Have You Helped a Woman in Small Business Lately?

"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

It was the most frightening experience.

My heart was pounding in my ears.

I gently pushed my chair back and stood, trembling on the inside. I steadied myself and forced the words from my lips—my name, my business name, and a phrase about my writing and design services. As I sat down, a flash of heat swept over me from head to toe. I closed my eyes and took a slow breath. I did not hear the next five people introduce themselves.

This was the scene some 25 years ago at Business Over Breakfast, a monthly meeting for women in business back in my hometown of Bucks County, PA. It was my first introduction. Ever. And over the years, this group of women proved invaluable in shaping my role as a woman business owner and guiding the development of my business. Every woman starting out should have the benefit of such a strong support network.

Madeleine Albright puts it well. I’ll never forget the cheer that exploded from the audience when the former US Secretary of State delivered her famous line a few years ago at the Power of Women in Philanthropy event held by the Philadelphia Foundation:

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

 

Women Own 30 Percent of Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration reports women-owned businesses comprise about 30 percent of the small business marketplace. Women-owned businesses have become one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community.

And according to the second annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN and conducted by Womenable, census statistics show:

“Women-owned firms continue to grow in number and economic stature. They are standing toe-to-toe with competitors in a broad range of industries, including construction and transportation, where women-owned firms are just as likely as all firms in those sectors to generate more than half a million dollars in annual revenue. The growth in the number (up 54%), employment (up 9%) and revenues (up 58%) of women-owned firms over the past 15 years exceeds the growth rates of all but the largest, publicly-traded firms. As of 2012, it is estimated that there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.7 million people.”

In addition, the same study reports that the number of women-owned companies has risen by 200,000 since the beginning of 2012, equivalent to just under 550 new women-owned firms per day.

 

Women Need to Help Women

Recently, as I designed ads for our local newspaper’s special section for National Women’s Small Business Month, I began to consider all the ways we can help one another as women. Here are just a few ideas you might apply:

Start a networking group for women in business. The Business Over Breakfast group was extremely important to me as a young entrepreneur, and the bonds that were forged between members are still strong today. Your networking group could be centered on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+, but don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings with other business women in your community.

Hire women. The latest statistic is that a woman only makes 79 cents on the dollar for performing the same work as a man. You can change that by hiring women and paying them an equitable, living wage! In addition, by hiring women as employees or as independent contractors, you can take a leadership role in mentoring them.

Take a woman under your wing. Last summer, the Washington Post reported on a new study by the nonprofit research organization Catalyst, which found women are more likely than men to support talent development within their companies. (This dashes the myth that women tend to sabotage one another in the workplace.) In the Catalyst study, 65 percent of women who received career development support are now helping other women get ahead, compared to 56 percent of men. And 73 percent of these women are mentoring other women. The study also found that “paying it forward pays back” as the women who mentored others saw pay increases of more than $25,000 between 2008 and 2010, mostly because the act of mentoring made them more visible in the organization.

Patronize other women-owned businesses. This is probably the most direct way to help other women in business. A good place to find suppliers is through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council—better yet, get your business certified so you can be listed there as well.

Work/volunteer for organizations that support women. There are so many ways to be of service. My own success pushed me into positions where I’ve been able to help other women by:

  • Writing and publishing a newspaper called Bucks County Woman and an annual Women’s Resource Directory.
  • Serving on the Bucks County Commissioners’ Advisory Council for Women.
  • Helping to start and nurture Strictly Business: A Management Roundtable, a group of women who joined monthly to discuss thorny business issues over dinner, helping each another solve management problems and chart pathways forward.
  • Serving for six years on the Board of Directors of the Bucks County Women’s Fund, a foundation that supported women and girls through grants to social service organizations.
  • Working with several clients that provide services supporting women, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, the local YWCA, and county agencies.
  • Helping to found the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition, where individual and organization partners promote gender equity and self-sufficiency, and where I continue to spend many volunteer hours on the Steering Committee and Communications Subcommittee.

Find a method that works for you in supporting women in business. Whether it’s taking a woman under your wing or starting a networking group, offer the help and guidance that others need as they forge new entrepreneurial paths.

And for women new to the business world, seek out mentors and networking groups that can help you learn the ropes. You don’t have to go it alone, and you may be fortunate like me, and find a group that continues to be a strong support network some 25 years later.

October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and while this is a good thing for recognition, remember to support women in business throughout the year! Madeleine Albright would be proud of you. Me too.

