3 Ways AI Can Give Female Small Business Owners a Competitive Edge

3 Ways AI Can Give Female Small Business Owners a Competitive Edge

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Female small business owners are thriving. According to a recent SCORE report, more women than men opened small businesses in 2017, notably in important sectors like education and health.

All entrepreneurs face an uphill climb — starting a business is no easy feat, whatever your gender, and scaling toward long term success is even harder. That said, it’s a steeper hike for women, who still have 50% fewer fundingoptions and earn less too.

Artificial intelligence may have started out in big corporations like Microsoft and Google, but it’s quickly become a tool that can help businesses of all sizes thrive. For women, a technological edge, fueled by machine learning and similar artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, can help even the playing field in a few key ways.

1. Wo-Mentorship & Funding

Last year I wrote for VentureBeat about an AI platform called Alice that connects women with mentors and funding opportunities. In the piece, I argue that AI alone is not enough to bridge the gender gap — but it is certainly a step in the right direction, especially in this case.

Mentorship is incredibly important for new business owners. That SCORE report I mentioned earlier confirms as much: “Working with a mentor for five or more hours greatly increases an entrepreneur’s likelihood of business success,” it says.

It can be more difficult for women to find mentorship opportunities. One reason? There is a gender imbalance among executives and upper-level leadership, and some men feel uncomfortable taking on young female mentees. Indeed, women with female mentors report the most satisfaction, albeit by a fraction. If AI can help match young female entrepreneurs with like-minded mentors, whatever their gender, they will be equipped to launch their companies and succeed.

2. Inclusive, Harassment-Free Workplaces

Artificial intelligence is also playing a part in purging workplaces of discrimination and harassment. While companies with women at the helm may be less likely to have cultures where harassment goes unchecked, it’s never a guarantee.

If AI can help female entrepreneurs create enviable and inclusive cultures where everyone feels welcome and safe, they will attract more talent and earn a positive reputation quickly.

How would it work? Software with natural language processing capabilities could scan communications or (or even “listen” like Amazon’s Alexa”) to flag harassment as it occurs. Canadian startup does just that with software that acts as legal council for those on the receiving end. Rather than reporting transgressions automatically (a bad idea in case of false positives), the ideal AI would be more of a support system that validates victims’ experience and gives them options on how to deal with them.

As for inclusivity, AI has been shown to remove human bias from the hiring process, allowing for a more diverse range of candidates and workers.

3. Cutting-Edge Tech & Efficiency

The best way to get ahead is to quite literally be better than the competition. If there are elements keeping female-owned business from some of the things men-owned businesses enjoy, like ample funding and high salaries, they can make up for it (and perhaps attract more investors) by being on the forefront of innovation and efficiency.

AI is great for this, no matter your gender. From intelligent CRMs to AI customer service solutions and smart marketing campaigns, machine learning and automation can be a great boon to productivity across the board. In addition, cooperative robotics and other intelligent tools can help employees refine the vital human component of any business (i.e. emotional intelligence) by automating more granular and time-consuming tasks.

With the right AI, your company could optimize both human and technical components in the workplace, all while boasting cutting-edge tech and efficient output. Whatever your gender, that’s an advantage, and while it’s not a competition, such opportunities will help women achieve the excellence they have long pushed for.

For the Best Return, Upgrade Employee Experience at Your Company

For the Best Return, Upgrade Employee Experience at Your Company

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Taking care of your employees will get you the most return, and that means paying them well, providing benefits, and cultivating a culture they can thrive in.

With that in mind, I think it’s fair to say that if you have an unhappy employee, it can infect every aspect of your business — including revenue. When we talk about a return on investment (ROI), it’s important to include attitudes towards staff, because if you’re not mentoring and investing in your workforce your business may suffer.

Ensuring the happiness of your employees may directly correspond to the health of your business, and making your people happy may not require as much from your pocketbook as you may think. Though you should certainly try and pay your employees a competitive salary, for them it isn’t always about money.

Many people join a company because they believe in its mission. This is proving to be increasingly true, especially for millennials. The best way to give your employees the purpose they crave is to make sure that your business has a strong mission statement.

The best companies succeed not because they’re just out to make a profit. They succeed because they are driven to do better, as well as provide a unique service that is valuable to their customers.

Having a purpose isn’t the only thing personnel (and you) need in a work environment. Your employees need to be happy to be productive. And guess what? Happiness makes them healthier. It benefits an employer to strive towards making their employees happy because low morale can result in more requests for sick time. In fact, in the U.S., sick leave costs businesses $160 billion a year.

