Women in Business
How Women Entrepreneurs Have Grown Through the Years
Before there was Oprah, Ariana Huffington, and Sheryl Sandberg, there was Sarah Breedlove. Sarah – better known as Madam C.J. Walker – was the first woman entrepreneur in history. This Women’s History Month, we’re going to take a look back at her accomplishments and other women who have shaped the business world for women today.
What Madam C.J. Walker Taught Us About Entrepreneurship
Lesson 1: Gain knowledge and experience first. Then make it your own – but better.
Walker’s story to becoming the first self-made millionaire in the U.S. is a prime lesson on the steps you need to take to become a successful entrepreneur. In 1904, Walker had been selling hair products for Annie Turnbo Malone, an African American hair-care entrepreneur herself. Walker used every minute of her time with Malone to eventually develop her own product line.
Lesson 2: Build a team you can trust to make the dream work.
By 1906, Walker was married to Charles Walker, who eventually became her business partner and helped her market her brand. The dynamic duo would travel all over the Southern and Eastern United States, while Walker’s daughter stayed in Denver, Colorado to help with the mail orders.
Lesson 3: Wait for signs it’s time to grow your staff and relocate your business.
By 1910, Walker was on her way to success and moved her business to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she settled the headquarters for the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Her headquarters included a house, factory, laboratory, and later a beauty school so she could train her sales agents. With business taking off, Walker was able to hire both management and sales teams.
Lesson 4: Make your business mission more than just about the product.
After 1911, Walker’s business soared and her brand become more than just a beauty product, but instead an overall movement for empowering other women – particularly, other women entrepreneurs.
Lesson 5: Know your product and market audience.
Walker’s success is largely due to her ability to recognize a problem, gain the knowledge and experience to solve it, and put together a dream team. But what made her success skyrocket in such a short amount of time were her sales skills.
Walker was known for going door-to-door to sell her beauty products and actually showing women how to use it. Her networking built her a community of supporters all over the United States. In addition, when she had the revenue to broadcast her brand even more, she advertised in newspapers and magazines.
Women in Business Today
According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Business Report by American Express OPEN, women-owned businesses are on the rise. In fact, women-owned businesses grew five times the national average between 2007 and 2016.
To put that in perspective, here are a few more stats from the report:
- Women now own 38% of all businesses in the U.S.
- There are over 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S.
- 6.3 million businesses are owned by Caucasian women
- 1.9 million businesses are owned by African American women
- 1.9 million businesses are owned by Hispanic women
- 922,700 businesses are owned by Asian women
Women as Entrepreneurs
According to Inc.com, 18% of all startups today have at least one female founder. A few of the richest female entrepreneurs in the U.S. today, include:
- Diane Hendricks: Co-founder and Chairman of ABC Supply with a net worth of $5.4 billion
- Doris Fisher: Co-founder of Gap with a net worth of $2.6 billion
- Marian Ilitch: Founder of Little Caesars pizza restaurant with a net worth of $2.1 billion.
- Pleasant Rowland: Creator of the American Girl dolls with a net worth of $300 million
- Jessica Alba: Co-founder of the nontoxic household-good startup The Honest Company with a net worth of $340 million
Women are starting businesses in every industry, with the health care and social assistance industries seeing the most women-owned businesses. The American Express OPEN report also shows women in the following industries:
Source: American Express OPEN report
Where the Ladies At?
On a global level, the top three countries for female entrepreneurship include the United States, Australia and Canada. Within the U.S., states that have seen the fastest growth of companies founded by women include:
According to Business News Daily, the top five best places for women-owned businesses include:
- Sante Fe, New Mexico
- Boulder, Colorado
- Monroe, Michigan
- Racine, Wisconcin
- Ocean City, New Jersey
So how does one become the next Madam C.J. Walker? Well, by keeping the following do’s and don’ts in mind:
- Don’t try to wear the pants: Aspiring female entrepreneurs often feel that in order to beat the men in business, they have to adopt the “male attitude.” FALSE. Women should remember that they got this far by being themselves.
- Don’t be afraid to fail: According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, the fear of failure is the top concern women entrepreneurs have.
- Don’t forget about the funds: One of the top challenges women entrepreneurs do face is getting funding. According to Inc.com, women have a hard time raising funds offline. Online, however, female founders perform equal to or better than men.
- Do continue to support each other: According to Inc.com, 94% of decision makers at venture capitalist funds are male. Venture capital firms with women partners, however, are more than twice as likely to invest in companies with a woman on the executive team.
- Do continue to manage work-life balance: Aspiring female entrepreneurs often fear that success will take a toll on family life when, in fact, in a PayPal survey, 55% of American women entrepreneurs said they were motivated to start their own business to achieve better work-life balance.
Quick Links for Women Entrepreneurs