Table of Contents
- Information, Grants, and Resources for Women That Own Small Businesses
- Funding for Women-Owned Businesses
- Leadership and Management Resources for Women
- Networking for Women in Business
Resources for Women-Owned Businesses
The statistics show just how women have gradually become a prominent force in the business world: Approximately 11.6 million firms are owned by women, representing nearly 40% of all privately held firms. Further, around 4.2% of these firms have a revenue exceeding $1 million. These statistics illustrate a drastic shift in what has long been a male-dominated sector — but these changes haven’t come without difficulties.
Indeed, businesswomen continue to face many barriers. A lack of access to capital, inadequate support systems, dated social expectations, and various other gender inequalities can make entrepreneurship substantially more difficult for women than their male peers. Some industries, such as tech and financial services, have a clear lack of gender diversity when it comes to business leadership. In these areas, succeeding as a female entrepreneur can be a daunting, seemingly impossible task — “seemingly” being the operative word.
This is because there are many sources of vital information, grants, and resources that can help female small business owners become successful leaders in their respective industries. This guide will provide an overview of these and help aspiring businesswomen overcome the challenges they may face.
Funding for Women-Owned Businesses
Women-owned businesses can struggle due to a lack of access to capital. There is a gender gap in equity financing and loans, making it difficult for females to gain the funds needed to start and grow their own businesses. As reported by the National Women’s Business Council:
- The average female business owner starts with half as much capital as male business owners;
- Women receive 0.1% of venture capital financing, which is only 25% of what men receive. Only 15% of funded venture capital companies had at least one woman on their executive team;
- Women are less likely to use business loans (5.5% of women vs. 11.4% of men) and more likely to use personal savings to begin a new business (30.3% vs. 19.5%, respectively).
Small Business Funding Options
In the face of these inequities, small business owners have several funding options. Each works in different ways and has various advantages and disadvantages:
- Small business investors: These investors will take a percentage of equity in your business in exchange for capital. This approach to securing funding is ideal for individuals without expertise and strong credit histories, and it won’t lead to the downsides associated with traditional business loans. However, it can dilute earnings in the long run and, in certain circumstances, cause owners to lose some control of business operations.
- Venture capitalist firms: Venture capitalists firms seek high-risk, high-reward investments in the form of companies that have the potential to make massive returns in a short period of time, such as tech startups. The pros and cons of venture capitalists are largely the same as those outlined above. Those considering working with a venture capitalist must keep in mind that they will need an exit strategy to appeal to such investors; if you intend on running your startup in perpetuity, this route may not be for you.
- Angel investors: Angel investors are individuals who invest in startup businesses in return for equity, much like venture capitalists. However, they are more prone to funding unproven business concepts and may provide expertise and networking opportunities. They generally have less funding available than venture capitalist firms and can be harder to find, but they can help struggling small businesses make dramatic turnarounds.
- Community development finance institutions (CDFIs): CDFIs are private lending institutions interested in helping disadvantaged individuals who lack access to adequate financial services. Banks, credit unions, community development loan funds, and community development venture capital funds may be CDFI certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Securing funding through a CDFI is a smart move, but you must be eligible to receive this help.
- Partner financing: While sole proprietorships are the most straightforward method of business ownership, forming a business partnership is one route you can take to becoming an entrepreneur. This is a legal agreement between two or more individuals to jointly own and manage a business. The specifics of how decisions will be made and how profits will be split are determined in the partnership agreement. This will result in a loss of some control over business operations, but can be an effective way of bringing in additional expertise and funding.
- Crowdfunding: If selling off equity is not an attractive option to you, consider the benefits of crowdfunding. Depending on the success of a crowdfunding campaign, prospective businesswomen can earn donations from hundreds to thousands of individuals interested in your ideas. On the downside, such a campaign requires careful planning, and fulfilling rewards-based promises can cut into your bottom line.
