Six lessons I’ve learned as a woman entrepreneur on the rise

If we are to go by global trends*, there are more and more women-led businesses being founded each year. And yet, if you google profitable businesses or venture-backed businesses, chances are that you will find few women-led businesses at the top.
The question therefore is, what happens to all these businesses that start up so well but never reach their full potential?
This article is about what I’ve learned as a woman still figuring out my way to the top of this entrepreneurship game. Most of these lessons have prepared me for a journey of resilience and self-discovery and it’s my hope that the women who read this will find the same resilience and strength to continue on their entrepreneurial journey.
Lesson 1: We have to be intentional about making profits
Most women-led businesses that I know of start out as hobbies. We love to solve problems, but we forget about the business aspect. My theory is that most female businesses fail because the majority of women start them to solve an issue, without being intentional about making profits. The hard truth is that most venture capitalists won’t invest in our businesses if we don’t demonstrate a strong ability to make money. We shouldn’t shy away from making profitable businesses because profits will keep us afloat and ensure that we continue to solve even more – and bigger – problems.
Lesson 2: We must master the art of being firm
But yet, not lose our femininity. We don’t have to be aggressive to prove what we rightfully know. I have found that when I prepare adequately for anything, be it a meeting with a potential funder or a presentation to a new client, I take with me both my charm and facts. I find that people give me the attention that I deserve when I’m knowledgeable – and firm – about the subject matter.
Lesson 3: Work-life balance happens when we build strong and independent teams
As women entrepreneurs, our businesses shouldn’t stop because we want to start a family. We shouldn’t have to choose between having a family and running our business. The most successful entrepreneurs that I admire have managed to achieve a work-life balance and do it well. How you build your team matters, as well as the culture you build at your workplace. Bring on board people who compliment your abilities and empower your team to be self-sufficient without you being around all the time.
Lesson 4: We should surround ourselves with people we aspire to be like
I cannot stress enough how important this is. I always surround myself with other women entrepreneurs who have a skill I can learn from. For instance, one of my key advisor’s company got acquired by a major firm in the renewable energy space. I want to be able to build my startup to reach acquisition status and therefore, it’s important for me to spend adequate time learning from my fellow entrepreneur to know what steps she had to take to get to where she is now.
Lesson 5: We got to stop being apologetic
As women entrepreneurs, we need to learn to make ourselves visible and amplify our work without being apologetic for it. I find that men are more vocal about their achievements and are quicker to talk about them during a networking session than women. As women, we tend to be more modest and rarely talk about our businesses in spaces where opportunity presents itself. My new mantra is ‘you never know where your next client will come from’ and so, I now jump at any opportunity to talk about my business at any networking event. Always be prepared to talk about what you do.
Lesson 6: We need a pipeline of women investors
Last but definitely not least, we need to build a pipeline of women investors who are already at the top. There are very few women venture capitalists as well as women initiatives that help fund women-led businesses. If we have more women at the top supporting women businesses, we will drive greater impact and show the world that it’s possible to support each other and succeed in building multi-billion-dollar businesses.
The uncertainties that surround entrepreneurship make it hard to succeed, especially for women. Yet the joy of being able to solve a problem in a creative way is worth all the risk. What the world needs more of are women rising up to solve some of the most critical issues facing women around the world, and women entrepreneurship is one way to achieve this.
Let’s continue to #PressForProgress in women’s entrepreneurship.
This article was originally written for Cartier Women's Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs.
* The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2016/2017 report estimated that 163 million women were starting or running new businesses in 74 economies around the world. In addition, an estimated 111 million were running established businesses. The same report also shows sub-Saharan Africa leading the way with female entrepreneurship rates higher than any region.
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This article is part of a special series titled "How to #PressForProgress in Women’s Entrepreneurship" by the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. The series contributes to the #InternationalWomensDay dialogue on empowering women around the world through entrepreneurship.
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