Maybe because of this, many smart companies have adopted wellness initiatives as a means to keep their employees’ minds and bodies happy and healthy. Not only does incorporating wellness into the workplace show that you care about the well-being of your workforce, it can pay back dividends in the decrease in sick time.

Even if you’re a smaller company or startup that can’t afford meditation spaces like Google, a little goes a long way. For example, offer incentives like coupons for massages, yoga classes or gym memberships to your best-performing employees. Implementing work-from-home days or summer Fridays (a mostly New York City phenomenon) are also good ways to reward good work — -and keep morale up.

Another debilitating consequence of not keeping up employees’ morale is that you may lose talented people. And one of the main reasons employees quit? Bad managers. Often, employees love the work but not the boss.

In my experience, ineffective managers generally fall into one of these three categories: the micromanager, the absentee manager, and the passive manager. The first hovers, criticizes, and over-delegates minute tasks; the second is so laissez-faire, they’re practically absent; and the third would rather avoid confrontation (or communication) at all costs. None of these do themselves, their employees, or their company much good. As a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to hire and train good managers, and adopt the most effective management strategies yourself as well.

To be fair, it’s not easy to know what makes a good manager, but one thing I think works is to ask yourself if you are. The answer I find most authentic to this question is ‘I don’t know’. That leaves room for a manager to grow and learn — a good sign that he or she is open to pivoting their management strategies based on each case, each employee.

After all, leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all; it should be an organic process that takes consistent dialogue between two or more parties. In a way, being a good boss is akin to being a good sounding board rather than a bullhorn.

There is also nothing that says you can’t take a management course, seminar, or some sound advice from a former boss who has mentored you in the past. Not all great managers are born. But all great managers have learned — whether inherently or by experience — to inspire and make decisions based on empathy and knowledge.

Ultimately, going above and beyond for your employees doesn’t just mean paying them better and providing great benefits, though you should try your best to give them both those things. It involves a combination of being humble enough to listen, and building your company around your workforce, rather than the other way around.

How Savvy Entrepreneurs Make Every Minute Productive

How Savvy Entrepreneurs Make Every Minute Productive

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Maybe you’ve been there: It’s Monday morning but in your head, it’s still Sunday night. Caffeine only somewhat shakes your groggy mindset, and when 5pm rolls around, you’ve only done half the work you set out to — which as a business owner is no good at all.

As an entrepreneur, I live by the philosophy that every minute of every hour of every day counts, and must be productive if you want to be successful. Think about it: in 24 hours, we average about the same hours of sleep as the hours we put into work. You better believe your brain is making the most of your resting hours — clearing waste, reenergizing cells, and reinforcing memories. The trick, then, is to make the most of our waking hours too, especially while we’re at work.

Here are four proven ways to make every minute count and ensure you enjoy a more productive work day.

1. The power of lists

I believe wholeheartedly that lists are the key to productivity. But for a list to abet productivity, it can’t just be done in the moment. I spend time setting goals for my day either after waking or before going to sleep so that I can start my day already knowing what I have to accomplish. I also set weekly and annual goals.

I’m not the only one with a penchant for list-making, either. Says Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran, “the productiveness of any meeting depends on the advance thought given the agenda, and you should never leave a meeting without writing a follow-up list.”

The basic truth is that organization, preparedness, and note-taking will amplify yours and your team’s abilities to get things done in a timely manner.

2. Get up early and make the most of your evenings

It’s not a rumor that successful people wake up early — it’s a trend. I myself wake up at 5 AM each day so that I can make the most of the hours to come. Others including Apple CEO Tim Cook, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, ‘Shark Tank’ investor Kevin O’Leary and a number of other leaders wake up before dawn as well, some as early as 3:30 AM.

In addition to my early start I like to think of my evening as a separate part of the day to look forward to, and will often make plans to fill that space. This way I am not only working toward my listed goals each day, but I also have a non work-related chunk of time to look forward to later. It’s a habit I’ve found to help drive productive even further.

3. Be active — physically, mentally, and emotionally

Waking up early provides a great window of time to get active before your work day starts; I typically do so for an hour every morning. According to Brookings, this is good for productivity: “a regular exercise routine can make you happier, smarter, and more energetic.” It gives you energy throughout the work day, yes, but also throughout your entire life by increasing mental acuity in the long term.

Being active can mean so much more than a trot on the elliptical. During your work day, taking walks and frequent breaks can get your blood flowing and ideas circulating.

Taking the time to flex your mental and emotional muscles is also important, I’ve found. It makes sense, then, that avid readers report higher levels of productivity as do those with fulfilling family lives.

4. Minimize distractions

In the 21st century workplace we are all at the whim of frequent distractions — from the internet, our phones, and any other disturbances that take attention away from the tasks at hand. This can be a hard nut to crack, especially because more and more people have been diagnosed with learning disabilities that may hinder output, CEOs included.

