Celebrate Women’s History Month . . .
Beat Back Self-Doubt and Stake Your Claim
Every entrepreneur needs an unwavering belief in her own ideas and capacity. When others invariably question whether your business concept has legs, or if you are the right person to carry it to fruition, you have to dig deep and know you’ve got this. But confidence doesn’t come easily and can be a significant challenge for some women.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report on Women’s Entrepreneurship consistently finds a big confidence gap between men and women across more than 50 countries. Although the gap has narrowed some over the past ten years, still well over half of men believe they have the capabilities to start a business, compared to just over 40 percent of women. The gap persists even among men and women with similar levels of education and experience.
Men also report being less deterred by a fear of failure and far more likely than women entrepreneurs to expect high growth in their businesses.
Confidence as a business competency
Higher self-confidence allows people to think creatively, take risks at opportune times and trust their instincts, according to Susan Laverick, Ph.D., Founder and Director, with Elizabeth Bagnall, of Beaufort Group Consulting. They are co-authors of “The 3 Skills That Build Confidence in Entrepreneurial Women” published in Entrepreneur & Innovation Exchange. “It continues to surprise us just how many senior women,” they write, “will admit to lacking confidence in certain situations.”
Their research and consulting have led them to conclude that the self-confidence deficit many women founders experience has its foundations in three under-developed soft skills. It’s what they call a toolkit of resilience, problem-solving, emotional intelligence and strong interpersonal and communication skills.
“Underdeveloped soft skills can make a woman reluctant to move out of her comfort zone to grasp new opportunities. And a rejection or damaging feedback can spur a spiraling cycle of demoralizing self-doubt,” they say. Sound at all familiar? Consider honing these three critical skill areas to help boost your confidence and achieve your business objectives.
Although women are often thought of as good communicators, many report being uncomfortable speaking up in a work setting, especially in large groups or board meetings. They sometimes lack the confidence to communicate in a way that accurately reflects their true level of knowledge, expertise or authority. Laverick and Bagnall advise women to:
- Be very clear about the message you want to convey and invest the time and effort to communicate in a way that others can quickly and easily understand.
- Deliver your thoughts with impact using clear, concise points that are easily remembered.
- Slow down and make eye contact to project authority and confidence.
Women are also often considered natural networkers, but may shy away from building relationships to benefit their businesses. To make effective networking a successful part of your business development efforts, you need to:
- Be prepared to talk about yourself. Early on, when people invest in a start-up or buy your products, they are investing in you. Make sure you have a powerful, concise story to tell about what you and your business can offer.
- Offer to help someone else, both to build two-way relationships and to practice sharing your expertise and become more accustomed to serving as an authority in your specific area, and on entrepreneurship in general.
Learn to handle rejection
Receiving a no or a less-than-stellar reception for your business can feel like a personal slight. Try to see it instead as simply information.
- When feedback is negative, ask for more. Armed with greater detail, you can objectively evaluate what led to a “no thank you” moment. Was the issue a lack of interest in your product or service, or more about how you pitched it?
Just like building financial acumen, improving supply chain logistics or fine-tuning your investor pitch, self-confidence is a skill that can be improved and expanded. The more willing you become to inhabit the knowledge and know-how you already possess, the more willing you will be to confidently assert yourself as the authority you are.