Women in Business For Better or For Worse

By Kevin Huhn

I remember the first time I was asked to help coach girls’ hockey. What a different experience. Since 1982, I had only coached boys and men. I thought a hockey player is a hockey player, so what difference does it make if they are male or female, right? Guess again.

IN 2006, MY local girls’ hockey association held team tryouts for all age levels. A friend of mine was running their assessment camps. He asked me to help him run the on-ice exercises so the association coaches could do their player evaluations from the stands. I had seen girls play hockey before. When you are up in the stands a hockey game of men or women is the same.

However, when I got on the ice, I experienced nothing like I had before. After each group on-ice session, the girls would thank me. During the scrimmages, if one girl knocked down another girl, there was an apology. During explanations of an exercise, they would ask me questions like ‘Why do that?’ This was something I had not experienced in boys’ hockey. There was very little appreciation let alone time for Q&A on the ice. It was a different experience. It was not better. It was not worse. It was just different. Girls’ hockey was not a new concept.

Being involved with it brought me a different approach to what I had been used to from boys’ hockey. Business today is the same thing. Women in business bring a different approach, whether they are leaders of top Canadian companies or they take on the challenge of starting a business. Like in hockey the fundamentals and rules are the same no matter what the gender. What changes is the approach to how the game is played.

Leading the charge

Women entrepreneurs are not just a concept or a trend or the next marketing strategy. They enrich the life of companies, their people and the end user. The marketplace has awoken and realized the difference women bring to the table is very enriching for the present economy and beneficial for future generations to come.

One of Canada’s leaders in helping companies of all sizes, in all types of industries and in all stages of business growth is the BDC (www.bdc.ca). And if there is a person who has an understanding of this movement towards empowering women entrepreneurs and female business owners, it is the BDC’s Senior Vice President Ontario, Lesley Lawrence.

In 2015, the BDC launched an initiative to support women entrepreneurs and Lawrence was asked to champion it. “The BDC is Canada’s Bank for Entrepreneurs,” she begins. “We help provide financial support and advisory guidance to organizations regardless of their business cycle (i.e. start-up, expansion, merger, etc.). I was asked to champion our Women Entrepreneurs initiative, after we identified this untapped market – Woman-preneurs.”

Lawrence pointed out that 92% of women owned businesses have less than 20 employees. “We have found that women want to grow their business. The only thing is they believe it can only be done organically. Their tendency is to invest in relationships which take time. We set out in 2015 to help women scale their business by lending out $700 million to this untapped market and surpassed our objective, so we doubled our target to $1.4 billion over the next three years.”

The notion to grow a business organically is a different approach from the business mindset men often have which is like that of a quid pro quo. “The BDC runs boot camps that have a women-only focus. We learned quickly from this untapped market, that we needed to bring women together, so they can do what they have a natural tendency to do – nurture and support, in order to help them grow,” notes Lawrence.

Confidence Goes a Long Way

A great example of key differences between men and women entrepreneurs and business owners is how each approach the subject of acquiring working capital. “When a woman deals with us and is looking for working capital she will ask, ‘What do I get?’ instead of looking at ‘What do I need?’” Lawrence points out. “This usually stems from a lack of confidence and not knowing the true value she has with her business.”

In Canada today, 8.4% of companies that are women-owned sell beyond Canada, compared to 12.8% of companies owned by men. “We have found that women will undersell their value, which ties in with their own feeling of worth, their confidence level and their insecurity of their ability,” adds Lawrence.

Keys to Success

When I asked Lawrence about the most important things a woman can do to succeed in business today, without hesitation said:

1. They must have solid business plan & strategy – While it seems to be pretty straightforward to have a plan to follow, the key to success is – the plan and strategy must be easy to articulate.”

2. “They need financial literacy – being able to recite how much money their business will generate or how much money they will spend each month is good, but the key to success is – know what the numbers mean.”

3. “They should get a mentor or have an advisory board – no one will have the same passion and commitment to ensure their business thrives as much the business owner does but the key to success is to have others around who can help guide them with an objective outlook and in depth expertise.”

Every business needs different things at different stages of its existence.

“The timeline of business is ongoing,” Lawrence says. “While some may need working capital for equipment another may need money for a real estate investment. It all depends on the project.”

What does not seem to change for entrepreneurs and business owners is the need for advice, according to Lawrence. “The advisory side of the BDC offering is a hidden gem that I wish more people would know about. “We know the importance to educate, because the benefit is a stronger lending partner to a company, which build a better employer, which strengthens the economy and this country.”

There is no guarantee that any business will succeed regardless if it is run by a woman or a man. The only thing we can do is approach the journey of running a business with a set of principles that lead to better results.

Women entrepreneurs must:

1. Persevere: There will be bumps in the road and adversity is what you will face.
2. Make sure to ask for help.
3. Ask for what you need, not what you think they will give you.”

With Lawrence’s final words it is clear that having women entrepreneurs are not better or worse, they are simply different. And different expands our approach which makes doing business, better for everyone.

Kevin Huhn is the Founder of Be Your Best Today a PR and Communication Firm that helps small to medium-sized businesses clarify their message, get known and drive traffic. To learn more visit beyourbesttoday.ca