Tough Times, Tougher Women

Joanne Cleaver

Here is an article written by Joanne Cleaver for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Girlfriend, your business is not about you. It’s about your customers.

That’s the hard lesson that a lot of women business owners are learning as the recovery sputters.  The Center for Women’s Business Research just released its biennial survey of what’s going on in the heads of women business owners. (To be fair, the survey is sponsoredby Key Bank.).Turns out that women business owners are hoping for cheerier times, just like most small business owners.

They’re feeling better about next year because they are seeing the results of tough decisions made this year. Over half either have just raised prices or are about to.  Meanwhile, 41% drove a sales increase. But just as many – 38% –  reaped a gain in net earnings, as saw a drop – 39%.

My conclusion: the recession has sobered up  many women who started their own companies giddy with the prospect of having a lifestyle business. Their initial ambition was personal self-direction and to get away from The Man.  But then they discovered that there’s always a Man. He’s the customer. You are not in business unless you work for him. In fact, if you’re a successful entrepreneur, you replace one Man with lots of Men. (Yes, yes, of course I know that women are clients and customers too. Just stick with the metaphor, ok?)  That means you have to sharpen your pencil and fine-tune your returns.

Easy growth can mask sloppy management. The low tide of a recession exposes that.

A separate survey, conducted earlier this year by Guardian Life,  found that in companies of up to nine employees, everything revolves around the owner.

That is not a recipe for growth.  The Guardian survey found that at companies with fewer than 10 employees, the focus was ‘just trying to maintain business as usual.”  If your vision is limited to your immediate circle, and if your ideas are so big that you can continue to raise your own roof and do it all yourself, then you might achieve a tidy income being the sun in your own little solar system.

But if you are looking to build a bigger solar system, you will quickly find that your staff must take on roles that do more than support you. At companies with 50 to 99 employees, half of the owners in the Guardian survey reported that their main focus was growth.  Which explains why surviving a recession separates the women from the girls.

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Since 1981, Joanne Cleaver has been reporting on all aspects of business for national and regional newspapers, magazines and websites. Numerous magazine and industry “best employers for women” lists use the equity index she developed to rank companies according to the presence (or not) of women in their executive ranks. She also leads the research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., where her team measures and supports the advancement of women in accounting, cable, finance and other industries. Yes, she has an opinion: that when women fully engage in all business operations, companies will make more money in more ways.

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