The Next Generation of Women Entrepreneurs

Heather Albright and Matt De Luca Commentary

The Next Generation of Women Entrepreneurs
La’Twana Scott, owner of Sweet Mama T’s restaurant in El Dorado, was a 911 dispatcher in town before “stepping out on faith” to open her own business. (Kerry Prichard)

Arkansas Business recently profiled women-owned businesses across Arkansas, including La’Twana Scott’s Sweet Mama T’s restaurant in El Dorado. After years of cooking for friends and community organizations, and developing confidence in her business skills, Scott opened her own restaurant in January. On its third day of operation, the restaurant had a line out the door and traffic hasn’t slowed down since.

Women-owned companies, like Sweet Mama T’s, are making a bigger impact on their communities than ever before. Over the past 20 years, U.S.-based women-owned businesses have grown by more than 114 percent, and the number of firms owned by women of color has increased by 467 percent. Women own an estimated 11.6 million businesses, employ nearly 9 million people and contribute $1.7 trillion in revenue to the U.S. economy.

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The path is being paved for the next generation of female CEOs, but the decision to start your own company can still be difficult. Typical challenges include securing loans before becoming an established company, attracting and retaining talented employees and finding good financial and legal guidance.

A new U.S. Trust white paper, “Women’s Entrepreneurial Journeys: Profiles of Leadership in an Era of New Opportunities,” chronicles the stories of eight successful women business owners and shares advice and lessons learned, including:

Value your education and experience. The women entrepreneurs in the white paper value their education and work experience. While a degree may provide the foundation for understanding business, many business owners attest that working for someone else’s company gave them valuable experience — such as in the areas of human resources, sales, marketing and finance — that they went on to apply to their own business.

Engage qualified counsel. Women executives also emphasized the value of engaging professional advisers — for example, accountants, lawyers, bankers and information technology professionals. Seek advisers with related expertise during the different business life cycles.

Focus on people. While other “p” words such as passion, purpose, process and profit are essential to running a business, a commitment to people was a common thread for the successful leaders interviewed by U.S. Trust. Each woman believed investing in company culture and employee training would best serve company growth and the bottom line. They extended this philosophy beyond internal relations and also focused on vendor, investor and customer relationships. Asking vendors and customers for feedback helped the owners continue to evolve their companies.

Plan for the future. As a business owner it is even more important for you to have a will, health care proxy and financial power of attorney so your business can continue to operate if something happens to you. Create a succession plan and estate plan, and ensure you have adequate life insurance to cover estate taxes in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, it’s smart to have a business “playbook” to pass on to your emergency successor. This should detail financial contacts, vendor relationships and legal documents, among other essentials.

Give back. Leading women entrepreneurs recognize the importance of giving back. Many contribute to philanthropies, volunteer in the community or mentor younger business owners. These actions may inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

With the proper planning and support, the dream of owning your own business, like Scott’s, can become a reality. The next generation of women entrepreneurs in Arkansas, as the generation before it, will continue to add immense value to the economy through job creation, innovative product offerings and philanthropic service. 

Heather Albright is a vice president and senior relationship manager in Global Commercial Banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Little Rock.

Matt De Luca is a senior vice president at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management in Little Rock.