While many business challenges are common for all founders, there are unique lessons that women entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to learn in business. Here are several essential lessons I've learned as a successful female entrepreneur and what every female founder should know along the way:
1. Own your success. There are several things that, as a woman, you should never apologize for, and at the top of that list is your well-deserved success. The apologetic undertone of some women entrepreneurs is subtle, laced with an excuse, chocked up to 'luck' or a dismissed congratulatory pat on the back. Many of us aren't outright asserting, "I'm sorry that I am successful," but a lack of confidence and all of the above are bedfellows of the same notion. Ladies, we already face an uphill battle in some cases. Don't pack more unnecessary personal baggage on your rise to the top. When you earn a congratulatory remark from your peers, embrace it gracefully and confidently. And according to leadership consultant, Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D., "If you can't own this success for yourself, then own it for all the other women who look up to you and emulate you."
2. Never underestimate your value.We have all read the headlines that insist women still earn less than men. According to ThinkProgress contributor Sarah Glynn, in the U.S., "women on average make only $.77 cents to every dollar earned by men. Some of that wage gap is the result of women being more likely to work in certain industries or occupations, but about 40 percent of the difference in men's and women's wages cannot be explained by any measurable factor." As a woman, this pay gap may have haunted you in corporate America. But it should no longer hold court in your business. Consider this: you are in complete control of your earning potential. In order to make a shift in your business you must be aware of your gifts and talents, understand what you have to offer within your industry, and monetize your products and services to reflect what the market will bear. Couple all of this with your unique value creation. Tell yourself a positive story about what you have to offer the world. No more excuses. As Albert Einstein notably suggested, "If you put a small value on yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price."
3. It's lonely at the top, so bring others with you.By nature, the front-end of innovation is lonely, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "You do something no one else has ever done and leave everyone else scratching their heads and howling in protest. As the saying goes, 'You can tell who the pioneers are from the arrows sticking out of their backs,'" suggests MACPA contributor Bill Sharidan. An article published by the Harvard Business Review echoes this notion — it's isolating at the top. For founders, it can be unsettling. The survey found that "half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation." Much of the loneliness that entrepreneurial leaders will face is connected to the growing pains of personal development. Or as Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, has said, "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."
4. Be unapologetically authentic. Authenticity is a bankable currency. It can define your business and set you apart from the clutter of a cookie-cutter marketplace. You (and your customers) are not well-served by haphazard attempts to be someone else. According to organizational development professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, "Leadership demands the expression of an authentic self. Try to lead like someone else and you will fail. Employees will not follow a CEO who invests little of himself in his leadership behaviors. People want to be led by someone 'real.'" The same can be said for your business and its customers. Authenticity in business is a baseline of belief in what you say and in what you sell. It is the courage to offer unique value and market yourself in a way that is consistent with your brand. Being everything to everyone sets you up to be nothing to no one.
Erica Nicole is the founder and CEO of YFS Magazine, the definitive digital magazine for startup, small business news and entrepreneurial culture. As an entrepreneurial change-agent, Erica Nicole been featured in national media outlets including Forbes.com, Upstart Business Journal, Fox Business, MSN Business on Main, The Huffington Post, Black Enterprise and more.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.