Here’s the obvious: being an entrepreneur is difficult. But faced with all the challenges of entrepreneurship as a woman? The task can sometimes seem overwhelming. It is well known that businesses run by women are not as widely supported as businesses run by men; they get less venture capital funding, and even receive less money when obtaining business loans.
But on a more positive note, there’s no better time to be a female entrepreneur. Resources abound to grow your business, improve your professional personality, and find support along the way. You will want to know where to look to take advantage of these resources.
Here are five of the best places to start your search:
1. Mentoring and networking
In today’s business landscape, “networking” doesn’t have to be a bad word, nor does “mentoring”. You don’t have to feel scary approaching people you admire and hope they won’t throw your business card in the trash.
More than anyone, women entrepreneurs know the value of relationship building. Our community is smaller and our knowledge is more specialized, as you not only need to have business skills, but also understand the specific challenges that women face. Consider sending a few communications on these platforms:
• Your alumni network. Alumni networks are much more powerful than many people realize. You will instantly have something in common with people. Even if someone is not listed in an official alumni directory, you can use email or another networking platform to contact them by rating your shared alma mater as an icebreaker.
• Professional events. You will likely find plenty of networking opportunities, like small informal meetings or large planned events, in a large metropolitan area. Sometimes they are hosted by professional or trade associations, and sometimes they are larger conferences for women entrepreneurs. Everyone is there to meet someone in these situations – so the barrier to connecting will be lower.
• Former colleagues. Even if you’ve lost a relationship with a former boss or coworker, but still admire and follow them, tell them that. It’s flattering on the other end of a message to hear that someone is interested in your knowledge. As long as you haven’t burned any bridges, consider that the doors are still open.
And remember, if someone isn’t responding to your email or request, don’t get me wrong. Anyone who doesn’t respond, even with a no, wouldn’t have been a successful relationship for you, anyway.
2. Online communities
One of the reasons it’s so great to be a female entrepreneur right now? Internet, of course.
Women entrepreneurs should look to online communities more than ever to make connections and share their knowledge. And there are many – obvious ones like LinkedIn or message boards for trade associations. But there are also less obvious ones, which can include something like a thread on a neighborhood board (like The next door, for example), or places like Reddit. And don’t limit your search to just communities specific to your business. You might also be surprised at what you find in local or regional sites.
If you don’t see what you want, you can always start this thread. You are an entrepreneur. If you’re looking for something, there’s a good chance someone else is too.
3. First-person stories
For women entrepreneurs, some of the biggest lessons we can learn are from each other. Search books for women entrepreneurs, but specifically autobiographical accounts. When you read, it’s important to enter into the stories of not only people you admire, but also people you think you have little in common with. This is often where the best lessons are learned.
Plus, keep an eye out for interviews with your favorite entrepreneurs, or even go digging into the TED Women archives. Likewise, interview the people with whom you have networked their experiences. You will learn so much more from others than you can find in a textbook.
Now let’s talk about dollars and cents. Business financing can be essential for any business at scale. And if you feel put off by the fact that women receive less funding than men, you should be encouraged by the number of grants specific to women. Many companies and foundations have created specific funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs. And, if you are an immigrant or a woman of color, you may be able to find even more grants related to identity and heritage.
Yes, applying for grants takes a lot of work. But they’re not only glamorous for winning, they’re also amazing launchers for business because you don’t have to pay back. Start viewing lists of grants for women entrepreneurs to see what you are eligible for now and in the future.
5. SBA loans
SBA loans are generally considered to be the best business loans available. They have desirable terms, including long repayment periods and the lowest rates offered. This is because they are 80% backed by the US Small Business Administration, which means that the banks that make the actual loans can offer preferential terms with less risk.
These loans are competitive and therefore are only available for borrowers with high credit. But they can be the best possible solution among small business loans for women. Among SBA loans, there are specifically SBA microloans, which might be particularly suitable for women entrepreneurs with start-up businesses. These small loans can reach up to $ 50,000 and are often made to marginalized business owners, including veterans and minorities.
At the end of the line? There are many resources for women entrepreneurs, whether you are looking to earn capital or make connections. You just need to know where to look.