Female entrepreneurs face challenges when pursuing business overseas. Here are ways to overcome them.
Editor’s Note: This 3-part series on exporting is excerpted from Laurel Delaney’s new book, Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably. Read part one here.
There’s never been a better time for female entrepreneurs to expand on a global scale.
But there are unique challenges that women face as they look to exporting. In early 2012, the State Department asked me to write an article about women energizing world economies. In it, I talk about my experience in starting and running a global business, Globetrade.com, and serving as a consultant to countless global women business owners. My key point: In order to gain self-confidence and overcome social attitudes, women need to network continuously, support each other, look for role models, update their knowledge and skills, and have a clear vision of what they wish to accomplish.
Based on my experience, I believe that women entrepreneurs must condition themselves to be risk oriented, innovative and proactive (or “RIP”) in order to achieve any reasonable level of success in the export marketplace.
Like everyone else, they must also achieve five things before venturing out beyond borders:
- Become ready mentally, particularly emotionally
- Be ready operationally
- Have run a successful local business
- Know how to use the latest technology
- Have a business with export potential
Also, in my view, a perceived lack of credibility is the number one barrier for women doing business globally. This perceived deficiency lack makes it difficult for women to access markets, market information and establish relationships. If you don’t already have an influential person in your life who can tout your capabilities, find one and cultivate the relationship.
Lack of access to capital is also a serious problem for women business owners in the global marketplace, which causes an inability to scale their operations and garner greater market share. While male and female business owners alike face barriers to obtaining sufficient and affordable capital to start or acquire a venture, lack of access to credit and the ability to make use of it remains the number one obstacle to U.S. women entrepreneurs starting and expanding their businesses.
While the Small Business Administration has stepped up lending in recent years, many women still finance their start-ups or businesses using credit cards, personal savings, second mortgages, or with the help of family and friends. That means that without special financing programs for women’s ventures, only women who have savings or friends with savings can become entrepreneurs, let alone export. Much work has to be done in this area to resolve the problem so women entrepreneurs can be on equal footing with men.
Tip: Check with the Small Business Administration and the Import-Export Bank of the United States to learn what special programs are available for women exporters who are in need of working capital. Also, some of the new crowd-funding sites such as Indiegogo might have ways to finance an export activity. According to Forbes, “42% of [Indiegogo’s successful campaigns] are run by women. Impressively, women raise more than men both in terms of the number of contributions and the amount.”
Training is another obstacle for women business owners who aspire to grow, especially into international markets. How does a woman get the appropriate training to trade outside her own local area?
One resource is my book, Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably. In addition, online resources such as the “Office of Women’s Business Ownership” page on the SBA Web site ; US Export Assistance Centers ; the Women’s Business Development Center ; the “Export NOW” page on the Women Impacting Public Policy site; and a page listing scholarships and certifications on the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) site offer research, webinars, podcasts, and videos on growing a business through exports.
Women also need to consult with their export dream team—their professional banker, logistics expert, international accountant and lawyer—for advice on minimizing the challenges that come with exporting into new and unfamiliar markets.
Before the Internet, women had a difficult time getting access to markets and networking or finding like-minded individuals with whom they could end their isolation, share challenges, and gain access to strategic information. Now, however, there are hundreds of women-centric online community forums readily available and designed specifically for women business owners who desire to connect with women the world over, acquire knowledge, develop enriching relationships, and keep learning and growing. Dell has the Women Powering Business Network ; IBM has the Women-Owned Businesses SME Toolkit; and PNC has the Women Entrepreneurs and Executives Who Achieve.