What's one trait that women entrepreneurs who build profitable, lasting businesses have in common?
Most of the female entrepreneurs I know started their own businesses because they wanted something they couldn't find in a traditional job.
For some, it was flexibility — to travel, spend more time with their families, work from home, or pursue interests outside of work.
For others, it was control. They wanted to be their own boss and make their own rules.
And for another group, it was the desire to build something bigger than themselves, start a movement, or have a lasting impact on their community or the world.
In the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey, life is grand. We're meeting new people, creating new offers, selling our products and services, and growth comes quickly. The first year or two is exciting, with a lot of wins.
But what I see all too often is that, as the business matures and needs employees, equipment, a physical location or other investments that build a strong foundation for further growth, some female entrepreneurs hesitate.
We're not sure we're capable or ready. We worry about whether we can manage other people. We're scared to bite off more than we're absolutely certain we can chew. We feel like no one else is trustworthy to help us grow our business.
We don't take the risks necessary to build a strong foundation for a profitable and long-lasting business.
And that can lead to a business that fizzles and dies after an unexpected slow quarter or the loss of a key customer, rather than one that can weather these storms and actually give us the long-term freedom, control, or impact that we wanted when we started.
So what's different about the women who make these investments and build a business that's bigger than what they can accomplish on their own?
On a mission
I have seen that the women who push past the fear and worry, who take the risks to build a sustainable business, have one thing in common: They are women with a mission.
Courtney Jones, founder of Knoxville-based MomSource Network, a growing startup company in its fourth year, said that making a difference in closing the gender pay gap was a big motivator for her from the beginning.
"I'm very comfortable with risk, but I also think it has a lot to do with confidence in our mission. Once we started making some money, that gave us the confidence to take calculated risks with higher potential rewards," Jones said. "We've been willing to try almost anything as long as it was in line with our mission and it was an opportunity to bring in revenue."
I've seen this play out in my own entrepreneurial journey. If you had told me five years ago that I would be building my own law firm, I would have laughed in your face. I've never lacked for ambition, but until very recently, I considered myself a "worker bee," and was very risk-averse.
I quit my last law firm job only when the hours and travel it required became unsustainable for my young family (flexibility and control were my motivating factors). It was only in the last year or so that I realized that I could build a business that could have a bigger impact than just offering my own services.
When I found my own mission, I became unbelievably excited, not scared, by the prospect of hiring employees and making other critical investments that seemed risky at first.
Amanda Varnell, who owns Dish T'Pass catering company and the 300 West event venue in Chattanooga, said, "This business really is a passion of mine, not about food itself, but about the magic that happens around food, and creating opportunities for people to gather around food."
For Varnell, keeping that passion at the forefront "is what makes the hard days bearable and the good days wonderful."
Varnell has also gotten "comfortable with the unknown," and has been willing to pivot in her business — "when one model isn't working, you find something new, because you really believe in what you're doing."
Stefanie Crowe, a partner in Chattanooga's venture capital fund The Jump Fund, which invests in women-led companies, said female business founders who are building high-growth companies "are exceptional 'people people', they build incredible loyalty, and they're very respectful of their teams. The teammates don't feel like they're working for the man, they are invested in the mission and the vision. The leader wants to train people to build a legacy behind them — they take them under their wing to really make a difference."
She also said it is critical for entrepreneurs "to find a tribe and network on the same frequency and journey. We're able to help each other and move each other forward, encouraging each other to embrace taking risks and making change."
If you're a woman considering starting your own business, I encourage you to look beyond the flexibility and control that the entrepreneurial path can provide. If you can tap into a passion behind your work, you might be more likely to take risks that feel exhilarating, not terrifying, and allow you to accomplish much bigger dreams.
Autumn Witt Boyd is a Chattanooga copyright and trademark lawyer who is passionate about helping entrepreneurs grow sustainable businesses that allow them to build the life of their dreams. She hosts the Legal Road Map® podcast and loves working with creative business owners.