2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Small Business Week. Since 1963, the president of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes America's entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Women own more than 7.8 million small businesses, accounting for nearly one-third of all small businesses and are expected to account for one-third of all new jobs created by 2018.
As I learned about Small Business Week, I sat at my desk, feeling impossibly stressed about my small business. People who own very small businesses, as I do, understand that it can be a lot like raising a small child. You love it and it has immeasurably enriched your life, but sometimes you wish you could just have an hour to ignore it completely without it bothering you.
Most who take the small business leap compromise financial security and a big paycheck; the average small business owner takes home $34,392 to $75,076 a year in her first ten years in business.
More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year. We should absolutely celebrate small business owners, but also must recognize that entrepreneurs need support to remain both optimistic and audacious. As a naturally cautious and pessimistic person, I find running a small business a constant challenge to my Chicken Little-esque inherent nature. I have to give myself pep talks, seek out mentors, and pay attention to other organizations I respect.
Looking through my mail yesterday, I found what I thought was a phonebook. A phonebook? No, those don't even arrive anymore.
The massive tome wrapped in plastic wasn't a phonebook, but rather a set of catalogs from Restoration Hardware, the furniture company. Six different magazine-like books, carefully designed, written and curated for me, the potential and past Restoration Hardware customer. Bold move.
I live in Boston, so I already have a specific image of Restoration Hardware's audacity in my head: the company recently overtook a Boston landmark, the former Newbury St. location of the august high-end clothing store, Louis Boston. While Louis downsized to (an admittedly very cool) space on the emerging Boston waterfront district, Restoration Hardware rebuilt a mansion and screamed, "Were here!" People don't really scream for attention in Boston, so the arrival got some notice.
As a consumer, I admire the sense that the brand is fearless, big in an age of niche, and unafraid to send me six phone book size pieces of direct mail. As a business owner, I need to constantly challenge myself to think bigger.
Aspiring and current women small business owners I talk with want to work for themselves, to hire others, to grow -- but they need the resources to make their dreams a reality. Sometimes the resources it takes to maintain and grow a business are internal. They are coping skills and confidence strategies.
As one of my role models, Sallie Krawcheck just said on stage at a 92nd St. Y event, "When women start businesses, they are successful more often than men's businesses are. And yet, the venture capital funding goes to women much less than it goes to men."
Between 1997-2007 the number of women-owned businesses grew at a rate of 44 percent, or twice that of male-owned businesses. But women are also more likely to rely on their own savings to fund their business because they worry they'll be turned down if they apply for credit. Lack of access to capital can delay a woman starting her business or slow her business' expansion. So can a fear that the sky will fall.
Men and women small business owners need coaching to shut off their inner Chicken Littles. A confident, positive attitude is so key.
Rather than pile on to the vast number of studies and authors who cite women's smaller ambitions for growing their businesses, I want to stress that women are indeed wise to be risk averse, cautious and thoughtful in these stressful times. I'm one of them. But I am challenging myself to be more audacious. I'm turning off Chicken Little.
If I had one request for leaders during this Small Business Week, it would be for successful businesspeople -- those with assets, experience and networks - to encourage a small business owner to embrace audacity and think big.