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One of the hardest things about starting a business is overcoming your doubts and believing your dream can eventually become a reality. For a number of reasons, taking those crucial first steps can be especially hard for female founders.
The first step in starting a business has two components: Doing something to get the ball rolling, and then saying, “I’m doing this.” Many female entrepreneurs struggle with the second part. I know I did. Here are a few ways to get unstuck.
Push yourself to “brag”
Making a declaration about what you’re doing is just as important as what you’re actually doing to start your business. It cements your commitment and starts the networking process of attracting like-minded people and organizations.
When I was starting The Dyrt, I found this step really difficult and constantly felt like an imposter. In 2013, I didn’t see a lot of other female entrepreneurs, and I constantly felt intimidated. I would now tell my 2013 self that most founders of all genders feel this way, even if the male entrepreneurs we encounter aren’t articulating this feeling and seem to have all the confidence in the world.
I remember feeling very disinclined to stand up and declare. It seemed like we should wait until we had a rock-solid accomplishment to say anything about it. But it’s almost impossible to get momentum for a new business while keeping it a secret.
The solution here for female founders is often just having awareness of this dynamic. Recognize that making a declaration may be uncomfortable and push through it. There’s no need to brag or exaggerate, though it will feel like you are. Just say what you’ve done and what you’re doing.
You also don’t have to speak at a conference or post on every social-media account you have. Sharing your visions in one-on-one conversations is often just as powerful or more so than declaring on a large stage. Clarity matters more than reach at this stage.
Be matter of fact about the potential you see for your business and the actions you’ve taken so far. Don’t undercut your declaration with self-deprecation. This is easier said than done and something I am constantly striving to get better at. You can acknowledge that it won’t be easy or that you’re just starting out, but own where you’re going and the steps you’ve taken.
Use empathy to your advantage
If you find the fake-it-till-you-make-it aspect of business challenging, it may be because you care more about making a real difference than appearances. If that’s the case, you could be particularly well-suited for the research aspect of entrepreneurship.
It’s important to understand the scope and nuances of the problem your business will solve by talking to a wide variety of people. You have to be sure the world needs what you’re building and that you’re building exactly what the world needs.
Women founders often see this inquiry as an obvious and necessary step. For about a year before I started The Dyrt, I talked to other campers and compared their struggles to find good campgrounds to my own.
Since this type of inquiry tends to come naturally to women, we sometimes forget that market research counts as an action. If you’re doing market research, even informally, you’ve already taken the first step in your business. Don’t hesitate to talk about it.
Get comfortable with an incomplete product
Long before it was a top-ranking app in the Apple App Store, The Dyrt was a very rudimentary WordPress site. Like every technology company, we had to start somewhere, but it was mortifying for me to put out a product that was so far from what I’d envisioned.
We essentially had a shell. Campers could post reviews, but there are thousands of campgrounds throughout the country, and naturally, most campgrounds had zero reviews. I remember criticism and confusion in those days from friends and family who didn’t understand that a business is always a work in progress.
People would say, “I thought you were going to do reviews and stuff …” And I was like, “We do! We are! Do you have any idea how hard it is to get people to write reviews for a brand new website?” Today, we have more than 2.5 million reviews, tips and photos, but holding the space for that to ramp up wasn’t easy.
Building an online community or any worthwhile company takes time. As an entrepreneur, you have to be okay with the fact that what you have is always chasing what you’re trying to build — and it’s often very far behind. This is an extremely uncomfortable state for a lot of founders but especially female founders who don’t want to leave themselves open to criticism.
All I can say is that it’s important to consider your point of view. As entrepreneurs, we live in the future. We see what is possible — that is our gift. Don’t despair that the present is not yet the future. That’s the nature of the present.
Instead, draw others into your vision. Your ability to communicate the future you want to create will determine your success as an entrepreneur. So don’t waste energy diminishing the hard work or first steps you’ve taken and apologizing for the present. It will be the past soon, anyway.