There is little more exciting than launching our own business. From sharing the first conceptions of the idea with friends; to spending hour upon hour, finishing up that massive business plan; to picking out a name and getting that first business license, the process has a lot in common with pregnancy and childbirth. And, like raising a child, caring for our business-baby is a long term investment.
A Growing Trend
As a female entrepreneur, you are definitely not alone. As of 2017, there were over 11 million businesses owned by women, generating an employment growth rate that outperformed other businesses by at least 14%. Minority women make up almost half of this number of entrepreneurs, with new businesses being created at a rate of 71%. Reports indicate that women-owned businesses generate nearly two billion dollars in revenue, annually.
A Unique Opportunity for Stress
Some of the stresses involved with the process of creating and running a business are universal. Entrepreneurs characteristically take on several roles, at once, to make the dream a reality. We can find ourselves acting as the accountant during one phone call, and then switch into marketing like a pro, during the next. Balancing production factors and employee needs, while staying mindful of the ever-present bottom line, can become quite the act.
For many women, this juggling act is right up our alley. Females are often credited with being able to switch quickly between tasks, while maintaining a calm and poise that the males of the species can find enviable. Just because we can do it, though, doesn't mean that it always comes easily. The following is a list of some common stressors that plague all entrepreneurs:
- Lack of vision and clarity of roles
- Managing of conflicting demands
- Work overload
The stress generated by these factors can diminish the joy of our creation. Not only can it take a toll on our mental health, it can also impair our physical health. Symptoms of stress include headaches; insomnia; depression; frequent colds; and digestive issues. Females, in particular, are found to be susceptible to the stress that comes from taking on too much responsibility.
As an entrepreneur, there are no real days off. There is no one to cover for our unique role, should we feel the need to call in sick. It is of upmost importance, then, that we do what we can to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy. Not only do we deserve that, our business depends on it. The following are some tips for reducing your entrepreneurial stress, and for keeping yourself in top business shape.
Keep Your Goal In Sight
The concept of being an entrepreneur has traditionally garnered the image of the “self-made man," who – through hard work and ingenuity – has managed to economically dominate the competition. There are many stories of men who sacrificed their home lives in order to make a name for themselves in the professional world. Success simply meant making money.
While modern women have that option, as well, we also have the luxury of freedom to not put that pressure on ourselves. Deciding what is important to you is the crux of a successful entrepreneurship. Are you seeking to be the next big thing? Are you launching your business as a means to pay the bills, while having more family time? Are you putting the business into practice as your creative outlet?
Whatever the spark that drives you, make sure to keep it in the forefront in your mind as you conduct your daily business. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to the achievements of others, and keep your eye on your prize.
Successful time management results in more flexibility. More flexibility is one of the most cited desires of an entrepreneur. If you aren't one who is blessed with the ability to discern the vital from the trivial, there are many resources available to assist you in building the skill of prioritization. Key points include starting the day with a brainstorming list, which can be rearranged and whittled down before beginning your work day.
Prioritizing can mean more than tasks and time. It can also apply to values. The multiple roles of the entrepreneur can lead to conflicting demands, which can bring stress to the unprepared. Pay heed to your business vision statement when deciding how to approach a situation involving values.
Does it suit your style to market your product emphatically, with the hope of it resulting in a better bottom line?
Or, will you sleep better after providing your clientele with a conservative estimate?
Learn to Delegate
Having the feminine ability to perform many, simultaneous, roles can result in the temptation to do everything, ourselves. This can quickly lead to mental and emotional fatigue, and can leave us without enough energy for the important tasks. Learning to delegate tasks effectively can result in more time and freedom. For some of us, though, letting go of the reins is a Herculean feat.
When learning to delegate, make sure that your needs are communicated clearly and simply. Like sending a hapless partner to the store for groceries, the likelihood of the surrogate returning with the wrong item is high. Unless the specifics of the request are made apparent, prepare yourself to graciously accept a bit of disappointment with the result.
Make Time for You
The term, “self-care," has become a buzzword, but the concept has been practiced by women, for ages. There is more to a box of chocolates or a bubble bath than meets the eye. While some recharging methods are healthier than others, both laypersons and experts agree that they are a vital aspect of healthy functioning.
With the extra time gained through staying focused on your goals; prioritizing and planning ahead; and delegating tasks, make sure to invest in nurturing your own mental and physical wellness.
As women, particularly, many of us have been conditioned to give of selflessly of our resources. While giving our energy to others is certainly worthwhile, there is a danger of giving too much. Without a set of tools for recharging our batteries, we risk being drained to the point of becoming ineffective.
Symptoms of stress appear when we have depleted our personal energy store. Develop the practice of not waiting for disaster to strike before indulging. Making a weekly – or daily – date with yourself can mean avoiding discomforts such as lack of focus; irritability; and anxiety. Spending time in some form of meditation or cardiovascular activity can not only reduce stress symptoms, but can also contribute to gaining new insights and solutions to your entrepreneurial challenges.
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.