- Peer-to-peer lending: You can find personal loans on peer-to-peer lending networks online. On these, borrowers are matched with lenders for a fast and convenient experience. Funding availability and terms can vary wildly, so it’s important to review terms carefully. Individuals with poor credit may be unable to secure a loan with a decent interest rate, if they are able to qualify at all.
- Business credit cards or lines of credit: Small business credit cards or lines of credit can give women flexible access to funding for business purposes. These operate much like consumer credit cards in that they can lead to interest charges for any balance left unpaid each billing cycle. Depending on your circumstances, securing one of these may require a personal guarantee, which can make you personally liable for any debt you accrue. This can be problematic for your credit score and future opportunities.
Small Business Grants and Loans for Women
There are also many small business grants and loans that are designed specifically for women. A grant is awarded to an individual or business based on meeting specific criteria. It does not have to be repaid, unlike a loan, which is offered by financial institutions or private lenders on a case-by-case basis.
There are many grants and loans you may be eligible for. In the list below, you’ll find some examples of grants for female small business owners. Note that each has different requirements and stipulations to consider:
- SBA Women’s Business Centers: The U.S. Small Business Administration provides free or low-cost counseling and training for women who want to grow or expand their small business. They also offer information about funding options through SBA-guaranteed lenders.
- S. Economic Development Administration (EDA): You can find local resources, including grant and loan providers, on the EDA website. Many of these are designed for female business owners.
- Amber Grant: Launched by WomensNet, the Amber Grant is a $4,000 award given to one applicant each month. In addition, each winner is eligible for a $25,000 award, which is given to one winner through an online voting process on an annual basis.
- Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant: This grant is awarded to women looking to become leaders in environmental justice in a variety of industries. Awards range from $10,000 to $40,000. Applicants must exhibit a commitment to sustainability.
- FedEx Small Business Grant: FedEx gives 12 businesses awards ranging from $1,000 to $50,000, as well as access to FedEx Office print and business services. Applicants must exhibit a focus on sustainability and providing innovative products.
- The Girlboss Foundation Grant: On a biannual basis, the Girlboss Foundation awards a financial grant of $15,000 to a selected female entrepreneur. Further, they improve the visibility of women-led businesses through the Girlboss platform. Applicants must demonstrate innovation, business acumen, and financial need.
- National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE): This organization awards small business grants up to $4,000. Applicants must be a member of NASE for at least three months before they are eligible. NASE Growth Grant winners are selected at the discretion of the organization.
- Red Backpack Fund: Majority women-owned small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible to apply for a $5,000 emergency assistance grant from this fund. At least 1,000 grants will be awarded, with 200 recipients chosen each cycle.
- Tory Burch Foundation: Applicants who are at least 21 years old and generate revenues of at least $75,000 from a business formed and operating in the U.S. may be eligible to become a Tory Burch Fellow. The benefits of this program include five days of workshops and networking, a one-year fellowship, a $5,000 grant, and (if selected) an opportunity to pitch their business.
- Women’s Venture Fund: This nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping women business owners by providing small business loans and mentorship through a network of business advisors.
Industry-Specific Business Grants and Loans for Women
In addition to the resources listed above, there are further business grants and loans specific to women looking to make a difference in specific industries. These are designed to improve female representation in fields that have a severe lack of gender diversity in business leadership.
Again, each of these has different requirements and stipulations. Review the grants and loans below to see if any may help you in your entrepreneurial endeavors:
- Small Business Innovation Research & Small Business Technology Transfer Program: These are federal programs designed to encourage small businesses to engage in federal research that has commercial potential. They are multi-phase programs that provide comprehensive assistance to entrepreneurs, though they are highly competitive. You can read about the differences between these programs online.
- Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields Grant Program (WAMS): In an effort to improve female representation in STEM fields, WAMS provides funding used for research or extension activities in the training and mentoring of women from rural areas in subjects relevant to the USDA. If your business objectives meet these specific requirements, you may be eligible.
- Association For Women In Mathematics: This organization offers travel grants to enable women mathematicians to attend conferences in their fields of research. If you or any employees in your organization are eligible, you may be able to leverage this resource to cover relevant travel costs.
