Launching a Business as a Woman

There are a variety of challenges that women face when launching their own businesses in any sector—both in the nonprofit or for-profit world. To gain further insight—[email protected], UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program—performed a series of interviews with female business leaders. Here, we’ll hear advice from two in the context of what other female entrepreneurs say are common challenges that women face when launching a business. One is Amy Palmer, the president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, their families and a growing veteran population. The other is Jennifer Windsor, the CEO of Women for Women International, a nonprofit that works directly with women who are isolated and displaced in post-war regions of the world.

On believing in yourself

Many women think that in order to both survive and thrive in the business world, they need to act like men do, sometimes adopting a harsh or aggressive stance. However, Palmer notes that self-confidence and belief in oneself is key: “I am looking for women who believe in themselves and believe they are equally as capable and deserving of a job as their male counterparts.”

Windsor cites similar sentiments: “What I love about Women for Women International is that we’re helping women to develop a greater awareness of their own power and what they can do to improve their own lives, as well as their families and communities.”

Your greatest strengths are those you hold within—that are yours alone to claim. Be yourself and believe in yourself.

On getting funded

Both Palmer and Windsor lead nonprofits, so the funding path is vastly different than it is in the for-profit world—but the need to convince others that your business plan is a sound one applies in both sectors. Palmer says the key to getting started involves extensive research and planning: “The best advice I have is to do your research and plan, plan, plan. When I work with others who are trying to start nonprofit organizations, I always advise them to talk to as many people as they can about their business idea. Some people assume that just because they believe in their idea and would be supportive of it, others will feel the same way.”

Possessing savvy business skills will help to convince both investors and donors that you know what you’re doing, and Windsor says she’s found they are essential: “I wish I had learned more business skills. Running a nonprofit organization requires knowledge of financial and management skills, and the ability to think strategically.”

Having a solid business plan and strategy to present to investors or donors is an essential part of ensuring that you get both the startup and ongoing funding that you’ll need.

On getting the right support

In any endeavor, getting both the right type and right amount of support is key. A common challenge that women entrepreneurs cite is lack of support from other female business leaders. When asked how more women could be encouraged to go after leadership roles, Windsor noted the need for women to support each other more. She said, “It’s … incumbent on those of us who have reached senior roles to continue to provide mentorship and professional development opportunities to women who are not as far along in their careers—and to encourage our male colleagues to do the same.”

Palmer cited similar sentiments: “I often volunteer to speak at events and conferences focused on women in leadership and at events related to nonprofit management and governance. I also focus on working with fellows and interns in our organization to ensure we are reaching as many young women as we can.”

Surround yourself with those who believe in you more than you sometimes believe in yourself—but who will also be honest when you need a reality check.

On fear of failure

Fear of failure is likely prevalent across both genders, but women may be more willing to admit it. Both Palmer and Windsor say they have female role models who’ve help to inspire them toward success. Palmer says hers are Oprah Winfrey and Patricia Harris: “My role models include women in business who understand the importance of giving and serving others—for example, Oprah Winfrey, who used her TV platform as well as her own personal wealth to change the world. My second role model is Patricia Harris: While not well-known, she leads Bloomberg Philanthropies. She began volunteering at a very young age and then went into public service through politics. She is such a strong woman with a heart to serve.”

Windsor cites a well-known figure in our nation’s history: “Eleanor Roosevelt definitely inspires me. In the face of incredibly stressful circumstances, she recognized she had a platform and an opportunity to speak and to use her power and influence to bring about real change in the world. I think every woman, no matter where she is, has a platform to take a stand in her own life, and the opportunity to make decisions that can positively impact others.”

Women launching new businesses definitely face unique challenges—but if you believe in yourself, have a solid business strategy and get the right support, you’ll increase your odds of launching a business that’s geared for success.

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