Suzanne Mercier

In large corporations in 2021, according to Catalyst, 26% of CEO’s and MD’s are women. while there’s been progress, the difference is still remarkable.

The gap though is far more noticeable when we look at women in their own business … where they’re responsible for everything including selling.

According to The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, about 38% of small businesses in Australia are owned by women.  Fantastic, right!?

Here’s the problem.  Only 3% of female-owned businesses turn over $1 million a year or more according to statistics amalgamated on the Leaders in Heels website.

That’s significantly lower than male-owned businesses.

If you aren’t in that high achieving and profitable 3%, you may think to yourself, that’s OK. It’s not important to me to earn that amount of money or have that status.  And if that works for you, fantastic.

However, the challenge with not prioritising earning a decent living is that so many women are falling short of their potential expression and income.

Many women in their own businesses are on or close to the breadline. The owner doesn’t have enough coming in to pay themselves a salary.

The consequences of not getting this part of the puzzle right can be significant. In Australia, SBS ran a program in 2017 on Insight called “Women on the Edge” examining the sad situation for many women over 50 who had not managed their financial situations well.

Why are women so much less successful than their male counterparts, particularly in SME’s?

Don’t we work as hard?

We certainly put in the hours we can. If we have children, we often go back to work when the kids are in bed. If we don’t have kids, you’ll probably find us putting in crazy hours including weekends.

It’s certainly not a question of whether we’re smart enough. In many subject areas, more women are graduating at increasingly higher levels than men these days.

Here are a few ideas of why we might be less successful:

  1. Women tend to select service areas for their business that may not be as financially lucrative yet make a contribution to the bigger picture such as the fabric of our society.
  2. For female-owned businesses, growth tends to be funded from cashflow or credit instead of external investment.
  3. We can be quite risk averse and therefore may be reluctant to go after big opportunities or to invest to get a potential return.
  4. We get paid in other currencies such as work life balance and control.

One of the biggest challenges for women running their own business, though, lies in mindset. We are often our own worst enemies. We don’t see our value because we don’t recognise our own talents and capabilities or, because we can do something easily, we figure it can’t be rocket science. In that case, we shouldn’t be charging so much for it.

We don’t feel confident going after opportunities even though we often KNOW we can fulfil them. We worry about what others think of us. We take business personally and while the personal touch in business is wonderful, taking it personally can get in the way of learning from our mistakes, and feeding that learning back into our business practices.

Money can be a difficult topic to discuss. A great mentor of mine, Matt Church, used to say “We get paid the money we believe we’re worth”. And he’s right. It’s taken me years, thousands of hours of study, reflection and seeing the results of my work to finally get that what I do is valuable.

I see this scenario playing out with my clients regularly. And it causes them great frustration, often reinforcing their feeling of not being good enough.

Here’s some very simple advice to start them moving in the right direction:

Don’t take it personally.

When we take business personally, we can experience difficulty handling rejection, feedback, even differences of opinion which can be perceived as conflict. We need to recognise that business is a combination of art and science. Some areas of performance can be measured while other areas of the business are more about conducting an educated experiment, getting feedback and using that feedback to improve what we offer our clients. 

Instead of it being personal, step back to gain a bigger picture perspective to put things into a realistic context. Unpack situations to separate out what happened, how you interpreted it and then how you responded. It’s useful to open up possibilities other than you being responsible or the centre of attention whether positive or not.

Set up scorecards that help you objectively measure success so you can play the game of business.

Take on a male mentor to learn how they do it. You can always customise your approach later so it feels more natural.

Reclaim your strengths and capabilities.

One of the key challenges with feeling that you’re not good enough – also known as the Imposter Syndrome – is that we tend to focus more on weaknesses and failures than we do on strengths and successes.

Sit and consider what you do really well. Once you’ve completed this list, ask others you trust to give you some feedback on what they consider to be your strengths and capabilities as a business owner or leader. If you’re not sure what they mean, ask for examples of where they’ve seen that play out. Then sit with their responses to see if you can recognise what they’re talking about and if you agree. A good test is to stand in front of the mirror and tell your reflection that you’re great at XYZ while paying attention to your response.

Understand the value of what you offer.

Work strengths and capabilities are certainly important. However, unless and until they offer some benefit, they have no commercial value. Take each of your strengths and capabilities and consider how they would benefit an employer or a client. For example, if you’re a talented trouble-shooter, the benefit could be that you help your clients or employer identify where the problems lie and then develop solutions to address them. Being experienced at project management could translate through to the benefit of bringing big jobs in on time and within budget.

One of the ways I stay in touch with the value I offer is to keep a runsheet of testimonials I’ve received. When I feel flat – which isn’t often as many of you know – I look at the value other people see I’ve given them. I remember why I do what I do and that I do it well.

What about you? What do you offer and why is that valuable? How do you feel about claiming your value?

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