Women are increasingly choosing careers in entrepreneurship each year. More than 9.4 million businesses are owned by women—that’s more than 31% of all privately held firms in the U.S. But how can we ensure that our businesses will grow, succeed, and last? I’ve put together a few tried and true tips on how to be the best female business owner you can be. For each, I’ve included an example of how one successful business woman, Pacific Northwest florist Natalie Ransom of Pozie by Natalie, has put each idea into action. When you’re able to work these strategies into your daily business routine, you’ll get the most from your time and effort.
Understand Your Product
Time invested in using and perfecting your product is well spent. When you’ve used it more than anyone else, you know its benefits—and its limitations—and you’ll be able to relate to your customer and think from their point of view.
Ransom has been learning about her product, natural floral design, since she was a farm girl in Houghton, Michigan in the rural Upper Peninsula. The die-hard ‘Yooper’ learned from her father, Chip, how to forage around the farm and use what was available to create beautiful things to sell at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Over the last 15 years, Ransom has made it a priority that each of her floral creations has a consistent, exquisite look and feel that she can be proud to share.
Know and Connect with Your Customers
Making a great product is only half your business. The other half is getting that product in front of potential customers. It’s important to determine your ideal customer demographics. Then you determine effective ways to find them, reach them, and keep them. Marketing strategists can argue all day about the best approaches. It’s your job to look at those strategies, think about your customer base, and choose the ones that are the most cost-effective for you. The first step is to be sure your logo and brand, Website, and social media accounts all accurately reflect your product and more specifically, what it can do for your customer.
Ransom invests revenue, creativity and effort in her Website, social media accounts and marketing strategy. Her customers can find ‘fresh flowers’ on her accounts every day. She also rewards her followers via Treasure Hunts. “I’ll make a floral display or unique terrarium and then post a picture of it inside a local business on Instagram and Facebook. The first follower that can identify the business and pick it up gets to keep it, free of charge,” explains Ransom. “It’s a fun way for everyone to benefit, and I have some really dedicated, happy followers.”
Finding unique ways to get and keep your customers happy will ensure their support in the long-term.
Get in the Right Networks
The idea that networking is essential to successful business is not new. There are an incredible number of examples where people hear about jobs, customers, and opportunities not from a blind search of the internet, but from a cultivated business or social network. There’s no magic bullet however. The network that’s right for you and your business is specific to your circumstances.
Ransom looked into what other florists in her area were up to. She took note of which groups and organizations florists said helped them, and also recorded ones that might need but had no florists involved. She also researched business organizations run by women and those with a focus on sustainability since that was important in her work. Over time, Ransom attended events and became an active member of Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Women's Professional Network, and Sustainable Connections and joined the Board of Whatcom Women in Business. To be seen and show her support, Ransom has donated or offered discounts on her unique floral creations for their gala and awards events.
Do a little research to discover what’s available to you. Choose what’s right for your budget and scale. Look for local, state, or national business organizations specific to your product, geographical area or demographic. Professional societies and trade organizations also offer networking-specific opportunities. But don’t overdo it. These networks should give you more opportunities to make your business better, not keep you too busy to do it well.
Be Your Best
If you’re taking the time, effort and expense to network, make sure you’re presenting your best self. Invest in the first impression you’re making. That includes dressing, communicating, and preparing appropriately for the event. You want to stand out because of your product or business, not because of what you wore or an off-color joke. The first time you attend should be a scouting mission. Is the group right for your business? Is it relaxed or more traditional? Watch others you admire for clues.
Ransom has gained confidence from projecting her own style and look while staying appropriate for an event. “I don’t own more than one pair of pants. In my work, I have to dress up for every event, so maxi dresses are my uniform,” explains Ransom. “I can dress it up or down and when I don’t have to think about my clothes, I can focus on more important things.”
People will be drawn to and remember you when you appear confident and comfortable. If that’s not easy for you, make small steps toward improvement with a business coach, an improv for business class or Toastmasters.
Build and Nurture Quality Partnerships
While networking, you’ll discover businesses that complement your own, or business owners you click with right away. Pay attention to opportunities to collaborate for your mutual benefit and then brainstorm how you might support each other. You can co-sponsor an event, cross-promote each other’s businesses or products, or mutually refer customers.
As a wedding and event florist, Ransom partners with photographers and event planners in her area. They each have a similar customer base, so they can work together to reach more customers and recommend each other with confidence. For the business she forwards through partnerships, Ransom receives low-cost, high quality photography of her beautiful work and access to event space for photo shoots and bridal events.
Learn to Say No Gracefully
With so many opportunities available through your successful networking attempts, it will become important to choose among them carefully. It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed and overcommitted if you can’t say no. But it’s just as important to say no with grace so that no bridge is burned. But how do you do it?
“When I spread myself too thin, I don’t do my best or most creative work,” explains Ransom of her approach. “I try to remember that, ‘No, thank you, but maybe another time,’ is a complete sentence.”
When your business has become successful enough to allow it, don’t forget to return the favors or pay them forward. Business owners are more often remembered for what they’ve done for the community than their net earnings. Be sure to thank and support those that have helped you, especially the other female business owners in your network.
Ransom donates her floral art in support of several charities in her area. She styles events, galas, and auctions for local non-profits in-line with her values. She also mentors fellow female and small business owners.
Recognize Your Progress
For the best chance of success, try making only a few changes and improvements at a time. When we try to do it all at once, we can get overwhelmed, stall, and give up altogether. When reaching milestones, Ransom treats herself as a reward for the hard work she’s invested. An overnight get away with the significant other or a new shoe or purse from one of the locally-owned businesses she partners with are how Ransom celebrates achieving her goals.
These strategies, when applied with steady practice and perseverance, can take your business to the next level. You’ll likely also find them to be intellectually stimulating and fun too.