• Lauren McDowell

What being a women-owned business means to us

There is no roadmap to being a business owner, especially when you’re a self-starter and first-timer.

Sure, there are business plans and the advice of mentors, but ultimately the success of a business starts and ends with you.

That’s a pretty lonely place to be. It’s especially difficult when you’re traveling a path that isn’t familiar, and when you don’t see a lot of people who look like you on the road to success.

And that’s the reality for many women business owners who are part of a growing class of entrepreneurs ready to strike out on their own, without much of a safety net.

According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, “female-owned firms start with revenue levels that are 34 percent lower than their male counterparts, and continue on to have slower revenue growth...In the report “21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship,” the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship found that only 4 percent of the total dollar value of all small business loans goes to women entrepreneurs.”

When Amber and I started this company in 2017, we relied heavily on Amber’s deep network of professionals for client opportunities. She’d cultivated these contacts through over a decade of hard work as a freelancer, and I felt lucky that, having moved to Houston after many years working for others in New York City, Amber took a chance on me and asked me to partner with nothing more than sweat equity.

By 2020, three years into our business, we had garnered enough work to bring on three full-time employees with benefits. That was a huge deal for us, and we were proud of our accomplishments.

But we also wanted to grow, and it wasn’t clear how we could tap into larger client bases without the ‘ins’ it seemed like other communications companies had for signing large contracts. We knew we needed to move forward by looking for tools that could help, and that’s when we came across the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification process.

The WBENC was founded in 1997 to “develop a nationwide standard for women-owned business certification,” and is now the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States. There are many reasons to become certified, but the most important for us was the access that being a WBENC business provided.

The certification would grant us access to procurement opportunities, mentoring, executive education, capacity development programs, and networking that we simply couldn’t get on our own.

It feels important to say that this certification isn’t a handout. It won’t automatically grant us big contracts, and for any that we do earn, we still have to put in the hard work to produce content that meets our high standards.

The last few years we have become so much more aware of the playing field in the business world and who’s allowed on the pitch. It’s often not a conscious choice to exclude, but a matter of playing with the teammates who understand the game and have a few wins under their belts. Needless to say, that doesn’t always leave a lot of room for new players.

That’s why, for us, being a women-owned business isn’t just a label, or a PR strategy—it is, in many ways, a form of activism. Owning a business means having the power to hire and to decide where we put the money we earn as a company. We have the opportunity and the privilege to put out into the world what we know and want the future of business to become.

For us, that means championing:

  • Under-represented groups in the business world, particularly women of color

  • A true work-life balance that allows time for rest, rejuvenation and renewed creativity

  • Careers that allow parents to enjoy their kids and keep their positions without guilt

  • Community involvement that makes the lives of neighbors better, through volunteering and donated funds

  • Clients that have similar values

We certainly have a long way to go, but we can see our goals in front of us, and we’re so excited to do the work it will take to meet them—even with the inevitable speed bumps. We’re so proud and grateful to be part of a growing community of female entrepreneurs that are moving the goalposts towards a more equitable future that focuses on more than just a bottom line, and we know we’ll be better for it.

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