October is National Women’s Small Business month. I can’t think of a better time to take note of the accomplishments of women, particularly in business, over the years.
It’s hard to pinpoint the very first woman-owned business, but the impact women have had on business has been significant, and continues to rise. From Ann Franklin, in 1762, who was the first female newspaper editor in America to Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to obtain a medical degree in 1849, to Anna Bissel who, in 1889, became the first female CEO, through today when women are as likely to hold just about any occupation as men typically do, women truly have a voice and impact on business and culture. Women in business often had their start alongside their spouse or a family member in early America, but it wasn’t long before everyone knew that women could stand alone to make their mark.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, “as of 2015, more than 9.4 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales and women-owned firms (51% or more) account for 31% of all privately held firms and contribute 14% of employment and 12% of revenues.” These are great statistics, and I look forward to seeing these numbers continue to rise. If you’d like to learn more about highly successful women in business, check out 10 Popular Businesses Founded by Women.
An article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “How Women Decide” points out some differences between men and women in business. The article states that women tend to be more relationship- and consensus-oriented. It goes on to explain that women are “more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision making in order to arrive at a fair and moral decision that benefits all parties. They also engage in more collaboration and consensus building, not only to make sound decisions but also to elicit support for a course of action.”
That sounds about right to me. This isn’t to say that men in business don’t possess these skills, just that women are perceived as stronger in this regard. Don’t worry, men perform better in other skills. My best point here is that both men and women bring great skills to the conference table, which is why both are beneficial to business. But this post is about women.
I work for a Woman-Owned Small Business, at Advantage Research, Inc. It makes me proud to say that because I’ve known the owner, Lori Gutbrod, for over half my life and am thrilled by her success, and mine within the company. I can honestly say she possesses the aforementioned relationship building and consensus management style as well as other strong business skills.
This being National Women’s Small Business month, I thought it might be interesting to put some of my burning questions to her. The following are excerpts from that conversation. Keep in mind, we can be a pretty light-hearted group at Advantage – our work is serious, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Me: Since it’s National Women’s Small Business Month, how do you feel about sharing that honor with National Dessert Month, National Chili Month, and National Cookie Month?
Lori: These are really lovely things to share a National month with. I love dessert so it’s a high honor to be among these other “Nationals.”
Me: What do you think has been your greatest success in owning a small business?
Lori: That’s hard, and I think more about what I am most proud of. I’d say longevity of the company. We opened in 1992. A lot of business start-ups fail within the first year or two. So, that, and the team of people we’ve had over the years. We’ve had a good mix of people based on personality and skills and truly enjoyable people to work with. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to attract these people and keep them at the company.
Me: You’re often the first one in the office in the morning and the last one in the office at night. Clearly your employees don’t work as hard as the boss, right?
Lori: Wrong. It’s not always about how much time you put in, but what you bring to the table. Everyone has a skill set needed to make this thing tick. Like what I said before, we have a good mix of people, and we share a similar work ethic, work and home life balance, and pride in the work we do. We have people who do what it takes to get the job done well. Plus, I’m often here early because I get up early to do animal chores. Depending on how that goes, I am sometimes the first one in the office, but not always.
Me: What’s your biggest challenge being a small business owner?
Lori: Some companies believe that larger companies with a nationally known brand have more credibility than smaller companies or that a smaller company can’t bring the same level of skills to the table as a larger company might. That’s not true, we have just as much to offer in terms of our value proposition as our larger competitors. But that is a perception in the industry we face every day.
Me: Do you think this is a greater challenge because you are a woman-owned business?
Lori: No, not in the market research world, I don’t think so.
Me: I have it on good authority that you like chocolate. Would you consider giving an employee a raise if they gave you chocolate every day?
Lori: I could be convinced. I really like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, anything Dove dark chocolate, and brownies.
Me: I’ll make a note of that.
Me: What advice do you have for women who may be considering starting a small business?
Lori: Don’t start a business in anything you don’t absolutely love doing. It takes a lot of work, time, energy, and passion. Do it in an area where the work won’t really feel like work. Also, don’t ever feel like because you’re a woman that you can’t run a business in your own unique way, even if those ways may seem inherently “female.” Be you. It will make things easier when times are tough and you need to make difficult decisions. Be true to yourself.
Me: Is there anything major you wish you would have done differently as a small business owner?
Lori: I don’t have any regrets or wish I had done things differently. But I do “what-iffing” in my mind. What if I had been more growth oriented? Where would I be now? Would I have been as happy or happier if I had turned the company into something bigger, and could I have done that? I’ve always enjoyed doing the work more than I enjoyed being the owner, which is why I didn’t push for a larger company. Again, a lot of “what-iffing.”
Me: Anything you’d like to add?
Lori: No matter if you’re a man or woman, or whatever you are doing, don’t forget to laugh. Always find the humor in things. It helps to have this disposition – to look at the lighter side of life.
Me: Thanks Lori! Can I offer you some chocolate?
Happy National Women’s Small Business Month from all of us at Advantage Research, Inc. we wish you great happiness and success!