Facing constant challenges comes with the territory of being an entrepreneur. But if you’re a woman in business, you likely come across obstacles that your male counterparts don’t necessarily have to deal with, from raising VC funds to getting a small-business loan.
So where can you find sage advice that specifically addresses these challenges? To save you from sifting through dozens of open browser tabs for hours, we did the research for you. Whether you’re looking for info on financing your small business, have questions about your business development, or just want someone to bounce ideas off, there are resources at your fingertips.
SBA Women’s Business Centers
The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) helps small businesses thrive through counseling and better access to both contracts and financing, and some of its resources are tailored to female entrepreneurs. The SBA’s women’s business centers assist budding and seasoned entrepreneurs who are looking to start or grow their businesses. The SBA offers free or low-cost entrepreneurship training and counseling, along with networking sessions that can connect you to mentors, and even business financing opportunities. There are nearly 100 locations around the United States — find your local center here.
The National Association of Women Business Owners
Another resource provided by the SBA is the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Its mission is to help women entrepreneurs in all stages of business development build alliances and transform public policy and business culture. With more than 5,000 members nationwide and 60 chapters, NAWBO is a great place to meet like-minded women entrepreneurs.
NAWBO can also be a great source of info on business finances through its online publication and educational resources, as well as national and local events. Members are often given the chance to speak at these events, opening doors for those looking to build their personal brand. (Check out the National Women’s Business Conference, happening in September.) Mentoring is also available — an excellent opportunity for young or aspiring entrepreneurs.
Although many of its resources are available to the public, NAWBO is a dues-based organization — so if you want to join, sign up online. Dues vary based on your membership level and chapter. For example, at NAWBO Louisville, there is a $100 initiation fee, with monthly dues starting at $19.95.
Startup Business Incubators
Business incubators are organizations that focus on developing new companies. Through these organizations you will get training, counseling, and office space — many even provide access to funding.
Since these programs are sponsored by private companies, they vary in how they operate. Some require you to come to an actual physical space, while others operate virtually. Not all incubators are alike, so do your research to find one that meets the needs of your particular business idea.
You can start your search on the National Business Incubation Association’s website. Consider the following:
- Location. Will you need to relocate or can you stay where you are?
- Network. Does the incubator have a network that you can use for mentorship? What about connections for partnerships, financing, and other things your business will need as it grows?
- Alumni. What are their alumni doing now? What do they say about the incubator? Be sure to get more than one reference.
The National Women’s Business Council
The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) is a bipartisan federal advisory council that serves as an independent source of advice and policy recommendations to the president, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
It identifies the challenges women in business are facing and promotes a platform that will help create opportunities for women entrepreneurs in all stages of business development.
The members of this council are made up of both women business owners and leaders of women’s business organizations. The NWBC is the government’s only independent voice for women entrepreneurs.
Women business owners receive 80 percent less business capital than men when trying to secure first-year financing for their businesses. Lack of access to capital can severely diminish women entrepreneurs’ ability to grow their companies and achieve their business goals.
Fortunately, many lenders, investors, and special-interest groups are working to end this disparity by focusing specifically on providing more access to working capital for women in business. Explore these financing options:
- Angel Investors
If you're starting a new business, an angel investor may be your ticket to working capital. Angel investors are generally interested in providing the seed money for businesses in their startup phases.
A typical investment ranges from $25,000 to $100,000 in exchange for a piece of equity or ownership interest. Of course, these investors don’t lend money to just anyone. They want to make sure you're committed and passionate, have a well-thought-out business plan, and show strong potential for growth.
Try this: Look into organizations like Astia, Golden Seeds, and 37 Angels. These organizations are specifically interested in funding women entrepreneurs in the early stages of a new business. You can also check Springboard Enterprises, which serves more as an accelerator but also connects you with investors.
- Venture Capitalists
As opposed to angel investments that come from individuals, venture capital comes from firms. They also tend to offer larger investments, often in the $1 million range and above, and may require a seat on your board.
Try this: There are hundreds of venture capital firms out there, and each comes with its own set of criteria. If you want to improve your chances of receiving funding, make sure you fit the criteria. You can also increase your chances by looking for firms that specialize in your industry (where you’ll also benefit from their experience with your industry).
Receiving a grant is a great way to fund your business because it’s money you don’t need to pay back. The drawback? Grants are highly competitive, so it takes both a strong application and some luck to succeed.
Aside from finding a grant you’re eligible for, you have to compete with other companies for the same money. You'll need to fill out the application and meet (strict) guidelines.