Blog | Entrepreneurship

Successful Women Share Their Entrepreneurial Secrets

Female self-made billionaires are slowly on the rise — what can women-owned businesses learn from their triumphs?

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Wouldn’t it have been nice to inherit wealth? However, the vast majority of us — including Robert and myself — weren’t so lucky. Just like you, we’ve had to work hard for every penny we’ve earned over the years. And that got me thinking: How many of us have actually reached the pinnacle of earnings by becoming not just a self-made millionaire, but a bona fide self-made billionaire?

According to the Wealth-X Billionaire Census of 2019, as of May 2019, there were 2,604 billionaires in the world and slightly more than half (55.8%) are self-made. The U.S. leads the pack with 705 billionaires, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the almighty Warren Buffet — and North America was actually the only region to see an increase in its billionaire population.

Where are all the successful women?

Of course, if you’ve been following my teachings, you know that what I’m most concerned with are the number of female self-made billionaires. After all, these women are the movers and shakers the rest of us mortals can look up to! But before I dive into the most recent numbers, let’s take a trip down memory lane. In 2011, just 9 short years ago, this was the reality:

  • Of the top 10 wealthiest women in the world, every single one inherited their wealth from a male relative.

  • Of the world's 1,011 self-made billionaires (those who made their own money rather than inheriting it), only 14 were women.

Sounds pretty darn disappointing, right? Do you think that number has grown?

When I examined 2018 data, I was pleased to find a record 2,208 billionaires made the prestigious ranking. Here are some notable stats about successful women in this category:

  • There were 256 women billionaires.

  • Compared to 2017, their collective net worth was up 20% to surpass $1 trillion.

  • There are 72 self-made women billionaires on the list.

Ok, so we are definitely making progress — those numbers show five times as many self-made female billionaires in just seven years. That’s encouraging and all signs point to things moving in the right direction.

But what to today’s numbers reveal? Unsurprisingly, the billionaire population remains heavily male dominated — just over one female for every nine men. There was virtually no change over 2018 (which, frankly, wasn’t a lot of time for anyone to acquire a whole new level of wealth).

  • 6 in every 10 male billionaires created their own fortunes, compared with only 16% of women.

  • The 15 richest women in the U.S. are worth a collective $262.4 billion.

  • Many of the women on the list are related to one another — including the four Mars sisters who cashed in on their family’s impressive candy and pet food company. Others earned their fortunes through divorce, such as Jeff Bezos’ ex MacKenzie Bezos, or when a family member passed away, such as Laurene Powell Jobs, who’s late husband was Steve Jobs.

What do you think is the reason for this huge discrepancy of male versus female billionaires? Is the business world still stacked against women? Is it because women are averse to the idea of being extremely rich? Are they relying on their husbands to earn the big paychecks? Are they scared to go after their dreams or lack the support to do so? Do women care more about “the mission” than making a lot of money? What is holding us back, and how do we get beyond it? I wish I had these answers.

Advice for launching women-owned businesses

One of the world’s richest self-made women is Zhou Qunfei, the founder and CEO of Lens Technology. As of 2018, she had a net worth of $7.4 billion. By the way, she is a high school dropout, further illustrating one of our classic Rich Dad scams: that you need higher education to succeed in life.

In an interview with CNBC, Zhou offered up three pieces of advice to female entrepreneurs — and guess what? I love them all! It’s clear to me why she’s been so incredibly successful. Let’s explore her words of wisdom, as it may help launch more women-owned businesses:

  1. Be prepared. She recommends preparing as best as you can and then having a few back-up plans in place in case things don’t quite go your way (for instance, if a client rejects your proposal). Since this often comes down to negotiations, check out my three tips for women to get what they want.

  2. Keep learning. I’ve preached this time and time again, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Knowledge is power and a competitive edge in any industry. Use it to your advantage and make sure you are continuing to seek a deeper understanding of your subject matter. It’s the only way to continue growing. Start by reading 5 ways to always be learning.

  3. Never give up. Zhou’s advice rings true to one of my favorite mottos: It’s OK to fail. She says the key to success is to preserve when you encounter setbacks, especially during the most challenging times.

What do other successful women have to say?

The women behind some of the most successful women-owned businesses undoubtedly learned a lot of lessons along the way. I hope you’ll find their advice as inspirational as I did:

  • Invent something based on your own need — chances are, if you need it, so do many others.

    Take the story of Sara Blakely, who was frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t find an appropriate undergarment to wear under a pair of cream pants that she had bought for a party: “So, I decided to cut the feet out of control top pantyhose one day, and I threw them on under my white pants, and went to the party. I looked fabulous, I felt great, I had no panty lines, I looked thinner and smoother, but they rolled up my legs all night. And I remember thinking, ‘This should exist for women’. I’d never taken a business class, I’d never worked in fashion or retail. I’d actually been selling fax machines door-to-door for seven years, since graduating from college, and I had $5,000 in savings. I’d just moved out of my mom’s house, and I was dating a loser.”

    She founded, you guessed it, Spanx with that $5,000. As of 2018, Forbes estimates Blakely is worth more than $1.1 billion. Of course, she hasn’t stopped there when it comes to building her empire — she’s been seen on ABC’s Shark Tank, investing in other people’s promising businesses, too. You can read more about her successes here.

  • Know your why, no matter what it is, and stay focused on it.

    “You’ll never succeed without me.” That’s the insult a young Barbara Corcoran — a real estate investor and Shark Tank regular — received from her long-term boyfriend and business partner. He dumped Barbara for her secretary, and these were his parting words. “I knew I would rather die than let him see me fail,” she told a reporter at USA Today.

    “His sage advice made me more determined to become a big success, and I worked harder than ever to prove him wrong.”

    So take the time to figure out your why, if you haven’t already, and then keep it in mind as you pursue your dreams.

  • Build strong relationships with employees, vendors and customers.

    Dottie Herman — CEO of Douglas Elliman, one of the nation’s oldest and largest real estate brokerage firms with approximately $27.4 billion in annual sales — says strong relationships made a large impact on her career. “I truly believe in getting to know people, which generates authentic relationships,” she told a Forbes writer.

    “That’s why I make it a point to get to know all of the agents and employees who work for my company. This personalization creates a positive rapport, especially with new agents. But I don’t limit myself to our real estate agents. I want to create strong connections with everyone within the organization regardless of where they work.

    As a hands-on CEO, I want to hear all perspectives, which helps our company thrive. When we opened new offices in another market, I got to know the local press and merchants. Talking with the locals helped me understand the needs and wants of our perspective customers.”

    The more people you talk to, the more perspectives you’ll have when it comes to building a business, problem solving, and more. Too many CEOs make the mistake of only forming relationships with their top few executives or clients, and in the process miss out on so many other important conversations. Herman offers more advice in the full article.

I hope you’re feeling as amped up as I am to add your name to that growing list of self-made female billionaires someday — any one of us can be next! Of course, you can start a bit smaller and join the ranks of women-owned businesses by starting a side business without quitting your day job. You never know where that one decision could take you.

Original publish date: December 20, 2018

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