While the state of women in entrepreneurship has improved in recent years, reports show that the number of startups by women worldwide still lags that of men. The challenges that female entrepreneurs face are many — including access to funding, defying social expectations, owning their own accomplishments, building an influential support network, and more, and often the realities for women in startups are very different from what male entrepreneurs face.
To dig deeper into what women can do to increase their opportunities and their abilities and actions to succeed in their entrepreneurial ventures, I caught up this week with Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, an entrepreneurship coach, business and branding mentor, trainer and author of Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur. She serves as a mentor on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Ask an Expert” forum and through her own consulting business, and is featured among other CEOs, influencers and celebrities on the BAM Network. Walters was recently selected as one of 150 Marketers to Follow by Rubicly. An active expert voice in many startup-industry podcasts and in the media, she has been featured and/or interviewed and top digital media outlets including: Business News Daily, Entrepreneur, CEO Blog Nation, ShareThis, Business Insider, The Financial Post and more.
In her new book, Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women To Take Action, Unless Creativity and Achieve Financial Success, Walters serves as a guide for the fledgling entrepreneur in her candid, compelling, and practical playbook for building a business—and a life—from the ground up. From closing the confidence gap to avoiding self-sabotage, this book aims to help women modify their mindset and release the bad habits that hold them back.
Jason Feifer, Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, praises Walter’s advice, saying: “The perfect guidebook to help every aspiring female entrepreneur and business owner develop the entrepreneurial mindset necessary to launch and grow their startup and thrive in business.”
Here’s what Walters shares:
Kathy Caprino: Charlene, why have you found that entrepreneurship can be more challenging for women than men? What should female entrepreneurs do to improve their odds and turn those challenges into opportunities and learning experiences?
Charlene Walters: Entrepreneurship can be more challenging for women for many reasons including the fact that they have a heavier load than men when it comes to balancing family and household demands which can make their job as business owners more taxing.
Additionally, women are often less comfortable than men with putting themselves in situations that are outside of their norm like when they become new entrepreneurs or take on something different. It has to do with our need to be perfect or close to it before we jump into circumstances we have not yet mastered. Women are also less inclined to broadcast their accomplishments while it’s second nature for many men to do so. It’s critical, however, for women to put themselves and their startup front and center if they want to succeed.
These trouble spots for women entrepreneurs can be linked to their upbringing and pressures they face to conform to gender norms. We’re taught, as women, to be a bit more humble, and told not to brag about our accomplishments, be polite and fly under the radar. We must get more at ease announcing our achievements and becoming highly visible as business owners, working to grow our confidence and publicize our abilities. We also need to make work-life balance and self-care a priority, putting ourselves on the top of our task lists.
Some tips to overcome these challenges include mastering our time management by working in chunks and breaking down our schedule to accomplish at least 2-3 major items every day. Others involve putting ourselves first to ensure that we are healthy, well-balanced and happy which will translate into increased productivity and business success. Additional hacks include learning to develop and hone our personal and business brands by leveraging social media, networking, and establishing ourselves as thought leaders through writing, speaking and inserting ourselves into the conversation.
Caprino: My research as a career coach and trainer has revealed that many women do indeed suffer from a high prevalence of impostor syndrome and self-sabotage. From your view, what can they do to thwart this negative thinking and reframe their mindsets?
Walters: Many people suffer from impostor syndrome and self-sabotage, but it can often be more prevalent for women and those starting new projects. We can get rid of this feeling that we don’t really belong, have only gotten lucky, or haven’t really earned our accomplishments, by understanding that many successful people suffer from feeling like an impostor and by telling ourselves that it is all nonsense and in our head.
Women can do anything that we put our minds to and we deserve all those good things that have come to us because we are capable and worked hard. Anything else is boloney. Don’t strive for perfection and learn to put yourself in uncomfortable situations—that’s how you’ll grow. Come up with a mantra for those days when your confidence wanes, like “Sally, you’ve got this!” or “Mary, you can make it happen.” Create a brag sheet of all of your accomplishments and hang in somewhere in your office for a reminder when you need it.
Caprino: Entrepreneurs are extremely prone to burnout (I know this because I hear it from hundreds of entrepreneurs every year and I still occasionally suffer from it myself, even 15 years into running my own business). What can business owners do when they experience burnout and how can they pivot and reignite their passion for their startup?
Walters: Entrepreneurs are more susceptible to burnout because they are the ones responsible for the ultimate success or failure of their businesses. Their startup is their baby and they want to see it flourish. Consequently, they may overwork and not take enough time for themselves and/or delegate properly.
