From greater autonomy to increased job satisfaction, entrepreneurship has many perks. At the same time, however, the uncertainty associated with running a small business can fill you with self-doubt. In fact, 60% of women put off starting a business due to imposter syndrome, and 35% of women entrepreneurs face gender bias when raising business funds.
These challenges can make it harder for some women to position themselves as an entrepreneur and connect with other like-minded women. To help you tackle this challenge, we interviewed three small business women leaders who excel at building their personal brands while growing and cultivating their network. Here, Erin Gallagher, founding partner of Have Her Back Consulting, Sylvia Kwan, chief investment officer at Ellevest, and Benish Shah, chief growth officer at Loop & Tie explain how to overcome self-doubt and grow your network.
Overcome Imposter Syndrome
With so many channels and platforms to choose from, building your personal brand online can be both scary and overwhelming.
And when it comes to women leaders specifically, Erin Gallagher says they’ve been sold a narrative that “self promotion is distasteful and egomaniacal.”
Moreover, the accomplishments of women leaders aren’t always viewed equally.
“Where a woman sharing her credentials, experience and expertise may be viewed as boastful and self-indulgent, a man stating the same accolades is considered brilliant and self-confident. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, from those who exhibit humility to hubris,” Gallagher adds.
Within your company, make sure people know about the projects you’re working on.Sylvia Kwan, chief investment officer, Ellevest
Fortunately, women leaders have particular strengths that are being recognized more and more as key leadership qualities, particularly during challenging times, explains Sylvia Kwan.
“Two of these qualities are empathy and resiliency. Empathy for our colleagues, staff members, and families, but most importantly, empathy for ourselves. It’s especially important now to show yourself the same empathy you show others.”
Resilience is also a key component to success for women in small business. It can help you overcome imposter syndrome, which is when you fear you’re not smart, skilled, or worthy enough to uphold your role (and that you might be outed as a fraud).
“It’s easy and natural to feel upended all the time; I think that’s where women can really shine. Leaders that can recover very quickly from setbacks and unexpected challenges will be very successful in the coming years,” Kwan adds.
Make yourself visible
Once you are empowered to overcome fear and self-doubt, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Kwan suggests you start on a small scale by speaking to the people you work with.
“Within your company, make sure people know about the projects you’re working on. And if you have time, seek out high-visibility stretch assignments, start an initiative, find opportunities to speak (even if it’s via Zoom) at company meetings.”
Showing up in your organization with a zest for problem-solving and trailblazing makes you more memorable — a key aspect to effective personal brand building. You can also use your voice in the greater online space. For example, you might author a blog post on LinkedIn or speak on a panel alongside other leaders in your niche.
“Even outside of your company, see if there are industry groups you can join. Network with other members, participate in webinars, volunteer to write an article or newsletter,” volunteers Kwan.
If entrepreneurship and leadership are something you’re interested in, start to make friends with women who are in those roles already.Benish Shah, chief growth officer, Loop & Tie
No matter how you decide to contribute, make sure it’s an authentic engagement that represents your personal values. Gallagher offers, “You must be passionate about the topic or theme and it must be authentic to your business and yourself. Anything less will come off as forced or disconnected.”
Entrepreneurs can also turn their passion and point of view into a platform for promotion by conducting their own research. Last year, Gallagher’s culture consultancy conducted multiple studies on topics like #MeToo and employee expectations during the pandemic, which were cited in major publications.
Lastly, consider joining organizations that align with your company’s values. “We are members of PwC’s CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the Female Founder Collective, a network of female owned and led businesses working to positively impact our communities, both socially and economically,” said Gallagher.
Create an entrepreneurial community
The internet provides a vast network of entrepreneurs to connect with. It’s especially important to take advantage of this opportunity now when the pandemic makes it harder to meet and converse with folks face-to-face. Locating these individuals now, rather than later, is a crucial step in establishing a strong foundation of community members, says Benish Shah.
“If entrepreneurship and leadership are something you’re interested in, start to make friends with women who are in those roles already.”
Don’t just send a mass email out to 50 people, either. Instead, take a genuine interest in your idols and aim to make friends with them on a personal level. You’ll never know when and how those community members can help you along your journey.
Collaborate with like-minded organizations working to tackle equity for all.Erin Gallagher, founding partner, Have Her Back Consulting
“That [community] will become so important when you want to make a career move because your friends are invested in you, they know you as a person, they know what your skill sets are,” Shah adds.
Social media is a great way to connect with potential community members who share your values.
“We heavily rely on LinkedIn to connect with our current networks, build relationships with our clients’ organizations, outreach to prospects, and collaborate with like-minded organizations working to tackle equity for all, differently and authentically,” Gallagher said.
Twitter is another great network to access someone’s personal opinions in a close-up way that mimics real life, remarks Shah. “You get to see what people are interested in, so if you start to engage with them there, it’s just like running into them at a coffee shop.”
At Salesforce, we are committed to advancing gender equality in the workplace and in society. Click here to view the recap of our third-annual gender equality summit, Trailblazing Women, where we heard from inspiring authors, business leaders, and activists. If you’re interested in a career at Salesforce, visit our careers page.
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