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Women.Co: The 5 COs of Successful Women-Owned Businesses

When I started out as a business owner, I wasn’t thinking about being women-owned—I was focused on being successful. And I was, for more than 25 years. I built a business to fit my values and my family’s needs in a way that corporations weren’t doing.

These days, in addition to my work as a consultant with Simplicity, I volunteer as a site visitor with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). I visit women-owned companies to certify that the company is, in fact, legitimately owned and run by women. I’ve sat with female founders, leaders, and bosses—ranging from sole proprietors to CEOs of global corporations. While each leader is different (I think there are as many variances within our gender as there are across genders), I’ve observed the following commonalities.

(Let me be clear: Not every women-owned business adheres to these trends! However, many of the organizations I’ve observed through WBENC or as an employee, customer, vendor, ally, or friend, do.)

These are the 5 COs of successful women-owned businesses:

1. Connected

We connect with our employees, clients, vendors, and the community.

Lisa Dupar is an amazing example of this and one of my local heroes. Go to Pomegranate Bistro if you haven’t already. She’s built deep relationships during her 30+ years in business, and she lifts up her vendors, while supporting her network of long-time employees and partners. She gives back to many community events and has sponsored other small businesses as a mentor and to give them visibility.

2. Collaborative

We build webs, not hierarchies.

Women- and family-friendly businesses are resourceful. Small or large, they make sure that people know each other’s work and how to cover for each other. Got a sick family member? Go focus on your family, and someone else will get it done. We trust that you will do the same for us when necessary.

If anyone has participated in Female Founders Alliance, you’ve seen this in action. How do you throw an awards event while 39-weeks-pregnant with your second child? Leslie Feinzaig delegated many things before, during, and after the awards ceremony to her entire team, including my colleague Sara LeHoullier.

3. Conflict resilience

Decision science shows that seeking diverse input and avoiding group-think leads to better innovation, risk-avoidance, and ultimately higher profitability. You can have healthy conflict as long as you have psychological safety and methods for reconciliation for team members after tough meetings and hard decisions.

Venus Rekow of Neural Shifts coaches companies on the neuroscience of conflict management and how to create safe spaces where both innovation and resilience thrive.

4. Coopetition

As the former leader of a company that did business with Microsoft, I knew my competition and saw them regularly at different events. I admired many women in that group of competitors, and I have great relationships with them. We recognized the need to support each other because, like it or not, it’s still a boy’s club in many ways. And if you can’t do something for a client due to constraints, it’s great to be able to refer that client to someone who will do a good job. Partnering with other women and minority-owned firms gave me the ability to look bigger and learn from working with other great people. That’s a huge advantage for small firms.

5. Coping

The weight of running a business is heavy. As a single parent and business owner, I needed to understand the problems that I was hired to solve and get to a solution quickly. My mantra was Mothers invent solutions by necessity. If you bring the same grace, humor, positive discipline, and problem solving that you use at home, you aren’t guaranteed success, but no one is going to keep you from developing an awesome business. There are plenty of amazing women-owned-business role models out there, including Simplicity Consulting, which has been a very happy place for me to work.

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