There are actions we can all take to minimize distractions and be more productive, though, starting with limiting our phone and social media time during work hours. For those in busy workspaces, noise-cancelling headphones can drown out the noise. For those working from home, a designated space away from cats, kids, and chores should make for more productive hours.

5. Don’t put the tough things off

It’s my personal philosophy to do what I can, today, without making exceptions for things I might be dreading or find difficult. The fact of the matter is, a minor or major catastrophe could happen at any time, and procrastination will only make matters worse.

This is difficult, I know. That’s why I recommend doing what you hate first — it’s like getting a monkey off your back. Let’s say you have to fire someone. Nobody likes firing people, but waiting until 5pm to do so is a supremely bad idea; it will weigh on you all day and interfere with your other tasks. Do it bright and early and the rest of your day will be far more productive.

Whatever side of the bed you woke up on, you’ll want to have made every minute matter when 5pm rolls around, not to mention go to bed feeling satisfied with your accomplishments. If some of those minutes are spent moving, planning, or otherwise strategizing for a more efficient workflow, that definitely counts as progress.

Identifying and Mitigating Unconscious Bias in Your Company

Identifying and Mitigating Unconscious Bias in Your Company

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

As most entrepreneurs and CEOs know, smart leaders must balance many goals for their companies and work hard to achieve them. Two must-haves that have been getting a lot of attention lately are a) positive, comfortable work culture and b) equal opportunity for all associates. Unfortunately, it’s also natural to assume we have achieved these goals because we don’t engage in discrimination.

Profitability can be measured easily. The state of comfort and opportunity within your company is murkier territory, but nonetheless important to suss out and improve.

There’s a reason we’re comfortable denouncing serial predators and clear-cut harassment in the workplace, but less comfortable confronting the invisible barriers we ourselves may perpetuate. Unconscious bias is not the result of hatred or purposeful discrimination, but it can hurt diversity and lead to toxic workplace culture if gone unaddressed.

Here’s how to identify and mitigate unconscious bias in your company.

Recognize that everyone is biased

The first step to doing something about unconscious bias is understanding what it is. As Fast Company explains, “We have loads of biases hardwired into our brains: preferences for people who are similar to us or who are in our group; wariness of those who are different; a tendency to save mental energy by using shortcuts like stereotypes to fill in the blanks about others.”

These biases, which we all have in some way shape or form, can color our perceptions and lead to preferential treatment of some to the passive detriment — or worse, active discrimination — of others.

Invest in training

According to Forbes, “A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.”’ This is likely because people know, logically, that inclusion is good and discrimination is bad; they just don’t realize how human it is to be complicit in its failings. We all think it’s someone else’s problem — an overt sexist or racist who just got fired, for example.

By contrast, Unconscious Bias Training involves teaching people how their brains work and strategies to break these perfectly normal, but harmful, mental processes. It puts the onus on all of us to pay attention to biases and fix them.

Examine hiring and promotional practices

Unconscious bias can make workplaces uncomfortable for women and minorities, but it can also block them from getting their foot in the door or advancing. Hiring is one of the most common practices unconscious bias permeates, especially if hiring managers exclude candidates based on gender or ethnic-sounding names.

The same goes for promotion opportunities and reviews. If we are biased to believe working mothers are less devoted to their jobs, for instance, they may get passed up for well-earned opportunities. It is likely one reason that even if male to female ratio is about even, men still dominate upper management.

Removing names from resumes upon evaluation and providing more structured, merit-based reviews can help in this regard.

Listen up now, act soon

The problem with unconscious bias is that even if we do know about it, it’s still unconscious. We can’t erase or rewire our brains as easily as we’d like to.

So the best practice is to really listen to the experiences of those who may be marginalized in your office; whether it’s due to age, gender, race, disability or economic status. Do they feel respected, heard, and acknowledged for their work? What is it they need to get to that place?

From there, biases can come to light, processes can be improved, and slowly but surely yours will become a more inclusive workforce that benefits (financially and otherwise) from achieving this elusive but critical goal.

How Women-Owned Businesses Can Support One Another

How Women-Owned Businesses Can Support One Another

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

As a business veteran, I understand the entrepreneurial calling. And yes, for many women, it is a calling. Why else would you put yourself through the countless hours of worrying and planning, as an increasing number of women continue to do?

In fact, it’s estimated that women-owned businesses will yield about 5 million jobs this year. And though this means there are a lot more women to come to each other’s aid, it doesn’t mean that we can shirk our obligations to one another. More than ever, female business owners are worth seeking out and lifting up.

