For business owner Ginger Hahn, her eponymous Sacramento chocolate shop is about more than sweets. It’s about freedom.
As a pastry chef who was previously working as an employee, she knew her salary and advancement opportunities would top out. But launching her own enterprise opened the gate to paychecks and stepping stones limited only by her tenacity and drive.
Many of the jobs she had while working her way up the chocolate food chain were emotionally draining and stripped her of any life outside of work, she says. She had bosses who treated her horribly, and she slaved away working long days. Owning Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates means she can set a different standard for herself and her team, ensuring a respectful environment in which everyone has the right work/life balance. It’s one reason she felt comfortable starting a family, since she can now devote time to her business, her spouse and her two young sons.
In short, she has the freedom to work the best way she sees fit and, in the process, make some changes to the culture of business.
Apparently, the opportunity to create a business is appealing to many other women as well. A recent American Express OPEN report found that between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned firms grew at 1.5 times the national average. In fact, there’s been a 59 percent rise in women-owned firms nationally since 1997.
“Women make good business owners,” she says. “Sure, there are some women out there who are cutthroat. But in general, women create a nice atmosphere for people. When people know you care about them for real, they do their job better. They care about your company more. If you make sure your personnel are happy at home, they’ll be happier at work and they’ll make you more money.”
Women have apparently been doing quite well over the past six years. Since 2008, the only businesses that have provided a net increase in employment are large, publicly traded corporations and privately held, majority women-owned firms. In all other privately held firms, employment declined over the 2007–2013 period.
Another report by the National Association of Women Small Business Owners shows females are feeling quite optimistic, with 81 percent upbeat about their businesses’ prospects for the coming year.
For Hahn in particular, the road to success (and finding it) wasn’t all macaroons and bon-bons. Getting started was tough. Not necessarily because she was a woman, she said, but because she was young, and, well, starting a business is hard. When she first struck out on her own she was just 24, and some of her own immaturity caused some people to balk.
But that’s where her work ethic came in.
“If you want something bad enough, whether you’re a man or a women, you can do it,” Hahn says. “I opened my business with a $2,500 credit card, two bowls and a spatula and worked my way up.” That drive took Hahn a long way. She now runs a successful, 12-person company in a prime midtown storefront.
While things are humming along for the majority of female small-business owners, it doesn’t mean they don’t suffer the same setbacks as their male counterparts.
Some of the roadblocks that stood in Hahn’s way are issues every small business owner struggles with.
Two issues plaguing Hahn and many other entrepreneurs across the nation are a lack of access to affordable health care and finding the necessary capital to open a business and grow it.
Small Business Majority’s opinion polling has found time and again that rising health care costs have been a top concern for small-business owners. We’ve also found that while the majority of small businesses want to offer health insurance, many cannot afford to. The Affordable Care Act has and will continue to put reforms in place to bend the cost curve so premiums are more affordable to employers and individuals.
Provisions in effect, such as rate review and the medical loss ratio (MLR), already have resulted in lower premium costs and cash back for small employers. Millions of small businesses in 42 states got rebates for part of their coverage costs in 2012 because their insurers failed to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on patient care and quality improvement as required by the MLR rule. In California alone, insurance giant UnitedHealth refunded $3.5 million to 4,400 companies because of the rule.
Additionally, in October, open enrollment for the state’s health insurance exchange, Covered California, will begin. The exchange will allow the 700,000 California small businesses with fewer than 50 employees (Ginger Hahn included) to band together when buying coverage — giving them the kind of purchasing clout large businesses enjoy.
What’s more, because of a reform in the new law banning insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, would-be entrepreneurs who up until now have stayed at jobs just for the health care will be a thing of the past. A report released in May by the Urban Institute found there will be an additional 1.5 million self-employed individuals in 2014 because of this reform.
The new law, while extremely complex and at times hard to understand, is something Hahn believes will be positive for small business owners.
“The hardest thing about opening your own business is not getting health care. We’ve been lucky enough to be successful, but there needs to be a common wellbeing,” says Hahn, who provides health care to all her full-time employees.
In addition to struggles with insurance, access to capital is another issue many small-business owners battle. Several banks turned Hahn down for a loan when she was first starting out. To clear that hurdle, she opened her business with a credit card in order to show the banks she could be successful. Once they saw her turning a profit, they gave her the loan she needed to make Ginger Elizabeth into what it is today.
Small Business Majority’s opinion research shows Hahn’s path is not one unfamiliar to other entrepreneurs. Nearly six in 10 small business owners who need credit say getting it is a serious problem. More than half have turned to credit cards to finance their business. In addition, more than two-thirds view credit availability as a problem for small businesses in general.
There are various policies out there that can help shore up capital for small firms, such as increasing credit unions’ lending authority for small businesses. A bill making its way through Congress right now would allow credit unions to lend as much as 27.5 percent of their assets (up from 12.25 percent) and would free up $13 billion in capital, creating 140,000 potential jobs.
Still, set backs remain, both culturally and in the business sphere. But female small-business owners aren’t letting it get them down or stop them from achieving. That’s great for women everywhere, but as our economy struggles to lift itself out of the worst recession in decades, the fact that women are creating jobs faster than anyone else is pretty darn good for all.
For women who fear facing financial or career penalties while parenting, it is important to be proactive. As with all career goals, the key is setting realistic expectations and communicating them effectively to others.