Taking the Leap – Women-Owned Small Businesses on the Rise


Most working women have thought about it: What would it be like to work for yourself? To be the boss and run the show? So you have a great idea for a business, but navigating the process of launching a startup feels daunting. Don’t be deterred – women as owners of small businesses are on the rise.

Long gone are the days when owning a small business was a boys club. The 2007 Census’ survey of business owners reported the number of women-owned businesses at 7.8 million. Since 1997, the number of women-owned businesses has increased by almost 45 percent.

The success of women-owned businesses is not a new trend. Cisco, Liquid Paper and Build-A-Bear Workshop are just a few of the most famous success stories. Cisco co-founder Sandra Lerner wanted to find a way to send messages from one building to another while attending Stanford University, and she helped create the first multi-protocol router, which was the product that launched Cisco in 1984.

Build-A-Bear Workshop’s founder Maxine Clark grew frustrated when shopping for a gift … she wondered why she couldn’t just personalize a stuffed animal herself. Clark opened the first Build-A-Bear in 1997, and now there are more than 400 stores worldwide. Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper while she was working as an executive secretary and grew tired of using water-based tempera paint to correct her typos. By the time Graham retired in 1979, her company sold for $47.5 million.

The journey to starting a small business has many hurdles. Once you have your idea, your first step should be to research and write a business plan. This will help you learn a great deal about aspects such as overhead costs, opportunities for growth, and  your future client base. A business plan will help provide structure, assist in attracting potential investors, and help when applying for startup loans.

If the thought of writing a business plan feels daunting, there are local resources available to assist you. The local chamber of commerce in your area is a great place to start. In Shasta County, for example, the Redding Chamber of Commerce, like many chambers, assists potential business owners with information about applying for a business license, and offers classes on marketing and social media.

“Having a business plan gives a structure,” says Valarie Washburn, Redding Chamber of Commerce operations manager. “All businesses should have a business plan because it is definitely the road to success.” Washburn also acknowledges the need for constantly marketing a small business, and for networking. “We are here to promote. We encourage involvement … the more you get involved, the more you get to know other businesses. People like to do business with people they know, and we help members make that connection.”

In Butte County, the North Eastern Small Business Development Center at Butte College assists small businesses owners with learning about business plans, obtaining permits and business licenses, and marketing. Networking organizations can also be a great source of inspiration. In Siskiyou County, the Women in Business Network is a group dedicated to providing mentoring, support and networking. Often the advice of a mentor can help you avoid potential pitfalls and help you get to opening day successfully.

For women with families, the rigors of owning a small business are a unique challenge. Deciding whether the time is right for opening a business may not be easy, especially when day-to-day life includes helping with homework and calculating how to get kids to school and sports events. It is important to consider that like most days spent raising a family, it takes a village.

“You don’t have as much quality time with the kids as you would like, but you can make it work if you have a great partner to back you up,” says Judith Williams, owner of PWP Legal Secretarial in Oroville. After 24 years in business while raising four children, Williams knows what it’s like to work hard for success. Learning to make the business a priority while raising a family was a challenge, says Williams.

Though the transition to a new routine may take a little adjusting, families often quickly learn to evolve into a routine founded on knowing how important the business is to the family.

The women business owners profiled in the Mamapreneurs section of this North State Parent issue have many things in common – most importantly, a great idea and a shared market for their products. And while some small businesses grow to become multinational corporations, there are far more that have found great success in their communities on a smaller scale; owners who work hard every day to make their businesses thrive while also spending quality time with their families. That’s something to consider as you learn about the services they provide. Please consider supporting their enterprises. 

Heather Hierling
About Heather Hierling

Heather Hierling has a passion for informing and entertaining parents on relevant topics. Her teenage son Jacob constantly inspires her writing.

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