More than 200 female entrepreneurs packed a Washington D.C. ballroom yesterday to learn about ways to fund, run and grow their business as part of the She’s Next, Empowered by Visa event, an extension of the global initiative designed to champion women-owned small businesses everywhere, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for Visa)
According to a recent survey of female business owners conducted by Visa, there are two key drivers that catapult women to start their own companies.
Thirty-seven percent do so to pursue their passion, while thirty-six percent are seeking financial independence.
When starting up, ninety-seven percent said they solicited advice from other female small business owners first.
And, eighty-nine percent said they faced challenges getting the needed funding to start their companies.
Because of this, Visa recognized the importance of providing resources to these exact women to fund, run, and grow their businesses. To do so, they launched She’s Next, Empowered by Visa.
Three primary pillars of focus: access to capital, connecting women to a network of other entrepreneurs for support, and bringing them educational tools for growth.
As a 4-time female founder myself, I wanted to see how a titan like Visa, which has worked for decades with merchants all over the world, would approach these gaps.
So, I sat down with Suzan Kereere, head of Global Merchant Sales & Acquiring at Visa, and one of the forces behind the creation of this initiative. She shared that, “We hear the same thing from female founders everywhere we go. First, they need a platform, they need some way to get to a level playing field, and we think our platform is perfect for that. It’s not just because we’re connected to 3 billion consumers and 54 million merchants around the world, but it’s that we think when you leverage a platform to do good and do more, it helps economies and communities thrive.”
She continues, “Small businesses are the backbone of economies and communities everywhere. So, we’re using our platform to shine the spotlight on women. Number two is offering tools and training for questions like, ‘How do I raise it when I’m growing? How do I get more of it and how do I use money wisely to help me navigate the choppy waters of good and bad times?’”
“We also hear a lot about digital and data. So we’ve got a number of experts now who are doing so much with social media, so much with digital marketing. We think it’s a good idea to expose these experts to these women or these women to these experts, and give them the practical tools they need to run their businesses.”
“Number three is more about community. What we heard is women are inspired by other women who start businesses. So, we want to build on that inspiration. One or two attendees today will walk away with one or two other people they didn’t know before. Perhaps they will find someone who is good at something they are not, and creating this connection will help them learn from one another.”
“Beyond that, we’ve been in the small-business business for hundreds of years. We are the largest small business platform, at least in payments, which means we already know a lot about how to make small businesses successful, and we’re hoping to inject some of that on the ground in real life with women who need our help.”
When I asked her why this matters to her personally, Kereere thoughtfully shared that, “My mother was an entrepreneur. This was forty or fifty years ago. She started a number of beauty businesses in Uganda. Women’s role outside the home was still brand new territory. She was the first of her family to make it in a very public and visible way. And her intentions were the same that entrepreneurs seek today: financial independence, to have control of her own income, and to use that income and control to solve issues relating to the needs of her family. It’s what inspires me to this day. And it doesn’t matter what arena I would be in. I’m very lucky to be at Visa, to have this platform, to spend my time thinking about how to help women in business grow. But if were not for her and that spark and that courage, I wouldn’t be here.”
So, I watched, asked questions, and listened to share with you the top thirteen lessons these female founders and leaders shared to help you run, grow, and connect with and for your business:
Connect with your passion
Nastia Liukin, 5-Time Olympic Medalist turned entrepreneur, shared from her experiences: “You have to be passionate about it, and it’s really hard if you’re not. I see it a lot in sports, that the parents push the kids, and they want it more than the kid does. And that’s just going to be a failure because you’re going to be spending so much time doing whatever it is that you’re doing – a sport or a business.”
Then your ‘why’
Liukin continues, “It’s so important to do something for yourself, and not to prove something to other people. ‘What are my goals? Why am I doing this?’ Asking yourself why is the most important thing. Before you build out a business plan and go raise funding and do all that, you have to answer why. I answered that why in gymnastics, and I answered the why trying to make my second Olympic team, and then answered the why of retiring from gymnastics. It’s not a why of self-doubt. It’s just making sure that this is what you want to do. Because you have to have more of a reason than, ‘I just want to do it to prove it to someone.’ Or, ‘I want to do it because it’s going to look good on paper’.”
Identify potential bottlenecks
Isfahan Chambers-Harris, Founder of Alodia Hair Care, was both an attendee as well as featured in a commercial for the initiative. When asked what was the biggest surprise she encountered as an entrepreneur, she shared, “You always have your mindset on growth and success and not realizing, particularly as a product company, that your growth is linked to your inventory and the amount of product that you have. You have to balance your cash flow with the amount of inventory you have versus the success that you want to have. That’s been a challenge for us.”
