More and more women have decided that the best boss is the one who stares at them in the mirror each morning. According to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, as of 2004, almost two-thirds of all women-owned businesses were privately-held majority or women-owned, for a total of 6.7 million firms, employing 9.8 million people and generating $1.2 trillion in sales. And between 1997 and 2004, the estimated growth rate in the number of women-owned firms was nearly twice that of all firms.
For many women, business ownership brings tremendous professional, personal and financial rewards. The freedom to create their own rules and set their own hours gives many women the flexibility and independence needed to juggle household and family responsibilities. Creativity can flourish because good ideas can often be tested and implemented without all of the lengthy approvals required in many large corporations. Financially, many women enjoy the opportunity to control all the profits a successful business can generate.
Yet as attractive as the prospect can be, the dream of business ownership is not right for everyone. Launching a business from the ground up can take a tremendous amount of time, energy and selfdiscipline. Especially in the early stages—some businesses seem to run almost solely on dedication, perseverance and the owner’s optimism. And there are very real financial hurdles to jump. Turning a profit can take some time and both the business and its owner generally must be financially provided for during that delicate startup period.
But even these obstacles can be overcome with careful preparation. Life insurance, for example, represents one vehicle women should explore. In addition to providing benefits to survivors, life insurance’s cash value grows tax-deferred, which could be helpful in starting a business. And new business owners should prepare for an event that could threaten the company’s success and, perhaps, its very survival: the real possibility that they or key employees would have to stop working because of a permanent or long-term disability. Disability income insurance can protect your source of income and ability to meet your financial obligations. A good financial professional can design a solution to meet both short-term and long-term goals of business ownership.
If you find the prospect of owning your own business intriguing, here are some other early steps to consider:
- Clarify your personal and career objectives. What are your reasons for wanting to start a business? What aspects of business ownership appeal to you most? Long-term, do you see your business as a sideline that you run alone from your home, or do you envision yourself as an emerging CEO with a large staff and several bases of operation?
- Identify and refine your business idea. What talents and skills do you have that are most marketable? How large or small is the market for this service or product? What is the competitive framework? Is there an “unmet need” you could fulfill or some other way you could set your business apart from the competition?
- Research your idea. Look on the Internet or in the Encyclopedia of Associations (found in most libraries) for professional organizations in your selected field. Discuss your idea with others to obtain a better understanding of the pluses and minuses of the job.
- Determine funds needed. Research start-up costs for computers, goods, equipment, daily operating expenses and any other aspect of your business. Factor in regular living expenses you will need to cover until your business can turn a profit.
- Test the concept. Talk to potential customers to determine interest in buying your product or service. Test several prices to determine what the market will bear for your business.
- Develop a business plan. Sample business plans are available through various professional organizations, such as the National Foundation for Women Small Business Owners (www.nfwsb.org) or the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov). A number of reference books in local libraries also can provide background for drafting a solid business plan.
- Secure financing. Discuss needs for additional financing with a financial professional.
- Look after you and your family. Don’t let your family’s financial needs take a back seat. Starting a business with considerable longterm debt may make the idea of saving and preparing for the future look unattainable. However, just as you set goals for yourself to build your business, you must plan how you will manage your income. A financial professional will work with you to develop a financial strategy that will help you realize your goals and fit your situation.
Of course once the business is launched, the real work begins. But you just may be one of the millions of women who find that business ownership makes the start of each working day more worthwhile than ever before. TPW
Josh Waite is a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, the marketing name for the sales and distribution arm of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, its affiliates and subsidiaries. Waite is an agent based in Peoria. To contact him, call 693-0800, email [email protected] or visit www.nfmn.com/joshwaite.