It’s an exciting time of the year over at Ernst & Young as it opens the application process for the 5th annual Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition. This national competition and leadership program identifies a select group of women entrepreneurs whose businesses can be positioned to scale–and then helps them do it. To be considered as a member of this elite group you must be a woman who owns a U.S.-based company that has reported at least $1 million in sales within each of the past two years.
Although women employ 16 per cent of the U.S. workforce, with that number climbing, only a small number of them will qualify for the Winning Women competition. So I reached out to Herb Engert, the Americas Strategic Growth Markets Leader for the Ernst & Young organisation, to find out what secret ingredients are used in this program’s recipe for success. The firm identified five “Ways to Win” in 2012 to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create new jobs–and Engert shares them here.
1. Evaluate your financing, and ready your business for expansion.
“Women come into our program thinking about getting to 25 or 30 million,” says Engert. “We want them to get to 100 million and beyond.” He notes that access to capital and funding alternatives and how a business owner navigates and negotiates that process is one of the biggest issues facing entrepreneurs today, especially women. “We try to connect women in the program by tapping into our larger ecosystem,” he says. “There’s lots of capital out there to be deployed.”
Lisa Bair, founder and president of Hobart Group Holdings, a healthcare marketing and advertising agency, participated in Entrepreneurial Winning Women. She says: “To be honest, before Entrepreneurial Winning Women, I was so involved in running the business on a day-to-day basis, I hadn’t thought about its life cycle beyond $20 million in annual revenue—and we will cross that line this year. I completely revised my business plan after the Strategic Growth Forum.”
Engert recognises that access to angel investors, small business loans, and a greater variety of financing alternatives are crucial for entrepreneurs. “It’s important to leverage your networks and advisory boards,” he says. “Tap into the variety of resources available, like larger organisations that would be teaming partners to you and your company. All large organisations are looking to tap into innovative entrepreneurial businesses these days, so explore that avenue.
2. Think big and be bold.
“Thinking big boils down to part confidence and part awareness,” says Engert. He advises that business owners step outside the box and think about where they can take their business. “Think about scaling, not only your service and product offerings, but also vertical opportunities that you could move into. Think outside the box about partners that you could team with to be innovative. There are a lot of conversions happening across sectors, don’t think in only your one particular sector or about just your product and services. Lots of large companies want to include young, innovative companies in their collaborative innovation networks.”
Bair put managing directors in place at the head of her marketing services businesses in New York and New Jersey and formed a third company devoted solely on product development. “I am now 100 per cent focused on a three-to-five year vision,” she explains, “that includes building out our expertise, the possible acquisition of complementary companies and investment capital to allow us to scale.”
3. Build a public profile.
Studies based on past award winners show that women tend to be modest about their achievements. Many of the applicants for the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program have company websites that don’t include anything about the leader. Revise your site to include information on your achievements, vision and insights. Press can put you on the map, what are you doing to increase your visibility?
4. Work on the business, rather than in it.
Think about how to build your team, remembering that a diverse team is critical to winning. “Critically evaluate where you are today, and where you will be in five years,” Engert recommends. “Build a team that will take you to the five year mark and beyond.”
To do this, Engert says to make sure you are tapping into people’s passion and to critically evaluate if you have the right people in the right position. “If they have the passion and you like the raw material, tap into that and put them in a position to help you grow your company,” says Engert. “And if someone is not working out it’s important to have the confidence and awareness to make critical decision to move on and the courage to do it quickly.”
5. Establish key advisory networks.
To be a successful leader, you need to draw on the experience of peers, mentors and business and personal advisers. The right networks can yield both new opportunities and a new way of thinking. When you get into groups and are around mentors and advisors you can address the issues you are facing with people who have experienced a similar set of problems; you will see things in a different light. “This will help you to develop the awareness and confidence to make tough decisions,” Engert says. “Reach out to others; successful people want to help and give back to support the next generation of business owners – don’t over think approaching someone you admire as an entrepreneur.” Engert advises that you use your network to gain introductions. “Be bold – ask for help and advice,” he says. “Start with a casual conversation and it will evolve from there. But first, learn to tell people what your business is about in a very succinct manner – it may not be easy to put what you do in words succinctly because it’s your baby. Learn to get it across in an interesting, yet succinct manner.”
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