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5 startup strategies for women entrepreneurs

Natalie Williams leads the new Women’s Business Center-Charlotte office, funded by an SBA grant worth a total of $150,000 over 4 1/2 years.
Natalie Williams leads the new Women’s Business Center-Charlotte office, funded by an SBA grant worth a total of $150,000 over 4 1/2 years. cesmith@charlotteobserver.com

One of the first things Natalie Williams, head of Charlotte’s new Women’s Business Center, asked me is if I owned a business. Then she asked me why not.

I went on about not having the guts, mindset or focus for it. Turns out, my reasons sounded very familiar to her.

To Williams, one of the biggest mistakes women make in launching a business happens before they even get started. It’s “doubting the fact that they can do it.”

Then there’s the guilt: Family or business? How to do both?

Williams gets that, too.

Her corporate background includes work as diversity and inclusion coordinator for manufacturer Ingersoll Rand. She also launched her own consulting firm after receiving coaching from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Small Business Center.

And she’s been married 29 years and has three children, ages 15 to 26.

“So I understand what it means to try to balance,” Williams says. “I think women feel as though they can’t have it both.”

Instead, Williams says, “it’s about making quality time as opposed to quantity of time.”

The Women’s Business Center, which is now accepting counseling appointments and will hold its grand opening later this month, is located inside the office of the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council.

It is run through a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and is modeled after the Raleigh-based Women’s Business Center of North Carolina. Since opening in 2000, that center has counseled more than 3,200 clients, hosted 1,300 training sessions, and is credited with creating more than 1,200 jobs, according to Raleigh center director Briles Johnson.

As Charlotte’s Women’s Business Center looks for similar success, here’s a look at five strategies it will promote to women entrepreneurs, according to Williams.

1. Make technology a part of your business: Too many small businesses are still taking the traditional check-writing route to pay bills. But cloud services shouldn’t remain a mystery, with e-commerce and other internet services that can make life easier for entrepreneurs, Williams says.

Plans include offering technology sessions, as well as training in other areas: identity theft, cyber security, business succession plans and exit strategies, and sessions on financial assistance.

Monthly seminars for early-stage business owners include how to write a business plan, reading financial statements and understanding cash flow.

2. Get certified: For women, an obstacle is “not knowing that they can be a certified business owner,” which helps land business with local and state governments. Corporations with supplier-diversity programs look to do business with companies certified as women-, minority- or veteran-owned.

Being certified through a council – such as the Greater Women’s Business Council, or the Charlotte-based Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council – puts small businesses in the position to vie for more business, Williams says.

3. Partner with fellow small business owners: Larger companies have long practiced this to land more business. In many ways, small businesses are even more equipped for partnerships because they are more nimble.

“Small businesses, you can do it together,” says Williams. “That’s where we’re leaving money on the table.”

4. Start your business in a measured way: Yes, you can still work towards launching your business while keeping your day job, Williams says. “Some people may feel as though it’s got to be all or nothing. I don’t think you have to feel that way. I feel as though you can transition yourself.”

5. Tell yourself you can do it. “My best piece of advice is to go in confident...and build strong relationships. And surround yourself with people who can help you get there. Get a strong network of people behind you. And believe in yourself.”

Want to go?

The Women’s Business Center of Charlotte is located at 9115 Harris Corners Parkway, Suite 440, Charlotte. For appointments, email WBC-Charlotte@theinstitutenc.org or call 704-509-5884.

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