Here’s how to support them — and why it’s important.

Share your (her)story

The trade secret. The best-kept secret. The secret sauce. What do those words mean? The opposite of sharing. As fellow female business owners, we can’t afford to do that. Supporting other women is good for business; the rise of women-owned businesses corresponds to the rise of the economy. “The economic landscape is shifting,” stated Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of CUF and author. “At a time when large companies are decentralizing their operations or moving overseas or going to cheaper locales, what’s driving the growth in cities? Small-business entrepreneurs. And many of them are women.”

Educate the men in your life

This doesn’t often come to mind when we think of supporting women, but it should. Considering that men make up about 51 percent of the world population, preaching to the female choir is only half the battle — literally. If we’re going to shift attitudes from its current environment towards true equality for women, we have to attack inequality from all fronts. For me, someone in a position to hire, manage and work alongside men, I try to educate them on the importance of supporting women in business. I believe this education will trickle down to their employees and their children when or if the time comes.

Frequent women-owned businesses

This sounds like a given, but we forget that what women-owned businesses are tasked with most is to generate revenue. It’s not enough to espouse “leaning in” through mere words, we have to put our money where our feminist mouths are, unless it’s to get the word out about up-and-coming, struggling or existing women-owned establishments. Using social media as a bullhorn is a good way to do that. Free and effective, social media is also a great marketing tool for female entrepreneurs to show their (and their business’) personalities, and create an online presence for themselves.

Refer them to a connection

The adage isn’t wrong. In business, it really can be about who you know. If you can connect women who own businesses to other female business owners for a mutually rewarding partnership, do it. In the forty years I’ve spent growing my career, I have made pivotal connections — many with other business women — and many that went beyond just the professional. After all, no one knows the struggles a woman in business faces more than another woman in business.

Reach out personally

Nothing says I support you more than a personal note (or email). Because of social media, exposure to burgeoning women-owned businesses is easier to generate, which I do on a daily basis. You’d be surprised how responding or proactively reaching out to other women can mean to businesswomen just starting out. More than anything, a link to like-minded women helps remind me how much we can offer one another — through something as simple as an old-fashioned (or digital) thank you note.

The business landscape is not for the faint-hearted. For women, it can be even more daunting. Though at times it seemed like the cards were stacked against me, especially when I first entered the business world four decades ago, times are changing. Today, I think we recognize that as women-owned businesses increase in number, the need to support one another is more important than ever.

What Today’s Leaders Can Teach the Next Generation About Entrepreneurship (and Vice Versa)

What Today’s Leaders Can Teach the Next Generation About Entrepreneurship (and Vice Versa)

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

With the average age of a CEO at 58 years of age, it’s clear that baby boomers possess decades of lessons to pass along to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. This knowledge share can prove invaluable to younger players that are navigating business ownership for the first time. But the instruction need not flow in only one direction. Young entreprepreneurs have wisdom of their own to share, approaches that could reinvigorate established businesses with a jolt of inventive spirit and drive. Here are just a few lessons older and younger generations can teach one another:

CEOs Know How to Play by the Rules

Every industry is riddled with complexities and roadblocks that the businesses thriving within it have learned to maneuver. Whether it’s a knotty regulatory landscape, rapid digitization, escalating prices, or market uncertainty, CEOs have figured out how to run flourishing businesses within the current milieu and position those businesses to weather future storms. They’re trained not only to capitalize on growth opportunities, but anticipate the obstacles that might hinder success, and effectively maneuver them. This precautionary problem-solving is acquired over the long-term, insights that newer players rarely grasp at the outset of their endeavors.

While entrepreneurs often function as change agents, successful CEOs create sustainable businesses. CEOs are experts at figuring out the long-term trajectory of a company and putting an organizational structure in place to support that growth. Effective corporate infrastructures, streamlined processes, and long-term business plans are all within a CEO’s wheelhouse.

CEOs Know How to Run an Established Business

Some CEOs have been with their companies long-term, helping to grow them from infancy. Many have likely been there long enough to have weathered a few major reorganizations, technology implementations and process improvements. These CEOs possess volumes of knowledge on what worked for them at each stage of growth and how the company needed to adapt over time.

Even in instances where a CEO is running a billion-dollar behemoth and a fellow entrepreneur is still struggling to make rent, the former’s experience and lessons learned can give shape and focus to the latter’s business plan. The CEO can help the entrepreneur see where she wants to go and establish a clearer vision for how to get there. With more access to the failures and successes of others, the entrepreneur can avoid common mistakes and efficiently establish a platform for growth. And that’s not to mention the many ways new business owners can benefit from networking within the same universe as their more established counterparts.

