Give the Lady What She Wants
Attracting and retaining women business owners as clients is key to sustaining your practice.
Marshall Field built a successful retail business on one primary principle: “Give the lady
what she wants.” He knew his target market and catered specifically to women’s shopping needs.
The accounting and finance industry should take a page out of Field’s handbook.
Harvard Business Review called out the financial services industry as the least sympathetic to
women’s needs just a few years ago, their financial needs—particularly as business owners—
mystifyingly ignored. As the number of women-owned businesses grows exponentially, however,
a dynamic and diverse market awaits the accounting and finance professionals who can serve up
the specialized financial advising it seeks.
Women-Owned Businesses: A Snapshot
There are now more than 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., meaning women
own about 38 percent of the country’s businesses, says The 2016 State of Women-Owned
Businesses Report, a summary of business trends commissioned by American Express OPEN. These firms employ an estimated eight percent of the nation’s private
sector workforce and generate over $1.6 trillion in annual revenues.
What’s more, between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned
businesses increased by 45 percent—fully five times faster
than the national average among all businesses—and revenues
among women-owned businesses have increased by 35 percent
since 2007, 30 percent higher than the national average. All told,
between 2007 and 2016, women created 3.5 million new
businesses, of which 78 percent are owned by women of color.
If all that isn’t impressive enough, the McKinsey Global Institute
report, “The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality
can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth,” suggests “a ‘full potential’
scenario, in which women play an identical role in labor markets
to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be
added to global annual GDP by 2025.”
In other words, knowing what women business owners look for in
their financial services providers is more important than ever.
With that in mind, we offer this insight from some of Illinois’
own women entrepreneurs.
Women Want Relationships
With six out of 10 women investing their personal finances into
their businesses, the stakes are high. Being personally invested
in the business creates a different vibe than a venture capital-backed
Krista Goral, owner of the Chicago-based custom dress business
MeasureMake, likes to work with professionals who’ve experienced
the “blood and muscle” of a business. “Not only do I want to know
the person on the other side of the table, but they also should know
what building a business and creating your own opportunities takes.”
Goral’s desires are fairly typical. A recent study by Accenture states
that women want financial advice based on their life journeys.
Take Renee Pollino, owner of My Half of the Sky, an L3C coffee
shop focused on helping the disadvantaged in Wheaton, Ill., for
instance. “As not only a woman, but a Hispanic woman,” she says,
“I believe it's important to give opportunity to not only women, but
to those who often are not given opportunity.”
In other words, talk journeys and milestones, not just numbers
Women Want Solutions
With previous experience in the banking business, Goral feels
financially savvy. But she also says it makes her choosier—as in,
don’t overcomplicate things; get to a solution faster.
“Men want to throw a lot of potentially helpful products and
solutions at me. But we get bogged down. It’s too many choices,
not all of which fit my business. Women tend to listen, pare it down
to a few reasonable solutions—and, in general, make it less
complicated,” she explains.
Goral’s goal of keeping her business and finances simple isn’t
unusual, according to a recent Betterment study that analyzed the
accounts of 60,000 investors, 25 percent of them women. The
findings: Women signed into their accounts almost half as frequently
as men and changed their asset allocations 20 percent less frequently.
It’s about finding what works, and sticking with it.
Women Want Respect
Women love their businesses, but many women express distaste
for the financial side, due in large part to insulting experiences.
“I dumped an accountant like a hot potato when he sounded like
he was parenting me financially rather than explaining my options
and advising,” confides Jordan Holwell, owner of Higher Energy
Massage Therapy in Naperville, Ill.
Accounting and finance professionals take note: Business and
financial advising should come without condescension.
“Most of your life, you hear about the bias, but I guess I never
believed it until I experienced it,” Pollino says, explaining
her experiences as a victim of assumptions about her financial
and business expertise.
“Two years before the launch of My Half of the Sky, I went to a
local bank to discuss financing options. The woman president met
with me for 20 minutes and seemed excited about what I wanted
to do. She gave me a name and number of a contact that she
insisted would be of great help to me,” she explains. “When I called
the person, I discovered it was a professor at the local community
college who offers a one-day class on how to write a business plan.
She hadn’t even seen my business plan. She made huge
assumptions about me. That’s just one of many bad experiences.”
Pollino’s experience was echoed by a good portion of our
interviewees. Some remember a time when they were asked
for their husbands’ financials just to rent space for their
businesses. While most women aren’t treated as second-class
citizens so openly anymore, many still struggle to secure financial
backing and advising.
Women Want to Be Heard
Listen, listen, listen—then listen some more. Communication skills
trump gender among most of our interviewees.
Take Joyce Clarkson, co-owner of The Dinner Club in La Grange
Park, Ill., who started working with one female accountant because
she thought a woman would bring stellar communication and
listening skills. “I was wrong,” she admits.
“After working together for some time, my frustration level was
through the roof. I could ask this CPA the same question 10 times
in 10 different ways—‘How will this affect my taxes? Is this a wise
move?’—and she couldn’t give me a clear answer. Communication
is critical for me,” Clarkson says, explaining that it’s important to
her business decisions to have somebody that can clearly advise
without providing a lot of immaterial or impertinent information.
Clarkson ultimately turned to another firm to meet her needs; the
owner is male, but her day-to-day contact is female. “It’s not the
gender,” she says. “It’s the communication style that matters. They
listen. They advise. And then they continue to listen.”
Women Want Equality
For years, women business owners have struggled with an advisory
model built for men. But, women are a growing force in the
entrepreneurial world with very specific wants and requests. In
short, making sure your firm is tailoring services to female clients
is crucial to remaining a viable enterprise moving forward.
“Whether I’m right or not, I just feel women CPAs have my best
interests at heart,” Holwell says. “But, show me someone who gives
me that feeling—man or woman—and I’m all in.”