How Women Can Grow Businesses Past the Solopreneur Stage

A friend introduced me to Laura Novak, founder of Little Nest Portraits. Five years ago, she launched the portrait studio and is now starting to franchise its business model.

After listening to her ambitious and well-thought-out plans, I asked whether she was a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). I’ve known dozens of EO members who have Laura’s drive and smarts, and thought she’d fit right in.

I was wrong.

Laura told me she had attended a few EO events, and ended up “acting like a guy.” She wasn’t at all comfortable with the way she felt or behaved. The few women she met were not part of her peer group of young, creative females who were transforming their passion into their work.

She is among the ranks of successful female entrepreneurs who are running multi-million dollar companies, none of whom fit the traditional image of male entrepreneurs. For example, one of her friends is highly creative and has blue hair.

But here’s the problem: where do women like Laura go to find role models, mentoring and resources that will help them scale their companies? By Laura’s description, most resources for female entrepreneurs are crowded with solo entrepreneurs.

The statistics support what Laura is saying. According to a report by American Express OPEN/Womenable, on average, female-owned businesses are smaller than both male-owned businesses and all privately-held firms. The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) reports that “only 3% of majority women-owned firms have revenues over $1 million compared to 6% of majority men-owned businesses.”

You don’t have to descend into a version of a tackle football game.

Laura believes it is possible for women to grow a business without imitating the behaviors of male entrepreneurs. “We may not want to kick ass and take names,” she says. “Instead, we can grow kind organizations that are collaborative and highly effective.”

The challenge of moving past the solo entrepreneur stage is that it requires creating a vision for an organization, rather than for how the founder herself operates.

“Do we give up the dream if we don’t fit the mold?” asks Laura.

“Many female business owners I meet say they didn’t know where to go for help or resources, or that they didn’t believe in themselves where important skills were required, such as reading P&L statements. Some got psyched out by numbers. Others didn’t push forward, even in the face of a big opportunity.”

Laura used to teach the business of photography in workshops around the country. She ran across numerous women who were stuck with some very basic issues, such as severe undercapitalization and a lack of any kind of strategic plan. Her hope is that more women think of their businesses as a growing, thriving organization.

Personally, I love Laura’s approach. She has an exciting, non-conformist work style. Little Nest celebrates both its employees and customers. The business has both personality and a high level of professionalism.

Perhaps it comes down to being both confident and competent. If a female trep wants to grow her business without “acting like a guy” then she needs to be confident in her vision of what a business should be. And, yes, she also has to master the nuts and bolts of running a business, even the numbers.

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This article first appeared on Written By: Bruce Kasanoff on Aug 26, 2015



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