Here's the thing about female entrepreneurs: They are — GASP! — regular entrepreneurs.
And like all entrepreneurs, they work nights and weekends, do their best to kill it in the boardroom and truly believe in the missions of their companies.
Even though they experience many of the same trials as their male counterparts, women in business also face an entirely unique set of challenges. Though not insurmountable, these obstacles are decidedly more difficult to navigate for the lone-wolf entrepreneur.
That's why companies like AT&T prioritize diversity in the workforce as well as the endeavors they support. The AT&T Aspire Accelerator provides resources for organizations that use technology to improve the education system, whether that means supporting students, teachers, parents or all of the above.
In the 2016 Aspire Accelerator class, five of the six companies selected to participate in the program were founded, owned or led by women entrepreneurs. Nicole Anderson, the assistant vice president of social innovation and president of the AT&T Foundation, sums up this investment in women: "That's very important to us as we seed the whole ecosystem of social entrepreneurs."
With the support of other entrepreneurs along with the services and mentorship that the AT&T Aspire Accelerator provides, these women have a leg up as they make their way in the startup world. Yet the lessons they've learned can easily be applied to any entrepreneur. Here are seven that stand out.
1. Think big — no matter how small your day-to-day is.
It's easy to get lost in the minutiae of running a business, especially when you're trying to get it off the ground. But if you don't keep broadening your horizons, you run the risk of missing potentially game-changing opportunities.
Liz Nell, the founder and chief revenue officer of The Graide Network, describes her mindset from the start: “We always were thinking big, [even when] the reality was very small, and now we're really thinking big and...focusing that message so we can amplify it.”
But even before things took off for her business, Nell was already feeling the big effects of having an investor and supporter like AT&T: "To be able to call a client, a potential investor, and say that AT&T is an...investor in us [brought] an instant credibility to what [we were] saying and the work [we were] doing."
2. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks.
Many entrepreneurs dive into the startup world with the belief that acting conservatively and erring on the side of caution is the best bet. And while experts certainly DON'T recommend taking reckless gambles, many storied business owners express regret for an aversion to risk-taking early on in their careers.
Think of it like this: When your business is still young, you have way less to lose by rolling the dice. Just be sure that your decision is well-researched and informed. Bottom line: Take smart, calculated risks.
3. Learn how to successfully compartmentalize.
You can't become a Fortune 500 company overnight — it's just not going to happen. Instead, try to focus on small to-dos that'll help get you where you want to be in the long run.
Heejae Lim, founder and executive director of Talking Points, suggests breaking down long-term, loftier goals “step by step, so every day…instead of being overwhelmed, you feel like you've achieved something. [That] is really important [to] the ups and downs of startup life.”
But small goals don't have to be insignificant: Lim notes how "AT&T has helped [Talking Points] really push the boundaries of what is possible within a small timeframe." Small steps can make a big difference, especially with the right support and encouragement.
4. Don't expect to delegate right away.
Although delegating tasks to trusted employees is a crucial step to growing a business, it's a stage that takes time, patience and a lot of grunt work to achieve.
Be prepared to take on way more responsibility than you might like during the beginning stages of building a company. The most successful entrepreneurs learn how to do even the most tedious tasks within their companies before asking their employees to take over.
5. Get comfortable talking yourself (and your business) up.
At first it might not be natural — pitching yourself and your company might feel uncomfortably close to bragging. But overcoming this discomfort is essential, particularly for women in business.
Melissa Risteff, co-Founder and chief executive officer of Couragion, recommends learning to “talk about your value proposition in a really refined way.” Mastering this, Risteff says, will make you “more capable of communicating your market message and the value that you bring.”
6. Don't hesitate to ask for help.
PSA: Asking for advice is NOT a sign of weakness. In fact, it can show confidence and foresight when you make a concerted effort to derive knowledge from people in your field.
Asking for help when it comes to your business not only enables you to avoid uninformed errors early on, but it also opens you up to the potential for meaningful professional connections and lasting mentorships later on.
Knowing how to accept the help that's offered to you can make all the difference. Take it from Sarah Mielbye, director of content development at CommonLit: "[AT&T has] introduced us to some amazing mentors and...people who have done this before [and] people who have come before us. It's been really helpful as we navigate our way through this whole process."
7. Try your best to resist imposter syndrome.
For a variety of reasons, female entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to imposter syndrome, or the pervading sense of being unqualified and perpetually at risk of being exposed as a fraud.
Michelle Brown, founder and chief executive officer of CommonLit, recalls encountering this issue at the beginning of her career: “When I first started CommonLit, I felt a little bit like I had imposter syndrome because I was walking into rooms where I was the youngest person AND the only woman.”
While no one is immune to feeling like a fraud, being aware that imposter syndrome is a REAL thing is the first step to avoiding it in the first place.
Want to know more about what it's like to be a female entrepreneur in technology? Watch the video below and meet 6 incredible innovators.