Despite being someone who loves stability and routine and knowing what to expect, I’ve been solopreneuring for six years now and have never been happier. Truly. I adore the freedom, the flexibility and the knowledge that I can switch gears or change focus at any time. But that’s not to say that the challenges of women entrepreneurship don’t exist.
Although I work entirely alone and prefer it that way, I have mindfully built up a strong support network of fellow women entrepreneurs. They help steady me when the ups and downs of freelance life make me dizzy. Without their input, advice, cheerleading and willingness to throw work leads my way, I’d probably have fled back to the office long before now. I’m basically a loner … but with a squad.
And I’ve learned from chatting with the older women in my life that, just a few decades ago, women saw their fellow females as direct competition. It took us so long to infiltrate traditional workplaces that the few who clawed their way to the top were reluctant to reach down and pull up any other women with them. Space was considered limited, and those who had it, clung to it.
In my experience, that mentality is less prevalent among women who run their own businesses today, but the aftertaste still lingers. Which is why it’s essential that women entrepreneurs do everything we can to support, advise, and promote each others’s work. Not convinced? Here are a few concrete reasons to sway you.
Sexism is real, and we can help each other deal with it
If you make products for women and sell them to women, you might not feel the sting of misogyny often — or at all. But if you work in a male-dominated field, order parts from an old-school, male-run supplier, or even own a shop in a part of the world where women don’t typically hold business-centric roles, you might have been stung. Many times. You might have even encountered women clients who mistrusted or doubted you because you are a woman yourself.
It can be hard to strategize solutions with the men in your network. Both because the ones you’d ask for help are unlikely to act in similar ways themselves, and because they might not have experienced similar sexist treatment. (Think of a woman auto mechanic with a male client. Now think of a male clothing designer with a female client. See what I’m saying?)
As a woman who runs a business, you need to be able to consult other women business owners for advice.
You need to be able to reach out to someone with more experience who can tell you how she’s dealt with sexism in the past. You need to be able to chat with another woman about what NOT to do when someone — male or female — is prejudiced against you because of your gender. Only through helping each other can we learn to overcome the challenges of women entrepreneurship.
Men do it
Ever seen a movie about a wildly successful male mogul that didn’t involve a golf scene, country club scene or testosterone-laden, wood-paneled bar scene? Or better, ever met a real-life male CEO or company founder who didn’t make time to hobnob with his colleagues in the name of business-building?
Old Boys Clubs have been around for centuries, and they continue to exist because powerful men recognize the importance of connecting and sharing information with the other powerful men they know.
Think how much we could achieve if we built Old Girls Clubs for ourselves. Think how many deals we could seal, clients we could secure, partnerships we could forge if we made listening to and supporting each other a priority. It works for successful men, and it’ll work for successful women.
We need sounding boards
I attend three monthly, high-powered, lady networking groups, and they have proven valuable in generating client work, honing strategy, finding new promotional tools, and reminding me that I’m not alone in my struggles. Without them, I’d be giving my poor husband an earful every single night, and overwhelming him with issues and questions that, as a non-entrepreneur, he has no idea how to handle.
Women can certainly work with men as sounding boards, but again, why not use your need for advice as an excuse to create an Old Girls Club? Why not see if there are women who’ve had similar experiences and can give tips from a distinctly female perspective?
Overcome challenges of women entrepreneurship
I firmly believe that women entrepreneurs have a duty to support each other. Our networks grow when we talk business, our reach grows when we connect with our colleagues, and we feel less isolated when we ground ourselves in groups of businesswomen.
If you’re going it alone, I hope you’ll find ways to reach out to the other women entrepreneurs around you. Offer help, ask for help, and soon you’ll find yourself with an understanding, wisdom-packed, network-building group of women who will do everything in their power to help you succeed and move beyond the challenges of women entrepreneurship.
Also published on Medium.