Entrepreneurs Successfully Manage Their Time

Jennifer Hobson Gormer recently compiled a book called kidCEO, where she helped successful child entrepreneurs share the secrets of their success. There were no shortage of tips from these small sages, but one common theme united their stories: how vital it is to effectively manage your time and prioritize. After all, these business owners are juggling all the pressures of entrepreneurship while simultaneously scheduling time for schoolwork and regular kid stuff.

Regardless of age, entrepreneurs learn quickly to navigate common time drains like email, meeting overload, and non-stop firefighting. Because they’ve needed to thrive in an amorphous environment with few resources and a scant organizational structure, the most common trap for an entrepreneur to fall prey to is allowing oneself to take an unstructured approach to time management. As such, many entrepreneurs can speak at length about inbox tools and services that help organize the influx and assist in managing tasks. They know how to avoid inessential meetings and structure others toward actionable outcomes and decision-making. They also know how to document processes and create playbooks for repeatable tasks, which aids with delegation and focuses all team members on execution.

This is not to say that CEOs have zero time management and prioritization skills, which would be patently false. But given the pre-existing structure and resources of their established corporate environments, they may not have needed to become productivity gurus to survive. In fact, studies show that while most senior executives should be following the 80/20 rule (80 percent of time allocated to important things and only 20 percent on the small stuff), many are actually closer to 30/70. If CEOs took up this charge, they’d execute significantly more high-impact, strategic work that could move the needle for their businesses.

Entrepreneurs Do Things Differently

Sometimes, different is good. Entrepreneurs can remind their corporate counterparts to stay nimble, always looking for holes or inconsistencies in the marketplace and seeking to fill them. Entrepreneurs are masters at creating new products, taking products from one industry and applying them elsewhere, and integrating two seemingly unrelated concepts to form something new. By absorbing a bit of this playfulness and creativity, CEOs can maneuver their larger organizations into new lines of business, products or other initiatives. Younger entrepreneurs have also been more unconventional in their leadership styles, yielding some approaches that have more effectively motivated their workforces and established a positive corporate culture. Some Millennial leaders have rejected hierarchical models or championed constant employee feedback. Plenty of atypical models are being tested by young leaders, approaches that might prove inspirational to CEOs hoping to better connect with their workforces.

Whether you’re a struggling entrepreneur or a Fortune 100 CEO, never underestimate what you can bring to the table or learn from others. Sometimes the best advice comes from someone whose challenges exactly match your own, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it comes from someone who dealt with that problem 10 years ago, or someone who’s yet to cross that bridge.

Redirecting Rejection: Three Ways to Use Business Setbacks as Springboards

Redirecting Rejection: Three Ways to Use Business Setbacks as Springboards

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

No matter your industry or aspirations, some days you probably feel like you’re swimming upstream against a river of rejection. Maybe a prospective client hired someone else. Or you didn’t land that speaking engagement. Or you didn’t receive the loan for your latest business venture. Everyone faces rejection, and for small business owners, the “no’s” commonly outweigh the “yeses,” especially in the beginning. While it’s hard to accept this fact when you’re fuming over the injustice of it all, it’s not the “no” that matters. It’s your reaction that truly carves your path.

We all know the stories. Oprah Winfrey was fired as a reporter for being “unfit for TV.” Now she owns her own network. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by dozens of publishers. Seven books, eight movies and one play later, she’s a billionaire. Look up any enormously successful person and you’ll find that their past is littered with setbacks. This is the norm, not the exception. Success is a direct function of grit, lots of hard work and copious perseverance.

Easier said than done, I know. But there are several strategies you can use to reframe rejection and ensure that you regroup and chase that vision of yours more fiercely than ever.

Rejection is a Rite of Passage: Own it, Live it, Love it

First, reshape your relationship to rejection. Every “no” is a gift because it moves you closer to a “yes.” Gatekeepers will always deny a visionary at first. Always. So if your business initiatives haven’t been rebuffed yet, you’re probably playing it safe. While the fallout from your latest repudiation may make the growth and future success of your business seem impossible, don’t surrender to the fear.

Look at each refusal as a necessary step in your success journey. Invite them. Collect them. Catalogue them. Stack them into a file that you can look back on later with smug indifference. Use them as fuel, as your motivator. They’re integral to your business’s evolving story.

And remember, a no is never final. Persistence has driven all of my entrepreneurial wins, and I rarely take “no” for an answer. It’s always okay to go back to someone about your idea multiple times, even if their initial answer is supposed to be final. And if that avenue never opens, find another. There’s always an alternate way to solve a problem, and a different person just waiting to help shepherd a business like yours.

