4. If you need start-up or expansion financing, consider sources other than traditional banks. One of the concerns most commonly cited by women entrepreneurs is difficulty finding start-up financing. And it's little wonder: traditional banks typically don't lend money to new ventures that don't have a track record of success or creditworthiness. Instead of focusing on conventional big chain banks, start-ups should instead look for local community banks, credit unions, and other local financial institutions that have a vested interest in the health of the local economy. Often, their application processes and criteria are softer than the big banks.
Two resources that women should definitely look into are Womens Business Centers and community development financial institutions. Womens Business Centers (WBCs) exist nationwide and focus on supporting women entrepreneurs through business training and counseling and access to credit and capital, among other services. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which are certified by the U.S. Treasury, are a fast-growing segment of the business financing market specializing in loans to underserved communities and populations. CDFIs usually -- but not always -- have a specific focus such as improving economic opportunities in blighted communities or supporting women- or minority-owned entrepreneurs. Both WBCs and CDFIs can be especially helpful for start-ups, businesses with poor credit, and businesses seeking relatively small loans, generally up to $100,000. Even better, they often offer guidance and expertise to your business in addition to financing, which will help your chances of success.
5. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself a sales type. Often (but certainly not always) women report feeling intimidated or turned off by the task of sales and negotiation. But, despite what many believe, you absolutely do not have to be aggressive or sleazy to be an effective salesperson or negotiator. In the real world, the common thread among effective salespeople is that they are good communicators. They provide clear information, listen to their customers, and use good judgment as to when to back off and save the pitch for another day.
Certainly there is an art to selling and negotiating, and every businessperson should work on developing these skills. There are countless books and online resources on the topic that can be very helpful as you refine your approach. Just remember that the stereotypical pushy, aggressive salesperson is not the model to work towards. Instead, focus on developing your communication skills and keeping your own personality in the mix as you develop your own selling style.
6. Network like a social butterfly -- it is one of the best ways to market your business and create profitable opportunities. Networking involves actively cultivating relationships with people, businesses, community leaders, and others who present possible opportunities for your business -- not just as potential customers, but also as vendors, partners, investors, or other roles. Networking is not the same thing as sales: Rather than the simple goal of making a sale, a huge goal of networking is to inform other businesspeople and influential people about what you do in hopes that they will recommend your business to their circle of contacts.
Lots of folks new to the world of business fear that successful networking requires unsavory schmoozing or pandering. These concerns are unfounded. In fact, if you adopt a sleazy, wheeler-dealer approach, you risk alienating the very people whom you want to make your allies. Instead, successful networking is little more than sincere communication with others about what you do. You are "networking" every time you attend an event held by a local trade association, get to know other business owners and community leaders, write a letter to the editor, participate in an online discussion group, or have lunch with another local business owner.
7. Forge relationships with contacts before you need help from them. For example, if you need the support of a local politician on an upcoming city zoning decision, you'll have a better chance of getting the politician's vote if he or she already knows you and thinks favorably of your business than if you place a call to his or her office out of the blue.
For everything you need to know to get your business idea off the ground and on the road to success, get The Women's Small Business Start-Up Kit by Peri Pakroo (Nolo).
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