business intelligence, business skills, barriers to entry, understanding market forces, creating competitive advantage and financial acumen.
2. Your personal toolkit: communication skills, emotional resilience, determination, drive, passion, contagious enthusiasm, collaborative nature, emotional intelligence and confidence.
From Sara Blakely, founder of SPANX, to Taylor Swift, the 26-year- old singer and songwriting phenom, to Tory Burch, queen of the lifestyle lines, to Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite, the high gear catalyst is their personal toolkit—the soft skills. And chief among them is confidence.
Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, famously captured the essence of confidence by declaring her intention to be CEO at a young age: “In 2007, The Wall Street Journal did an article on our family, and they put in that I wanted to be CEO. I remember getting phone calls from people saying, ‘I can’t believe you said that. What if you don’t get it?’ And I’m like, ‘The thought never crossed my mind.’”
Successful entrepreneurs believe in themselves—against all odds. There will be barriers to success, business failures, and client disappointments. But the good news is the market is gender neutral and age immune. Great ideas and seized opportunities win.
As you take your idea from think to build, here are five principles that will help you shorten your learning curve and reach high gear entrepreneurial success in 2016.
Assemble a personal board of advisors. Surround yourself with executives who are accomplished and will advance your career— people who will give you honest, critical advice. Ask one or two to be your mentors.
Create your personal brand. People are buying you. As the face of your business, you are the director of first impressions. Kindness, graciousness, good manners, handwritten notes, sincere apologies—these are deal- making assets.
Build your network. Be a people broker as you expand your influence. Seek board seats, volunteer for fundraising positions, help others succeed, and connect people for their business advantage. It is said that seats at governance tables are by invitation, not application. If people of influence don’t know who you are, you’ll never reach a high gear network.
Be social media savvy. Whether you’re starting a retail salon, a music career or opening a law practice, you need to tell the world who you are. There are 1.5 billion users on Facebook and 316 million on Twitter. More than 93% of online experiences begin with a search, and one of the fastest ways to appear on page one of Google is to write and share compelling content—tell your story. The reality of business today is, “you are who Google says you are.”
Get uncomfortable and grow. Challenge yourself daily to explore new lines of business, introduce yourself to new people, travel to seminars in different states and countries and find your voice.
This is our season of opportunity, not only to celebrate entrepreneurship, but to unleash our potential and to become the economic engine.
Anne Deeter Gallaher is Owner/ CEO of Deeter Gallaher Group LLC, headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She is co-author of Women in High Gear: A Guide for Entrepreneurs, On-Rampers, and Aspiring Executives with Amy D. Howell. In 2015, Anne celebrated 15 years in business, purchased a commercial building, and opened a second office in Nashville. She also published her second book, Students in High Gear, co-authored with Amy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @ AnneDGallaher on Twitter. .