Women entrepreneurs have found a creative way to stand out from the crowd

Mona Patel
Mona Patel. Courtesy of Mona Patel

The entrepreneur’s life is celebrated for the grit and fortitude required to navigate it successfully, yet the lifestyle seems a more common choice as people increasingly freelance, run their own businesses, or work as consultants today.

The struggle to differentiate oneself in business is real, and it’s especially difficult in hyper-competitive fields like technology, media, and entertainment.

Standing out from the crowd is one of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur faces.

While the business world isn’t known for being kind to anyone, female entrepreneurs face a rather different set of challenges from their male counterparts.

Women launch their own businesses at double the rate of men, but only 7% of venture capital funding in the US goes to woman-owned companies, according to Julia Pimsleur, author of “Million Dollar Women.”

And even once you break into the industry establishment, sexism persists.

What if ink and paper were your most valuable tools in levelling the playing field?

With inequality roundly identified in the business sphere, female entrepreneurs are looking to change the game for their companies and themselves. Our economy is one where information is valuable and travels easily, so some women are generating value for their careers by writing books related to their work.

The exposure of publishing a book on one’s area of expertise consistently acts as an occasion to attract new clients, get offers for speaking engagements and guest blogging gigs, and obtain other opportunities for income and publicity.

Of course, male entrpreneurs also write books, but it can be particularly beneficial for female entrepreneurs.

“There’s a certain amount of vulnerability, passion and drive that goes into writing a book. And when a female entrepreneur can tap into this, their writing not only helps their business but helps them build confidence around their unique message and mission,” says Mona Patel, founder and CEO of Motivate Design.

‘People thought I was the executive assistant’

Robin Farmanfarmaian
Robin Farmanfarmaian. Courtesy Robin Farmanfarmaian

“There’s a good ecosystem of female entrepreneurs that have services geared to other female entrepreneurs,” says Dorie Clark, author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.” “But if you look at top conferences … the majority of the speakers are still men, typically white men.”

Despite accounting for 50% of the world’s population, women hold 24% of the world’s senior business roles, Dina Medland wrote in Forbes. The country closest to 50-50 parity in terms of female leadership is not the US, but Russia, with 45% of the country’s senior business roles held by women. Even at the top spot, there’s work to be done for equality.

Gendered assumptions appear to dominate power dynamics in industries with few women leaders.

What happens when you’re the vice president of a company but you’re still being treated like the vice president’s assistant?

For some women in positions of business power, it’s a daily reality. Take Robin Farmanfarmaian, author of “The Patient As CEO.”

“I raised $6.5 million for Singularity University, and still a lot of the time, people thought I was the executive assistant,” she says. “I founded three companies! It happens all the time.”

For her part, Patel says she’s repeatedly faced gendered assumptions in the business world.

“I recently went to an awards ceremony for fast-growing companies,” she said. “I had won the award, but nine times out of 10, people would go up to my husband and say congratulations to him instead.”

For a seasoned entrepreneur, writing and releasing a book can be a major lever to pull in positioning oneself as a leading thinker in an industry. Farmanfarmaian, an expert on the intersection of medicine and emerging technology who has previously founded three startups and worked on eight others, saw bountiful opportunities come her way within days of publishing “The Patient as CEO.”

“Even the White House reached out to talk to me,” Farmanfarmaian said. “I’ve been offered multiple jobs since then.”

But Farmanfarmaian already has a job — three, in fact. With a renewed spotlight on her work, she found some relief from the sexist challenges she’d been facing for years.

“It’s very difficult in Silicon Valley to be a female entrepreneur. If there’s men around, forget it… they push you down,” she said. “When you have a book, they can’t do that anymore.”

‘I never thought I was going to write a book’

An author is hardly the only person to benefit from writing a book. Readers and devotees of certain topics derive value from them as well; many entrepreneurs have valuable expertise in niche subjects pertaining to their field, and the topics their books address can become important by virtue of the ideas contained within, not necessarily for their sales performance.

Melissa Gonzalez says her foray into publishing made her a leading voice in the niche-but-booming industry of pop-up marketing, establishing a small, temporary storefront to attract lots of retail foot traffic. It was a single thought that led her to publish her book, “The Pop-Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections In A Digital Age.”

