Have you ever had a moment in your life, when someone asks you something significant and you don’t even know what it means?
“What do you care about female entrepreneurs?”, asked Sylvia.
She did not know me well, so I was not surprised when she asked this question.
I told her, “Because I have seen my mother find it hard to manage a business and cope with all challenges that came with it, after my dad passed away.”
And walked away to hear the next speaker speak at the personal development event I was at.
I distinctly remember that day. Wednesday 4th April 2018.
It was right before lunch. I was at the London Strand Palace hotel in central London. I was in the room but my mind was still stuck on what Sylvia asked me.
I didn’t even notice when the speaker got on the stage and started his talk. I just remember noticing Andy Harrington deliver the final sentence of his talk “Why do you want to fit in, where are you born to stand out?”, and getting off the stage.
That last sentence was enough. It struck me to the core. I felt something inside, which I have never felt before. I took out my phone and called my mom straight away,
My mom, she said, “Shishir, you remember what your dad said to you in the hospital, son?” And that’s when I recall my dad’s words to me after he got really ill and was in the hospital.
I was like, “Yes mom, how can I forget. He said, Shishir, it doesn’t matter how popular I am in this country. I want you to make me proud and want to be remembered as Shishir’s dad.”
And, then mom said, “This is what he meant. Do what you can to help others, who need your help. Your dad passed away because of critical illness and as a result, our rental property business collapsed as I didn’t know what to do with finances. I have seen death and divorce bring the tragedy… I wish I had someone like you at the time, who I could reach out for help to become financially savvy. I am a creative person and I didn’t know what to do. Maybe you are meant to help female entrepreneurs to become financially independent, help them to succeed in their business. After all, that’s what you do anyway. Now you know your why, you can do it with more zeal, more passion, like a mission.”
I don’t know why I didn’t share this with Sylvia when she asked me this question. Maybe I needed that conversation with my mom before I figured out why I do what I do. But now I know and that’s why I’m sharing with you today.
I started in January 2020 and promised everyone I interviewed to share my findings. But, I did not want to wait until I finished all 100 interviews, which may have taken more than a year. That is why, I decided to do a progressive update, after every 25 interviews.
These interviews not only enlightened me about what holds female entrepreneurs back, but it also helped female entrepreneurs who I interviewed, to all of whom I sent the first draft of it.
I figured if it helped 25 entrepreneurs at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey then it can also help many more who are at a similar stage. That’s why I decided to put the biggest learnings from my interviews online for other female entrepreneurs. And it became the article that you are reading right now.
I am hoping that it will help YOU.
But that will happen only if you take time to read through.
Let’s start by meeting some of the entrepreneurs I interviewed before we take a look at the challenges.
Rebecca Zung is one of the Top 1% of attorneys in the US, having been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Lawyer in America”. But her journey wasn’t always easy. She went from being a single mom, a college dropout, to becoming one the most powerful lawyers in the country at the helm of a multi-million dollar practice. She is now committed to sharing her secrets and empowering others to live their lives at their optimum level of success, professionally and personally. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R.
Sammy is an award-winning international speaker, best-selling author, and founder of The Brand Builders Club. Having spent 23 years in branding and marketing before launching her first business in 2002. Sammy went on to build six more companies in the business growth sector. After 12 years of relentless work, she became seriously ill through stress. She had to find an alternative solution to do what she loves, with less stress, more time freedom. After two years of traveling the world and more than £168,000 invested in her growth, she had learned all there was to know about strategically building, systemizing, marketing, and scaling a business online. In 2014 she launched www.howtobuildabrand.org, taking it from £0 to £18,000 of monthly revenue in just 12 weeks.
Sarah Ali Choudhary is an Indian Food Expert and a Business Consultant who is also known as The Curry Queen. She is often featured by leading media outlets like Forbes and BBC. She is an incredible woman. I admire her so much for who she is and what she has achieved. Having raised four kids and then starting a business is hard. She also had to go through cultural barriers to pursue entrepreneurship. It shows so much resilience and a winning mentality. Now she is an influencer in her own right in her niche who helps entrepreneurs get featured in publications and raise their profile.
