7 business lessons from 7 female entrepreneurs

Small Business Guides

7 min read

Women all over the world are becoming entrepreneurs and building successful businesses. What lessons can they teach the rest of us? Here, seven famous female entrepreneurs share their tips for success.

Female entrepreneurs – a new revolution

Women are turning to entrepreneurship because it offers them the freedom to live the way they want to. It lets them:

  • escape the glass ceiling.
  • align their work lives with their personal values.
  • be at home with their children yet still earn money.
  • fulfil their potential.

According to Forbes, women will create over half of all businesses by 2018. So there's never been a better time to become a female entrepreneur.

Learn from the winners

There may still be sexism and gender politics in some workplaces. But when you start your own business, nobody will tell you what you can or can't do. You're free to forge your own path.

That can be liberating, but also daunting. Every new entrepreneur has challenges to overcome. It's great to learn from experience – but it's even better to learn from other people's experiences. So women are increasingly turning to other women for advice on how to run their businesses.

Here are seven business lessons from seven successful female entrepreneurs. All of them have built empires worth hundreds of millions of US dollars, and some of them over a billion.

Keep their advice in mind as you build your own business – whatever your gender. Then you'll have every chance of following in their footsteps.

1. "Don't be afraid to fail big"

Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx and is the youngest female billionaire. According to Blakely, failure is simply the result of not trying hard enough. That might sound like a harsh lesson, but dedication and persistence are both vital when building a business.

Try to keep stretching yourself and moving outside your comfort zone. Push yourself everyday to try something new. Learn how to be comfortable when things don't turn out the way you had planned – and turn it to your advantage.

As the old saying goes, “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss you'll land among the stars.”

2. "Block out negativity"

Tory Burch is CEO and founder of lifestyle brand Tory Burch. She says that on the bumpy road to success you will meet plenty of naysayers. There are various reasons for such negativity:

  • Ignorance – people who don't understand business might think it's impossible to become an entrepreneur.
  • Jealousy – some people don't like others to succeed.
  • Fear – if you do succeed, the naysayers will have to examine their own life choices. They may not like what they find.
  • Apathy – some people don't understand that they can change their own lives.

People like this will have a negative effect on you. If you want to take a positive approach to business, you can't afford to be surrounded by such people.

So follow Tory Burch's lead. She learned from her parents to treat negativity as 'noise'. She surrounded herself with people who would lift her higher – and she reaped the rewards.

3. "Your story is your biggest sales pitch"

Jessica Alba is CEO of The Honest Company. She launched this business because she found it hard to find genuinely healthy products for her baby.

That's something that every new parent can relate to. So Alba's message resonated with millions of people. That helped turn her company into a billion-dollar business.

This type of approach is a great one to emulate. Your customers are real people with real lives – and real concerns. Try to turn your own experiences to your advantage. Think what you've been through in life. Think about your story.

A good narrative is a great way to make sure your company is noticed and remembered. We all love good stories, and successful entrepreneurs know it.

4. "Sleep your way to the top"

This advice from Arianna Huffington, CEO of the Huffington Post isn't as shocking as it might first appear.

Sleep is vital to success in life. If you skimp on sleep you risk causing serious harm to yourself. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people are:

  • worse at decision-making.
  • more likely to suffer from illnesses.
  • less likely to be physically fit.
  • at increased risk of mental health issues.
  • unlikely to live as long as those who get enough sleep.

Sleep will have a big impact on your chances of success as an entrepreneur. With so many demands on you as a business owner, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. But in order to thrive you have to put your needs, and those of your family, first. So get some rest!

Your customers are real people with real lives – and real concerns. Try to turn your own experiences to your advantage.

Your customers are real people with real lives – and real concerns. Try to turn your own experiences to your advantage.

5. “Stay engaged and keep informed”

Diane von Furstenberg, founder of Dvf, was voted the most influential person in fashion by Forbes. Furstenberg says she has remained successful because she stays connected to her community. She is always eager to listen to what they want and need.

A 'community' can mean different things to different people. It might be a local region or a far-flung group of customers with a common interest. But all successful businesses emerge from communities.

Businesses run into problems when they turn their backs on their communities. Never forget that your business exists to fulfil a need – and that need comes from people.

Ignoring your community means ignoring the people who helped you succeed. It also means losing close contact with your customers. When that happens you can become disconnected from your market, which is bad for any business.

As Diane von Furstenberg is aware, it's one thing to become successful – it's quite another to remain successful. Stay engaged with your community and they'll help you stay at the top.

6. “Money looks better in the bank than on your feet”

Sophie Amoruso grew her company, Nasty Gal, to US$350 million without taking on any debt.

This isn't always an option for entrepreneurs. There are some situations where the need for funding is unavoidable. See our guide about how to raise money for your business for more information. But there are advantages to building your business 'organically':

  • you won't have to give away any of the equity in your business.
  • you won't be paying interest on a loan.
  • you won't have to answer to someone who's more interested in short-term financial return than long-term growth.
  • you will learn to invest wisely in the growth of your business – because it'syour money.

Try to find out if it's possible to grow your business organically. Hire a good accountant and use accounting software to make financial forecasts. Consider different scenarios and growth rates, and see what's likely to work best for you.

Amoruso says that in order to be successful you have to mind your money, keep track of your expenses and live within your means. That's good advice for life in general, not just for running your own business.

7. “Don't be afraid to speak up”

Many people think of Tyra Banks as 'just a pretty model'. She's more than that – she's a Harvard Business school graduate and successful venture capitalist.

Banks often reflects on business meetings where she wasn't taken seriously, because of her modelling career. Instead of staying quiet and accepting this treatment, she shared her opinions and business ideas at every opportunity.

Her active involvement led to the creation of the popular TV show, America's Next Top Model. Banks is the executive producer. She also has her own investment firm that has backed successful ventures.

Banks' lesson is an important one. If people make judgements based on your appearance, challenge them. You won't succeed by accepting other people's preconceptions about you.

Where to get more support

These seven lessons are just the start. As more and more women become successful entrepreneurs, it gets easier for others to join in.

It helps to have a good support network. Look for local meetup events, social media groups and online programs. And don't forget to make the most of contacts within your own communities.

Gender is increasingly irrelevant when it comes to building your own business. So if you're ready to become a successful entrepreneur, now is the perfect time to start.