- By Kerry Hannon
Ever have a knee-jerk reaction to something you read?
I recently ran across a USA Today column by Rhonda Abrams, “Women Entrepreneurs Can Learn a Lot From Men,” and found some of it pretty irritating.
Abrams wrote, “Women could emulate some traits of male entrepreneurs if they want to grow their companies.” Her stereotypical advice included urging women business owners to be more confident, move faster and avoid trying to do everything themselves.
Here’s my question: In the business world, why are women always being told to man up? Females who want to succeed, experts often say, should pump up the testosterone and put on their big-girl panties. If the spirit moves you, make ‘em boxers.
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My view is that women don’t need to be more like men. In fact, based on my interviews over the years with more than 100 women running companies, I think male business owners could learn a lot from their female counterparts, as I’ll spell out below.
Women Business Owners Are Confident
Incidentally, I don’t believe for a minute that women entrepreneurs lack confidence. A survey released by The Hartford in April supports my view. It found that 91 percent of female small business owners said their companies were successful; only 80 percent of male entrepreneurs felt that way.
In my admittedly unscientific research, a female's measured approach to running a business breeds confidence and profits. There's no need for bravado.
3 Ways Male Entrepreneurs Should Be More Like Females
So, with apologies to Rhonda Adams, here are three qualities of successful women that I think men should adopt.
1. Be frugal. Candida G. Brush, chair of the entrepreneurship division of Babson College and director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, told me: “Women entrepreneurs tend to bootstrap their businesses not only in the beginning, but also through the early startup stage.”
Brush’s research found that by hanging onto cash and operating their new companies conservatively, women business owners often have shipshape balance sheets. That makes it easier to attract lenders and investors later on, once the firms have track records.
One small example of this tight-purse philosophy: Many female entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed worked out of their home offices initially, while males usually paid for rental space straightaway.
When you have less in overhead, your business can be nimble and, presumably, grow faster.
2. Be cautious and strategic. In my interviews, I've learned that women tend not to leap off the high dive when launching their companies. Instead, they painstakingly research and rework a business plan. By contrast, men frequently jump into their new businesses based on gut instinct, which can result in a costly belly flop.
One woman I spoke with earlier this month spent an entire year crafting her boutique’s business plan with help from an advisor from SCORE, the nonprofit counseling network associated with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Her plan was so ironclad, she landed a $40,000 low-interest development loan — and, two years after opening its doors, her business is thriving.
In some ways, starting a company is like investing. You need to be in it for the long haul to succeed.
In her book, Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should, Too, The Motley Fool’s LouAnn Lofton writes that “investing like a girl” is a good thing. She’s referring to the legendary Buffett's calm, disciplined and patient approach. Lofton says women put in more time and effort than men researching possible investments, considering every angle and alternative points of view. I believe this same philosophy translates to female entrepreneurs who are “investing” in their own businesses.
3. Be more responsive to your employees. The female-owned companies I’m familiar with usually offer family-friendly benefits, such as flextime, job-sharing and telecommuting. Most of the small businesses run by the men I’ve interviewed don’t.
According to the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers’ 2010 report, Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility, when companies provide family-friendly policies, morale gets a boost and workers feel more loyalty to their employers. That invariably translates to less turnover, lower absenteeism and greater productivity. To me, that’s all good juju for bottom-line profitability.
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What Women Entrepreneurs Really Want
One more thing: I’ve found that many businesswomen don’t want to build empires. They want to be their own boss, do something that inspires them and make as much money as when they were working for someone else.
If men don’t find this approach appealing, too bad for them.