This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue
Kylie Chenn bio: Kylie Chenn studied Business Strategy and International Development at the BYU Marriott School of Management and attended the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge to study Social Innovation. As founder and CEO of three successful businesses, Kylie is the recipient of many awards, including Utah Business 40 under 40 and Sego Award’s Fastest Growing Company in Under 5 years Finalist.
Where are the Million Dollar Women? 6 Mistakes That Keep Female Entrepreneurs from Scaling to $1 Million
by Kylie Chenn
Do you know how many women today operate their own business? Further, do you know how many dollars these businesses bring to our economy? The field of business is no longer just a man’s world. According to the 2018 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners, over 11 million U.S. businesses are currently owned and operated by women, contributing over $1.7 trillion dollars in sales to the U.S. economy. Yet, even though these numbers speak volumes to the power and determination of the female spirit, they do not tell the whole story. Female-owned businesses are still in the minority, and women continue to face challenges & make mistakes that prevent them from scaling.
So, why is it that women own 40% of all businesses in the US, yet these businesses contribute less than 10% to the US economy ($1.7 trillion of ~$20 trillion)? As a female Founder & CEO of 3 different companies and having spoken with successful female entrepreneurs across the globe who built multi-million dollar businesses from scratch, here are six mistakes I see women make that prevent them from scaling their businesses to the next level.
1. Not Taking Charge of the Room (Especially When the Room is Male)
If you are a female entrepreneur, then you understand the unnerving feeling of walking into a crowded conference room and realizing that you are one of the only women (if not the only woman) in the room. The pressure involved in being the only woman can be overwhelming. In fact, studies show that individuals who are the “onlies” (i.e. the only woman, the only LGBT person, the only person of color, etc.) are subject to a higher percentage of bias and discrimination from other members in the group, whether intentional or not. No wonder it’s so tempting for us to sink back and try to blend in with the crowd!
Yet, while the temptation to “stick out less” is strong, most successful female business leaders agree that staying true to yourself is key to rising above the preconceived notions that often exist among the male-dominated majority. So, despite the difficulties, I have worked hard to view this challenge as an opportunity for recognition. Instead of conforming to the male idea of what a leader should be, I’ve discovered that it’s important to have confidence in myself and in my skills that brought me into this unique position. I have come to realize that “sticking out” can actually be a positive attribute: after all, as the only woman, I am more likely to make a lasting impression. So instead of shrinking back, I have learned to take a step forward and to let myself be seen and heard.
In my experience, it’s rarely competence holding women back -- instead, it’s confidence. A powerful mindset is important because it’s the foundation on which you build your success. Replace limiting beliefs with empowering ones. Like Henry Ford said - “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right."
2. Not Building a Support Network of Coaches, Mentors, & Advisors
It’s no secret that a lack of mentors and advisors can stunt one’s professional growth. After all, in business, it’s not always what you know, but also who you know. Yet, over 50% of women in business report that they find it difficult building a healthy support network in a male-dominated field. Though this is a real challenge, we have an opportunity to build our own networks of support and collaboration amongst both men and women. There are several female-focused networking events around the country and within our own state of Utah, and those numbers and networks continue to grow.
Successful entrepreneurs have the chance to share their experience and expertise with younger women; meanwhile, early-stage entrepreneurs and business owners have the opportunity to actively seek connections and mentors who will provide them with the support that they need to succeed. It’s important to note that that support does not and SHOULD not come exclusively from women. I have found incredible value in seeking counsel from both men and women who have shared with me their advice, expertise, and support, all of which have helped catapult me into my career today.
Make time for personal and business growth, whether it’s reading business books, attending conferences, joining organizations, or finding the right coaches and mentors. You can only grow your business as big as you grow yourself. “We don’t know what we don’t know.” The fastest way to scale your business is to learn from people who have been there, done that and can show you the way - both men and women.
3. Trying To Do It All Yourself
As an entrepreneur, I have been asked the question time and time again, “Can women really ‘do it all’?” There are several flaws inherent to this question (not least of which is the fact that my husband and male coworkers never get asked this), but the truth of the matter is that business leaders, both male and female, face challenging obstacles in balancing family life, personal life, and careers. However, I have found that changing the terminology from “work-life balance” to “work-life blend” has helped me immensely in easing this juggling act of work and personal or family time.
