Confessions of a Female Entrepreneur

The feminist movement shaped the first generation of women who yearned for a career and a shattered glass ceiling. Fast forward to 2013, and although women have made major progress in the boardroom, there’s still work to be done, says Marsha Friedman, CEO of EMSI Public Relations.

Friedman is a 23-year veteran of the public relations industry and consults with individuals and businesses on how to harness the power of publicity. After years of trial and error, Friedman developed her own pay-for-performance model, which she says has been very successful. She teaches by example and encourages women to open a dialogue to share experiences.

Between 1997 and 2012, when the number of businesses in the United States increased by 37 percent, the number of female-owned firms increased by 54 percent — a rate 1.5 times the national average, according to “The State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” which used census data and was commissioned in March of 2012 by American Express OPEN.

Below is an edited transcript of Diversity Executive’s interview with Friedman.

What do you think is contributing to the growth of female-owned businesses in this country?
Women are looking for work-life balance. We want to do work that’s personally gratifying and allows us to earn some recognition, but we’re still spending more time than men taking care of kids, parents, the house, even our husbands. Starting a business is an option that allows us to create a life that suits our needs and wants. We can tend to our families and also do outside work that’s immensely satisfying because we created it. We’re our own boss, so we have flexibility in everything from the goals we set to how we structure our day.

I read an interesting study that shows the more business owners a woman knows as friends or family members, the more likely she is to start her own business. So it would make sense that, as more of us launch startups, we’ll inspire others to do the same.

What fields are the majority of female-owned businesses in? How are you able to help them?
Health care and social assistance have the highest concentrations of female-owned businesses, followed by education services; other services, from professional to administrative; and retail. That’s a positive and a negative. These were sectors that did not take as much of a hit during the recession because they’re viewed as essential services. The male-dominated sectors, like manufacturing and construction, tanked as soon as demand disappeared. So these are good fields for surviving an economic downturn. However, they also tend to have a lot more small, low-paying businesses than the male-dominated sectors.

Female business owners don’t have the vast networking systems that men do simply because there are far fewer female CEOs than men. But we can learn a lot from each other, and those of us who, like me, have been in business for decades have a lot to share in terms of experience. The advice I would give to these women is the same advice I would give to CEOs of major corporations: Become the face of your business. If people see you as likable and trustworthy, that image will reflect on your business. This will translate into more customers, happy employees and loyal vendors.

What’s your best advice for women in business or who aspire to open their own business?
First, identify what it is that you’re passionate about — the service or product to which you can envision dedicating your precious time, energy and resources. Second, know who your audience is and how you can reach them. Third, don’t jump the gun. Sit down and develop a well-researched and thought-out business plan.

Do you predict any trends for female entrepreneurs?
More women are earning advanced degrees than are men. Fewer women are getting married. Women are estimated to hold three-quarters of the nation’s consumer purchasing power. To me, these are all strong indicators that female entrepreneurs will continue to become more numerous, more sophisticated and, hopefully, more adventurous with regards to the industries they choose.

Men tend to launch businesses more for financial reasons as opposed to women’s work-life motivations. But financial success is still a priority for us, and that’s where we lag. Women are less likely to expand their businesses, but I foresee this changing. As we move into the future, I see women gaining more confidence and willingness to assume the financial risks needed for growth.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.