I was hell-bent on finding the biggest challenges so I had to ask some questions that were of the kind one wants to avoid. But the entrepreneurs who I spoke to were generous enough to address those questions, in order to help me and also to see if we can collectively find a solution for their challenges which in most of the cases we did.
There are 168 hours in a week, and that’s all we got. Female entrepreneurs are no different.
Only, they have a lot more to do in those 168 hours than a man.
All the entrepreneurs I spoke to in the course of my research told me that managing time and maintaining work-life balance is challenging.
And, hours in a day and week don’t seem enough.
“I feel like I am not running a business, business is running me. Every day, there’s so much to do. I keep crossing off items on my to-do list and it just keeps getting longer.”
When I come home after a long day at work, I’m so exhausted, I just want to crash into the bed. I cannot find time for my family. It’s affecting my relationship with them.”
As you are reading this, you may already be pressed for time, because you have so many things to do. You feel like your tasks are never-ending. They just keep on piling no matter how hard you work to finish.
One of the interviewees, a successful entrepreneur in the personal branding space, told me how she built multiple businesses and had to let go of her 7 figure business.
She sold her business for £1, just one pound. She did it because she was so stressed and overworked she ended up in the hospital twice in a span of 2 years. Her doctor told her, if she continued working like that, she might die. She didn’t want to end up in the hospital again and she definitely didn’t want to die so she made this tough choice. Once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur, so she’s made a decision to transition from brick and mortar business to an online business.
Because female entrepreneurs make personal sacrifices, they have less time to work on their business.
Even with the apps, and new technology available at their fingertips, most female entrepreneurs use plain-old excel to track their finances.
This happens in part because of the knowledge and skill gap. At times, they don’t know the right software. Even when they know the software they don’t know how to use it well to streamline, systemize, and synergize financial and non-financial data.
Nothing wrong with the excel-based approach, as long as it works for them, only if they had unlimited time. Which they don’t have.
It is evident, female entrepreneurs struggle with not having time for business, more than men, so it is crucial for them to use the latest technologies to do more work in less time and have systems in place to do the heavy lifting and scale their business fast.
I have found that by switching to modern software, they can dramatically save on time they invest in managing their business finance.
I have curated 119 apps that help to streamline and systemize business and listed them across 16 categories. Each of those categories related to an important aspect of running and growing a business. You can check these apps here.
Laura Vanderkam who has written best selling books about time management, in her book offers useful hacks in her book “I Know How She Does It” shares how successful women make the most of their time. This is a useful book for female entrepreneurs facing the challenge of lack of time to do what they have to do.
The insights in the book are backed by hard data, as they are based on hour-by-hour time logs from 1001 days in the lives of working mothers earning at least $100,000 a year.
Do you feel you’ve been working too hard? So hard, that you are not able to give attention to your partner or children when you come home, and you just want to crash?
If yes, then about time, you read Laura Vanderkam’s book I shared above or put some of these apps to use, and reclaim control of your time and life.
This is a big one that holds back women entrepreneurs from growing their business.
Lack of funding means not having the budget to hire someone to do it for them, not having the money to invest in learning or to grow by investing in ads.
These are the words of an entrepreneur I interviewed.
What Brenda told me during my research, proved this. She wanted to join a program that would have helped her in the next step of her business journey. She could not do it, as the investment was £5k for 12 weeks and she didn’t have her own funds or external funding. If she would have had access to external funds, she could have joined the program and grew her business.
Sarah Ali also acknowledges the lack of funding as a big challenge for women entrepreneurs. She’s quoted in a post on Linkedin.
This is the voice of a large number of female entrepreneurs across the world. And data supports what they told me. That’s why the Treasury, which is the UK Government’s department responsible for developing and executing the government’s public finance policy and economic policy, commissioned Alison Rose, CEO, NatWest Group, and the first woman to lead a major UK bank, to lead an independent review of female entrepreneurship.
