For Women Entrepreneurs, the Pivot From ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’ is Critical

March 4, 2020: Qurate Retail Group survey of women small business owners explores how entrepreneurs approach leadership, brand building, and corporate responsibility as their businesses grow.

Women entrepreneurs are a rising force in business, bringing new ideas and innovative products and services to every sector of the U.S. economy. As part of its long-standing commitment to supporting women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, Qurate Retail Group conducted a survey of more than 1,000 women small business owners on the factors that fuel entrepreneurial success. The survey concluded, among other findings, that choosing the right partnerships and people is the single most important factor in an entrepreneur’s growth as a leader, especially among companies with more than 10 employees.

“Entrepreneurs bring incredible passion and drive to their businesses, which is why they are such a force in innovation,” said Leslie Ferraro, president of QxH, Qurate Retail Group’s largest business unit, comprising its QVC and HSN brands in the U.S. “As a business moves out of its start-up phase and into new realms of growth, it becomes even more critical to shift focus to assembling the right team and selecting the right partners and distribution platforms to grow the brand for the long term. Launching and fostering the growth of up-and-coming brands is part of our DNA as a retail company and remains a core tenant of our brand experience.”

Number of Employees Percent of respondents who said choosing partnerships and people is the top-ranking factor to growth as a leader
1 – 10 employees37%
11 – 25 employees59%
26 – 50 employees 53%
51 – 100 employees63%

This finding reflects a broader pivot that women entrepreneurs make as their businesses grow: from executing against goals (which is critical at launch) to building a team that can sustain long-term growth. When asked to select a quote that best captures their business experience, respondents from smaller companies focused on the idea of getting things done, while respondents from larger small businesses saw alignment with concepts of inclusivity and teamwork:

  • 37% of respondents with 1-10 employees selected this quote from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act.”
  • 38% of respondents with 51-100 employees selected a quote from Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

The way entrepreneurs define a “leader” evolves as well. Among respondents with 1-10 employees, 30% believe they first became a leader when they made their first sale or signed their first customer. However, as a leader manages a larger workforce, the goalposts for what makes her feel like a boss change:

  • 26% said they became a leader when they grew their team (11-50 employees)
  • 31% said they became a leader when they made their first deal (secured funding, established a partnership) (51-100 employees)

Women entrepreneurs also evolve their leadership style as their business passes growth milestones.

At launch, the most popular leadership style is visionary (based on inspiration and trust). Once they gain experience, entrepreneurs also begin to adopt a coaching leadership style (characterized by partnership and collaboration). For respondents with 51-100 employees, the most popular leadership style flipped from visionary when they launched their business (38%) to coaching today (42%). Visionary leaders have a powerful ability to drive progress, while a coaching leader can elevate performance by quickly recognizing their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations and helping each individual improve.

Regardless of company size, 67% of women entrepreneurs feel it’s vital for customers to understand the origins of their brand and what their brand stands for.

Across the board, the CEO/Founder is viewed as the most effective spokesperson for telling the company’s brand story, with 43% of entrepreneurs surveyed ranking it number one among options that included employees, industry experts and the news media. It is no surprise, then, that a strong majority of women entrepreneurs (82%) said they believe it is very important to talk directly with customers and get their feedback when launching a business, or that most respondents overall (58%) act as an influencer on behalf of their company.

“Interacting directly with customers and owning the brand narrative allows entrepreneurs to showcase the person and, importantly, the vision and story behind the brand,” said Mary Campbell, Chief Merchandising Officer, Qurate Retail Group, and Chief Commerce Officer, QVC US. “Not only can this be a powerful differentiator for many customers, but this transparent and accessible communication helps create a customer experience that builds trust, loyalty, and advocacy among customers.” 

For most women entrepreneurs (62%), corporate responsibility is a core element of their brand – i.e., being a company that acts in the best interests of all stakeholders and the environment.

Corporate responsibility is important to entrepreneurs because it builds confidence and trust with customers and strengthens the company culture.

  • Nearly 80% of women entrepreneurs believe corporate responsibility is important to their customers.
  • Nearly half of women entrepreneurs seek to build purpose-driven (45%) cultures and 32% said they want to build empowering cultures.

“We have a long-standing commitment to supporting women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, from enabling them to engage directly with millions of customers through our retail platforms to sharing our team members’ expertise through professional development conferences, our Qurate Retail Group Fellowship Program, and other skill-based volunteer opportunities,” said Ferraro. “Publishing these findings is one more way for us to provide value and insights with women entrepreneurs to help them thrive.”

Methodology

The findings included in the Qurate Retail Group Women’s Entrepreneurship Study 2020 come from an online survey of a random sample of 1,010 U.S. women business founders, owners, co-owners, CEOs, and partners, in organizations ranging from 1 to 100 total employees. Fieldwork was conducted by M/A/R/C® Research January 21-27, 2020. The survey margin of error is +/- 2.6% at a 90% confidence level.

Business Size: 1-10 employeesn=774
Business Size: 11-25 employeesn=111
Business Size: 26-50 employeesn=77
Business Size: 51-100 employeesn=48

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