Tech key to resounding success of women-run firms in Canada

Women-run businesses are multiplying by leaps and bounds in Canada and, according to a CIBC report, the number of such firms should reach one million this year.

The report – released in 2004 – made this forecast based on the explosive growth of such businesses in the preceding 15 years – when the number of self-employed women rose 50 per cent.

Women sole proprietors, it noted, are  the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian small business landscape

From all accounts their firms appear to be doing well. In Oct 2008, a report on the fastest-growing Canadian and U.S. women-owned firms (published by Entrepreneur magazine, in partnership with the Women Presidents’ Organization) showed the Top 50 such companies generated sales revenue of $3.6 billion.

Experts say technology is fuelling the growth and success of women-run firms.

With technology “you can very quickly set up an operation and add people,” noted Nell Merlino, president and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower women entrepreneurs.

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And information technology, she said, plays a crucial role in helping women kick-start businesses.

IT isn’t as complex and cumbersome as it used to be historically, noted Merlino, who is author of Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way in Life, in Love, and at Work.

Other industry insiders echo this view.

For starters, the self-employed benefit from the flexibility that IT offers, noted Tulay Guneysel, president of Toronto-based business consultancy TG Financial Services.

Thanks to technology, “nowadays doing your business at home and at different locations is easier.”

Guneysel own experience is proof of this.

She started her one-woman venture three years ago, working out of her home.

The Toronto-based entrepreneur recalls how she launched the business with just one computer and Internet access.

Her first step was to create a Web site and blog, advertise her offerings, and connect with other professionals through social channels.

The Web, Guneysel said, proved invaluable in helping her showcase her expertise and reach out to the community and potential clients.

While tech tools have helped greatly, expanding vision and opportunities are the main drivers of the dramatic growth of women-run businesses, said Merlino of Count Me In.

“They actually see a bigger business and bigger opportunity because they are watching other women do it and now they have some sort of a roadmap.”

There’s no one typical business to which women tend to be attracted, said Merlino.

The typical female entrepreneur, she said, is around 38 to 43 years with children, and an appetite to meet all of her life’s obligations including business and family.

And starting your own business can also provide a measure of security, especially in these tough times, other observers noted.

It’s alluring because it shields one, to some extent, from the uncertainty and politics of the corporate world, said Yasmin Ranade, president of Wired Woman’s Toronto chapter, a networking group for professional women. “There is also the sense of being totally reliant on one’s own ability.”

Doing contract work for those corporations affords the perfect opportunity for a woman to be the leader of her own show, Ranade said.

She also attributes the tremendous growth in female-run businesses to the innate good sense of cost management, eagerness and enthusiasm women generally possess.

And they’re also nimble and efficient, she noted. “It won’t take a month of meetings to decide what do get done.”

Ranade recently started a mentorship program at Wired Woman, in which professional women from organizations such as Loblaw Companies and Direct Energy offer advice on how to navigate the Canadian business landscape.

Coping with the economic downturn too becomes much easier with professional networking, said Ranade. “Women have to be within the network. Not just the digital network, but the real people network.”

In a down economy, Merlino advises listening intently to the needs of the market and then tailoring the business to maintain existing customers as well as sourcing new ones.

She’s witnessed some women-run businesses very quickly reinventing themselves by applying products and services differently or targeting new markets.

It was a strategy Guneysel adopted when at the height of the economic downturn she put considerable efforts into advertising her business.

She used creative and affordable strategies, such as creating her own seminars that both educated the audience and showcased her expertise.

Connecting with and volunteering at industry associations also proved a worthwhile route for Guneysel. “There are a variety of options … people get to know you and see for themselves how you can meet their needs.”

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