Unique Challenges for Women in Business

Marjorie Geiser
 


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I’ve been in private practice for almost 10 years, now. I am living my dream; I do what I love to do, the hours I work are the hours I choose to work, and I can often take time off to play with my family or enjoy a friend, if I wish.

But, as most self-employed people, I’m a hard boss, and as a female small business owner, I have much more to do than just ‘work’. As I type this, I am also making lasagna so my husband has something he enjoys eating while I’m out of town for the next few days, working. I also need to fold the laundry that is in the dryer so I can take care of some last minute clothes I want to pack for my trip. Tomorrow I will get up a little earlier than necessary so I can get a quick workout in, then be sure I have my suitcase packed and in the car before I see my first client in the morning, because when I’m out of school, I will leave directly for the airport for my trip. During the trip, if I have all my studying for classes done, I can then start working on my articles and newsletter that will be due soon. I should have all my charting done for my clients before I leave tomorrow, too.

If you are in business for yourself, this probably sounds pretty familiar. If you are just starting out, yes, it sounds scary, and there definitely are days that you will wonder what the heck you are doing, but I am still here to tell you it’s all worth it.

Businesses owned by women are the fastest growing segment of small business owners in the country. Between 1997 and 2004, the estimated growth rate in the number of women-owned businesses was nearly twice that of all businesses. According to the Small Business Association, there are currently 9.1 million women-owned businesses, which employ 27.5 million people and contribute $3.6 trillion to the economy. If you are female and have considered starting up your own business, the time couldn’t be better!

Women are diversifying into all industries, too. Construction, manufacturing and transportation have been the largest recent increases in women-owned firms, although services and retail still make the largest share. Women are more prepared today for running business. The amount of managerial experience, education, business revenue and employment profiles these women have after 10 years of experience equals what took 20 years in the past. Women in business now equal men in these respects.

As mentioned above, although more women are now successfully in business, we do have much more on our plate than just running the business. For women with families, the challenge is to successfully juggle all those responsibilities that go along with running a household that men have traditionally be able to remove themselves while running a business, themselves. So, while doing it all, here are some tips on how to keep your business up and running and thriving and keep your sanity at the same time.

Handling interruptions

Some women run their business out of their home. This is what I do, because much of my practice is email-based. One big interruption that can be quite disruptive is the telephone. When customers call, you want to present a professional face to your business. There are several advantages to getting a separate business line installed in your home. First of all, if you are unable to answer the phone, personally, you will not have family members answering. Just imagine your 7 year old answering the phone… Or your husband takes a message and then loses the number or wrote it down wrong. These two examples send a shudder down my spine. Another advantage is then you can actually have ‘private’ time and know that when you answer your personal phone in the evening that it’s not a potential customer calling for attention.

For people who have an office and still struggle with phone interruptions, set up time for yourself that is only for projects. Two options to handle the phone calls is to either get the call display feature on your phone so you can determine who is calling before answering the phone, or shut the ringer off during that pre-determined time you have set aside for projects.

Another common interruption if your business is based out of your home is from family members. Your daughter just got a paper cut, your husband wants to share the news on the TV. If you are in the middle of something that needs your full attention, you can let them know that you are unavailable at the moment but will be with them shortly. Just be sure to then keep your word. This way they will all respect your requests when you make them. Another helpful tip is to not have your workspace in the middle of all the household activity. If you have a separate room you can set your office in, then you can also remove yourself from the noises of the family at necessary times.

For people with an office, this is less likely to happen often with family. However, you may be subject to sales reps, etc. Often just a sign on the door saying no solicitations can be enough to discourage drop-in sales people.

When your list is overwhelming

When you own your own business, there are always things you really want to get done. Now. With a family as well, your attention can be torn in multiple directions, which can increase stress. As your list of goals for the day or week continues to grow, so does the stress level, however. It is critical that we all set up some type of system to organize ourselves.

First of all, something I cannot do without is a daily list of goals. I keep my list small, so I’m able to feel a sense of accomplishment by the end of each day. Because I have a master list in my marketing calendar, I can always add new things to my day, but it’s better to add than feel overwhelmed by not accomplishing too many things. Make sure you prioritize your list, too. At least this way, if you do not accomplish everything, the most important things did get done.

Next, where can you delegate to others? It may be either in your business or your home. Perhaps your spouse can pick up the dry cleaning or the kids. Maybe a parent can help out here and there. Could you use help in your business? Consider an assistant. I have a Virtual Assistant who is like a third arm to me, now. I am able to accomplish twice as much, now, since I’ve hired my VA.

Third, how organized you and your office are will make a big difference in how you feel from day to day. For those with an office, if you don’t have a back room, you may need to always appear orderly and organized. Just make sure you’re not creating piles in places people cannot see. For people with a home-based business, it may either be harder or easier to let things pile up and get out of control. Here are a few tips: Get boxes like the in-box and out-box and use them. For items that need filing, put them in one box and before the end of your day, file them accordingly, with the goal that you always have an empty ‘file’ box. You may also need a box for ‘projects’. Put dates of completion on the projects, and then keep yourself on track with your marketing calendar.

Next, really take a look at how you are using your time. For a day or two, write down every single thing you do, then sit back and analyze it to see how you can become more productive. E-mail can suck the time right out of a day. I have found that prioritizing my email makes a huge difference in how much time I have each day. I have created files for many of my professional listservs, and only when I am done with my daily list, if I have time left, then I can read through some of them.

Something that self-employed people can easily forget about is taking care of themselves. Schedule in time, every day, for some ‘down time’. Maybe that is when you will exercise, just take a walk, take a short afternoon nap, play with the kids outside. Something to break up the day so that your productive and creative juices continue to flow through the day. The advantage of being the boss is you can schedule in these times. Everything we do is a choice, so when someone says they have no time for something, like self-care, this is a choice we make. To be successful in business and life means being successful in health and considering life as a full package, rather than one segment is healthy and another is not. Balance.

Certainly some of these tips apply to men in business as well, however, women in business do truly have more ‘hats’ to wear, and women must make that conscious effort to maintain that balance to be successful in business and in life.

Marjorie Geiser is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and life coach. Marjorie has been the owner of a successful small business, MEG Fitness, since 1996, and now helps other health professionals start up their own private practice. To learn more about the services Margie offers, go to her website at http://www.marjoriegeiser.com or email her at margie@megfit.com .

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