When Will Women Business Owners Get Off The Merry-Go-Round?


I recently spoke to a dynamic online women in a business roundtable. The topic of discussion was how to say ‘no’ in business decisions that result in making more money.

I selected this topic to show that women struggle to expand their businesses because they try to be all things to all people. I revealed how taking a stance and saying ‘no’ in certain business situations increased sales and profitability in my business. My goal for this presentation was to share as much as I could in the 90 minutes allotted for my talk.

I started by sharing statistics of women in business.

Less than 5% of women business owners in the United States reach seven figures in annual sales. They are below average, where 10% of their male counterparts get seven figures.

Compared to 9% of small businesses that reach seven figures, this number has not changed in over two decades.

Per NAWBO, National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 Million small businesses in the United States are owned by women. In 2017, they collectively generated more than $1.7 trillion in sales employed 9 million people, yet why do only 4.2%  of them reach seven figures?

I began my entrepreneurial endeavor in the late 1970s, and over the next forty years, I grew four successful companies. I spent the past few years analyzing my successes and asked myself, “Why am I beating the odds of failure in business as a female business owner? What do I do differently?”

  • I didn’t think of myself as a woman in business. When I launch a business, I become an owner ready to compete with the big boys, whether they are male or female.
  • I don’t advertise I’m a women business owner unless I’m asked about the company’s ownership. Why should I separate myself as an owner who may be judged or biased against because I’m female? That’s like saying, “Hi folks. I can’t make it on my own, so buy from me because I’m a woman.”
  • I like to launch new businesses in saturated markets, research the competition, male or female, and build a niche that others don’t see. I create a unique path when creating a marketing strategy.
  • I don’t flaunt or brag that I’m female in my businesses. Instead, I exhibit I’m the best at what I do and describe the value customers receive from buying from me instead of my competition.

For example, in the late 1990s, my consulting business exploded, growing to five offices and over 100 employees across the United States. The directors of the Indianapolis office asked if they could sponsor one or two of the events for the famous upcoming annual Indy 500 race. As an avid race fan, I agreed if they saved me a seat at the driver’s luncheon—an event where Indy drivers eat lunch with their fans.

Jim, the director from my Indiana office and coordinator for this event, agreed and invited several local Indiana clients to the lunch as a marketing perk. When I arrived, I walked to the table I sponsored, surrounded by the men my Indiana office invited. I sat next to one of our clients, a prominent local insurance company CIO. Before this lunch, I had never met this man.  

After the Hulman-George Family, the former owners of the Indy 500, presented their program and each of the drivers stood up to speak, we began our lunch and small talk around the table. A CIO turned toward me and asked, “So you’re from the Chicago office; what is your role there?”  Before I answered, I glanced across the table at Jim and saw he opened his eyes so wide they looked like saucers. I realized he did not tell these clients I was the founder and primary owner of the company.

I turned to the CIO, stating, “Oh, I’m one of the managers there, and I’m so excited Jim invited me to attend this event. I grew up watching racing, a love I received from my dad.“  Jim exhaled, and we continued to enjoy our lunch.

Later back at our office, Jim apologized profusely, thinking I was upset that he did not introduce me around the table as founder and president of the company.   I chuckled and said, “That’s why I hire the best talent, who can judge a customer’s biases and deliver value so I can laugh all the way to the bank.”

After that event, Jim and I had great mutual respect for our individual roles in my company.

My advice for women business owners is to forget their gender and build a successful company that outdoes the competition. Successful men do not build 7-figure companies because of their gender. They do it because they ‘feel’ they’re the best at what they do.

In memory of Jim Laughlin

Written by Darlene Ziebell

Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved  Darlene M. Ziebell 

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