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Women opening small businesses may be more of a necessity than luxury

Women the backbone of the economy?

Often, people might think of a woman opening a small business as something akin to an extension of a hobby. But, with the economy in trouble, more and more women are opening small businesses in order to make a job for themselves.

“Some have lost their jobs and are desperate,” said Georgina Burt, strategic management consultant for SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), Gulfport. “Lots of people are out of jobs. Home-based businesses or other simple businesses are a way to make some money. A lot of women are really desperate to get something going. I think right now it depends on the economy where you live in terms of whether you have a job or not.”

Burt has found women are more willing to invest time and energy into becoming better educated about opening a small business.

“In general, women have more education about business basics,” Burt said. “Usually, they are really focused and know what they want. They just need direction. Women are more willing to take courses like how to write a business plan. Sometimes men come in,and haven’t the foggiest idea. They don’t have a basic knowledge. They don’t understand the need for market research and understanding legal rules. They have a more naïve attitude. They think it is easier than it is.”

In contract, she sees women being more willing to take courses such as how to do a business plan. Their attitude is different. They come and ask for help, and do their homework to prepare themselves.

“Women are much more ready when they come, and have a natural grasp of how to run a business,” she said.

It is also common for women, particularly women related to each other, to team with someone else to open a business. They bring in a support person they want to do the business with. That can help with financing and other resources, and also sharing the workload.

Women, particularly minority women, are opening new small businesses at a fast pace. The Center for Women’s Business Research recently reported that businesses owned by minority women are growing three times faster than all U.S. firms, and are substantially outpacing all U.S. firms in terms of revenue growth and number of employees.

Part of that success may be government contracting programs that encourage awarding of contracts to women and minority-owned firms.

Burt said when couples come to her for counseling on opening a new business, she sometimes recommends they consider putting the business in the woman’s name.

“You might get better loans and government contracts,” Burt said.

Janita R. Stewart, district director, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Mississippi District, reports an increase in interest by women in the past several months in SBA services such as loan programs, 8(a) certification, HUBZone certification, federal government contracting opportunities and entrepreneurial development.

“There is a distinct uptick in the number of women inquiring about these programs and attending our workshops to learn more about them and how they can benefit,” Stewart said.

The latest statistics on women-owned businesses from the SBA Office of Advocacy for 2008 reflects that Mississippi has 221,501 small businesses (defined here as one with fewer than 500 employees) and women-owned businesses comprise 47,102 of them, a 22.9 percent increase from prior statistics.

“I did a comparison of SBA loans made to women-owned businesses in our state looking back at this time last fiscal year versus so far this year,” Stewart said. “The total number of loans is down dramatically, from 53 last year to 24 this year. However, the total dollars loaned to women is slightly increased from $8.613 million last year to $8.64 million this year so far. We anticipate making many more loans and lending more dollars to women in business and those who desire to start a business. We consistently reach out to them directly, as well as through our key resource partners including our Women’s Business Centers in Greenville and Forest, and through the Mississippi Network of Small Business Development Centers and SCORE Executives.”

Amber Murphree, director, Main Street Columbus, sees small businesses as being very gender friendly. Women have as much opportunity as men.

“A lot of our stores we have downtown are small boutiques and specialty stores,” Murphree said. “So, a majority of stores downtown are owned and run by females. I definitely see that trend a lot with the specialty shops. With women making up a majority of the customer base, I feel women who own and run these businesses have a better knowledge of what the shoppers are looking for. They are more in tune with the latest trends in merchandise because they are shoppers themselves.”

Muphree said almost all of the women who own downtown businesses are working mothers. Many see that as an advantage as they are able to arrange their work schedule around family responsibilities, and can even bring their children to work with them.

Rhonda Porter and Sheletta Buckley, owners of Professional Accounting and Support Services, LLC, in Jackson, find owning their own business family friendly.

“The flexible work hours help us to spend quality time with our families, providing for their needs and also giving individual time for ourselves,” Porter said.

After ending careers in state government in various accounting and administrative positions, Porter and Buckley said they stepped out on faith and decided to open their own business because they saw a need to offer quality, affordable and professional support services to small businesses and individuals in the areas of accounting and payroll services.

“Many small business owners are service oriented but lack the expertise or knowledge in accounting or bookkeeping to keep their business afloat,” Buckley said. “We saw a need in our community to share our years of experience with other small businesses and individuals that we would not be able to do if we worked at a large firm. We work closely with our clients, getting to know them and their business. It is very advantageous for us and our clients.”

They feel another advantage to owning their own business is they can put in all the time they need with clients and not feel rushed. It allows them to focus on their needs and not make them feel like just another number.

Buckley said they think the number of minority-owned businesses have grown because women in general have begun to see their worth more in this global world.

“I was listening to the National Public Radio station last week that talked about women in India owning their own jelly factory and getting ready to start another one,” she said. “The global market has dictated that minority women take their rightful place to help those in need. Women are playing a larger role in the economic base of America’s households and because of this, owning a small business is just the beginning.”

Their advice for women who want to go into business is to make sure to do a needs assessment to ensure that the product or service is in demand. Do homework about what paperwork is required on the state and local level for the business, and above all, know the product or service.

Talk with other businesses in the area to find out how they got started. Find out about problems to look for and strategies in marketing. Make sure to prepare as much as possible about the venture.

“We strive to provide ourselves with continuous training, keeping abreast of the latest trends and technology,” Porter said. “Your goal is to make sure your customers feel confident about you and the services you provide. The key to the longevity of your business success is providing quality service. People are not going to patronize your business if the service is poor. You cannot just open a business and expect people to buy your product or use your services simply because you are a minority. You have to be devoted to the client’s needs, the products that you provide and to your abilities and knowledge to provide these services.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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