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In a year when sales for privately held companies grew at the slowest rate since 2009 -- 5.4% -- the fastest growing women-led companies grew astronomically faster.
Yes, that’s right. The 2014 Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/led companies racked up $4.9 billion in combined 2013 revenues and collectively employed 22,000 people. Compared with last year’s list, the combined revenue of the winning companies grew by a dramatic 53%.
“The companies that made it onto our list this year reflect the continued resourcefulness of women-led businesses,” said Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., president and founder of WPO. “The growth of these women-led companies is particularly impressive as the world economic recovery struggles to gain traction. Privately held U.S. companies, on average, ended 2013 with annual sales growth of 5.4%, the slowest rate of sales growth since 2009.”
Different approaches were used by these savvy women but some key factors stand out.
1.) Access to key customers is critical to all businesses. Having customers who spend billions on goods and services, such as the Fortune 1000 companies or government agencies, increases your chances for high growth. If the federal government is a customer, women-owned businesses are 23 times more likely to be million-dollar businesses, according to American Express OPEN research about government small business contracting.
Kathy Mills of Strategic Communications, Necole Parker of The ELOCEN Group and Tracy Balazs of FSR credit government contracts for the soaring growth of their businesses. For Ranjini Poddar of Artech Information Systems and Karen Clark Cole of Blink UX, it was contracts with Fortune 500 companies. And for Joanne Santomauro of Ancillare if was big pharma.
2.) Diversity in markets is another important growth factor. Spreading your wings overseas can have many benefits for all businesses, including those owned by women. The benefits of doing business outside the U.S. as SungJoo Kim of Sungjoo D&D, Liz Elting of TransPerfect, and Lori A Blaker of TTi Global know are many:
- more customers
- increased revenues
- greater profits (The United States is a highly competitive market. You may be able to charge more outside the United States.)
- less vulnerability to market swings if you’re in multiple markets
- improved economies of scale
- access to a larger talent pool
- increased innovation
The 50 Fastest use a variety of strategies to differentiate themselves and create uncontested market spaces:
- innovative pricing models
- use of technology
- product quality
- size (global domination is an aspiration for several women)
- anticipated customer needs
3. Saving customers money can be a key differentiator cites Jennifer Maier of WDS. So, too, can developing a fixed priced and fixed delivery business model as Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran at Ampcus did.
4. Technology can be a critical differentiator. To enable BrightStar to scale, Shelley Sun invested in developing patentable proprietary technology to manage all of the activities of the business. Anita Emoff of Boost Technologies also focused on developing patentable innovative products, which allowed her company to stand out from the competition. Shelly Morse of The Mosaic Company used technology to deliver her service in a way no one else was doing at the time.
5. By listening to a customer’s frustration, Therese Tucker of BlackLine Systems identified an unmet need that many customers shared. Celeste Gudas of 24 Seven chalks her success up to knowing trends in the market, which allowed her to anticipate customers’ needs as key to her growth.
Of course, quality always counts. When you’re one of 36 companies providing tractors, the best way Zeynep Erkunt-Armagan of Erkunt Traktor Industry found is to stand out is product quality.
Other strategies were cited less often, but are still worth mentioning. Like BrightStar, building processes that were replicable was key to growing Trans-Expedite for Keeli Jernigan.
Phyllis Newhouse of Xtreme Solutions cited finding a mentor as critical to achieving the level of growth she wanted.
When their industry changed, pivoting to a new business model was key to success for Teresa Sherald at Diversity Search Group and Shari Dingle Sandifer of Avant Healthcare Professionals.
None of these strategies is new or unique to women. As with all stories of success, it’s not just the strategies that count; it’s using them skillfully. The real story here isn’t strategy, it’s the skill with which these 50 entrepreneurs used them to beat the odds … and the economy.
By Clark Buckner
Female entrepreneurs face certain obstacles that their male counterparts may never have to consider. For instance, according to Ventureneer Founder and President Geri Stengel, women in business typically “start with about half of the capital” that male entrepreneurs do. In her upcoming report on equity crowdfunding for women in business, Stengel hopes to reverse that trend.
