The economic impact of women-owned businesses is profound. There is an estimated 11.6 million of them in the US alone, generating a collective $1.7 trillion in revenue. In fact, women-owned businesses constitute one of the country’s fastest growing sectors. Over the past 20 years, the number of women-owned businesses has grown at more than 2.5 times the national average. Unfortunately, the challenges female entrepreneurs face are unique and in some cases, more challenging than those of their male peers. This International Women’s Day, organizers are encouraging participants to #PressForProgress, noting that gender parity is more than 200 years away. So, in what areas can we ensure women have the support they need in order to start and grow their businesses?

Get the right advice

The reality of being a small business owner is tough today. Only half of US small business owners survive the first five years or longer. At Xero, we have surveyed and spoken to thousands of business owners who have both made it or shut their doors. Of those owners who cited a business issue as a reason for failure, a whopping 65% blamed financial issues – things like cash flow visibility and access to capital. However, with access to the right technology and advisors, business owners can have the insights and timely support they need to move forward with confidence. Xero’s internal data shows that our customers who are connected with an accountant grow net profit 23% faster and 85% of them survive past year five. Advisors are a key ingredient when it comes to any small business’ success – and starting a relationship early with an accountant is crucial.

Embrace the latest tech

Cloud technology has removed the barriers to entry for would-be entrepreneurs everywhere. This is especially true for women, who are often expected to step into traditional gender roles and can face greater demands at home – in addition to the stress of work. With a plethora of business management apps now available to help give business owners the flexibility to run a business on the go, technology can change the game, and enable female entrepreneurs to write their own rules. With the ability to weave their business life into personal life, it is much easier for an entrepreneur, male or female, to manage the demands of both.

Technology companies serving the small business sector have a responsibility to develop solutions that meet the needs of today’s modern entrepreneurs. A mobile-first user experience, conducive to getting work done in every environment, is one of the most important starting points.

Successfully acquire capital

Access to capital at the right time is critical for a business owner to keep their doors open. Unfortunately, women are still awarded finance and venture capital (VC) funding at a lower rate than men. Both men and women-owned firms apply for business loans at a similar rate, but less than half of women are approved, versus the 61-percent approval rate for men. When it comes to VC funding, female CEOs only get 2.7% of VC funds. The 2017 Crunchbase Women in Venture report concluded that “venture firms with female founders and/or an unusually high percentage of female partners invest at elevated levels in female entrepreneurs”. VC firms should seek to actively address gender diversity both at the partner level internally and in their portfolios to make sure their businesses are reflective of our society as a whole.

At the same time, female entrepreneurs need to be ready to work the system. A high degree of preparation is key when entrepreneurs are entering those all-important investor meetings. For a startup, one of the most important parts of being investor ready is having its finances in order and up-to-date books. And given the tough odds for women in getting financing today, it’s crucial that they do everything they can to show up strong – showcasing command of finances and having the right support team in place.

Leveraging an automated and reliable accounting platform can help entrepreneurs simply and quickly compile high-integrity financial data. So, when the time comes, they will be able to give investors a clear, up-to-date view on how the startup is tracking and what the company’s true financial position is. When fundraising or seeking a loan, the right financial support team is important to establish first, including an accountant or virtual CFO and banker. To increase the odds of success, women should seek venture firms and banks that have strong female representation and understand their industry. In addition, when seeking financing, women should shamelessly leverage their network – looking for opportunities for introductions and recommendations that also add credibility before they walk in the room.

Ensuring female entrepreneurs have the support they need is crucial to their success and the greater success of our economy as a whole. We can level the playing field for everyone by leveraging the power of advice, technology and support networks. And, we can continue to accelerate this next generation of thriving, women-owned businesses.