by Annie Jie Xu, General Manager of Alibaba.com, Americas
With many women still struggling to find a role in male-dominated boardrooms, a growing number are branching out and setting up their own companies.
In the US alone, women-owned enterprises are starting up at a rate of around 550 a day, and this trend is being mirrored across the globe, with figures from the Enterprise Research Centre showing that businesses led by women add around £130 billion to the UK economy.
If you are considering taking up the reins and becoming your own boss here are our top tips for female entrepreneurs.
1. Get planning.
If you’ve had an amazing idea swirling around in your mind for a while now, the first step to making it a reality is committing it to paper and writing a business plan.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that women have to work harder to prove themselves in business, but a thorough plan which outlines your business’s mission, highlights what sets it apart from existing companies and includes a detailed financial forecast will ensure people take you seriously and prove invaluable in obtaining investment.
2. Choose an area you are passionate about.
When you start your own business you have to live and breathe it for at least the first year while you get things up and running, and the chances are you will always spend more time on it than you would a typical 9-5 job. With this in mind, you should choose something you are passionate about and won’t get bored of quickly.
If you are passionate about your products and services this will also come across when dealing with potential investors and clients, making them more likely to want to work with you or buy from you.
3. Make your business work for you.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules about what a business looks like, so make sure your company fits in with the rest of your life. Take time as part of the planning process to consider how much time you are willing to devote to your company, whether you are willing to travel extensively on a regular basis and whether you’d like to be able to work flexibly.
Some people dream of global domination, while others would prefer a smaller operation which brings them a healthy income. Remember that as your life changes, your business can develop and grow too.
4. Find your USP.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses starting up every day, and the reality is that not all of them will still be up and running in a year’s time. To give yours the best chance of succeeding you need to identify your Unique Selling Point which makes you stand out from the crowd and make sure you are promoting it to investors and customers alike.
5. Get a mentor.
Starting up a new business is daunting and the chances are you will have lots of questions, especially in the early days. And who better to answer them than someone who has been in the same situation themselves?
There are a number of women-helping-women organizations across the globe which can pair you with a mentor, or you can simply ask someone you already know, although it’s best if they’re not a friend.
Make sure your mentor knows you don’t just want a ‘yes woman’ who’ll love all your ideas. A good mentor should be able to challenge you and hold all your suggestions up to scrutiny.
6. Surround yourself with a good team.
It can be tempting to want to take on everything yourself when you set up a business, after all it’s your baby. However, it’s important to surround yourself with a good team so you can delegate and take advantage of other people’s strengths.
It’s always worth hunting for the right employees rather than trying to fill roles quickly and investing in top talent will pay for itself in the long run. The root of many business failures is not making the right hiring decisions.
7. Have confidence.
The idea of leaving a stable job to start your own business or investing your life savings in a start-up is undeniably daunting, so to run a successful business you need to have lots of confidence; in your product and yourself.
Some women can be reserved about promoting their talents, but you’ll need to be your own biggest champion when pitching to potential investors and clients. There’s no place for false modesty when you are trying to build a business.
Networking is one of the best ways to market your company so it’s important to attend events both targeted at your industry and businesses in your local area.
These events are not just about drumming up business, they are about making connections with like-minded individuals who can offer you advice or potentially link up with you for future projects and raising your profile as a respected businessperson.
Remember, in business it’s often not what you know but who you know that’s important and you never know when that person you bonded with at an event could come in useful.
9. Be social.
Social media is any start-up business’s best friend, so if you are not signed up to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest yet, do so as soon as possible.
Social media can help with a number of the challenges facing small businesses, including recruitment, making business contacts, connecting with customers and spreading the word about your products and services. And the best bit? It’s free to sign up to most social media sites, meaning you can save your cash for other things.
10. Keep moving forward.
As a business owner you should always be planning for the future and thinking about the ways in which your business can grow and diversify. In such a competitive economy, if you take your eye off the ball there’ll always be another start-up hoping to take your place in the market.
Think about where you want your business to be in five or ten years and put a plan in place to make sure you achieve your goals.
Annie Jie Xu is the general manager of Alibaba.com Americas, responsible for the operation of the American office located in Santa Clara, California. Xu joined Alibaba.com Americas in 2000 and has been a leading force in its direction since day one. Xu manages a dedicated team of marketing and business development professionals as well as a product development division and customer care program.