- National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC): Women-led construction companies that perform excellent work may be eligible for a NAWIC Excellence award, a Lifetime Achievement Award, or a Future Leader of the Year award. The specifics for each of these can be found online.
- National Physical Science Consortium Fellowships For Women: Employers can participate in this program to sponsor STEM students seeking graduate degrees. This enables businesses to connect with professionals they may wish to hire one day at a substantially lower cost than it would take to facilitate their own fellowship.
Scholarships for Women in Business
A solid education in business fundamentals is key to future success as an entrepreneur. This will provide you with the skills and know-how to develop a business plan, secure funding, and achieve consistent business growth. There are a wide variety of scholarships for women in business, including funding for both undergraduate and MBA programs.
Each scholarship has different application processes, requirements, and considerations that influence who receives it. Review the scholarships below to determine which you may qualify for:
- AG Bell College Scholarship Program: AG Bell awards $2,500 to $10,000 annually to approximately 15% of all applicants. High-achieving students (at least a 3.25 GPA) with bilateral hearing loss — including female business students — may be eligible for this award. Applicants will need to provide school transcripts and write an essay when applying.
- American Association of University Women: This organization offers a variety of fellowships and grants to women pursuing graduate degrees.
- American Indian Graduate Center: The American Indian Graduate Center offers high school, undergraduate, and graduate scholarships. Applicants must be seeking a full-time degree at an accredited institution and be able to demonstrate tribal affiliation.
- C200 – Scholar Awards: C200 offers high-achieving MBA students scholarships of up to $10,000, depending on merit and financial need. To be eligible, you must be enrolled in an MBA program at a school hosting a C200 Reachout. You must apply through your school.
- Forté MBA Fellowships: Women participating in an MBA program may be awarded up to $10,000 from the Forté foundation, depending on their need. The purpose of this program is to increase the number of women in MBA programs. Applicants must plan on attending a Forté MBA partner school to be eligible.
- Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund: This program awards winners $2,000 in their first year and are eligible for up to give additional awards throughout their education, up to $10,000. Women above the age of 35 and earning low income may be eligible to receive a scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree from the Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund.
- National Black MBA Association: Black students seeking MBAs may be eligible for scholarships from this organization. The National Black MBA Association offers many scholarships that are specific to individual institutions. Check the list to determine if they offer scholarships for applicants at your chosen school.
- E.O. International – International Peace Scholarship: Designed for women from other countries who are pursuing graduate study in the U.S. or Canada, P.E.O. International will award selected applicants up to $12,500 (depending on financial need). You can find the application on the PEO International website.
- Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Fund: This educational fund is dedicated to providing funding to women looking to advance their careers and become future leaders. Here, you can find annual national scholarships that often include rewards in the amounts of $2,000 to $10,000. They are specific to individual schools, so it is prudent to check if your school of choice is on the list.
- Toptal Scholarships for Women: Toptal will award $10,000 and a year of mentorship to five future female leaders, including aspiring entrepreneurs. Applicants must explain how they intend to change the world after they graduate through a detailed plan and a blog post. They can then apply online.
- Zonta International Foundation – Jane M. Klausman Scholarship: Zonta International awards scholarships of $2,000 to up to 32 regional winners and $8,000 to six international winners. Women in their second year of pursuing an undergraduate and master’s degree in business management may be eligible for the Jane M. Klausman Scholarship. You can apply at a local Zonta club or district or apply online.
Leadership and Management Resources for Women
For many entrepreneurs, leadership and management skills may not come naturally. While a strong intuition is an asset in the business world, learning the fundamentals ranging from building up clientele and creating a lead funnel to taking professional headshots and creating a compelling professional bio, is a vital step for any aspiring businesswoman.
Leveraging training and marketing resources can help you learn how to envision achievable business goals and then manage the delivery of that vision. Ultimately, they can help you develop the skills needed to be a great business leader.
