October is National Women's Small Business Month, which presents an opportunity to reflect on the progress and possibilities of female entrepreneurship.
It may be hard to believe, but until 1988, many women needed a male relative to cosign on business loans. Since then:
- Congress passed the Women's Business Ownership Act eliminating such laws and creating support programs
- The National Women's Business Council created a celebration of this milestone to honor the hard work of women across the country through National Women's Small Business Month
- The number of women-owned businesses in the United States has increased to nearly 13 million.
- Women are starting businesses at a rate double the national average, with women of color comprising the majority — making them the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs
However, with lingering disparities in revenue, there is still work to be done to empower women.
Consider the following challenges that women face in the business world:
- Woman-owned businesses make roughly half the revenue of their male-owned counterparts
- Research as recent as 2021 reveals that people associate "male" characteristics such as aggression and forcefulness with successful leadership
- Forbes magazine notes that women continue to face roadblocks when it comes to funding due to cultural expectations placed on female entrepreneurs
At Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, we make it our mission to empower all small businesses. During National Women’s Small Business Month and beyond, we recognize the outstanding progress female entrepreneurs have made. (If you want access to more content designed to equip and celebrate women entrepreneurs, check out the Female Founders Network's podcast and community.)
We've also recently launched Grow – $200,000 of awards for minority-led business owners.
As we wrap up National Women's Small Business Month, we'd like to share some resources and insights into ways that you can support female business owners in your network.
Benefits of supporting women-owned small businesses
A business is more than the sum total of its products and services. It's also a reflection of the people behind the business, as well as their unique contributions to the common good.
Supporting small businesses run by women and minorities can help to honor the contributions of these small business owners, as well as support the communities and families they represent.
Consider the following data:
- Women of color account for 50% of women business owners
- 78% of new women-owned businesses are opened by women of color
- Nearly 50% of female business owners have children younger than 18
- Women-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses in the United States
- Women are the sole breadwinner in 40% of households
This data testifies to the strides made by women in business in recent years and also shows that supporting women-owned enterprises not only helps the women who run them — it also helps to support families and people of color.
These aren't mere ideological considerations. Women make a tangible, measurable contribution to the professional world.
According to S&P Global, companies with newly-named female CEOs perform better than companies with newly-named male CEOs. McKinsey research found that larger companies outperformed their competitors by 21% when women were included in executive leadership.
These findings shatter any negative stereotypes that might surround businesses owned by women. It's not merely the fact that women entrepreneurs can make a valuable impact on their industry. They're already doing so!
How to support women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs
National Women's Small Business Month is a perfect time to consider ways to encourage female-owned small businesses. Here are some suggestions to begin.
Attend or host an event
Seminars and workshops can provide education and a networking opportunity for small business owners in your community. These events can focus on general information that can benefit business owners of every stripe, though you might also consider events and resources that specifically help women-owned small businesses to pursue success.
Keep in mind that attending these events is often more about supporting other women than helping your own business. You can show solidarity with female professionals by attending events that showcase their contributions.
If you have a daughter or a mentee, this can also provide an opportunity to expose her to the benefits of female entrepreneurship, too. This is all the more important for STEM fields, in which women have traditionally been underrepresented.
Join a community
It's true that strength lies in numbers. Business communities can provide meaningful connections to other women in business, providing much-needed connections and advice at every stage of your journey.
While some of these communities offer face-to-face meetings, even an online community can become a place of belonging.
There are several business organizations that you can get involved with. These include:
- Invoice2go’s Female Founders community
- The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
- The Small Business Administration (and their Office of Women’s Business Ownership)
- The BOSS Network (Bringing Out Successful Sisters)
- The Lean In Network
- The So Money podcast
- Girlboss Media
- The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- Women Taking the Lead with Jodi Flynn
- Jenna Kutcher's Goal Digger podcast
If you want more detail about these various communities and organizations, check out this article.
Many of these small business communities also offer resources designed to help women navigate the world of business with confidence and success. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration includes an Office of Women’s Business Ownership that serves not only as a guide, but advocates for women business owners, too.
You may discover that these organizations don't have a chapter operating in your immediate area. So why not start your own?
Your company could start an initiative to help more businesses work together to uplift women in business, which could raise awareness of women-owned business professionals in your local community.
Be a mentor to other women
It's been said that it's hard to become what you can't see. Young women especially need the valuable guidance of experienced business owners. Your stories can bring clarity and confidence to a new generation of women in business, and through mentorship, you can leave a legacy for years to come.
