Running a small business suits an increasing number of women just fine.
Polls show that women are a force to be reckoned with in the small-business market. According to a recent Wells Fargo and Gallup survey of 1,200 female business owners, most say running their own business has boosted their confidence. The majority report that they would make the same choices again to become entrepreneurs.
And they aren't pinching pennies anymore. Approximately 75 percent of the women surveyed say they are better off financially as small-business owners than they would be working for another company in the same field. Roughly 60 percent of the business owners expect revenue to increase this year.
According to the latest data from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Women's Business Research, 10.6 million firms are at least 50 percent owned by women. That's 48 percent of all private companies in the U.S. The number of women-owned small businesses grew by 28 percent between 1997 and 2004, the center reports.
Women entrepreneurs will continue to gain momentum in the coming decade, according to Dr. Sharon Hadary, the center's executive director. Women business owners are taking advantage of capital markets, training that's available to help them expand their businesses, as well as technology and the Internet, she says. "Before, if you wanted to market in an area, you had to be physically present, and that required a capital investment. Today, you can grow your market without investing in bricks and mortar. Women see technology and the Internet as a way of doing business."
A survey of 1,383 North American small-business technology executives reveals that, when it comes to IT, some will open their wallets a bit wider this year. According to Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., 3.9 percent plan to increase tech spending in 2005, compared to a 1.7 percent increase last year.
Most of the executives surveyed will focus spending on security and deploying major application software packages. Storage and content management also ranked high on small-business wish lists.
If you thought that getting a small-business loan was less of a hassle last year, you weren't alone. Small-business owners are finding it easier to get financing to build their companies and create jobs. In the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2004, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved 23,197 loans for $3.56 billion, compared with 18,822 loans for $3.12 billion during the same period a year earlier. That's a 23 percent increase in the number of loans. President Bush added to the good news when he signed legislation in December to make more than $21 billion available to small businesses through the SBA's two main loan programs.
A book that hit the shelves late last year spotlights women IT workers. The 264-page look at the industry—Doing IT: Women Working in Information Technology, by Krista Scott-Dixon—includes interviews with female IT workers. The interviewees reflect on their role in the workplace and the barriers they face in reaching their potential.
Scott-Dixon, a professor at York University in Toronto, interviewed about 60 professionals in the IT industry for the book, which stemmed from her Ph.D. dissertation. Scott-Dixon contends that gender, race, class and pay inequities are just as problematic in the IT arena as in other work environments.
"I was really seeing a big mismatch between the rhetoric of the IT field and the reality," Scott-Dixon says. "There was this message that gender and other social inequalities weren't going to matter. It was, in fact, the opposite. I set out to explore that conflict."
What is the best way past these obstacles? Interviewees say that a sense of humor helps, combined with intelligence, creativity and the determination to advance their careers, despite the barriers.
"Women are enjoying the IT field," Scott-Dixon says. "They just have to be aware of these issues."
Companies with fewer than 100 employees are a major player in the nation's economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. SBA documents more than 23.7 million U.S. small businesses, which employ about half of the country's private workforce. These businesses have generated 60 percent to 80 percent of the net new jobs in the U.S. in the past 10 years. But creating a small business and keeping it open is not easy. Approximately 572,900 small businesses opened in 2004, while 554,800 others closed their doors. About 66 percent of new small businesses survive at least two years, according to the SBA.
At one time or another, it seems, we all head to work with job-related issues on our minds. The small-business world is no different. Managing employees, balancing the books and budgeting for IT purchases are just some concerns among small-business owners.
But those worries are a drop in the bucket, according to a recent study by the National Federation of Independent Business. In February, NFIB released the results of its Small Business Economic Trends Survey, which asked small-business owners about their "Single Most Important Problem."
The cost of health insurance was the biggest problem facing small-business owners. Coming in second was high taxes, followed by poor sales. Business owners were least concerned about interest rates, inflation and labor costs.
Overall, NFIB predicts economic growth for small businesses in 2005. The federation points to solid capital spending plans, strong profit trends and business owners' willingness to expand.
So stop sweating the small stuff and focus on the big picture: Figure out a way to save on health insurance. And don't forget to let us know when you have solved the biggest issue of the day.
Small-business owners are starting to publicize their success stories using blogs, short for Weblogs. The online Web diaries allow small companies to tell their own stories or hold conversations with the public online. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research issued an 18-page report last year outlining the growing importance of blogs to small businesses.
Forrester recommends that companies—at a minimum—monitor blogs to learn what is being said about their products and services. To start your own blog, make sure your firm wants a more intimate, two-way relationship with customers and end-users, Forrester says. Although giving customers instant access to your firm and a means for channeling concerns might seem daunting, the effort may pay dividends down the road. Experts say small companies with blogs are more likely to be viewed as online experts in their field.