Her review highlights the barriers that women face in starting and growing businesses. One of them is focused on a lack of funding as a barrier. As per the review, women start a business with much less available capital than male entrepreneurs.
This issue is compounded when it comes to applying for funding, female entrepreneurs are not taken seriously.
According to Biz2credit, an online lending platform that offers finance to small businesses across the USA, UK, India, and Australia, the average business loan for female entrepreneurs was 31% less than that of males with businesses.
These stats suggest why there are fewer female entrepreneurs.
If you are a woman entrepreneur who is seeking funding for her business then it is helpful to know why there is a lack of funding for women.
A Merryl Lynch survey found that women’s relationship with money is one of the main reasons. According to this survey, female entrepreneurs would rather talk about death than money, as it is such a sensitive topic for them.
Why is it a sensitive topic for them? Because they have an emotional connection with money more than men. Money for women can also be about security, rather than just purchasing power, as they want to care for their families.
However, this kind of thinking can hinder growth. So, if you are a female entrepreneur, thinking about money in a different way can be a good thing for your business and growth.
The 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, found a significant gap between the number of women starting businesses and those committing to growing the business. Female entrepreneurs need to learn to overcome any taboo or awkwardness that they feel around money and start to ask what they need. Because Money is energy and it can really help a business grow.
This is a chicken and egg situation. Female entrepreneurs don’t have access to capital that they need to grow, and unless they have it, they will stay small and miss out on opportunities to grow.
This also stems from lack of time, the first challenge female entrepreneurs face. Because they don’t have much time, they can’t focus on the numbers in business. This means they are not on top of their numbers, which is a must if you want to get investors on board or want to get a bank to offer you a loan.
Lack of funding for female entrepreneurs means that many female entrepreneurs who want to start their businesses are not able to start them.
And, even when they get the funding it is lower than male counterparts, so they are not able to grow as fast and as much as men.
Alison Rose’s review highlighted that women entrepreneurs can add £200 billion to the UK economy. And this potential is not unleashed because of the barriers and challenges women face.
Kim Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Woman, says no one better than you to manage your money. .
If you think money is the byproduct of what you do, then you need to think about it again.
She also says money can make a difference. Money shouldn’t make you different.
You may have heard the expression: You’ve got to be in it, to win it. If you want to secure funding for your business, then you have to know certain facts and projection, otherwise, you will be shooting in the dark.
If you reach out to the bank for a loan you need to know the answers to questions like how much you need and when you will be able to repay. If you don’t know the numbers, it will show a lack of clarity and confidence and without these two you’ll not be able to convince the banker.
From my own experience, working as a financial coach, I have seen entrepreneurs do well when they get on top of their numbers, and improve their relationships with money.
If you have experienced limited growth because of a lack of funding, then know you know you are not alone.
Have you ever felt like :
I need to know where I am in the business. Am I doing well or not?
“How much dip in sales in a month seriously affects my cash flow?”
Do you ever feel like that money in your business comes in slow and goes out fast?
And do you wish that you knew when you’ll be able to go on a holiday, and stop worrying about having enough cash to pay your bills?
All such unfulfilled wishes and feelings of not knowing why you stay stuck and others keep growing.
When I interviewed Jose Pieterson, she said,
I couldn’t have said it better.
All these entrepreneurs that Jose talks about forget to measure performance of the business.
They don’t even know:
Their lack of financial knowhow turns into a lack of financial competence.
It’s not like they don’t want to learn. They don’t know how to.
For example, one entrepreneur who I interviewed wanted to learn how cash can be allocated to different areas of the business as it comes in, to ensure that each part of the business has the required amount when they need it. And, she does not get surprises later on.
But then the entrepreneurs are artists. Most of us don’t have developed financial brains. We are creative but we don’t know how to make sense of the other side.
So, the entrepreneurs I spoke to, most of them are not able to talk to their accountants, because they can see the numbers but don’t know what those numbers mean beyond revenues, cash in the bank.
Probably that’s why many of the interviewees I spoke to asked me to make a video about what to ask your accountant.
