5 Ways Women Can Defy the Odds & Start a Business

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Here’s a simple test: Name your top five role models (aside from family and friends)? How many of them are women?

You may be unable to connect your inspiration to a female role model, simply because there aren’t enough female leaders out there.

Here’s one likely factor in that truth: A study of women entrepreneurs released last December by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that women worldwide see entrepreneurship as just as attractive as men do, yet they lack positive attitudes about their own capacity for starting businesses. A comparison between sexes reveals that women have, on average, lower perceptions about opportunities and capabilities, lower intentions, and higher fear of failure than men.

Best-selling author Maria Gamb sees these trends firsthand in her work as an executive mentor.

“Women don’t always recognize their own value,” says Gamb. “This lack of confidence escalates their struggle with success. In fact, of the women who don’t feel 100% fit for the role of an entrepreneur, only 14% of them are likely to move forward with their vision.”

If you’ve ever questioned your ability or diminished your achievements, Gamb suggests you set yourself on track by using these five strategies.

1. Know exactly where you’re going. You must have a destination. Just like vacation; otherwise it’s like getting in a car and going nowhere. Get clear on the big-picture vision for your company and break down the steps to get there. It’s not enough to say that you want a million-dollar company. Break it down into bite-sized pieces so that it’s digestible. Everything is achievable if you take it one step at a time.

2. Know your value. Test your service or product in the marketplace. Ask your audience what is important to them about your brand and why it’s important. This can lead to valuable input. For example, when the Target Corporation asked its consumers these questions, it received feedback that people expect more from Target, but know that they will pay reasonable prices. This resulted in Target’s current tagline: Expect more. Pay less.

3. Realize that you don’t have to know how to do everything. There is nothing wrong with asking for help; it doesn’t make you weak or powerless. In fact, according to the GEM study, the men and women entrepreneurs who had larger and more diverse networks reported greater levels of innovation, internationalization and growth expectations. Yet compared to men, women may be at a disadvantage because their networks are smaller and less diverse. Build a large network of advisors and ask them for help!

4. Be willing to share your idea. One of the reasons businesses fail is that too many people keep their great idea a secret. They feel that the idea isn’t good enough, or that someone else will beat them to it. They lack the confidence to bring their idea to the world. Do your research, let it evolve and understand that when things go “wrong” it is not a failure, but rather an opportunity to learn. The more you learn, the better your end-execution and product will be.

5. Take the lead. In a popular TED presentation, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg emphasized that women must learn to “sit at the table.” She says that when women come to the boardroom, many of them will choose a chair on the perimeter of the room, rather than at the table with the men. Sandberg stresses that women don’t negotiate for themselves often enough, but simply take what is offered to them. Gamb agrees, saying women may walk away from opportunities constantly because they underestimate their abilities in business. Take the lead; assert your opinions, honor your talents and abilities, and be willing to take emotional risk.

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