Did you know that women entrepreneurs represent the fastest-growing segment of business owners in most countries of the developed world, including the U.S.? In fact, according to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Report, 63 of the 74 featured economies have experienced a 10% increase in overall female total entrepreneurial activity. Women control over $20 trillion in annual consumer spending across the world, and that figure is expected to rise by another $10 trillion in the coming years.
Yet in spite of this substantial worldwide growth, women do not get the necessary recognition they deserve. Below, I showcase three women entrepreneurs who went from zero to hero and in the process, made a name for themselves in the male-dominated world of business. Their stories highlight how woman-powered leadership can lead to highly innovative solutions that benefit everyone in the company, as well as their customers.
Read how they are doing things for others, leveraging their ideas and creating big solutions to serious problems.
Margaret Skinner: President, West Central Pelleting, Wilkie, Canada
In the 1990s, Margaret Skinner and her husband were running a grain farm outside of Wilkie, Saskatchewan, Canada, just as her parents had done. Yet, the lifestyle they enjoyed was slowly but surely slipping away. Fellow farmers were struggling, the local hospital closed down, and more and more people were leaving the area in search of better prospects.
Then, Margaret had the idea to build a community-owned feed mill that would turn grain leftovers into customized plant-based pellets for livestock. At the time, local farmers were paying to send these leftovers to a different mill. Before long, many of the local farmers got behind the idea, bought shares and West Central Pelleting was born.
Even though Margaret had zero business experience, her passion and instincts enabled her to make the organization thrive. Since its founding, the original shares have doubled in value and a second mill has opened, offering employment to even more residents. "In four years, we went from having that depression and sadness to really having a very buoyant and very proud community," she said in a recent interview.
Having started at the mill as a volunteer, Margaret never paid herself a large salary, even after she became president, opting instead for just $25 an hour. “It’s the company earnings and the community I care about. The company is like a fourth child,” said Margaret, mother of three.
Pamela Slim: President, Main Street Learning Lab, Mesa, Arizona
Pamela Slim is a community leader, author, business consultant and former corporate director of training and development at Barclays Global Investors. The first decade of her career focused on creating and delivering various training programs for large corporations such as Cisco Systems, HP and 3Com.
The knowledge she obtained during her early years in corporate environments has helped her build a thriving business coaching practice, advising thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses since 2005. She has also partnered with Susan Cain, building and launching the Quiet Revolution and the Quiet Leadership Institute.
Margaret's books include "Escape from Cubicle Nation" (named Best Small Business and Entrepreneur book of 2009 by 800 CEO Read) and "Body of Work." In 2016, she launched the Main Street Learning Lab in Mesa, AZ, a grassroots, community-based think tank for small businesses, especially minority entrepreneurs.
But what I find so exciting about the work Pamela is doing is how it is grounded in her research among small business owners. She wanted to know what they needed to succeed. So, she asked them.
She surveyed 2000 small business owners, and her findings led to a very innovative incubator where experiments are conducted to learn what will work best for which types of these business people. What are the best ways to find new customers? What does it really take to scale a business for growth? How do you fund and operationalize for growth? In a powerful way, Margaret has taken a very cool approach to helping others take big ideas and turn them into successful organizations.
Trish Ronan: Co-Owner, ENJO, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada
While pregnant with her third child, Trish Ronan and her husband moved from Canada to Australia in 2001. After setting up a chiropractic practice, Trish was introduced to ENJO, a line of green cleaning products made from a fiber that attracts and holds dirt and bacteria without using toxic chemicals. A friend told her about ENJO when she was complaining about a stubborn stain on a wall that wouldn't come off. When the product worked, Trish was hooked.
Soon, Trish's middle son was diagnosed with profound hearing loss, and the family moved back to Canada. There, she partnered up with her sister and brother-in-law, who were living in the UK. While her husband was still in Australia for the following two years, supporting the family and their new business, Trish, her sister and her brother-in-law managed to win the Canadian ENJO distribution contract.
Like any other startup, Trish's business faced many challenges and struggles. Learning all the skills needed to run a viable company was a vital part of the process, though a time-consuming one. Nevertheless, in 2006, things picked up when Trish began sharing ENJO everywhere and anywhere. The difference? She put the focus on the consumer, instead of the product, and the strategy paid off.
Starting one demonstration at a time, Trish and her sister simply followed the script from direct sales books, but these proved to be ineffective. “I decided to just be me and share my passion for the product without worrying about sales. Sales went up, and people started asking to be consultants,” she said. All the sacrifices were well worth it when ENJO Canada was named Profit Magazine's 50th fastest-growing company in Canada in 2012.
What can these women entrepreneurs' lessons teach you?
As I often say, we buy on emotion and rationalize with logic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at the data and understand the analytics. As these three women's stories show us, big ideas and major opportunities are all around us if only we open our eyes, and our hearts, to see them, while at the same time, educate ourselves about what's working and what's not.
Ready to become an amateur anthropologist?
As lifelong entrepreneurs ourselves, our career advice for women CEOs and in fact, all women in leadership roles, is to be a little anthropological when you are trying to find your own way in your job or business. Step out and see what is really happening. Do some observational research. Experience your product or service from your customer's point of view, or your employees'. You'll be amazed at what you discover, and the innovative ideas that come to you for solving unmet needs, when you start doing some serious observing.
Remember, each of these women saw an opportunity and acted on it. It wasn’t all bundled together and waiting for them. The pieces were there. But they had to be put together into a puzzle that turned lemons into lemonade—with a lot of hard work and a team who were supportive and willing to try and fail together.
Their stories are perfect to share with others who might want to find their own way forward with a new idea that could turn into a big success story. Don’t run from the possibilities. Embrace them and see where they take you. And let us know how it turns out!
Valuable resources to get you started
- Anthropology toolkit
- My book: "On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights"
- The Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship
- Our Ebook Primer for Entrepreneurs
- Podcast: Andy Simon—Confessions of a Successful Entrepreneur
- Podcast: Andi Simon—Women Entrepreneurs Changing Corporate Cultures
- Podcast: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Think Bigger, Build Sustainable Businesses, and Change the World
Ready to launch your big idea? Give us a call.
At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping entrepreneurs develop a business strategy, find startup capital, launch their venture, capture customers and grow market share. Perhaps we can help you with yours? We look forward to hearing from you. After all, you never know where a conversation could take you.
From Observation to Innovation,
Don't miss an episode of my On The Brink podcast!