3 Ways Female-Owned Businesses Can Get Off the Ground (Even During a Pandemic)
According to a new study released by the Female Founders Alliance, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on female entrepreneurs who had planned to launch their business in 2020. In fact, before the pandemic, 87 percent of a diverse female pool said they were likely to start a business. Seven months later? Fifty-one percent of those have either scrapped their plans or postponed a launch.
It’s no secret that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic; 865,000 women left the workforce last month alone, compared to 216,000 men, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And one in four women are considering cutting their hours or leaving the workforce altogether due to fallout from the pandemic.
Despite making great progress in gender equality, this data shows that we still have a long way to go. But instead of focusing on the many reasons why inequality exists, I would like to point out some things that women can do right now if they’d like to get a business off the ground.
1. Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader
In business, your credibility and reputation are everything. Establishing yourself as a thought leader within your domain will lead to media inquiries, partnership offers, interest from investors and stronger employer branding. People will be reaching out to you, and having to deal with a flood of inbound inquiries is substantially better for business than having to repeatedly knock on other people’s doors.
Start by sharing niche insights that prove that you are knowledgeable about your field. I firmly believe that everyone is talented in their own way. Regardless of who you are, or what your circumstances are like, you’re going to have knowledge in a particular area that others will find beneficial. Double down on your expertise and start building a personal brand around it; start blogging, commenting on social media or even launch a podcast.
Once you’ve begun building your personal brand and platform, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make money, and some of them will be flexible in nature. For example, a paid speaking gig is something you can do even if you have to care for an elderly family member or supervise a young child for whom school has been suspended. Over time, you’ll create a strong foundation from which to launch a business either right now or at some point in the future.
2. Start With a Side Hustle First
You might be in a position where the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic has led you to decide that you can’t afford to take on huge risks right now. The good news? You can start any business with a home-based side hustle first. You don’t necessarily even have to quit your job or give up your stable paycheck to pursue a new opportunity. You also won’t have to worry about capital as many types of businesses can be launched with very little overhead costs.
For example, you can set up an e-commerce store using platforms such as Shopify or, alternatively, on eBay or Amazon. I personally know of a woman who used to live in North Idaho, who was able to build an income stream of $250,000 a year by selling used books online. She started with no capital at all, and she continues to run her business from her home.
I personally started my entrepreneurial journey in a similar way; I was holding down a full-time job at a technology company at the time, and I ran a fashion accessories business out of my own home. Sure, I had to answer emails and make deliveries sporadically throughout the week, but I made it work.
I completely understand if you are worried about the risks of starting a business. But have you thought about the risks of not starting a business? As long as you rely on a traditional job, it means that you could lose your income at any time, for any reason, including those that are totally out of your control. The pandemic and resulting recession have amplified this concern.
What is more risky: being fully responsible for your own fate or leaving it in someone else’s hands?
3. Explore Alternative Sources of Funding
For most small business owners, the default source of business funding would be a loan from the bank. While a small business loan from a traditional bank is certainly an option, it may not be the best one for you. Many first-time entrepreneurs have a hard time securing a business loan and are forced to take out personal loans, which puts their home and other assets they have worked hard for on the line. Additionally, since March, banks have also been overwhelmed by the volume of business loan applications they are receiving—particularly under the Paycheck Protection Program, which can result in a longer approval process.
If you have determined that it is absolutely necessary to raise funding in order to start your business, there are other sources of funding you can consider. First, you can try approaching angel investors. Do some networking and ask your friends and contacts to introduce you to anyone within your second- and third-degree networks who might be an experienced angel investor. There are a lot more of them out there than you might think, and as long as you are armed with a solid pitch, you have nothing to lose by taking these meetings.
Second, if you are a creative and have designed a prototype for an innovative new product, you might want to give platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo a try. Many entrepreneurs have found success in raising enough money to fund one or more production runs on platforms like these. Finally, you might also want to try peer-to-peer lending platforms like LendingClub. Interest rates might be higher than a bank loan, but you will find that it’s possible to raise funding much more quickly this way.
The bottom line is: If you have a dream, it’s time to make it a reality. Despite everything, startups are booming in America right now. According to The Economist, small business applications are up 40 percent. The pandemic has set women back, but it’s up to us to fight even harder to make up lost ground. Now is the time for women to explore how to launch and grow a new business that will provide financial stability long into the future.
Charlotte DeMocker is cofounder and chief operating officer at Penny, an innovative digital media startup that successfully launched during the pandemic. Penny seeks to help ordinary people master their money. Follow Charlotte on Instagram @charlottedemocker and learn more about Penny @penny.app.