“There’s a lot of experiential marketing companies out there. How do I differentiate mine?” she said.

Gonzales decided that a book would be the best way to do so, but she had neither the time nor desire to do the conventional work attached to writing a book. She sought out the services of a company called Book In A Box in order to get her ideas out of her head and onto paper by way of interview.

For her part, Patel was moved to writing after a client turned down a presentation because “it wasn’t the boss’s idea, and the boss didn’t approve anything that wasn’t his idea.”

The entire experience wound Patel up, so she started recording ideas for an article on ideation and creativity in business organisations. In two weeks, her draft had quickly become the 180-page draft of her book, “Reframe: Shift The Way You Work, Innovate, and Think.” It wasn’t her plan.

“I love writing, but I never really thought I was going to write a book,” Patel says. “It kinda crept up on me. My passion for the subject led me to say, ‘I gotta get this message out there and it’s worth putting myself out there and being vulnerable to do it.'”

‘It’s as if my book is accellerant for my career’

Dorie Clark
Dorie Clark YouTube/Talks at Google

Authors consistently report the first part of the post-publishing whirlwind is the drastic increase in one’s exposure, and the new opportunities that come along with it.

“The increased profile that writing provides is really helpful,” says Dorie Clark. “Other things are a little harder to quantify, but it’s very real that as your profile grows and more people have heard of you, opportunities come to you that you just have never even heard about.”

Though she’s had years of success in her field, Farmanfarmaian still sees an explosion of new interest in her work, which she largely chalks up to her book.

She most recently delivered a keynote speech at South By Southwest and had her book featured at TED2016.

“It’s as if my book is accelerant for my career. It puts me on the radar of a lot more people, so the opportunities are just crazy,” Farmanfarmaian said. “When I got the TED email I shook for an hour, because it was that big of a deal.”

All the female entrepreneur authors I interviewed said their published book or books have increased general demand for their work.

“My business is far more secure today because I have about six different revenue streams,” says Clark.

She had a robust consulting business before the release of her book in 2013. Attention from that release let her to expand her business to areas she hadn’t previously been able to expand to, like executive coaching, paid blogging, and speaking engagements. Her books make her business better.

Ann Handley, author of “Everybody Writes” and “Content Rules,” reports that her turn as an author has given her “more credibility.” She’d been in the content marketing field for years, but when the release of her books saw her name on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, “everything increased exponentially, opportunities in every sense.”

Over and over again, women entrepreneurs report that having their name on a book cements their credibility and works to establish them as experts in their industry.

Patel says an entrepreneur’s book is “the best business card you could have.” Farmanfarmaian sees her book as a powerful component of her overall Google resume:

“To be fully credible in this world that I play at, you need your Amazon page and you need your LinkedIn page,” she said.

All in all, a book is a means for people to vet your ideas before they even meet you. When a book is well-met by an interested reader, the author is generating her own credibility.

Some say this newfound credibility is invaluable in the fight to succeed as a woman entrepreneur.

“Your book is armour, and when you’re going up against men, I’m finding it’s an immediate change,” Farmanfarmaian said. “I’m in a tank and they’re on horseback. It changes the power dynamic.”

Clark agrees. “People take you more seriously if they have heard of you. Especially for female entrepreneurs who, in the context of a patriarchal society, may have challenges having their voice heard, it becomes a particular advantage when people already know who you are and are keen to listen to you.”

When women business leaders write books about their work, they help close the gender gap

Over and over again, the authors we spoke to emphasised the importance of hanging onto the confidence necessary to release your ideas into the world. Patel had formerly questioned whether her ideas were valuable and worth sharing, but when her book took off, her tune changed.

“It gave me the confidence that I have ideas that I have that are interesting, unique, and valuable, and I knew that before because I had a growing business. But it did amp up my confidence quite a bit,” she says.

“Books are about ideas,” says Handley. “To me, a book is the best way to further thinking in an industry. It feels to me like a gender-neutral effort, although I have also said that writing a book is like birthing a Honda Civic — it’s just as painful, and most of the work is done while crying. So that’s not a very gender-neutral metaphor, is it?”

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