Build Up CSS & Script
Build Up: Breadcrumb
Learning from women-owned small businesses: the most important sector of our economy

By: John Caplan, President of North America and Europe at, for Forbes

Eight years ago, Necia Boston founded her own business, B.A.A.B.S. Beauty, a Greenville, North Carolina-based beauty bar offering spa services and a full line of hypoallergenic and cruelty-free cosmetics. Necia is a pro: a determined, straight-talking, clear thinking, and effective leader. She comes from a family of women and men business builders, so striking out on her own after college felt natural: "I was lucky to have family members, women in business, so there was no question of can I or should I. It was simply a matter of how I can get it done."

Necia is not alone. According to the 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned businesses is growing two times the rate of all businesses nationwide, now representing 42 percent of all businesses.

What's more, women of color are starting businesses at a remarkable 4.5 times the rate of all businesses. While the number of women-owned businesses grew 21 percent from 2014 to 2019, firms owned by women of color grew an astounding 43 percent and Black women-owned firms grew even faster at 50 percent. As of 2019, women of color account for 50 percent of all women-owned businesses, and make a significant economic impact: an estimated 6.4 million women of color-owned businesses employ nearly 2.4 million people and generate US $422.5 billion in revenue.

At the same time, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal on women-owned businesses. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), patterns across gender, race, and immigration status reveal that Black business owners have experienced the largest losses, eliminating 41 percent of Black-owned businesses. Female-owned businesses were also disproportionately hit, closing down a quarter of their businesses.

It is within this context that I have been interested to go beyond the statistics and speak to women like Necia who are on the front lines of the entrepreneurial journey. I want to better understand how gender influences entrepreneurship and learn more about the advice that women owners in particular have to share as they build and flourish.

As a Black woman, Necia described the challenges of under-the-surface racism and sexism that she encounters in business. There are laws in place that prevent outright abuse, but some of the behavior she's experienced from vendors, bankers, landlords, and even commercial neighbors, have all had the hallmarks of insidious and offensive racism and sexism.

For example, when the pandemic hit and the Small Business Administration started distributing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, funds were being directed at the discretion of the banker and Necia says that she "never got a call, never." Contractors, meanwhile, have tried to overcharge her for unnecessary work because they assume her to be less knowledgeable. And when she's been buying supplies with a male friend, salespeople often assume he is her boss.

When I asked Necia for her top tips for women starting a business, she advised:

  1. Know more: always be the best-informed person in the room.
  2. Focus: an expert can create value where a generalist cannot.
  3. Enlist mentors: asking for advice can help you grow your business exponentially.

Shirley Plummer, the founder of Inpro Workspaces, a Langhorne, Pennsylvania-based office furniture manufacturing business, has experienced similar issues, and has her own tips. "For a woman starting a business, WBENC (the Women's Business Enterprise National Council) is a must," she advises. "They connect you face-to-face with the diversity procurement people at every Fortune 500 company." She continues: "The smartest thing to do before reaching out to a company is to do your research. Find out their goals, and what's important to them. Don't just start off and say who you are and what you're about. Gear your sales pitch to their interests."

Shirley also emphasizes being willing to approach situations creatively: "I was the only woman at every subcontractor meeting in my industry. I had to be more persistent, make more calls, and get in front of people a lot more. Eventually, we started doing work in the Caribbean because my installers were Spanish speaking, and that helped immensely with developing a client base."

At the end of my recent conversation with Necia, she shared something that I found particularly powerful. When I asked her who her professional heroes are, she thought for a moment before naming Pamela Booker of Koils by Nature and Tara Darnley of Darlyng' Co. — women who started small at home and are now national brands with distribution in Target, CVS, and other national chains.

The challenges facing women small business owners are real, as biases still exist in the workplace and society. Each person has the responsibility to work through our conscious and unconscious biases, and we can each make an impact by supporting women- and other minority-owned businesses who make up such an important sector of our economy, but are being disproportionately affected by the health and economic crisis.

If you're an entrepreneur trying to navigate today's challenges, seek out resources, such as organizations like WBENC, Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and WEConnect International, mentors that will advise and support you from your local business community or through SCORE, or from companies like where we offer daily educational and inspirational articles, fireside chats and livestream events through B2B Today — a major awareness and education initiative for U.S. small-and-medium-businesses. Women business owners like Necia and Shirley have shown us that grit and perseverance will always win.

While COVID-19 accelerated the growth of ecommerce, many businesses are left asking how to get started with this increasingly important channel. Watch our fireside chat with Tanner Rankin, Author, Speaker, and Founder of The Source Approach. Tanner's specialty is helping businesses quickly get up and running with ecommerce and leveraging it as a key sales and marketing channel. View our previous fireside chats here.

This week's #B2BTuesday Tip:

Find a mentor to coach you, introduce you to people, and bounce ideas off of.

Build Up: #B2BTuesday
Latest #B2BTuesday articles