A growing number of Canadian women are leaving the traditional workforce to join the emerging trend of female home-based entrepreneurs. Statistics Canada reports an increase in self-employed women of over 20 per cent since 2002. This is great news, since entrepreneurs are often seen as the driving force behind the economy. With both men and women participating in entrepreneurial pursuits and the cost of starting a business at an all-time low, entrepreneurs are embracing self-employment to satisfy their busy schedules and personal values, while also providing the fuel to help grow the economy. It fills me with pride to see women finding niche markets that help them achieve their own sense of balance in life, in a field of their choosing.
All entrepreneurs face challenges every step of the way as they establish and expand their businesses, including:
Launching an idea: Before investing time and money, careful thought and intensive research are essential. Test your idea or the product with an audience that is broader than good friends and family, since they may tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.
Growing your business: If your product or service is not meeting performance levels, step back and reassess your business model. You may have to refresh your business plan to consider your strengths and weaknesses. You may want to look for a new partner that compensates for know-how or skills that you may lack.
Getting outside advice: For many, advisory boards are a support system and sounding board. Small businesses usually lack this kind of support and feel isolated and unsure about who to ask for advice and feedback. Be strategic and selective when you establish your advisory board. If you are not ready to establish an advisory board, consider joining a local association or trade group that offer peer discussion and feedback as regular agenda items.
Learning from mistakes: If your business is struggling, learn from your mistakes. Understand objectively why you are struggling and, as a leader, drive the necessary change. Communicate honestly with your funders, especially any family and friends. After looking at why you are struggling, identify two or three things your company does well and build around them. Discontinue, sell, or outsource anything else.
Managing cash flow: If you manage cash very closely, you can reduce the need for cash when refinancing. Consider stepping up your cash collection and closely monitor credit worthiness of both customers and suppliers. Get counsel from professionals that understand the small business landscape. Also, build a strong relationship with your banker, since there is long-term value in keeping your banker informed and engaged in your business goals and objectives.
Assessing risks: You should also regularly assess and reposition to manage your key risks. Sometimes, if you are too close to the business, you can't objectively see the risks. You may even find ways to refute the possibility of risk. Get an outside viewpoint by working with a trusted adviser that brings specific industry insight aligned to your business.
Regardless of gender, all entrepreneurs face unique business challenges and need to adapt quickly to sustain and grow their operations. This little list of recommendations will hopefully come to mind when a challenge arises.