Cayman is not short on female entrepreneurs and business women, with some of the top jobs in the land in both the public and private sectors held by women. Those women running or thinking about running small businesses recently got a boost hearing from one of America’s most successful female entrepreneurs, in a special conference produced by the Department of Commerce and Investment.
Rhonda Abrams is an American author, entrepreneur and nationally-syndicated columnist and was the keynote speaker at the DCI’s fifth annual Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs conference, held each year during Honouring Women’s Month.
In particular, the conference aims to encourage women to branch out and become entrepreneurs as well as help them network with each other at this one-of-a-kind event.
Abrams was a particularly good choice of speaker for this year’s event, having had three successful companies and having spent more than 15 years advising, mentoring and consulting entrepreneurs and small business owners across the US. To appreciate the scale of the types of business that Abrams has targeted in her books, she says that there are around 25 million businesses in the United States but only 100,000 have over 100 employees.
“The world runs on small businesses,” she confirms.
Her role is president and chief entrepreneur of The Planning Shop, a publishing company creating content for small businesses.
She also writes a weekly newspaper column, ‘Small Business Strategies’, reaching more than 20 million readers through 130 newspapers and various online publications. She is also the author of more than a dozen books on small business and entrepreneurship.
Abrams says there are three major components to women running a successful business and having a vision is at number one.
“I advise women that they have to have a vision that is often bigger than they would normally envision for themselves,” she advises. “I challenge them to think bigger.”
She says that it is important for women to envisage where they want to be in their careers and to set goals that will get them there.
Sometimes women have the vision but lack the ability to carry it through, because of a lack of confidence, the second issue that women need to overcome in order to be successful, she says.
Having conducted considerable research on the subject, Abrams says that when discussing the issue with a colleague at an employment agency they confirmed that a trend for men was to apply for a job when they fulfilled only one out of 10 requirements; whereas women would not apply for a job if they lacked just one out of the 10 requirements.
“For some reason women tend to hold back when it comes to business. Perhaps we feel it’s not ladylike, we should not be bragging or pushing ourselves to far forward, but we have to think more widely and certainly globally,” she confirms.
Studies have also found that women are far less likely to hire employees such as an assistant, believing that they have to do everything themselves.
“It’s hard for many women to take that first step but it often holds them back if they don’t,” she confirms.
Abrams says that while it is great to have a vision and the confidence to carry it out, it is also essential to have a serious plan that will get the entrepreneur where she wants to go, the third component to be addressed.
“A business plan is essential, but it isn’t static and should be assessed every year. We have done so at our business and it has turned out to be a crucial life-saver for us,” she says.
Abrams advises that back in 2002 her company undertook a complete reevaluation and found that they were vulnerable because they relied on just one distributor for around 90 per cent of their business. Diversifying their distributors meant that when that one distributor eventually went bankrupt the effect on her business was mitigated.
The second assessment that saved the business came at the end of 2008 and early 2009 “Chernobyl for the publishing industry” she says.
With so many publishing houses collapsing in the US at that time, The Planning Shop decided to have a serious look at how to survive and prosper in such difficult times.
“We absolutely needed to, to remain agile,” she says. “We called it our spaghetti year; we just through everything at the wall and saw what stuck!”
Thus Abrams and her staff decided to make sacrifices across the board, sacrificing pay rises and bonuses and working even harder to retain and secure business.
“We had to work out how to cut expenditure and increase output, without cutting staff,” she explains.
With a hands on mentality of her entire organisation (absolutely essential, she says, to have everyone on board) the company was able to survive and prosper and she confirms that some nice bonuses and pay rises were given at the end of 2010 as a reward for all the hard work.
“Being successful in business can be done, even with little money. You just need to be creative and work very hard,” Abrams says.