Owning your own business takes a lot of time and effort, but it also allows for flexibility: my work bleeds into my personal life, and vice versa. Work is not a “separate” part of my life, but rather a genuine and integral part of it. This, of course, does not mean that I am simply “on” and working all the time. Instead, I have intentionally developed a blend of work and family time that involves setting strategic and realistic career and personal goals that work together to create a healthy lifestyle for me and for my family.
Don’t feel the need to “do it all yourself”. I spent many years of my early career trying to balance too many things. Do what you enjoy, what makes you stronger, and what helps you grow and don’t be afraid to hire out tasks, projects, and roles that someone else can do better and enjoys more than you. Don’t let perfectionism or the fear that something won’t be done as well as you can do it - prevent you from hiring out. The truth is that no one will care about your business as much as you do, and you need to learn to allow people to make mistakes too. Any entrepreneur who reaches $1 Million in revenue knows how to delegate. Be the Leader not the Do-er.
4. Insufficient Funding or Financial Know How
It is true that women get less than 3% of venture capital funds, and, though that number is slightly skewed simply because there aren’t as many female business leaders as there are males, the statistics consistently show that female founders are less likely to gain funding. Yet this challenge creates an opportunity for women in business to engage in networks of support and education. There are several initiatives led by successful female leaders specifically looking to give back and invest in female-led businesses. These initiatives not only involve financial support, but also include educational workshops that help to guide early-stage entrepreneurs through the fundraising process and to connect them to potential donors.
As female entrepreneurs we have access to funding, we just have to find it. I started my first million dollar business with a $1,000 scholarship granted by a Women In Business Club at my University when I was only 21 years old. While larger amounts of funds might be needed for some businesses, most of the time it’s not big money that makes something successful, but instead an understanding of how to use the finances you have (or don’t have) to launch your product or service creatively into the market. Or in other words, you might not need funding. In my experience with many different businesses, any idea can be made into a Million Dollar Idea with the right action plan behind it.
5. Believing in Stereotypes: Women Are More Emotional & Indecisive
We’ve all heard the common stereotype that women are indecisive ‘emotional thinkers’ and are therefore less competent when it comes to executing on an idea. Today’s corporate world is in need of diversity, and women bring unique perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table that enrich the conversation and lead to better business decisions. Of course, it takes being bold to make our voices heard, but it’s essential, because we have a lot to contribute.
Research shows that gender stereotypes hold women back in the workplace and can even cause them to question their own abilities. Don’t let them. Your innate abilities and the diverse ways that you approach things will make all the difference in your success. Learning to leverage what makes you - YOU is not only gratifying, but will propel your business to greater heights.
6. Lowering Your Expectations
Earning respect in the business world can be difficult. Don’t let others' opinions or critics halt you, but instead propel you towards growth - leveraging your strengths and hiring for your weaknesses. Often it’s not other’s opinions that halt us, but our own.
Many female entrepreneurs I know consistently beat themselves up with the unrealistic expectations they have created for themselves. Granted, most are serious about reaching their full potential and capitalizing on their talent, but they are unaware of how they set themselves up for failure by developing unattainable goals and then using their inability to reach those goals to spin negative self-talk.
Setting goals is necessary, but you should review your goals periodically to adjust the timelines, recognize factors that are out of your control, and modify your expectations. Don’t fuel negative self-talk, you will be the first person to shoot your idea down before anyone else.
All people (men and women) face challenges and make mistakes in their careers. However, when viewed from a perspective of growth, these events can serve to strengthen and elevate us as entrepreneurs. The opportunities that arise from facing challenges head on are what propel us into periods of growth - both personally and in our businesses. As women, we live in a unique time in history, one in which we have the power and opportunity to try, fail, and succeed and to break down barriers that would otherwise hinder us. No one can stop you from accomplishing your dreams and scaling your business to be the next multi-million dollar success.
So, where are the Million Dollar Women? You can be one of them.
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