Female entrepreneurs are at the forefront of shaping a new business landscape—from identifying opportunities that serve specific customer needs to representing and providing for marginalized communities. Women represent 42% of all business owners (2019). To put that in perspective, that number was only 4.6% in 1972 (AMEX, State of Women-Owned Business Report).
And although women typically have higher exposure to unique challenges in comparison to their male counterparts, resourcefulness and resilience have helped them forge ahead with success. We checked in with six women-owned businesses across the country—from jewelry in Chicago to grilled cheese in Austin—and they shared these top business insights.
“One is hospitality and service. We greet each guest as if they were our best friend. Ownership mentality. This one’s really, really important for me. As an individual, we carry a sense of personal responsibility for the greater vision of the brand and studio. Creative excellence. Confident beauty. We celebrate unique, diverse, independent, confident women. And then the last one is team mentality. So this is the tone and tenor of what we carry here.”
Amplifying minority voices
“I brought on many more POC artists, and that’s kind of my heartbeat—to continue to bring on as many Black and Brown, indigenous, queer artists, people with different identities and backgrounds. I think it makes for beautiful work. It’s interesting. I have no interest in having a jewelry store where everything looks the same. And for some people that works, you know, but that’s just not the world I want to create.”
Her take on negative reviews
“Because my heart is outside of my body, I take it very personally, and my desire to reconcile, rectify that, is something that only comes with time and thicker skin and maturity and experience is allowing myself to separate from that.
“Now those people didn’t leave negative reviews. And if you hear this, please still don’t. But even still, I’m ok with that. It’s learning to separate my identity from what I do, and when I slip—because we always will because we’re human—that’s not indicative of all of the positive work that we’ve done, and we have a lot of very good reviews.”
“You don’t have to have a big old degree and a whole bunch of letters behind your name and a whole bunch of money in the bank. I did it with no money, no knowledge of the business, no experience. I just went forward passionately with what I had on the inside of me to do every single day.
“I try not to make people feel like they’re coming here and I’m selling them something… I think people like to come and feel comfortable that they’re getting good advice. So I try to really delve into what their needs are. What are we actually trying to find?”
The reality of a bad review
“I think reviews can be a double-edged sword for a lot of small businesses, especially when you run a niche kind of business because a couple of bad reviews can really set you back, but a couple of good reviews can do more for you than you can imagine.
“A lot of reviews tend to be very honest, sometimes brutally honest, but that’s okay. I don’t think anyone ever read one bad review in a sea of 10 reviews and thought, oh, I’m not going there. So, I think that from a business person’s perspective, if you treat everyone like you would want to be treated in your business, your reviews are not going to be bad.
“The first bad review you get is like your first boyfriend breaking up with you. It’s terrible. It’s just like, oh my God, how can they say this about your store? It’s the worst thing in the world…
“If you get a bad review, really listen to it. Don’t just be hurt the first time. Take a day or two and think about what they said—and maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong.”
“Small business owners have great stories. Your clients want to know that story and understand your ‘why.’ This allows them to align with you and tell your story to others. Though I never want to be the sole face of my brand, telling my story to clients creates a special connection for them because they too may have a similar story of what brought them to our classes.
“My staff is a true family, and they always know what to do to make clients feel great. I try to be at every interview to see that it’s a good person first because we can train you to do hair, but we can’t train you to be a good person.”
Setting up your business up for success
“I’ve learned it’s important to work on your business and not in your business because if you can’t go out of town for 10 days, then you don’t have a business, you have a job. You have to build your business so that it can operate without you and so you can spend your time coming up with ideas.”
“Wherever there is a need, that’s what I base my business decisions on. What is the problem that’s not getting solved? There are people out there looking for somebody to solve it. So once you become the person that solves that problem, then you’ve already got a built-in audience. And sometimes that changes too, so then it’s being flexible about what the world around me needs right now.”
Being a personable business
“When times of need come up, like now, people want to do business with other people, rather than a company. They just want to be part of your world, and they want you to be part of theirs. We’re all still in this with each other, and you need that.”