There are many resources designed to help female entrepreneurs learn more about the basics of business leadership and management. Explore the below training resources to learn more:
- S Small Business Administration (SBA) Programs: The SBA provides a robust variety of online courses to help entrepreneurs learn best practices for creating a business plan, as well as launching, managing, and growing a business. They are completely free of charge and can provide you with the foundational skills you’ll need going forward.
- American Management Association Leadership Development for Women: This two-lesson course focuses on helping participants become more assertive leaders in male-dominated spaces, learning how to take smart career risks, and developing a professional network. It can be taken online or in person.
- Institute for Women’s Leadership: This is a consortium of nine units designed to advance female leadership. It provides valuable information that could help female entrepreneurs make a meaningful impact for greater gender equality.
- Kellogg Women’s Leadership Seminar: This program gives businesswomen the insights and skills needed to move toward the peak of corporate leadership. This is a four-session program that takes place over the course of a year.
- National Education Association Minority Leadership and Women’s Leadership Training Seminar: This training seminar is a hands-on experience that teaches participants essential leadership skills. It has many applications for women who are or who intend to become business owners. New planned seminars will appear on this page.
- SCORE: The largest network of expert business mentor volunteers in the U.S., SCORE is a nonprofit that seeks to help small business owners achieve growth. They offer mentoring, free courses on demand, and a library of online resources. They also hold local workshops, which you can locate here.
- Women’s Business Development Center Programs: You can find a variety of workshops and events for small business owners, both in-person and online, on this site. Their on-demand online courses and archived webinars offer helpful info, and some can be accessed for no cost.
Marketing and Promotional Resources
In addition to the above resources, there are options for those looking to learn more about marketing as well. This is especially important because marketing is a vital aspect of business. It can build brand recognition and improve sales by helping you develop a consistent clientele.
As a result, small businesses across a variety of industries have begun investing more time and resources into marketing, particularly when it comes to social media, digital advertising, email marketing, and search engine optimization. In order to keep abreast of best practices for each of these approaches, you should review the resources discussed below:
- Content Marketing Institute: This site provides valuable advice on content marketing — a key component of any modern marketing campaign. Reviewing the latest articles on this site can help you keep up-to-date on content marketing best practices.
- Social Media Examiner: Just as the above resource provides content marketing insights, this does the same for social media marketing. Here, you can find articles, expert interviews, suggestions for useful tools, and helpful research on all things related to social media marketing.
- Google Ads Blog: Many businesses live or die based on Google Ads and search engine results, so it’s probably a good idea to listen to the best practices discussed on the Google Ads Blog. Get your information straight from the source by reviewing useful content on how to navigate any changes to Google’s practices and algorithms here.
- Google Analytics Academy: Another resource from Google, this website provides free Google Analytics courses for both beginners and experts. Reviewing your site’s analytics can give you actionable insights that may shape your marketing efforts.
- Search Engine Land: A trusted publication in the field of search engine optimization (SEO), this site updates frequently with analyses of the latest marketing trends and search engine changes that may impact your SEO efforts. They also provide helpful guides to marketing tools to help you understand what you may need to gain a competitive edge.
- The Moz Blog: This resource also provides content on SEO and online marketing, including in-depth guides on developing the skills needed in the modern marketing world. In particular, their Whiteboard Friday videos offer straightforward and accessible looks into how you can optimize your efforts.
- Lead generation tools: In addition to information from the above sources, a lead generation tool is essential. The best resource will depend largely on your industry. Lawyers and law firms, or legal plan businesses, for instance, can use 4legalleads.com for receiving real-time legal leads.
Networking for Women in Business
There are myriad benefits to networking. It can help you learn more about best practices in your industry from established entrepreneurs, earn increased referrals, and potentially acquire new business connections. Indeed, networking is perhaps the most proven method of achieving your business’s full potential.
There are several approaches you can take to networking, including attending conferences specifically for businesswomen, getting your organization certified as a woman-owned business, or joining a professional organization.
