Female entrepreneurship is exploding, especially among minorities, and African-American women are leading the way. In 1997, just one in six businesses were owned by minority women.
By 2015, this number had increased to one in three, according to an American Express OPEN report. And while the number of firms owned by non-minority women increased by 40 percent over this period, the number of firms owned by African-American women increased by 322 percent.
African-American women start businesses at a rate six times the national average for all businesses, and now own 1.3 million businesses, employing nearly 300,000 workers and creating $52.6 billion in revenue every year.
But despite these advances, African-American women continue to face obstacles to progress, ranging from lack of financing to lack of confidence. Here’s a look at some of the hurdles female African-American entrepreneurs often face, along with some tips on how to overcome them.
Lack of cash is one of the biggest causes of small business failure, making financing a major priority for any successful company. Financing is especially tight for female-owned companies, with fewer than 3 percent receiving venture capital funding. Unless your firm can demonstrate billion-dollar potential to investors, you stand the best chance of attracting venture capital if you apply to a firm run by female-owned or African-American partners. For instance, Joanne Wilson’s Gotham Gal Ventures deliberately seeks out startups run by African-American women. There are also grants specifically geared toward women and African-Americans, such as the SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership InnovateHER Innovating for Women Business Challenge, or grants from the Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.
The SBA also offers small business loans, which are another means of financing. You have the best odds of getting an SBA loan if your company has been in business for at least two years and has a track record of a steady cash flow to cover loan repayments, says SmartBiz CEO Evan Singer. Bank lenders similarly seek a good credit history when considering loan applications.
If these financing routes don’t succeed for you, don’t give up! Most people actually start their businesses with their own savings or credit cards or loans from family and friends. You can also try business crowdfunding sites such as Fundable.
You’ll find it easier to apply for a loan or grant if you have an experienced mentor to guide you. Finding a mentor is another area where African-American women tend to face challenges. Fortunately, there are some excellent resources to assist you with this problem. One of the best is SCORE, an SBA partner with thousands of volunteer mentors all over the country. SCORE mentors can help you develop your business plan, suggest financing resources and get you in touch with networks of contacts to assist you. SCORE also provides workshops and online resources to help guide your company’s development.
Babson’s research shows that fear of failure is the biggest concern of women who start up businesses. Fear of failure can cloud your decision-making and, worst of all, paralyze you into not getting started.
Fortunately, there are some proven ways to overcome fear of failure and build confidence. One is forcing yourself to face your fear by doing the thing you’re afraid of, which will often result in convincing you that it wasn’t as scary as you thought. For instance, you might put off filling out the paperwork to start your business or file your taxes because the thought intimidates you, but once you actually do it, it’s not so intimidating. A variation on this strategy is to start a part-time business that requires you to practice sales, such as direct selling for Amway. Gaining sales experience is an excellent way to gain confidence in your ability to run a business, since managing your sales efforts involves many of the same skills you need to manage a business on a smaller scale.
Another method is externalizing your fear as something you can push away from you. For instance, write your fear down on a piece of paper and then simply throw it away.
A third method is ignoring it. Getting your mind off your fear by distracting yourself with the task at hand can change your emotional state and make your fear manageable.