Whether they’re starting out, raising capital or heading billion-dollar businesses, women are growing companies at a rate one-and-a-half times the national average. And while they still face the same challenges as always — access to capital and a challenging economy, among others — a study released today from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Web.com shows they’re more optimistic than ever.
Up from last year, null . With 89% projecting high hopes for the year’s overall business performance, it’s hard to say a positive outlook isn’t helping these ladies create one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial groups around.
“Just in our customer-base, in the last three years we’ve seen the rate of growth of women’s small business eclipse male small business,” says Web.com CEO David Brown. “Prior to that, it was the reverse.”
That’s true even more broadly, too. From 2007 to 2013, the country saw a steep 569,000-job decline for small, private companies. Those owned by women, though, fought back with an uptick of 175,000 new positions, folding into the ranks of an estimated 8.6 million women-led businesses in America today. And even with a still-concerning economy (the challenge facing 90% of female entrepreneurs this year), the country’s female founders haven’t slowed their search for new ways to push toward growth.
But locking down the elusive funding that can boost a one-woman operation into hiring, expansion or a space of her own is still an ongoing struggle. Sixty-one percent of women-owned business leaders highlighted access to capital among the biggest challenges they’re facing for 2014, and it’s no wonder: Less than 4% of venture capital is doled out to them each year. So, more and more, women are turning to crowdfunding sites for an infusion of funding, where they’re four times more successful than trying their hands at traditional capital.
“I think, individually and state-by-state, we’re going to see a paradigm shift in that 4% going forward,” says Billie Dragoo, NAWBO’s national board chair. “What has changed is people are being creative in how they grow their business.”
Cue the women-owned business leaders planning to target their marketing dollars at social media this year. There’s even greater pressure for the small businesses, with whom most customers expect a strong e-relationship to develop — that, or they might park their buying dollars elsewhere. What’s interesting is the disparity between female founders recognizing the importance of a strong social media presence and those that actually put it to use: 85% of the female entrepreneurs label it as important for business growth, but only 67% are taking advantage.
“Women seem to participate in social media at a greater rate than men do,” says Brown, “but there also seems to be a sense of fear of not knowing all of its tips and tricks.” So women-owned business leaders are working to improve that with 79% planning a cash infusion to the social media segment of their online presence.
But even with job growth, pledged positivity and a creative approach to whatever problems come their way, women-owned business leaders still have a tough job ahead of them. An uncertain future continues to weigh on even the most inventive founders who, on top of the economy and access to capital, marked business tax issues (80%) and access to health insurance (71%) as very real challenges for the next 12 months — but it won’t stifle innovation.
So where might the next big strides from female founders begin to surface? Science, technology, engineering and math, speculates Dragoo. It’s an area where fewer than 30% of women are employed and even fewer are business owners, but that points to a pool of untapped potential.
“null ,” says Dragoo. “But now we’re going to give them a run for their money.”