Every day in the U.S., about 850 new businesses are started by women. It’s been nearly two decades since I launched JAI, and in those 20 years, Business Insider’s data reports that the number of women-owned companies has increased 114%.
Many women are starting their own businesses because they find it difficult to balance motherhood and personal responsibilities with the demands of the traditional corporate workplace. While being a woman-owned business comes with its own set of challenges, entrepreneurship offers greater autonomy and flexibility.
There are 5 traits that I’ve seen successful female entrepreneurs share.
#1: Strong Communication
Communication isn’t just about talking, it’s also about reading nonverbal cues, empathizing with emotions, and listening effectively. According to science, women tend to excel at all of these communication skills. While men tend to look at the big picture, women read between the lines. It’s how our brains are wired.
As the owner and principal designer of JAI, I need to remember the tiniest of details. Whether it’s with my team or my clients, I rely on my intuition to pick up on emotions, observe body language, and listen to the tone of voice.
Each piece of communication is connected and important.
When I think about the power and importance of communication, I recall the complexity of designing the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport hotel. Within the 445 guestrooms and suites, the JAI team had to design over SIXTY different room types. Excellent communication and honest relationships were important for obtaining approvals and keeping the project in budget and on schedule. The hotel’s project management validated our team as more than just talented, creative people–they saw us as skilled listeners, negotiators, communicators, and mediators.
#2: Instinctive Flexibility
The world of business—especially since the pandemic—is undergoing many dramatic changes that require a more flexible approach. Women make great leaders because we are more flexible, and agile, probably because we need to juggle so many roles in our personal lives. If we see the direction we’re headed isn’t working, we are quicker to regroup and change course for the better.
As a leader, Flexibility has allowed me to get the best out of my team.
When hiring staff, one of the benefits I offer is flexible scheduling. Not everyone is a morning person. I couldn’t expect to get the best out of a night owl if I had them come in at 8:00 a.m. Some of the best designers may need to pick up their kids from school in the middle of the day and come back to their projects after they tuck their children in at night. I want the best designers on my team, and I want them to give me their best eight hours of their day.
Like all businesses that continually evolve, I realized over a year ago that the hospitality design industry was changing, rapidly. For years JAI operated out of Safety Harbor, FL, while working with hotels and spaces in other areas of Florida, the United States, and the Caribbean. After reflecting on the idea that I could employ top interior designers from Clearwater, Atlanta, and Brooklyn if I closed our brick and mortar office and switched to a remote model, I exercised flexibility and launched our virtual offices.
It was a big shift, but it paid off in spades when many businesses were suddenly forced to send their employees home to work earlier this year. JAI was already established with the new systems we needed to continue serving our clients without missing a beat.
#3: Collaboration Over Competition
Female entrepreneurs focus more on collaboration than competition. This isn’t without reason. Women tend to empathize more, experiencing the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of others. Men, on the other hand, tend to systemize—a drive to analyze or construct a system.
That makes sense when I consider how I’ve built my business around relationships. JAI’s designers, vendors, and clients feel like part of my family and the collaboration process with them is one of the most invigorating things about my business.
What I gain from their friendships and insights is much more valuable than the dollars I could earn from competing for their projects.
Many of my mentors, coaches, and role models are other business owners, designers, and hospitality professionals. My mentors mean the world to me and I credit them with so much of my success. Without their expertise, love, and support I don’t know how I could have succeeded over the last two decades. Many of my dearest friends in the industry could be considered “the competition,” but there’s enough work to go around.
#4: High Emotional Intelligence
Many people believe that females are too emotional to handle confrontation or challenges. The opposite is often true.
Women’s strength in emotional intelligence is an advantage.
Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean we are void of emotions. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you, I cry at every grand opening. Those tears are a celebration of the completion of 2-4 years of arduous work.
During the time it takes to complete a hospitality design project, I ride a rollercoaster of experiences that could trigger many emotions—unexpected challenges, surprise successes, bigger surprise failures, and unanticipated changes in my team’s dynamics. It’s hard, and I want to be transparent with you. There have been many times when I have wanted to quit. But then…
A grand opening arrives and I am reminded that the effort, perseverance, stamina, frustration turns into complete joy and I am so proud of the journey that JAI endured.
I sometimes compare being a business owner to childbirth. Maybe that’s why so many women are equipped for it. There is so much pain, but it’s all forgotten the moment we get to experience the joy of our labor. Experience is a great teacher and it has helped me face stressful situations with confidence. Maybe a big part of having high emotional intelligence is connected to knowing your passion and purpose.
#5: Multitasking Mastery
Research has recently demonstrated that switching from one task to the next takes a toll on productivity. So, why would I say being a “Multitasking Mastery” is a positive trait of successful female entrepreneurs?
Business women today feel more comfortable making personal choices about the paths they choose to follow toward success. And when it comes to work-life balance specifically, they know there’s no such thing as the perfect balance. In fact, chasing the imaginary standard of perfect work-life balance is the very thing that may prevent women from achieving it.
Today, women know how to take mastery, or control, over multiple tasks, roles, and demands on them. The notion of a perfect 50-50 work/life balance is unattainable because life doesn’t balance like that. One day you may need to place more attention on your business and your work—more than 50%. The next day, you may need to give more attention to your family because of commitments to your kids and loved ones.
Taking mastery over multitasking looks like being fully present wherever you are so you can be your best self in whatever role you are serving at the time.
I often say, JAI was my first baby and my daughter Madelyn was my second because that’s the order they entered my life. Many people don’t know that I was a single mother for 4 years. Since I already owned my own business, I ran my company as a solo parent. Those were the most difficult years of my life. In those early years, when I was at work, I felt guilty about not being home. When I was at home, I felt guilty about not being at work. With perseverance and resilience—and a whole lot of courage and even more grace—those early days helped make me who I am today.
My daughter is a teenager now, and we shared an incredible experience together recently. The Cambria Hotel Madeira Beach celebrated its grand opening in June 2020. It was a project that was right in my backyard. From construction to opening, Madelyn went along with me for weekly progress checks. It was the first time she saw first-hand what I do and how much work goes into designing hotels. It was a gift seeing how proud she is of my work. She finally understands why I work so hard and why I sometimes need to travel and be apart from her. She is proud of her mom!
Women have an incredible inFluence on their children. My daughter knows she can do anything—because she’s seen me do it.
One Final Thought
The female entrepreneur may need to remind herself to turn off her work and “boss lady” traits when the day is done. My husband will be the first to tell you, I let him make all the decisions about what to have for dinner, what movie to watch, or what we’re doing for the evening. I make decisions all day long and, when I get home, I just want someone else to make all the choices.
As an entrepreneur, I am a visionary. I am always thinking about the future and dreaming about the next big idea or project. Sometimes it is hard to just stop and be where my feet are. Chances are, if you’re a woman business owner, you can relate.