Feedback is Like Ambrosia From the Gods

Inherent in every rejection is at least one reason for the pass. Cull the explanations you’ve received for actionable feedback. If any of them ring true to you, or if you receive the same criticism multiple times from different sources, consider honing your plan by implementing the suggested changes. Perhaps what you’re attempting is too broad or too narrow and these “tweaks” can help you develop something more saleable.

The people rejecting you are likely seasoned players with a strong grasp of industry and market conditions. Their insights can prove invaluable and possibly serve as stepping stones toward achieving your end-game. The trick is knowing the difference between a “no” stemming from short-sightedness, versus a flawed strategy that needs to be fixed.

Supportive Networks Are Everything

This is where a team of trusted peers and colleagues can really help. Solicit their advice. People who understand your vision and support your goals can help you see the forest from the trees when things heat up. Rely on them and ensure that, in turn, you do your best to support them in their careers.

This caring exchange will prove a source of strength and perspective. It will also help you better identify the opportunities within each challenge. At the same time, try to distance yourself from naysayers. Negative people who approach your ambition with skepticism are stuck in their own fear spirals, and it may be best to avoid that energy while you’re feeling vulnerable. If that person happens to be someone you can’t ignore, like a family member, attempt to overwhelm them with your own positivity. Even if it’s partially manufactured, your confidence and assurance will neutralize their fear and make the relationship more tenable.

And most importantly, don’t quit. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

Keep promoting yourself and your idea. You may not control the market or the money, but you control the future of your company. And if you stay positive and agile, your long-awaited “yes” will find you.

Women: Don’t Go it Alone, Find a Mentor

Women: Don’t Go it Alone, Find a Mentor

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Mentors are important because they see things we can’t — whether it be a friend of theirs that we really must meet, the pitfalls of a particular organizational structure, or our own strengths and weaknesses. There is no more efficient avenue to learn, problem-solve, generate ideas or expand your network (and thus grow your revenue) than by clinching a great mentor. It’s like having a MBA, best friend, and publicity director all rolled into one fantastic package.

Female entrepreneurs can benefit even more by partnering up with someone who has faced similar challenges or experiences in the past. This is especially true if the mentor is also a female. After all, women business owners face a unique set of challenges.

Yes, several studies have concluded that gender diversity has a positive impact on profitability. And yes, the report finding that the number of women entrepreneurs in New York City has increased 43% since 2002, nearly double the growth rate for men. But despite the fact that the city has nearly 359,000 women entrepreneurs who generate about $50 billion in sales annually, it’s not an easy road for us. A gender gap still has New York men owning 1.5 times the number of businesses, employing 3.5 times more people and raking in 4.5 times more revenue. We still face so many challenges, like access to capital and valuable business networks.

Whether your business has been around for 10 minutes or 10 years, a mentor can encourage you to take risks, help you see the things that elude you and give you the necessary edge to compete on an uneven playing field. The good news is, finding a mentor isn’t nearly as daunting as it used to be. Fortunately, New York City (and the internet) have loads of programs and resources available. Here are some top picks:

1. SCORE Mentors NYC

SCORE NYC offers both male and female mentors across a number of industries and business functions. Mentors are available in-person or remotely for free, confidential consultations to help solve specific problems or to simply explore new ways to grow your business.

With a volunteer team of 70+ experienced business mentors and advisors in a range of industries, finding a mentor has never been easier. There are also dozens of workshops available to learn concepts, strategies, and practical actions for starting a new business and for growing an existing business.

2. National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) NYC

NAWBO is a national organization that represents the interests of women entrepreneurs across all industries, and offers a one-on-one mentorship program for those who want an intense, immersive experience. This program offers long-term support and is completely tailored towards your individual business needs.

3. Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC)

Launched by the City in conjunction with Citigroup, WE NYC treats women as the key economic drivers they are, and offers small group discussions and brainstorming sessions with female mentors who are subject matter experts on entrepreneurship and everything from talent management to branding to raising capital. The initiative’s Connect Mentor Sessions are free, two-hour coaching sessions with plenty of allocated networking time.

4. MicroMentor

For those of you that want to pursue your mentorship remotely, curtailing the time spent relationship-building without losing a the benefits of support and accountability, try a service like MicroMentor. You can join a virtual community of entrepreneurs for free and connect with seasoned executives by searching their volunteer database by the desired area of expertise, the industry and your business stage.

If a formal mentorship arrangement seems like too much, at least consider joining a local organization that can connect you to other women entrepreneurs and offer less structured educational and networking opportunities. You may naturally form a bond with another successful business owner who can offer support more organically. And whatever you do, never discount your peers! Form as many friendships as possible with other business owners. The camaraderie helps, as will the opportunity to share lessons learned. And when one small business friend makes big strides, chances are she’ll do all she can to take you with her.

