Nell Merlino, CEO of Count Me In
Economists are predicting a year of economic growth for the U.S. economy but competition is tough for American businesses, especially for small businesses competing against a sea of big box competitors. It’s important to note that many of today’s small businesses are owned and operated by women. They represent nearly 50% of privately held companies but only 2.6% of their businesses generate more than $1 million in revenue.* So how can female entrepreneurs take advantage of the upswing in the economy and take their businesses to the next level?
As the founder of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, the leading not-for-profit provider of resources, business education and community support for women entrepreneurs, it’s my mission to help the over eight million women business owners in the U.S. to substantially grow their businesses. The benefit of helping this group of entrepreneurs will result in increased revenues and job growth in communities across the country.
A new year means new opportunities to reassess and explore new avenues that put women entrepreneurs on the path to growth. Here are six tips I recommend small business owners implement for a successful 2014:
1. Be Different and/or Better
Your product or service has to be new, better or different from other products on the market! Do your homework. If there is a product similar to yours available in store or online, how is your product and customer service going to be better or different?
2. Know your financials and have solid financial goals
This is something many women tend to avoid. If you’re going to grow your business sustainably, you need to understand how your business is spending money. Know where every dollar goes, right down to the last decimal point. You need to fully know where you’re going and what you need to achieve in each quarter. It’s important to understand profit.
3. Learn how to be a CEO
This is one of the biggest transitions women we work with need to overcome. Just because it’s your company does not mean you have to do everything yourself. In order to grow your company you need to be out there selling it. It’s called working on your business, instead of in your business.
Your role as CEO is knowing how to hire the right people to help you make money. To start, write down the things you don’t like to do, don’t know how to do, and where you just aren’t skilled. Be honest! For these things it’s perfectly OK — and more efficient — to have someone else handle them.
Then, think about what other areas of your business need to be addressed? What are the skill sets they require? Is it an assistant to deal with the manufacturer when you have a big order? Or a salesperson or a sales force, if that’s the least favorite part of your work? What about a bookkeeper to take charge of getting your invoices out on time?
4. Trust your gut and don’t underestimate your own wisdom
How many times have you said, “I knew this was a bad idea,” after you’ve done something? Women have been taught not to trust themselves, that others know what’s best for us. This can put our self-esteem down near the ground. The fact is, if you don’t have confidence and respect for yourself and your judgment, you’re less likely to listen to your heart and gut. And, as a business owner, you can miss out on a lot of good opportunities as a result of this.
Pay attention to your inner voice. If you find yourself hesitating because something doesn’t feel right, step back and listen.
Also, don’t assume others are smarter than you. Just because someone is a lawyer—or other licensed professional you might hire—doesn’t mean they are smarter than you. They may know the law, but they don’t know your business. You are the expert in that department! Professional expertise can be valuable in growing your business, but trust what you know as the business owner.
5. Get Involved
There are lots of great resources and communities out there that provide opportunities to connect with other women small business owners in person. These groups provide important places to be heard, to share ideas, and find encouragement and support. Count Me In offers lots of resources like the upcoming Business Accelerators in Los Angeles, Detroit and Charlotte, NC, as well as free webinars and a Meet Up Groups in 12 cities across the country.
Also consider attending at least one conference per quarter. And no—they don’t have to break your bank. Think of it as an investment. If carefully chosen and carefully planned, you can earn the money back in terms of vital new contacts, new ideas and keeping up with your industry.
6. Don’t Fear Failure
In facing challenges, I find it helpful to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Once I face that possibility and the consequences that go with it, some of that fear subsides because I know I can handle it. Being in business isn’t all about wins, it’s about learning from your failures in order to move forward.
Change in the business is happening at a faster pace than ever. Consistently striving to improve yourself and company will help you keep move toward revenue growth. Here’s to a successful 2014!
*2010 United States Census
Nell Merlino is Founder, President and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, the leading national not-for-profit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million $ enterprises.