 

Social Media Marketing Explained: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Plunge

No Lifeguard - Swim at Your Own Risk

Credit: Harry Sircely Photography

It seems everyone is on social media these days, but actually, that is not true. While user levels are increasing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube, a lot of small businesses continue to hold back.

How do I know this? Business owners regularly ask me why they should consider social media marketing and how to get started. Clearly, they ask because they are not yet in the social media picture. Just last week, at a social media workshop sponsored by my local chamber of commerce, most attendees were still wondering what they need to do, where and when. Some expressed confusion, others are afraid of wasting large amounts of time, and most just don’t have a clue where to begin.

Don’t be afraid — it’s easy to wade into the pool. Come on in, the water’s fine. Once you get your feet wet, you’ll begin to understand how this crazy hodgepodge of social media sites can actually move your business forward.

 

The Social Media Process, Explained

Social media marketing is just one tool in your versatile marketing toolkit. Your integrated marketing mix should harmonize online and traditional offline components to drive customers and prospects to your website, convincing them to either buy directly or contact you via email or telephone.

When asked about social media marketing, here’s how I explain it:

Social media marketing (not just networking, but marketing) is most effective when you use it to support content you are creating. It works something like this:

1.  You have a well-crafted website in place as the hub of your online presence.

2.  You create content on that website – articles, reports, blog posts, things of value to readers – that establishes you as an authority in your field.

3.  Google indexes your content and online searches drive people to your site.

4.  You capture their names and email addresses and build a list.

5.  Once you determine where your target audience spends time in social media, you set up profile pages and get started. Usually concentrate on two social media outlets, otherwise it’s too much. But eventually, you will want to maintain profiles on all the main social media platforms, and these profiles should be branded consistently with the same look and feel. Denise Wakeman, online marketing advisor and founder of The Blog Squad, recommends setting up a Word document containing your business profile, your contact information, and links to all your social media sites. Then, when you need to set up a new profile somewhere, you don’t need to search for the right words or links. In addition, for indexing purposes, Google likes it when your profile is consistent from site to site.

6.  LinkedIn is a no-brainer – you should have a profile page there for professional purposes. A complete profile with recommendations establishes your credibility and authority in your industry. Join logical groups and reach out to share your expertise.

7.  On Facebook, you want to establish a business page where people “Like” you and you can share your own information and other people’s information, publicize events and workshops, comment on things interesting to you and be the expert in your area. This page is separate from a personal profile – the “Likes” are not the same as “Friends” in a personal account, although you can always share posts from your business page on your personal page. Information you post links back to your website, where you capture people’s names and email addresses as they visit.

8.  On Twitter, you post links to your articles, mentioning events and seminars, share articles by others and ideas related to your business and your prospects’ interests. Again, links go back to your own website to draw traffic to your hub.

9.  On Google+, you create circles of interest and again share your articles, your company information and interesting content posted by others. In my experience, the dynamics here promote conversations at a higher level of discourse. A huge benefit is that Google indexes your posts immediately; often articles you share jump to page one of your keyword search, which is fabulous for driving visitors to your website.

10.  Pinterest, the image-driven social media site which exploded onto the scene this year, and YouTube, owned by Google, are two more highly useful platforms for posting content and attracting visitors to your site.

11.  As a rule of thumb, share at least 20 non-soliciting posts of tremendous value for every one that presents a sales offer.

12.  The point of bringing everyone back to your website for name/email capture is that your email list is the most important marketing tool you have – these are people who opt-in and want to hear from you, and whom you can contact whenever it’s important to do so.

 

Educate, Demonstrate, Build Relationships

Through social networks, you educate and showcase your expertise in a likeable manner that invites people to work with and trust you. Social media is for building relationships, offering valuable free content, showing how you can help others by contributing to the greater good, and demonstrating your passion for your business and industry.

A few tips: Post when you have something to say or share. Don’t force it. Tailor your posts for the different platforms – folksy for Facebook, short 140 characters for Twitter, thoughtful for Google+, pictorial for Pinterest. Sprinkle your posts around, posting an item on one network one day, and somewhere else the next day. Be sure to track your website analytics to see which social media sites are working best for you.

When you first take the plunge, you may have no idea where social media marketing will lead. It’s difficult to start with a focused plan or set marketing goals when you’re not certain how things will play out. But following the main guidelines will set you in the right direction. With a little practice, things will start to make sense and you’ll find your own voice.

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