There’s little doubt that the pandemic has hit women-owned businesses harder. Women are more likely to own an operation in the harder-hit service sector and bear the burden of increased childcare.
“There are only so many hours in a day. So do the math, that’s less time to put toward their business,” says Jill Sasso, vice president of human resources and governance programs at the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a nonprofit for certification, resources, and advocacy for women-owned businesses.
Sasso was one of a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and experts who came together Thursday to discuss opportunities for women-owned businesses in an Inc. National Small Business Town Hall stream event. The panel was moderated by Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul.
Here’s a roundup of takeaways from the session.
Virtual meetings can be easier to secure than in-person meetings since they’re easier to schedule, so take advantage. Build your virtual relationships in “small bites,” says Joanna Rees, managing partner at San Francisco-based West Ventures. Request a 15-minute conversation, for example. “All we need sometimes is a little wedge,” she says. Hunt down a mutual LinkedIn connection to make an intro, she advises. She says she and other investors are more likely to respond to founders who take the time and are resourceful enough to make this effort.
When looking for new ways to network, Rees recommends going back to basics, with LinkedIn intros, or you can check newer platforms like Clubhouse. Look for specific groups where they flock online, like tech VCs to Twitter, says Brittany Davis, general partner at Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital, which funds underrepresented founders. She has met founders through the social network and then invested in their companies, she says. Hayes-Stalling says she relies on her network of business owners in group chats and email, plus groups with organizations like the Michigan Women’s Foundation, Ernst & Young, and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
PPP and Pivots
If you can secure a Paycheck Protect Program loan, consider using it not to just survive but to expand your business, says Jessica Hayes-Stallings, founder and CEO of Royal Oak, Michigan-based Skinphorea Facial Bar & Acne Clinic. For example, when staffing became more difficult after Covid-19 hit, she was able to stabilize cash flow and make up the revenue by creating a monthly subscription for a high-margin service, laser hair removal. If you can persuade your customers to pay for something over and over as a necessity, “that will weather any storm,” she says.
And, jump on the new window for smaller businesses and solopreneurs to apply for PPP, as long as you’re sure you’ll get it forgiven, says Sasso. If you’re looking for funding, Davis recommends checking out iFundwomen and Black Girl Ventures.
Tell Your Story
When meeting with investors, focus on making an impression. It’s the basis of success for early-stage funding, says Davis. “When I walk away from the meeting, I think about Jessica, first, before I think about the company,” she says. You have to feel you have a right to be in those types of (virtual) rooms to attract support, Davis adds. For example, Hayes-Stalling says pitching her beauty bar to male investors on paper was an uphill battle, until she was able to get away from an on-paper plan to an in-person meeting, where her passion for the company came through, she says.
Fighting imposter syndrome? Head to the restroom, says Rees, who estimates that she has been on 40 boards where she was the only woman. “I would go into the ladies’ room and look into the mirror and say, ‘You deserve to be here.’ “