Many of them felt financially paralyzed, unsure of what they can do, or can’t do with the financial data.
At times, the female superpower of multitasking became a challenge for these entrepreneurs. Because their attention was divided into so many different places, they could not focus.
When running digital ads, they spent money equally on Google Ads and Facebook ads because they did not know which channel was more ROI efficient.
Their challenges that resulted due to lack of financial knowhow did not end there. Here is what they told me and the questions they asked me:
“We don’t know how to become financially secured.”
“I do not have the right, actionable KPI.”
“Measuring the success of communication channels is a problem that needs to be solved.”
“I don’t have clarity on ROI, despite knowing how valuable info on ROI is.”
“I miss not having a structured, solid financial foundation guidance step by step.”
“I have limited, unpredictable cash flow. So how do I prioritize my spending in my business to get a better return on my investment.”
“It would be great to set up a system to scale my business using affiliates to sell my products. “How do I set this up to onboard, track and reward these affiliates?“
“We don’t know how to manage money. We never learned. We‘ve got no education in school. I had to learn by falling and standing, falling and standing”
Often they shared a lot more like this one entrepreneur who said this:
“As I have limited cash flow to invest, how can I set up KPI*’s to measure the metrics so that I know, what works and what doesn’t work and where to improve so that it allows me to earn better money.” (*KPI = Key Performance Indicators)
One of the female entrepreneurs said she has lots of ideas but she is not able to execute them. She is always pressed for time. She has so much to do managing family life and working on different projects. Besides, there is limited support. She has no one to look at her numbers and her plans as an extra pair of eyes to who could guide her in executing the ideas. Hence ideas remain just ideas.
As I spoke to more entrepreneurs, the challenges related to the lack of financial knowhow continued.
“Sometimes I feel like I am banging my head against the wall. I am so busy, I work so hard Shishir but at the end of the month despite having made decent sales, I hardly have any money left for me. I know some of my products work well and some doesn’t. Which ones should I focus on? It doesn’t look like the ones with a higher price tag. I get confused sometimes about my next move.”
These challenges are not insurmountable.
You just need to take time to learn basic financial skills. Financial skills help you to diagnose what’s going on in your business. You can’t fix what you don’t know.
What you need to do next is driven from your financial data.
I believe “Financial Data Drives Decisions”
Here is American Economic Review says about the importance of financial education.
“A 0.2 increase in standard deviation on a financial literacy score would result in a predicted additional $13,800 in new wealth.”
American Economic Review
I want you to win in the business, so I urge you to invest time and resources in your financial education.
Every successful entrepreneur knows the importance of knowing their numbers and managing their money well.
Sophia Amoruso, Founder of Nasty Gal & Girlboss Media wrote in her 2014 autobiography, #GIRLBOSS: “Learning how to manage your money is one of the most important things you’ll ever do.”
You can go one step further and get an overview of the accounting process.
Wiseman Warren Buffet once said, “Accounting is the language of business.”
So, I want to ask you, “Are you fluent in the language of business?”
If not, you can read a fantastic book like “Accounting for the Numberphobic” by Dawn Fotopulos.
Once you get the book you can set aside 20-30 minutes a day to read through, take notes, and implement what resonates with you.
I watched a TED talk about financial literacy as a foreign language. It was really interesting to hear a perspective from a female entrepreneur.
Imagine you are in a new country and you don’t speak the language. How will you communicate with the people? Imagine the frustration. That’s exactly what happens when you don’t have financial education in your business and you do not understand basic terms what it means and how it works. You get frustrated.
I believe the only way to overcome this is by becoming a financially savvy entrepreneur. It doesn’t mean you have to be a finance guru. You just need to understand how money flows in your business and ultimately to our pocket, so that you can maximise the flow at EACH stop of the journey.
There are all kinds of limiting beliefs that hold female entrepreneurs back.
Maybe you think I’m not good with the money side of my business. It’s so complicated.
Perhaps, you believe you are not in the business to make more money, you are in it to make an impact.