Rewards-Based Crowdfunding vs. Equity Crowdfinding
Stengel notes the differences between the most well-known crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, and equity crowdfunding platforms. Kickstarter is a rewards-based platform where a user typically receives a product or service when they back a project. On the other hand, equity-based crowdfunding platforms, like EarlyShares or AngelList, offer shares of a company, similar to what a person would buy on the stock market. They won’t receive a product or service, but they may receive financial rewards in the long-term.
A Roadmap for Public Equity Crowdfunding
Because of recent changes to Title II of the Jobs Act, companies can now publicly ask for equity funding, which has led to a rise in crowdfunding equity platforms. However, Ventureneer’s research has shown that female entrepreneurs tend to ask for funding privately more often than they do publicly. Stengel’s upcoming report aims to offer these businesswomen a roadmap for how they can effectively use public appeals through social media, email newsletters, and other public marketing strategies to raise more money for their respective companies and entrepreneurial pursuits. Even for smaller companies just starting out, technology solutions like marketing automation make it possible to efficiently connect with large groups of people through these mediums and grow those relationships over time.
Stengel noted that such strategies are “critical in helping you reach out, whether it's email or social media, making it easier for you to do the outreach to the people you already know.” In other words, entrepreneurs should learn how to use the many tools of digital connection at their disposal in order to maximize their potential crowdfunding results.
Vist the “Crowdfunding Report” page at Ventureneer.com to learn more about their forays into crowdfunding, or connect with them on Twitter @ventureneer. Lastly, visit PlumAlley in early January 2015 to support or follow along with Stengel’s crowdfunded report on crowdfunding.
To hear more about how women in business can best utilize equity crowdfunding, listen to the full TechnologyAdvice interview.
This interview was conducted by Clark Buckner of TechnologyAdvice, an Inc. 5000 company that is dedicated to educating, advising, and connecting the buyers and sellers of business technology. Clark hosts the TechnologyAdvice Podcast, and also keeps tabs on news and events in the company’s tech conference calendar. Tweet him a hello or connect with him on LinkedIn.
Women’s confidence gap is making headlines. We face a society that says we can’t do it as well as our own inner voice.
Opportunities are growing for women to sidestep the glass ceiling and steer clear of the glass cliff, that corporate “opportunity” for leadership given to women and minorities when there is high risk of failure due to a crisis created by former leaders or because needed resources aren’t given.
Some entrepreneurs are born that way. It’s in their genes. Others work hard to become one. While a film student at Pratt Institute, Aubrey Smyth worked the circuit: working at film festivals, heading the student film club, organizing student film festivals, and seeking teachers to mentor her. Talent and hard work paid off with awards and a paid gig: The Human Resources Department at Pratt hired her to make a film. It was so good that Pratt asked her to do more.
Bet you didn’t know that playing sports frequently lays the foundation for women’s entrepreneurial success, according to From elite female athletes to exceptional leaders: For all the places sport will take you. Participation in sports correlates with leadership success. A whopping 80% of women executives played sports growing up, and 69% said sports helped them develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success, according to From the Locker Room to the Boardroom: A Survey on Sports in the Lives of Women Business Executives.
Entrepreneurs have an important new way to raise money. Crowdfunding pools money from a group of people via the internet and social media. It levels the playing field for anyone raising and investing money, but its impact may be the greatest on under-represented groups, such as women and minorities.
Recently, I attended Wall Street Women Forum, which brings together senior level women in the financial services industry to support their continued success. The forum is the brainchild of Jane Newton, Partner and Wealth Advisor at RegentAtlantic.
In my book Forget the Glass Ceiling: Build Your Business Without One, I interviewed 10 awe-inspiring women. Some have already grown their businesses way past the $100 million revenue mark (Mandy Cabot of Dansko, Liz Elting of TransPerfect, and Nina Vaca of Pinnacle Technical Resources); the others are headed in that direction.
Prosperous economies have steady streams of companies starting up and growing. Especially vital are the high-growth firms that market innovative technologies, products, and business models. These companies create the rags-to-riches path that has come to be known as the American Dream.