This is deeper than sharing the typical advice on appropriate attire or avoiding workplace prejudice or harassment. It's also about showing other women that success isn't bound by gender and that women deserve a fair shot at financial success. This can be particularly important if you have experience in a field in which women have historically been underrepresented, such as the STEM fields or the tech sector.
Investing in younger generations has been shown to have measurable results like:
- Adults with mentors are 5 times more likely to say they plan to start their own businesses
- 62% of high school girls who are mentored in technology will major in it in college
- Small business owners with access to mentorship report higher revenue and growth rates
If you're not sure where to start, consider exploring your local chapter of Big Brother Big Sisters or finding other nonprofit organizations to work with or support in your area.
If you're not a woman entrepreneur yourself, you might still ask your employer whether your company offers any sort of business mentorship program. One of the online communities we mentioned above might also be able to help you connect to women who can benefit from your wisdom and advice.
Sharpen your skills
As a small business owner, you might already set aside time for educational opportunities and training. But this might be all of the more important for a woman-owned business since female entrepreneurs continue to face challenges and stereotypes when compared to their male peers.
We're not suggesting that additional training will eliminate these challenges, nor would we suggest that sharpening your skills is the only way to be taken seriously. But attending a class or investing in a new set of business tools can help female-owned businesses compete in today's rapidly evolving world.
Share your story to inspire others
You can share your story with other women through mentorship programs, but this isn't the only way for you to inspire others. Even online communities can be a setting in which to share pieces of your small business success story.
Think about your natural gifts. Are you a good communicator? Consider devoting time to creating a blog, podcast, or social media post about how you went from working odd jobs to pay the rent to generating revenue as the CEO of your very own company. If you're artistically gifted, you might consider creating a drawing or painting that in some way represents your journey.
You might not consider your story to be particularly groundbreaking, but representation matters. Your story can inspire a whole new generation of young women who may be considering business ownership. It may give confidence to women who are working diligently on their own small businesses, too.
Get WBE certification
If you own a small business, consider becoming a Women's Business Enterprise through WBE certification. WBE certification will allow you to participate in programs that track the capital generated by female-owned small businesses. This data can provide valuable insight into the state of female entrepreneurship and highlight areas of growth and lingering challenges.
Currently, two women's business organizations provide WBE certification. They are:
- The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- The National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)
WBE certification can also help you to earn government contracts, as most local, state, and federal purchasing agencies have programs aimed toward helping female business owners.
The certification is relatively straightforward. To become fully certified, you'll have to demonstrate that:
- Your business is at least 51% owned, operated, or controlled by female leadership
- Your business has been in operation for at least 6 months
- The owner is a legal U.S. citizen or resident alien
- Your working capital is real and in proportion to the ownership interest in the business
Additionally, you can expect to pay a non-refundable fee to complete the certification process. This fee depends on your annual gross income and breaks down as follows:
- Under $1 million in income: $350 fee
- $1 million – $5 million in income: $500 fee
- $5 million – $10 million in income: $750 fee
- $10 million – $50 million in income: $1,000 fee
- $50 million or more in income: $1,250 fee
WBE certification lasts for one year; however, it's fairly easy to recertify yearly.
Support a women-owned small business
Finally, one of the best ways to help women in the business world is to directly patronize a woman-owned business.
If you're an entrepreneur, you can make supporting a female-owned business a part of your own capital-forming activities.
Consider the following strategies for supporting female business leaders:
- Partner with vendors led by female owners
- Dedicate space in your retail store to products designed by female designers
- Partner with local businesses to promote each other's services
Even if you don't run a business of your own, you can still encourage businesses owned by a woman. Whether it's a store or a restaurant, you can patronize the business, then talk about your experience to your friends, family, or coworkers.
Social media can play a big part, too. You can even use hashtags such as #womenssmallbusinessmonth to shine a spotlight on the female leaders in your local area.
Get creative! Maybe your employer would consider hosting an event in a restaurant with a female owner. Buy gift cards from these businesses this month to begin your holiday shopping. Find a way to become a "regular" in their establishments. Doing these things can demonstrate solidarity with the female leaders in your area and serve as a model for future generations.
Join the year-round network
At Invoice2go, we love the way that the National Women's Small Business Month shines a spotlight on female business owners, whose voices often go unheard in the industry. But we also provide a community for small businesses year-round. Consider joining Female Founders. You'll find a podcast, articles, and educational resources designed to empower the next generation of female leaders. Get the confidence you need to take your enterprise to the next level!