Did you know that women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial demographic in the United States? (1) To celebrate this quickly growing sector of small business owners Hello Alice Co-Founder Elizabeth Gore spoke with Natalie Madeira Cofield. Natalie is not only an entrepreneur herself with almost fifteen years of experience but also the assistant administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. Together they discussed their experience and advice for women starting businesses.
Read our key takeaways here and view the full Q&A recording below for our insights.
About the Office of Women’s Business Ownership
All entrepreneurs face many challenges as they build their businesses. However, women entrepreneurs were subject to unique legislative obstacles not that long ago. Natalie explained that her office was codified during the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988.
“At that time, part of the legislation was about ensuring that women didn’t have to have a male co-signer for loans,” she explained. Natalie’s office has worked hard to support women-owned businesses since then. Notably, she’s been in charge of an expansion of the Women’s Business Center network that has put $70 million to work in federal grants to women-led firms.
Tips for Women Starting Businesses
Here are our biggest takeaways from Natalie’s conversation with Elizabeth on entrepreneurship:
1. Take advantage of grants and opportunities for small businesses.
In truth, Hello Alice’s origins are itself a testament to the power of grants.
“Don’t do this,” Elizabeth warned, “but we (she and co-founder Carolyn Rodz) basically maxed out our credit cards to start Hello Alice and pursue our dream. Then we heard about the SBA (Small Business Administration). We applied for an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant and got $50,000. It was life-changing for us. It allowed us to move forward and build the technology in a time when, frankly, no one really believed in our idea or that small business owners were worth investing in.”
[Hello Alice Guide: Learn About SBIR/STTR Awards]
There are so many different grants available, including grants for women-owned businesses, specifically. Entrepreneurs can easily apply for small business owner grants with a free account on Hello Alice. Additionally, you can check the SBA website for more grant opportunities or visit one of their Women’s Business Centers nationwide for guidance and support.
2. Prepare for pitfalls and persist with resilience.
Hearing “no” is an inevitable part of entrepreneurship. As much as you can, embrace it as a learning opportunity.
“Natalie and I, both as entrepreneurs — especially women entrepreneurs — in our first round of funding got told no 200 times,” Elizabeth said. “I had a spreadsheet of every single one and it was so demoralizing. But then, you learn from the no’s. You get back on the horse. You keep applying.” As your business grows, she encouraged, you’ll hear less no’s. Until then? Keep applying and continuing building experience.
“If you want to build a recession-proof business, you’ve got to be resilient,” Natalie affirmed.
Additionally, consider financial resiliency by securing funding and lines of credit for emergencies before they happen. “Even if you don’t need something right now,” Elizabeth advised, “walk into that bank and get to know your banker and really try and plan out how to diversify your cash flow.” That way you’ll be ready when the unexpected happens.
3. Adapt with the times and your customer’s needs.
According to one report Natalie shared, 78% of women businesses had to pivot during the pandemic. (2)
Both she and Elizabeth supported thinking customer-first and adapting to their changing needs. Natalie recommends being “prepared to make the essential changes to your business model that are going to meet your customers exactly where they are.” For instance, consider what lifestyle challenges you can solve for them at any given time.
Furthermore, Natalie recommends embracing technology in your small business. “I think one of the things that the pandemic demonstrated to all of us was that people have to have an opportunity to engage with you in a digital way, whether that be purchasing your services or receiving communication from you,” she said. Ultimately, these digital touchpoints provide greater accessibility.
4. There is no better time to start and promote your small business.
“For all of us women, we tend to really think things through,” said Elizabeth. But while it’s important to plan, it’s also important to make it happen. Her advice? “I would say, go for it. Start that business. There couldn’t be a better time to start a business. I feel strongly about that,” she encouraged.
Now more than ever, administrations such as Natalie’s are turning their attention to support small businesses.
Similarly, Hello Alice is doing their part to encourage small business owners to act now with their Year of Small Business initiative. In partnership with the NAACP, SBA, and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we are ensuring equitable access to capital as well as supporting revenue and job growth for small businesses. Small business owners can learn more about this movement here.
For more insights, you can view the full Q&A recording here:
More Resources for Women Starting Businesses
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You can also check out these recommended resources from Elizabeth and Natalie: