It comes as no surprise that women today are starting and running businesses at an increased pace. According to Industry Canada, between 2001 and 2011, the number of self-employed women grew by 23 per cent and now 47 per cent of Small/Medium Enterprises (SME's) are partly or entirely owned by women. In my 10 years at eBay, I've seen great examples of women creating highly successful and rewarding careers by launching their own online business.
This year's eBay Canada Entrepreneur of the Year winners, who for the first time are all women, are a testament to the female entrepreneurial spirit. Just in time for small business month, I wanted to share these stories of entrepreneurs you might not know, but who are all harnessing online commercial opportunities to build thriving businesses and making their mark on the Canadian economy.
Christine Deslauriers (Entrepreneur of the Year): Christine combined her passion for figure skating as a child with her entrepreneurial drive to build a successful company selling skating gear and apparel online and offline. Her multi-channel business has seen a 470 per cent increase in online sales since its first year of operation.
Vanessa Szabo (Made in Canada Entrepreneur): Vanessa started a business selling Canadian silver coins on her own terms in order to make an income while being a stay-at-home mom of two. She now hosts an average of 150 auctions per month, up 47 per cent over the last six months.
Kimberly Wotherspoon (Exporter of the Year): Kimberly built the ecommerce business for a local hardware and building supply store. Within her first year on the job, she increased daily sales by more than 900 per cent and international shipments now make up 60 per cent of the e-commerce business.
So, what made these women successful?
1. They all started a business based on their passion. Whether it's figure skating, sharing Canadian history or online commerce and exporting, turning your passion into a successful business not only allows you to be profitable doing what you love, but sets you up for lasting success. According to a PayPal study that surveyed female entrepreneurs, 47 per cent of women named passion as their leading motivation.
2. They all thought globally from the start. There's no doubt that getting exposure to, and building connections with, international buyers helped these winners grow quickly and stay competitive, which is especially impressive given their origins in smaller Canadian towns. In this way, these entrepreneurs are much like their online peers: A 2014 report found 99.5 per cent of tech-enabled Canadian businesses export compared to only 10.4 per cent of traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, and the tech-enabled businesses studied exported to an astounding average of 19 markets - that's thinking globally!
3. They all took advantage of existing online marketplaces to their start. Global online marketplaces (e.g. eBay, and Amazon) help entrepreneurs launch and grow sales with low cost and minimal risk. Marketplaces also make it easier to test-market products and pricing without having to invest resources into driving traffic or managing the technical aspects of a website.
Even though Canada, along with the United States and Australia, has been named one of the best places for female entrepreneurship, there is still room for improvement. Thankfully, there are lots of tools and resources the make the journey easier. Online marketplaces, for instance, can break down barriers to trade.
I'm excited to see what the future holds for female entrepreneurship in this country, and what role e-commerce plays in building and growing thriving businesses.
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A unique idea might not necessarily be one that no one else has thought of. It could be that someone looked into it and found it was simply not financially viable. Do extensive market research to assess exactly what your competitors are offering, and more importantly, why they don’t offer the things you’d like to. Study published data for quantitative research and get feedback from your potential customer base for a more qualitative analysis. Find out why they would buy into your idea, how much they are willing and able to spend and how often to make your start-up worthwhile.
Just because you’re going it alone does not mean you can operate a business without structure. A business plan is crucial to help you clarify your idea, spot problems, set out goals and measure your progress. It’s highly unlikely that a bank or an investor will consider offering you a start-up loan without one. To find out how to put together the perfect plan, log on here.
Register yourself as a sole trader and start branding your product. The name of your business will be crucial – you’ll need to get a logo designed, print out letterheads, business cards and register the domain name, which means changing your mind afterwards will be a waste of money and time. As well as making sure the name reflects your business and sounds appealing to potential customers, check the name isn’t already taken (or too similar sounding to a competitor). Also check that nothing unsavoury pops up on search engines when you type it in! If your idea is genuinely new, get it patented for free.
Starting a business on your own doesn’t mean you can do it without others. You’ll need to source and build a good relationship with reliable and affordable suppliers, as well as distributors. A start-up also relies heavily on validation, so get to know people whose endorsement will make new customers take you seriously too. And don’t forget, you can be a sole trader and still have partners to help share the load.
Make yourself accessible and approachable from the get go by building a website that’s both professional and personable. Make it is easy-to-navigate, easy-to-understand and easy on the eye. Choose a host that provides quality support, ensure your site loads quickly, and that it works effectively on mobile devices. Find out as much as you can about SEO. Start building up followers and likes on social networking sites as soon as possible, have engaging interactions with them regularly, so by the time you’re ready to launch your product, you already have a loyal base to help you spread the word.
The excitement of starting up your dream business means it’s easy to overspend, but once the novelty wears off, many end up losing both money and heart. Before you start ploughing your loans or your savings into the project, be absolutely sure this isn’t a vanity project, that you’ve assessed the market and your spending well enough to know how you’ll keep your head above water until you’re guaranteed a profit. Don’t skimp on hiring advisors, a good lawyer and accountant will help you get your head around tax and stop you drowning in invoices, receipts and small print.
A solo venture comes with its assurances of stress, so be absolutely sure you have what it takes before you start-up. Do you have the negotiation skills to get the best deals, the communication skills to win people over, a head for figures to ensure you’re on top of your finances? A lot of novice entrepreneurs give up once they start to question their product. How will you handle a customer demanding their money back, or reading a bad review online? A thick skin, the ability to come up with solutions to unforeseen problems and a solid support network are all crucial for those going at it alone.
Follow Andrea Stairs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/astairsk