Nearly 10 million U.S. businesses are owned by women but women historically have access to less capital than men. Typically, a woman-owned business will start off with $75,000 in revenue versus $135,000 for a business owned by a man, and only 3% of venture capital goes to women.
Yet, women-owned firms have an economic impact of $3 trillion, which translates into the creation and/or maintenance of 23 million jobs (16% of all U.S. jobs), according to the National Women’s Business Council.
Fortunately, there are many free resources available to women entrepreneurs from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) to help them get started – from writing a business plan, to finding funding or loans, to deciding whether to be an LLC or an S-Corporation.
“There's a lot of dubious and conflicting information available to small business owners and startups online, and being able to tap into legitimate information and resources quickly can make your launch process that much easier, faster and less expensive,” says Beth Lawton, owner of Canoe Media Services in Alexandria, Va.
Here is a list of the most useful women-owned business resources offered by SBA, NWBC and other federal agencies.
Before you get started
SBA offers a list of 20 questions to explore before you even start planning your business. Key questions include: What differentiates my business idea and the products or services I will provide from others in the market? How long will it take before my products or services are available? Who is my competition and how will I price my product or service compared to my competition?
Understand the market
You can’t run a successful business if you don’t understand the market, but if you’re starting a new business, you probably don’t have the resources to invest in market research. Fortunately, the U.S. government provides a wealth of data to help you learn about businesses, industries and economic conditions. You can find the links to the latest economic indicators (consumer price index, employment cost index and others) on the SBA website, as well as links to earnings and costs, and employment statistics.
Find a mentor
If you’re looking for a mentor to help you make key business decisions or provide advice, SBA has several suggestions, including connecting with SCORE, which links small business owners nationwide with a network of business executives, leaders and volunteers who will meet with you in person or provide online support. Your local Women’s Business Center might also provide support.
“Almost every county and town has a Women’s Business Center and a lot of business owners don't know about them,” Lawton says. “They offer free resources to businesses, including business planning, marketing guidance and other free advice, plus referrals to lawyers, accountants and other professionals.”
Write a business plan
SBA outlines everything your business plan needs to cover, including how to make your plan stand out, how to ask for funding and how to project financials. Remember, your business plan is a living document that projects three-to-five years into the future and outlines how you intend to grow your company.
Register your business
If you plan to ask for government funding, registering your business and its name is an important step. Your state might also offer funding, so don’t forget to register your business with state agencies, too.
Apply for licenses and permits
Most businesses need some form of license or permit to operate legally. However, the requirements vary from business to business, and state to state. SBA makes it easy to find out what the requirements are for your business and in your state.
Finance your business
Most business owners seek funding, loans or venture capital. SBA provides resources on how to find women-owned business grants and funding, including an app that matches your business with possible government resources to access financing for your business.
Knowing how much to pay in state and federal taxes your first year in business can be tricky. SBA offers resources on how to calculate your taxes and obtain a federal business tax ID.
Grow your business
NWBC offers a searchable database of nearly 200 growth-oriented programs to help women grow and scale their businesses.
Meet other women entrepreneurs
Check the NWBC website for an event in your city or attend a virtual meeting or webinar.
SBA and NWBC offer a wealth of resources for women entrepreneurs, whether you are just starting your business or trying to grow and scale your business.