Company founders can thwart burnout by learning to outsource certain tasks- particularly those things that they do not enjoy or that are sucking up a lot of unnecessary time- leaving them time to focus on those activities that will grow their business. It’s also helpful for them to take breaks throughout their day, get enough sleep and exercise, and to make moments for other people and things that are important to them. The more balanced and healthy they are, the more profitable and successful they will become. By taking the reins on their schedule, entrepreneurs take control of their startup’s ability to thrive.
Caprino: Mentorship is very powerful in helping entrepreneurs thrive.What have you found to be some best practices when choosing a mentor? Why is someone who holds you accountable while having your back the best option?
Walters: Having a mentor can be extremely helpful for many reasons such as guiding you in terms of sorting out your goals and pushing you forward professionally. When choosing a mentor look for someone whose experience, interests and expertise match your aspirations. You should also search for a person whose personality meshes well with your own, and who is candid and straightforward in their approach.
It’s important for the mentor to hold you accountable because that is often just what you need to stay on track and achieve your objectives. Success is all about planning and then execution. We can have all the ideas in the world but if we don’t take action, and have someone checking in on our progress, we may never get there.
As part of this, identify someone who has your back and believes in you to help boost your confidence when it wanes or when you encounter obstacles. A good mentor will be a Sherpa, cheerleader, coach and tough cookie all rolled into one.
Caprino: As most of us have experienced directly or heard about, managing remote teams is now the way that a great number of businesses today get work done. And predictions are that remote work will only be expanding in the future. How can you effectively lead a remote team and master a virtual working environment?
Walters: I’ve led remote teams for years and it requires giving people flexibility while still holding them accountable. Here are some key tips:
Don’t be a micromanager
But don’t be too checked out either. Have empathy for what employees are going through in the current environment. Additionally, don’t be alarmed if they are not working the same hours as you. Focus on productivity versus schedule.
Communicate clearly and openly
Ensure that you have clear and open communication and dialogue delivering expectations while understanding any potential constraints or needs, being empathetic and working on ways to build community even virtually. Some ideas include digital happy hours and events where team members can talk freely and let loose a little.
It’s also vital to demonstrate that you appreciate your employees as they may feel more disconnected virtually. Make sure that you are telling and showing them that you do acknowledge and celebrate their contributions in both little ways (emails and virtual high fives) and through bigger events where you publicly applaud them (Zoom award ceremonies or larger team meetings work well here).
Caprino: What can entrepreneurs do to improve their money mindset and cultivate financial confidence? How are getting comfortable with talking about money, raising capital, and budgeting a key part of the process?
Walters: When tweaking your money mindset, you have to revisit the past. Look at the way you were raised and how you were taught to view money by your parents or caregivers. Were they extremely frugal or did you see a lot of frivolous spending? Have you had problems with finances such as bankruptcy or excessive spending as an adult? Are you still carrying some of this financial baggage around with you?
Ditch these negative thoughts and improve your outlook by reframing the way that you think and talk about money. Come up with a money mantra to repeat until it becomes second nature (i.e. I love money or I will attract money every day). Money is good and you deserve to be successful- you absolutely do!
Endeavor to also become more at ease with discussing finances (it’s not taboo as you may have been taught). You’ll need this conversational ability to negotiate, pitch, make deals and ask for funding. Tips to improve here include practicing, doing your homework, knowing your numbers inside and out, gathering facts and working to build rapport while focusing on what both parties want out of the discussion.
Additionally, strive to grow your comfort with all things financial by focusing on budgeting and bootstrapping (incorporate them into your daily schedule), and make them a central part of all of your business tasks by critically analyzing all spending. And always ensure activities that generate revenue are a core emphasis at your startup— they must take priority above everything else. After all, you’re in business to make a profit.
Caprino: Why might now be a good time for more women to become entrepreneurs?
Walters: More than 80% of those who left the workforce in 2020 were women. That number is staggering and occurred for multiple reasons. Women were more impacted by layoffs and furloughs, and also because many women opted out of positions in the corporate world due to the additional stressors placed on them related to the pandemic such as homeschooling obligations and increased family demands. Finally, other women left the workforce due to a lack of opportunity or fulfillment.
Women who want to take tighter control of their professional journeys, earnings and lives can find it in entrepreneurship. And there are many new business opportunities emerging due to shifting consumer needs and holes in the market (think virtual events, safe entertainment, delivery services, support for overwhelmed families, masks and more).
Wise women will spot these opportunities and craft their business concepts to launch new startups thus empowering them to have greater flexibility and control over their lives. If you’re a woman who has always been interested in founding a startup, now may be just the ideal time.
Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs and Finding Brave podcast.