Conferences for Businesswomen
Conferences can help you learn from experts in your field on a wide variety of business-related topics. They can give you the knowledge and motivation needed to get a competitive advantage as a prospective business leader. Below, you’ll find some major examples designed for businesswomen:
- Altitude Summit: The Altitude Summit is an annual, week-long conference in Palm Springs, CA centered on female influencers and entrepreneurs in creative fields. It consists of various class and session types led by experts and celebrities.
- Professional Businesswomen of California (PBWC) Conference: PBWC’s vision is for there to be 50/50 gender representation and equal pay for both men and women in business. Their annual conference at Moscone Center South in San Francisco, CA has keynotes and over 18 seminars focused on female empowerment, essential business skills, and motivation.
- Watermark Conference for Women: This conference is held at the San Jose Convention Center in Silicon Valley. It is intended to help both female and male leaders amplify the voice of women in the workplace, as well as eliminate gender discrimination. It facilitates women’s professional development through panels, keynotes, and networking opportunities.
- WECode: Taking place at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, this student-run conference is dedicated to offering women engineers keynotes, workshops, and networking opportunities to help them earn the skills and community necessary to maximize their impact in a male-dominated field.
- Women Impact Tech: An event series that is intended to connect hundreds of women engineers who are working on new technology and are committed to innovation and inclusion. There are seven national events, as well as a virtual conference, to consider.
- World-Changing Women’s Summit: Presented by Conscious Company Media in Sonoma, CA, this gathering is designed to be an event for mission-driven businesswomen looking to connect and gain inspiration from peers across a variety of industries. With guided hikes and locally sourced meals, this summit is intended to rejuvenate and motivate attendees to achieve new heights in the business world.
Women-Owned Business Certification
Another step you can take as a female business owner is to get your organization certified as a women-owned business. Getting certified can increase opportunities for women by improving women-led organizations’ visibility. Further, federal and state governments often seek to contract products and services specifically from women-owned businesses.
To qualify, your business must be owned primarily (at least 51%) by women who are U.S. citizens. Women must also control the management and daily business operations of the organization. Certification for women small businesses is overseen by the Small Business Association. You can find more details on the eligibility requirements and the application process on the program certification form.
Note that, in addition to this certification, there may be other national and local certification bodies to consider. The eligibility requirements and benefits of getting certified will vary for each, so it’s important to do research to determine whether getting certified via these is a smart move for your business.
Professional Organizations for Women in Business
If you’d like to broaden your knowledge, network, give back to your community, and find new sources of motivation, joining a professional organization for women in business could be helpful to you. These organizations can help by offering networking opportunities, advocacy programs, mentors, and seminars on essential subjects for female entrepreneurs.
There are many such organizations, and each offers different benefits and services to consider:
- Association for Enterprise Opportunity: An organization with the goal of fostering an inclusive marketplace by making business ownership an achievable goal for every individual in the U.S. via access to resources and services. Members can gain access to weekly newsletters, exclusive online content, a professional network, a research database, and more.
- Association of Women’s Business Centers: This association supports a network of over 100 women’s business centers that provide training, mentoring, and financing opportunities to tens of thousands of female business owners. By joining, you can access exclusive blogs, forums, job postings, and networking opportunities, among other benefits.
- National Association of Women’s Business Owners: This professional organization is devoted to representing the interests of women entrepreneurs in the U.S. across every industry. Discounts, online learning materials, and access to useful online tools are among the benefits members enjoy.
- The National Association of Women Lawyers: Serving as a hub for women in the legal profession for over 100 years, this association offers leadership and resources to its members. Members gain access to useful career development programming, networking opportunities, and more.
- S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce: The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce seeks to give a common platform for female entrepreneurs without the corrupting influence of corporate sponsors. Members can get meeting and event discounts, news and updates, and a voice in an important vote block in America.
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council: The largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the nation, this professional organization also offers many benefits. Members gain access to a database of women’s business enterprises, assistance with the development of a supplier diversity program, and access to National WBENC events. To be eligible, applicants must have a supplier diversity initiative in place (or plan to have one within a year of joining).
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