Five ways for women entrepreneurs to win
- Think big and be bold: Realize that you already have the qualities to grow just as quickly as other market leaders.
- Build a public profile: It is easier to win the attention of potential customers, investors, advisors and strategic partners if the media have already identified you as someone to watch.
- Work on the business, rather than in it: Once you decide that dramatic growth is possible, your time and energy must be strategically allocated so you can focus on achieving big goals.
- Establish key advisory networks: To be a successful leader, you need to draw on the experience of peers, mentors and business and personal advisors.
- Evaluate financing for expansion: One of the key elements to taking a company to the next level is knowing the kind of capital you need to support that growth.
Women entrepreneurs are a powerful force in the economy, but they face challenges that can prevent them from scaling up. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program™ helps their companies scale.
When I first approached banks, they chuckled at me," recalls Sherry Stewart Deutschmann, founder and CEO of Nashville-based LetterLogic.
Those banks are surely regretting their decision: the former saleswoman's printing and mailing firm, founded in 2002, grew by 58% from 2007 to 2010. It's all thanks to the determination of Deutschmann, who liquidated everything she had to pay for the equipment she needed to set up shop.
Eventually, the company's growing profile attracted an angel investor, giving LetterLogic the funding it needed to expand.
Now, securing funding is a cinch: LetterLogic logged 200 investor calls in 2010. Deutschmann holds the lessons she learned during the start-up period close to her heart. "It made me aware of the problems women have getting financing nationwide," she says. She has now become an angel investor herself, backing another woman-owned business in Nashville.
Finding funding is only one of the challenges that women entrepreneurs face. Despite the fact that 46% of privately held US firms are at least half-owned by women, most are not growing to the degree they could be. Indeed, businesses owned by men are three and a half times more likely to reach US$1m in annual revenues.
Ernst & Young recognized these challenges and, four years ago, decided to put its business-strengthening resources and market clout to work. Entrepreneurial Winning Women, a national competition and leadership development program, identifies women whose businesses have the potential for growth and helps them to achieve it, breaking through the barriers that stop them from becoming market leaders.
The participants are coached on the five crucial actions they need to take to scale their companies and are exposed to entrepreneurs, investors and advisors who can help them think big and manage their companies more productively.
After four years, the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program has proved to spur dramatic growth.
According to recent independent research by Babson College, revenues of the companies with which the Entrepreneurial Winning Women are associated have grown by almost 50% each year on average, with a corresponding annual job growth rate of more than 25%.
“To see that someone as successful as Sir Richard Branson had the same anxieties as you did — it gives you the courage to move forward.”
| ||- Carole Borden, |
2009 Entrepreneurial Winning Woman,
Founder and CEO of CB Transportation
The Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum is a gathering of more than 2,300 top business leaders, entrepreneurs and industry experts from high-growth, market-leading companies. There, the Winning Women can meet entrepreneurs who have been through similar challenges and found success.
"To see that someone as successful as Sir Richard Branson had the same anxieties as you did — it gives you the courage to move forward," says 2009 Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Carole Borden, founder and CEO of CB Transportation.
This confidence boost has paid dividends: CB Transportation took just five years to grow to US$10m in annual revenues. Borden is now aiming to reach US$100m, the level at which she believes she needs to either sell the company or make the acquisitions that will transform it into a market leader.
After attending the Forum, Deutschmann told her team to "buckle up," as she planned to grow the company to US$500m versus US$100m in revenues. Lisa Bair, founder and President of Hobart Group Holdings and one of the 2010 Winning Women, said, "I completely revised my business plan after attending the Forum in order to reach my new goal of US$100m in sales."
And Amy Buckner Chowdhry, Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2011, gained a similar perspective. "This program totally changed my definition of 'big' and opened my eyes to the growth potential for our company," she says. "I'm thinking entirely differently about how we measure being the market leader."
Inspired by the program, many of the Entrepreneurial Winning Women have put in place new management teams designed to free them up to lead. And they have made strategic use of other tools as well, including business reporting that gives them a better handle on the state of their companies.
Sue Rice, the founder and President of Cavanagh Services Group, a waste management firm, says that working on her business, not in it, was some of the most useful advice she has taken from the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program.
"I told my employees that the company is like a race car and I'm the driver," she says. "I have to stay in the race, but I also have to pull over and come in for a pit stop. They have to help me get back into the race as fast as possible. If I have to get out of the car and fill up the gas, they have pulled me out of the race and I will be forever trying to catch up."
Rice has found that this method of delegating has not only enhanced the time she spends on the business, it has also benefited her employees, who are becoming much bigger contributors to the company.
Through Entrepreneurial Winning Women, Ernst & Young can shine a spotlight on some of the most ambitious and original women entrepreneurs in the country.
The resulting press provides direct benefits to their companies: clearly, it is easier to win the attention of potential customers, investors, advisors and strategic partners if the media have already identified you as someone to watch.
For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of event technology company Eved, one of the program's most valuable lessons has been the power of media exposure. "We had a great feature in Forbes just because I sat next to a writer for Forbes at the Strategic Growth Forum's Winning Women opening breakfast," she says.
Connecting the dots
No entrepreneur is an island. To run a successful business, you need to have connections with suppliers, clients and potential partners. To be a successful leader, you need to draw on the experience of peers, mentors and business and personal advisors. The right networks can yield new opportunities and a new way of thinking.
Mashiach recognized the importance of developing networks to help her obtain strategic partners and investors. She recently secured venture capital funding for Eved, which she founded in 2004. "Because of the introductions I received through Ernst & Young, it was easier for me to start building relationships with investors," she says.
"When we were ready, we were able to get the meetings we wanted." More than anything, the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program demonstrates the value of encouraging talented entrepreneurs to view themselves as future market leaders.
Kelly Caldwell, co-founder of AK Environmental and 2009 Winning Woman, says: "The program helps you see the sky's the limit." Co-founder Amy Gonzales corrects her: "The sky is no limit."
Read more about the impact of the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program and what all women entrepreneurs should know to scale their business in our new case study, Thinking big: how to accelerate the growth of women-owned companies.