Money beliefs are generally installed in a person’s brain when they are about 7-8 years old. Any significant event in their lives also changes the perception of money beliefs. Depending upon the experience, some view money as a necessity and some view as a byproduct of what they do.
In one of the calls, one entrepreneur told me how her dad took the family out for a birthday meal and when they sat down and looked at the menu, her dad realized that he cannot afford it, so they went home back without having a meal and cooked dinner at home.
She was eight years old. She had seen her dad work day in and day out and her family never had enough disposable income. That day, she decided she was never going to work for someone forever, she wanted to do her own thing – she didn’t even know then she wanted to become an entrepreneur.
Most entrepreneurs with limiting beliefs indulge in self-talk that goes like: “I am a creative person and I’m not good with the money side of things. I believe money is the byproduct of what I do.”
Did you know female entrepreneurs are most likely to get stuck in business than men do? They also need more validation than men do. They are less likely to ask for help and are likely to be stuck. And if you are not seeking help to change your money beliefs then you are seriously missing out on your business as well as personal growth.
Do you experience limiting money beliefs because you heard your family talk about money like, “Money doesn’t grow on trees? Money is the root cause of evil. Those who earn more money than others have created a sin because they have taken it from someone else.”
If yes, then you should overcome limiting money beliefs and change your life in the process.
NY Times Bestselling author Jen Sincero still lived in a garage at 40 and pretended not to be hungry when she went out to restaurants with friends. And, then she got over her limiting beliefs when she realized that she’d had enough of living the hard life. This realization and mindset change paved the way to her almost sudden financial success.
She wrote about it all, in her book, “You Are a Badass at Making Money”, which New York Magazine called “A cheerful manifesto on removing obstacles between yourself and the income of your dreams.”
If you are looking to change your limiting beliefs then this book can be a kick in the pants.
And, who knows like Jen your life will change sooner than you think it can.
I feel so alone in my business journey. There’s no one to support me.
My family doesn’t understand me. They think I am prioritizing my work over family and especially children. I don’t know who to ask for help.
Does this sound like you?
“Not having someone I could talk to about my business makes me feel financially paralyzed,” said one interviewee.
Here is what others said:
“I want to check if I’m doing okay and especially when there’s a fluctuation in cash coming in.”
“I don’t want to find out later that I do not have the cash to cover to pay for bills.”
“So I always worry about it. When I am booking a holiday in advance, I don’t have confidence if I will have enough cash to pay the bills while I’m away. It would be great to have this clarity.”
This was the voice of the interviewees. There were many along the same lines how lack of support as an extra pair of eyes leaves them with confusion and anxiety.
Have you experienced a similar situation in your business and personal life where you didn’t have the support you needed on your business journey?
I understand how you feel. My mom had to go through similar experiences when my dad passed away, and she had to take care of the financial side of our rental property business too. She felt financially paralyzed. She didn’t know what to do and who to ask for help.
It’s like you land in a new country and you don’t speak that country’s language while carrying a huge suitcase with you.
Looking back, my mom felt it would have helped her immensely to have financial stability in her business if she had the right support.
Nowadays there are many organizations that exist for the cause of supporting female entrepreneurs. Some of the prominent ones are the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Center For Women & Enterprise (CWE), and Women’s Venture Fund (WVF).
There are also support platforms like Ladies Who Launch, co-founded by Victoria Cooligan.
So, if you are looking for help, it is available, you just need to look around and reach out.
Throughout my 25 interviews, I noticed a common theme of different fears that entrepreneurs experience.
“I am scared to invest. What if I lose all the money I have.”
“I don’t know how my family will respond if that happens.”
Did you know, according to a report by online store VistaPrint, that female business owners find failure more difficult to overcome, compared to male counterparts. The report found that over 66% of female entrepreneurs found it hard to ‘bounce back’ from failing or something going wrong, compared with 55% of males.
So for women entrepreneurs, a single failure can be devastating for chances of succeeding.
Joke Helmet, an entrepreneur I interviewed said, “Fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of the unknown are the three biggest pains of female entrepreneurs.”
Fear manifests itself in many forms. Let’s go through them one by one.