Why it’s More Important to Invest in Your Business than to Pocket the Profits

Why it’s More Important to Invest in Your Business than to Pocket the Profits

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

After launching the website Penny Hoarder in 2010, Kyle Taylor quickly came to believe in an age-old adage: the best way to make money is to spend money. Every year, as a result, he began reinvesting 50 percent of his profits back into his burgeoning business.

While there are those who would dispute whether it is necessary to make that much of a commitment — and still others who would question whether it’s wise to put a preplanned percentage on the amount that should be reinvested — the consensus is that it is smart to engage in this practice, as opposed to squirreling away all the profits.

Here are the benefits of reinvesting, as exemplified by my own experience as well as Kyle Taylor’s personal account.

1. Reinvesting allows for growth

Taylor writes that his decision to reinvest enabled his site to take off. At the end of its first year (2011), it netted $55,000. Three years later he made $3.2 million, with the expectation that he would bring in $10 million the following year.

I have reached the same conclusion with my business. No sooner did I begin making money than I reinvested it — hiring great talent, upgrading office space and purchasing new equipment. Months and years of reinvestment led in turn to even greater growth and profit, so I can recommend this strategy to any business owner, founder, or CFO.

2. The opportunity to learn and team-build

Besides the aforementioned growth, reinvestment also offers an opportunity to learn, and reinforces the idea that a single entrepreneur cannot go it alone. For instance, Taylor didn’t hire his first employee until 2015, and did so then because he understood his own strengths and weaknesses, and where he would need the most help.
Before reinvesting, Taylor often worked with freelancers and contractors, but was constantly re-evaluating and adjusting. Writers were jettisoned if they did not craft content in the site’s distinctive voice. A $20,000 site redesign was scrapped when he determined it did not work for him. He wasted money and failed to learn by forgoing investment in a solid team.

3. Reducing income-tax expenses

Another obvious advantage to reinvestment is the reduction in income-tax expenses. One report summarized it as follows: If a company generates a $20,000 profit and is in a 20-percent tax bracket, it would pay $4,000 in taxes. But if $3,000 of that profit is earmarked for freelancers, only $17,000 is taxable.

4. Successful investments in marketing and infrastructure

It is generally agreed that the best use of reinvestment is in marketing, as that will show the surest return. Taylor, once again, is a good example. He writes that in his first year he invested in affiliate ads, Adsense and sponsored posts and links. In his second year, his outlays went toward advertising on Facebook and Outbrain. Further down the line he made the decision to almost exclusively advertise on Facebook.

Another sound use for reinvestment is on infrastructure. Taylor did two redesigns of his site, and Gretchen Peterson, founder of the geoanalytics and map-making firm PetersonGIS, committed to mapping software, despite the considerable expense involved with doing so.

5. Hiring a great team (not just a good one)

People, of course, are a mandatory investment that cannot be ignored. When I ran my own firm, I was careful to make sure I assembled the best team possible, and that the freelancers and contractors who came aboard were assets to the company as well. Anything less, and you’re looking to take a financial hit of some consequence.

6. There’s ample room for profit

After reinvestment the question then becomes this: How much should a CEO pay him- or herself? One report concluded that performance-based compensation should account for 20 to 30 percent of profits, and that those at the top should earn half of that, along with a bonus of two to three percent. Clearly, there’s still room for bountiful profit when you reinvest. In fact, the growth caused by reinvestment should compound your profits significantly.

All in all, reinvesting is not only a less selfish move than hoarding profits; it’s good for your bottom line and the health of your business. I haven’t been disappointed by the results and believe your business will experience stellar outcomes, too.

Fake Male Co-Founders Aren’t a Cure-All for Female Entrepreneurs

Fake Male Co-Founders Aren’t a Cure-All for Female Entrepreneurs

This post was originally featured on

In 1972 the record album and illustrated book, Free to Be You and Me, was released to the U.S. market. The major theme of the songs and stories was that anyone, boy or girl, could be or do anything. The values of individuality, comfort in one’s-own-skin and tolerance wove threads through the theme.

I was working as a secretary at the time.

The television special, by the same name, aired in 1974. I was still working, and also attending college in environments that were at times less-than-kind to my gender.

By 1980, the suite of Free to Be You and Me materials had garnered an Emmy and a Peabody and the book had spent months on the New York Times bestseller list. I had graduated from college and opened my own all-female real estate brokerage.

We were here: we’d arrived and equality in the business world was ours to be had!

