Marketing Information

Six Essential Principles for Marketing to Women Business Owners

Marketing to women entrepreneurs is not difficult. You just have to follow six easy, but essential, principles.

As of 2004, there are an estimated 10.6 million privately-held firms in the U.S. that are 50% or more women-owned, accounting for nearly half (48%) of all privately-held firms. These firms generate 2.46 trillion in sales and employ 19.1 million people nationwide according to the April 2004 biennial update on women-owned businesses by the Center for Women's Business Research. The report was based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you to learn that selling goods and products to women (especially women business owners) is different than selling to men. If you'd like to do business with this huge segment of the business world, what do you need to know?

In my business as a marketing consultant for women entrepreneurs, I've discovered six easy, but essential, principles for doing business with women business owners. They are:

- Start small.

- Look at the big picture.

- Sweat the small stuff.

- Less is more, as long as it's quality.

- Build relationships through education.

- Stay visible and involved.

Now let's look at these principles a little more closely.

Start small.

Women business owners (WBOs) tend to be very cautious. They make very careful decisions that are well-thought-out. Because of this, WBOs will generally purchase something small or hire a consultant to complete one project before committing to an ongoing relationship and a huge investment. Although this isn't always cost-effective, it gives them the opportunity to try the product or service before they invest significant dollars.

Sally Falkow, branding strategist with Falkow, Inc. in Pasadena, Calif., agrees. "Women business owners have a tendency to 'stick their toes in the water.' Many of the women business owners I deal with are eager to learn about how the Internet can expand their business. But they do it on a gradient. This way they can cope with the new technologies and get one aspect under their belt at a time."

Look at the big picture.

Studies show that women-owned businesses have a better success rate than those owned by men. Their businesses generally grow slowly and steadily, and they don't spend money carelessly.

For instance, when Jo DeMars, president of DeMars & Associates, Ltd., a dispute resolution firm in Waukesha, Wis., began her business, she borrowed office space, purchased used furniture, and only spent money if she absolutely had to do so. She always paid her bills on time and was very careful about who she hired.

"When I got client work, I wouldn't hire for the position until I had the contract signed," says DeMars. She now has 27 employees and contracts with Ford Motor Company and Daimler Chrysler in Calif., among others. Looking at the big picture helped her stay on track.

Sweat the small stuff.

If you get the little stuff right, women will be less concerned about the big stuff. That's because women are into details. They want to know everything about a product or service before they buy it--not only how it works and what it costs, but also what kind of support can be expected and how long it will last.

Gathering information is an ongoing process for women. How are you dressed? Did you shine your shoes? Were you genuine and honest? Have you done what you said you would do? Do you send professional follow-up notes? Does your office run smooth as silk? All this makes a difference for women.

"As a woman business owner, I not only look for this in my vendors, but at Rowena's we only hire people who are detail minded. In a retail and wholesale foods business like ours, focusing on details is absolutely essential," says Rowena Fullinwider, president of Rowena's, a gourmet cake and foods company in Norfolk, Va.

Less is more, as long as it's quality.Women business owners often have an overflowing plate. They usually work many long hours building their businesses, while also taking care of children, a husband, parents and pets; volunteering for charities; and managing the family's social calendar. So they don't have time to spend lots of time researching and analyzing everything they buy.

As a business owner who sells mostly to women, Sandra Weaver of Fragrant Expressions at Dayton Farmer's Market in Dayton, Va., agrees wholeheartedly with this idea. "This is true not just for women business owners but for all women. I have spent a lot of time researching what women need so I can help them feel they can give themselves permission to nurture and express themselves in healthy and appropriate ways," she says. "Women don't have a lot of time to shop. They want good buys, convenient shopping, and also honesty. So in my shop, if you're not happy with it for any reason, you bring it back."

Because women are so busy, offering a smaller selection of quality products and services will appeal to WBOs. They want to make the right choice without having to wade through all of the wrong ones. The way to a woman's heart and purse strings is through trust.

Build relationships through education.A consultative sales style works well for women. It's important for them to have an equal relationship with vendors and service providers who help the WBO learn what she needs to know. If you can educate, advise and service her business without patronizing her, you'll be a star.

"I've learned through life and business that preparation avoids unnecessary risks," says Krystyna Bublick, owner of and Krystyna Virginia Beach Jewelry Creations in Virginia Beach, Va. "Making careful decisions raises my comfort level of success. I'm not afraid of risk, thoughtful risk. Knowledge and expert advice is critical. I know I can not be an expert in all fields, so I build in security by consulting people who are. This minimizes my financial outlay in the long run."

Stay visible and involved.

Women are loyal creatures. Once you are successful at selling to a woman business owner, you are very likely to keep selling to her for years to come. Of course, this means it often takes a long time to make your first sale.

She will need to know that you are always there, but not always there to sell. So get involved with business organizations to which she belongs, like the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Women Business Owners, BNI, and the Working Women's Forum or your local women's group. Be an active member and prove that you do what you say you will do. She'll begin to trust you and look to you for her buying needs. And once you win her over, you can keep putting those checks in the bank.

Lois Carter Fay, APR, is a 30-year veteran in the P.R. and marketing field. She now produces three marketing ezines, Brainy Tidbits, Brainy Flash, and Success Secrets of Women Entrepreneurs. All are free. She's also the co-author with Jim Wilson of "Sales Success! Strategies for Women," a quick-to-read ebook containing 52 easy-to-implement sales tips. The ezines and ebook are available through her websites.

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