Today, female-owned small businesses make up 36 percent of all companies. In 2018, there were 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., compared to just 402,000 in 1972. But even though it may be easier than ever to get started as a female entrepreneur, starting a company from the ground-up can still feel a lot like the Wild Wild West, particularly when it comes to managing the business finances.
Millions of women have successfully developed their own impressive companies in industries including media, skincare, clothing, food, construction, and beyond, but they’ll be the first to tell you that some of their most important financial lessons had to be learned the hard way. But it’s those very lessons that allow smart brands — and smart professionals — to grow. We asked some of them to share their experiences with HerMoney, so we can learn along with them.
You have to be your own strongest advocate
Though Christina Stembel doesn’t have a degree in business, she does have one in bootstrapping — and she’s been on a nine-year course. Since starting her company, Farmgirl Flowers in 2010, she’s learned about operations, management, human resources, company culture, and of course, finance. Of all of her lessons though, the importance of advocating for herself is the one she values most.
Stembel says her biggest misconception as a young founder was believing her business would progress in a linear fashion. While Farmgirl is a well-oiled billion-dollar company today, they’ve dealt with many ups and downs to arrive at this point. At one point Stembel’s company had technology failures, equipment that didn’t work as planned, and like many companies, a few new hires who didn’t work out. And while these were often difficult and costly mistakes, they all taught her how to speak her truth.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these unplanned expenses, it’s that there is often very little, if anything, standing in the way of you making a mistake. And, ironically, I find the fewer and farther between warning signs, the more costly a potential mistake is,” she says.
To keep herself in the green as much as possible, she says she makes sure she dots all the I’s and crosses all the T’s of company contracts. And, she does her homework on every major purchase her company is about to make in the months before she pulls the trigger. As she puts it, information is power — and it gives us the ammunition we need to defend ourselves if it comes to that. “The only thing that’s going to save you from making an expensive mistake is yourself. Stay informed. Always ask questions. And seek help when needed,” she advises.
You have to think ahead with your finances — especially taxes
Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl, was shocked one April to find herself dipping into savings when she didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay Uncle Sam for her company’s tax bill. Though it was scary — and expensive — in the moment, she quickly realized she needed to plan and think ahead, not only for herself, but also for her growing skincare business.
After paying what she owed, Annie had an epiphany that she’d let the juggling act of entrepreneurship distract her from the general (but essential) tasks that were necessary to keep her company afloat. Now, she has a monthly appointment with her accountant to mitigate her risk. “I do this to get a handle on where the business stands, and to plan ahead by using an account dedicated to tax season,” she explains.
You have to understand your finances — and spend time with them
How diligent are you when it comes to your personal finances? Do you go over your credit card statement line-by-line every month, or do you just scan it, and if it looks “about right” you move on? That’s how Anne Hogarty, CEO of Extend Fertility did it before she became an entrepreneur. Though she always made an effort to avoid credit card debt and contribute to her 401(k), she wasn’t proactive with her budget.
Then, she met the love of her life, and the pair began talking marriage. As part of the process, they decided to open a joint banking account, which gave them both a look at exactly how much they were spending. “We discovered we had regularly been spending hundreds per month on cabs, amounting to around thousands per year! While we definitely prized the few extra minutes of sleep that taking cabs afforded us, we realized in actually summing the expense that our habit was costing us at least several nice vacations per year, or significant incremental savings,” she explains.
You can probably guess what they did next — they cut back on the rides, and completely changed their approach to their personal finances by setting their budget for the year and tracking their success. This same mentality has helped them to grow their company, by following the mantra of “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Now, they hold each other and their employees accountable for all decisions, including financial ones. “That transparency helps us all stay aligned and focused on delivering the best next-generation fertility care that we can,” she says.
Over-budgeting can be a good thing
With the commitments we make, it’s usually better to under-promise and over-deliver, instead of the other way around, but what if we applied that same philosophy to our budgets? That’s the trick of the trade for Stacy Tuschl, president of Academy WI, a performing arts school in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Though she says her company has been lucky to grow each year since they opened in 2005, she consistently over-budgets, just to make room for any “new devils” that might pop up as her company scales. “I don’t jump the gun and do everything ‘yesterday,’” she says. “I realize that today’s choices can greatly affect tomorrow’s business. Slowing down to speed up and properly preparing has been a huge game changer.”
Always ask for more money
If you aren’t familiar with the statistics, here’s one that may startle you: Few women ask for a raise, while most men do. Becca Freeman, co-creator and co-host of the Bad On Paper podcast says women should always ask for more money, and there is usually room to bargain for more. “In salary negotiations for a new job, a raise, or even a freelance contract, always counter the offer and ask for more money,” she says, adding that her most popular podcast episodes are those that focus on navigating asking for a raise.
When Freeman first launched her career, she says she felt grateful for any salary offered to her, but as she grew her career, she decided to negotiate a bit, and found that it actually worked. “I was surprised that even this tiny company was able to come up on salary as we negotiated,” she explained. “In the three years I worked for this company, I netted more than $20,000 in comp above what I was first offered. And that amount compounds over time. Negotiating your salary is one way we can start to close the gender pay gap. And the worst thing someone can say is ‘no.’”
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