Or was it? Were we then, and are we now, truly “free to be” women, equal to men, in the world of business?

Recent reports about lack of access to venture capital funds (VC), which I’ve written about before, and inability to secure business loans, not to mention the ongoing wage gap, suggest that we are not — not yet.

Especially if that business is starting your own business.

In fact, the biases against female founders are so prevalent, and frustrating, that some women are relying on the oldest trick in the book: fake men. Specifically, a fake male co-founder.

When Witchsy founders Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer introduced the fictional “Keith Mann” to their business, they found the response to, and respect for, their business was like night and day.

This tactic might be effective in the short term, and has certainly drawn attention to the VC and startup culture of inequality, but from a big picture perspective it’s not the game changer we need.

Yes, it’s true that, based on the basic statistics, it’s easier to start a business if there’s some man, real or fictitious, on the founding team.

For instance, Ethan Mollick, a professor of management at Wharton, said that while 38 percent of new business are started by women only two percent to six percent of those businesses receive venture capital (VC) funds. In 2016, men had a 25 percent greater chance of having a business loan approved, and those loans were generally larger than those granted to women.

Anecdotes about the difficulties facing women who are seeking VC funding, like those related toEntrepreneur by Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of The Muse (which, by 2015, had sales numbers in the tens of millions, according to Minshew) permeate the media.

According to the article:

“While trying to raise capital for The Muse, Minshew repeatedly encountered closed doors, as numerous VC firms claimed they weren’t in the market to hear her pitch. When she pushed further, she received hateful responses — tones mirroring the likes of saying, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” Even when her pitch was heard, she felt most mistook her leadership and confidence as charm, rather than signs she could effectively grow a business. Eventually, Minshew did obtain funding, only after contacting more than 200 capital firms.” (Emphasis mine.)

Bloomberg did a study, in 2016, of the 890 U.S. startups that were founded from 2009-2015 and received at least $20 million in VC and other equity funding. The results?

“The vast majority of venture capital goes to companies founded by men. Just 7% of the 2,005 founders on our list are women. Companies founded by women also get less money—an average of $77 million compared with $100 million for male-led startups.”

So, clearly, while women have made great strides, we still don’t have equal access to the tools needed, particularly funds, to reach our full potential in the business world.

Does that mean we all need to make up fake male co-founders to succeed? No, it doesn’t. Because even if it’s easier, it’s not necessary — and the numbers on women’s efficacy in business don’t lie.

My first business, Bach Realty, which I founded in 1980, had an all-women sales team. Based on my prior work experience I made sure that the basics, like, getting paid on time, happened. So, they had my back and I had theirs in the face of a male-dominated culture. As in, people would call or come in and ask, “Where’s your husband?” Equally popular was, “Where’s your father?”

It was unfathomable, at the time, that there was no man involved. Yet, the brokerage was a financial success. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, purposefully. Much of what I was trying to do at the time was teach women how to be independent, how to make their own money, and not rely on someone else.

Fortunately, the numbers prove that women are, in fact, very good at making money. They don’t need men, real or fake, to be successful.

In March, 2017, CNBC released a story based on The 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, (commissioned by American Express Open). Women entrepreneurs, the report found, have been at the forefront of the economic recovery. Female-owned companies grew at a rate five times the national average over the last nine years. (Emphasis mine.)

Numbers don’t lie. Not only do businesses started by women outpace those started by men, businesses that have women in leadership positions also show higher profits than those that don’t.

A 2016 study of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries, by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY (the audit firm), demonstrated that an increase in the share of women in leadership positions from zero to 30% was associated with a 15% increase in profitability.

Armed with this information, women can prove that they deserve funding and respect. But there are still cultural barriers. Venture capitalists tend to be white men, and funding tends to flow most freely toward like demographics.

Fortunately, female entrepreneurs are less and less in need of dollars from male funders. The women who’ve already made it are stepping up. Female Founders Fund and BBG Ventures lead the way with stated missions of supporting female-led startups. More recently, there’s XFactor Ventures, whose investment team is made up of women who are, themselves, VC-funded entrepreneurs, and the Toronto-based SheEO (which expanded to the United States.) SheEO brings together 500 women who each put $1,100 toward the fund.

So, with the numbers on our side and a growing community of women-helping-women, why shouldn’t we be be free to be female founders? We may not be there yet, completely “free to be you and me” but that doesn’t mean we give up, turn back the clock and say, “my husband’s not available, can I help you?”

At the end of the day, the fake male co-founder is good for one thing: exposing sexism in business world. But if we hide behind male monikers, we blunt our power to demand the credibility and respect we deserve as we are. It’s an opportunity and responsibility we owe ourselves in 2018 more than ever.