What if I failed, this self-talk, destroys countless dreams and stops people in their tracks. People don’t crave success so much as much they fear failing. If this wasn’t the case a lot more people will take initiative and fail until they succeed.
And, almost everyone you see around and admire has seen their share of failures.
People like Sophia Amoruso, who scaled the revenues of Nasty Gal, more than 100 times, from $223,000 in 2008 to almost $23 million in 2011.
Then a series of events saw her business file for bankruptcy. She did not lose hope and through all this wrote #GIRLBOSS, her bestselling book. And, in 2017 founded Girlboss, a platform providing millennial women with the tools, resources, and connections to level-up personally, professionally, and spiritually.
Limiting belief holding I don’t deserve this success
People do not like change.
What if my lifestyle changes? What if I have social pressures. Maybe I don’t deserve more money as I might be snatching from someone else who deserves it. What if I can’t cope with the name, fame and fortune . What if I am not ready for this change?
These were some of the concerns shared with me during the interview.
I don’t want to take the plunge because I don’t know what I am missing out. I fear losing what I already have. I don’t know what I can afford to do next.
I don’t know what my peers will think if I do this and that. I feel like I need constant approval, liking what I am doing. I don’t want to deviate away from what I am already doing, just in case I look stupid.
Managing finances in business is never easy. Most entrepreneurs are worried about the future and struggle to grow their cash flow.
I have found that those entrepreneurs who take time to become friends with numbers, get on top of their finances, and control it well, set themselves to win. Those who remain financially ignorant fail like 8 out of 10 businesses that fail in the first 18 months.
It seems becoming financially aware and getting over different fears that may hit your from time to time will make chances of your success high.
I have learned FEAR has no place on a piece of paper. Once you have written it down, now its a case of how do I fix this rather than hold on to it and not move forward in your business or personal life.
Gayle Edwards said during the interview, “You can’t change what you are not prepared to face.”
She is so right.
I developed a framework FINANCIAL F.E.A.R REMEDY, I use to help my clients to overcome financial fear.
Joke told me how fear of failure grips her so tightly.
Six years back Jackie Zuk. relocated from New York to Boston not knowing a single person outside of her husband who was her boyfriend at the time when she moved. She worked on Top Chef, an American reality competition television series, as the assistant stylist to Padma Lakshmi.
You can imagine the FEARS of taking the risk, moving to another city not knowing a single person.
These were all ordinary people like us, who have achieved something significant by their own persistence overcoming obstacles and fears.
This shows that you can do and achieve similar things in life.
It’s your turn now.
As you are reading this, let me ask you:
Did you experience any fear that I mention? If yes, what did you do to overcome it?
It is real.
True that there are women who have broken the proverbial glass ceiling. But they are few and far between.
In 2018, the average business loan for female entrepreneurs was 31% less than that of males with businesses. So consider the bias against females when applying for funding and looking into funding options.
“I get paid less for doing more work.”
“I have less opportunity to grow as I have less access to financial resources, taken less seriously.”
So requests for lower amounts in funding lead to lower amounts funded for women. But getting that approved in the first place is difficult because the loan approval rate for female entrepreneurs is 15% to 20% less than it is for men.
We live in the 21st century, where our financial rewards are based on skills, expertise but also based on gender.
We hear stories like these all day long, as they have to compromise, just because of her gender.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We need to understand, it’s part of the culture we have to take it on the chin and move forward.
All the successful female entrepreneurs must have experienced some kind of bias towards them. All we see is their success, what we don’t see is the struggle they have been through for years to be in that position.
Change is happening.
The more success female entrepreneurs experience, the higher they will be motivated to reach.
And, their success will inspire others to follow the suit.
Like how after Roger Bannister busted through the four-minute barrier to run a mile with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second, on May 6, 1954, runners across the world started hitting it as a matter of routine. So much so that the “four-minute barrier” has since been broken by over 1,400 male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.
More power to all female entrepreneurs reading it. Wish you achieve success and financial confidence which is even beyond your imagination.
And need help finding your way through it?