Here’s a no brainer: Being an entrepreneur is hard. But facing all the challenges of entrepreneurship as a woman? The task can sometimes feel insurmountable. It’s common knowledge that female-run businesses aren’t as broadly supported as male-owned companies; they get less venture funding, and even receive less money when getting business loans.
But on a more positive note, there isn’t a better time to be a female entrepreneur. Resources abound to build your business, better your professional self, and find support along the way. You’ll want to know where to look in order to take advantage of these resources.
Here are five of the best places to start your search:
1. Mentorship and networking
With the current business landscape, “networking” doesn’t have to be a dirty word, and neither does “mentorship”. You don’t have to feel creepy approaching people whom you admire and hope they don’t toss your business card in the trash.
More than anyone, female entrepreneurs know the value of relationship building. Our community is smaller, and our knowledge is more specialized, since you not only have to have business skills, but you also need to understand the specific challenges women face. Consider a sending out a few communications on these platforms:
• Your alumni network. Alumni networks are much more powerful than many people realize. You’ll instantly have something in common with people. Even if someone isn’t listed in an official alumni directory, you can use email or another networking platform to reach out to them noting your shared alma mater as an ice breaker.
• Professional events. You’ll likely find a lot of networking opportunities, like small informal meetups or big planned events, in a major metro area. Sometimes they’re facilitated by professional or trade associations, and sometimes they’re larger conferences for women entrepreneurs. Everyone is there to meet someone in these situations—so the barrier to connect will be lower.
• Former colleagues. Even if you’ve lost a relationship with a former boss or colleague, but you still admire and follow them, tell them that. It’s flattering on the other end of a message to hear that someone is interested in your knowledge. As long as you didn’t burn bridges, consider doors still open.
And remember, if someone doesn’t respond to your email or inquiry, don’t get down on yourself. Anyone who doesn’t respond, even with a no, wouldn’t have been a fruitful relationship for you, anyway.
2. Online communities
One of the reasons why it’s so great to be a female entrepreneur right now? The internet, of course.
Female entrepreneurs should lean into online communities more than ever to make connections and share knowledge. And there are lots of these—obvious ones like LinkedIn, or message boards for trade associations. But there are less obvious ones, too, which might include something like a thread on a neighborhood board (like NextDoor, for instance), or places like Reddit. And don’t limit your search just to business-specific communities. You might be surprised what you find within local or regional sites as well.
If you don’t see what you want, you can always start that thread. You are an entrepreneur. If you’re looking for something, chances are that someone else is, too.
3. First-person stories
For female entrepreneurs, some of the greatest lessons we can learn are from each other. Seek out books for female entrepreneurs, but specifically autobiographical accounts. When you read, it’s important to get into the stories of not only people whom you admire, but people whom you think you have little in common with. Often, that’s where the best lessons are learned.
Additionally, keep your eye out for interviews with your favorite entrepreneurs, or even go digging in the TED Women archives. Similarly, ask the people whom you’ve networked with about their experiences. You’ll learn so much more from others than what you can find in a textbook.
Now, let’s talk dollars and cents. Business funding can be essential for any business to scale. And if you feel discouraged about the fact that women get less funding than men, you should be encouraged by how many female-specific grants exist. Many companies and foundations have created funding opportunities specific to women entrepreneurs. And, if you’re an immigrant or woman of color, you might be able to find even more identity and heritage-specific grants.
Yes, applying for grants takes a lot of work. But they’re not only prestigious to win—they’re also incredible kickstarters for business, since you don’t have to pay back the money. Start looking at lists of grants for female entrepreneurs to see what you’re eligible for now and in the future.
5. SBA loans
SBA loans are generally considered the best business loans available. They have desirable terms including long repayment periods and the lowest rates on offer. That’s because they’re backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration up to 80%, which means the banks who do the actual lending can offer preferable terms with lower risk.
These loans are competitive, so they’re only available for borrowers with strong credit. But they can be the best possible solution among small business loans for women. Among SBA loans are SBA Microloans specifically, which could be an especially good fit for female entrepreneurs with startup businesses. These smaller loans are up to $50,000, and are often awarded to marginalized business owners including veterans and minorities.
Bottom line? There are lots of resources for female entrepreneurs, whether you’re looking to score capital or make connections. You just need to know where to look.