It’s not personal, let it go.
“If a deal falls through, suddenly, for a slight second, I think, ‘What could I have done to get that deal, or to work harder?,” questions Liukin. “And the answer is nothing. It’s quite possible that it had nothing to do with me. They’re not even doing the deal, or they want someone else, and it’s totally fine.
I’m learning things aren’t always in your control. Just let go.”
It might feel lonely
“The reality is if you’re a solo entrepreneur, it’s just you. When you’re the CEO of your company, if you’ve been a CEO somewhere, or you are your own founder, the reality is, the buck stops with you. So there’s this sense of loneliness you get, whether it’s in a big job at a big company, or in your job on your founding company, that makes you feel as though you’re alone. You’re not. Use your network, use the community to boost your skills and resources. Be smart about it. Sometimes we forget that we can look around left and right and find resources. We are not alone,” emphasizes Kereere.
Find mutually-beneficial collaborations
“We don’t need to create platforms everywhere we go. Actually, what we need to do is inject ourselves into local communities.” Kereere continues as she describes She’s Next’s collaborative Mindset. “The Female Founder Collective was a platform that had resonance because it was digital, it was broadly available around the US, it has big ambitions to actually scale around the world. And it was backed by real entrepreneurs. So, we plugged in.”
Build a complementary team
Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan shared, “I think it takes a certain disposition to be an entrepreneur, and that is a certain stomach for excitement, to be able to ride with the highs and the lows, which are very rapid. It’s also all about the team. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Build a cadre of people around you who highlight your skills and compliment them with others. Even if you’re introverted, there’s power in people. Anything you do is good. Nothing makes sense when you’re doing it, but when you look back it does. Create your own luck.”
Know your brand ethos
Tina Wells, CEO and founder of Buzz Marketing Group said, “Marketing is both an art and a science. We get excited about the art, but forget about the science. Whether it’s your personality or the personality of your business, you need to figure out what the brand ethos is, and what the vibe is going to be. That helps you figure out what content is appropriate, what content would never be appropriate, and what kind of photos and fonts to use.”
Choose your niche
The most common mistake businesses make? According to Wells, ”Trying to be all things to all people. Think about all the businesses that are really working right now. They’re niche brands. Trying to appeal to every single consumer is just not going to happen.”
Not all digital platforms are created equal
“Platform selection is another area where people make mistakes,” continues Wells. “Everyone thinks, ‘I need an Instagram strategy.’ ‘I need a Facebook strategy.’ ‘I need a Pinterest strategy.’ But, it goes back to what’s the ethos of your brand? If your brand is all about surprise and delight, then you probably want an Instagram platform. If your brand is about education, you want to look at Facebook or Twitter. Every channel has a different purpose. The biggest mistake I see is people just try to cram it all in one place. Figure out the one platform that works, and then once you’ve gotten that down, then move to another one, but don’t try to strategically do everything.”
Patiently take care of the followers you have
Wells also shares, “A couple of years ago it was a quantity game. And I think now we all are settling into the fact that it’s really about quality, and about how you get people to move to whatever the message is. We think about big numbers, but how can you cater to them? Can you actually fulfill the customer need or desire if you had 300,000 physical subscribers? Could I really cater to all of those people? People think they can ignore their 800 followers until they get to 80,000. How do you think the person with 80,000 got there? They were responding to the comments and making sure every person felt included, and they built over time. We’ve lost the art of just building over time. Patience is the missing piece.”
Listen to your audience
Liukin admits, “I have a love-hate relationship with social media. It’s a great place to connect for some. For me, at times, it’s hard to look beyond these perfect curated pictures, and beyond a like or a comment. You don’t really get engagement, you don’t really get inspired.
I’m still a fairly new business owner. And so listening to my audience is extremely important, and I’m excited to hopefully help others. I feel as if that’s what I was always lacking when I was training and competing. And so now that I have the capacity and the capability and the time to be able to help others, that’s my goal.”
Build cohesive brand partnerships
“People see right through the hashtag ‘ad’,” warns Liukin. “So it’s really important to try to build partnerships and not just one-off deals. I’m really cautious about the brands that I work with. It has to make sense with your brand.
Everything has to be cohesive or else one minute you’re talking about this and the next minute you’re talking about that.”
Never quit on a bad day
And, from the woman who knows better than just about anyone in the room: “Never quit or give up on a bad day. We’re all going to fall on our face, like I did literally, or figuratively. It’s about picking yourself up and finishing and not just giving up when times are tough. I hope that I’m able to prove that constantly. Whether things are going my way or not, I’m going to give 100% of my heart and my effort, and that’s all that really you can ask for,” concludes Liukin.
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