08/26/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

A Taste of Honey: Women Entrepreneurs Succeed Differently Than Men, Especially When It Comes to Scaling Their Businesses Up

According to "The 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report" commissioned by American Express, women-owned businesses represent almost 50% of privately held companies in the U.S. And according to the Ernst Young "Scaling Up" report, few reach the million-dollar mark; experts report that about 75% of these businesses never pass $50,000 in annual gross revenue.


Maybe women are using the wrong archetype in their entrepreneurial journey. Popular television shows like "Shark Tank" (and its British predecessor, "Dragon's Den") tend to depict entrepreneurs as lone predators. This may work for men. But women are tribal creatures, more like a buzzing colony of bees than solitary hunters. We excel in a different way: by web weaving, communicating, collaborating face-to-face.

The linear, vertical model for success found in many companies is strikingly masculine. But the path for women to that million-dollar mark and beyond may include far more curves, literally and figuratively, and a lot more conversation. I believe, having spent my entire career in an industry where 98% of the business are owned by women, we process our information through discussion, and reach decisions through collaborative input.

Women typically fall into the role of manic multi-tasking, especially when caring for household and family. At least, that seems to be my MO. In this way, few women think of themselves as CEOs--as Queen Bees. Instead, we think of ourselves as worker-bees who need to do it all ourselves.

Delegation is key for entrepreneurs because it allows them to spot the right opportunities and areas of growth. My advice in this area is simple: take on the projects only you can manage and own, and delegate the rest. That doesn't mean keep all the things that you are good at, or that you like doing - it means keep ONLY that which ONLY you can do. To put it simply: hire the best team to drive growth. I love a good game of chess. And in chess, all of the players are essential. It's not about having the best individuals, but rather the best team. After all, with the right moves, you can win a game of chess with just a pawn. It's all about having the right pieces in the correct spot on the board at the right time. Check mate.

There is great strength and power in asking questions and building a network of qualified peers, mentors and role models. These inspirational guides will often surface in the course of doing business in a collaborative way.

How to make your growing business worth the while of a mentor? Develop specific objectives and a professional work plan. Just vowing to "dream big!" is not enough. Define goals with laser-like clarity, and detect your needs and shortcomings early on. When seeking and engaging a mentor, have very clear, concrete questions which you can articulate easily.

Perhaps the most critical key is in the area of raising investor capital and financing for expansion. Studies show that women are less likely than men to use outside financing, instead relying upon their own cash reserves. This is severely limiting, and is an elementary cause for the failure of any business to scale up. Seek a mentor with access to, and knowledge of, financing sources, and how to approach, pitch and present your situation to potential investors.

As your business grows, pass on your experience and entrepreneurial advice to the next generation of women entrepreneurs. If we want to see more women's businesses scaling up, supporting other women and their entrepreneurial dreams is a great place to start. It's about a beehive and a colony, not a single, solitary drone.