Three women entrepreneurs who broke the $500k revenue barrier

Women are founding businesses at unprecedented rates – 2.5 times the national average according to the National Women’s Business Council. Still, women-owned businesses have a lot of ground to make up in order to gain an equal footing with their peers. Although women-owned businesses made up 36 percent of the country’s businesses in 2012, they accounted for just four percent of revenues and seven percent of private sector employment. A 2013 report issued by the Small Business Administration found that the major constraint limiting the growth of small businesses, especially women and minority-owned businesses, is inadequate access to financing.

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Source: Womenable State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN

In the U.S., firms with $500,000 or more in revenues represent just 9 percent of all businesses but contribute 91 percent of all private sector employment and 96 percent of all business revenue in the nation’s economy. Among women-owned businesses, four percent are meeting or exceeding this threshold. The women whose businesses fall into this category don’t fit a single profile, but the women entrepreneurs we work with share a passion for their business and the entrepreneurial spirit to ensure its success, even in the face of obstacles.

Vernita Johnson – DLV Printing, Chicago, IL

 

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Vernita worked at a large printing firm before pursuing her dream to start her own business. She founded DLV Printing in Chicago with her two sisters in 1991.

Vernita says the best part about her business is her customers. “I meet so many different people in so many different professions, and learning what they do is very inspiring,” she said. “I have customers that have turned into my personal friends. A lot of people you get to mentor and help when they’re starting out, and it turns into a relationship with these people. It turns into more than a job.”

One of the main challenges Vernita faced in growing her business was accessing finance. With a loan from Accion, she was able to purchase equipment to expand DLV’s services to include silkscreen and embroidery in 2001. Another Accion loan allowed her to renovate a new, larger location for her business. These improvements have helped DLV Printing take on new business and hire more people in the community. The company experienced revenue growth of nearly 15 percent in 2015.

Vernita’s advice to other women starting businesses is to find mentors in their field, seek out training on business fundamentals, and above all be patient.

“If you have something and you stick with it, it will grow,” she said.

Brandi Jennings – BFAB Construction, Denver, CO

 

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Brandi is the founder of BFAB Construction, a 100 percent women-owned and run commercial and residential construction company in Denver. Her business originally started as a welding company that she operated part time in addition to working for a general contractor. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” she said.

Brandi was forced to take medical leave when she had to take 11 months of chemotherapy, and found that she needed to make her “side business” her main source of income during that time. After she was cleared to go back to work her employer recognized how well BFAB was performing and encouraged her to incorporate her business, offering to hire BFAB as a subcontractor.  “I incorporated that day and it’s grown from there,” she said.

Jennings says that access to capital and technical assistance from Accion has helped her take on bigger construction projects, better understand her business financials, and proactively develop solutions to business challenges. BFAB Construction tripled its sales in the last year and expects to double its sales in the next year.

“The most rewarding part of my job is impacting other people’s lives, especially my employees,” said Jennings.

Brandi also appreciates the creative nature of her work. “I’m very fortunate in my job to where I’m always doing something different and I get to see ideas come to life,” she said.

Brandi notes that in her industry, women are just as capable of success as men. In fact, women-owned construction firms are exceeding $500,000 in revenue at a higher rate than the national average – 12 percent vs. 11 percent.

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Source: Womenable State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN

“The ‘women are not in this industry’ barrier has been broken,” she said. “We can do the same things that men can do and we actually can do a lot of those things better.”

Brandi advises other women considering starting their own businesses to go ahead and take the risk.

“If you have that entrepreneurial spirit, believe in yourself and take that leap,” she said. “The worst thing that can happen is failure, and I would say that some of my biggest achievements have come from failure.”

Jane Spicer – Daphne’s Headcovers, Phoenix, AZ

 

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Jane Spicer founded Daphne’s Headcovers, which sells novelty golf club covers, when she was ten years old. Her mother Daphne taught her to make plush toys, which eventually evolved into golf club covers based on a customer’s suggestion. When she got out of college, Jane realized her passion was with her business rather than a “nine to five” job. She spent six years on the road building her company until she had enough business to stay in the Phoenix area.

Jane started looking for financing to expand her business after the recession. She said that bankers would tell her things like, “Wow, Jane, I carry your headcovers. I admire your creativity. I admire what you’re doing,” but they still couldn’t approve her for a loan. When she went to Accion, she said the conversation went differently.

Talking to her loan officer Roberto “was like speaking to another entrepreneur,” she said. “He understood that it’s the people, it’s the character of the business that drives it.”

Jane mentors other entrepreneurs and graduate students at Arizona State University. Her first piece of advice to other women business owners is to “own their financials.”

“It’s not okay to say ‘my accountant has that,’” she said. “Business owners need to own, understand, and be able to talk their financials.”

Jane’s second piece of advice to women entrepreneurs is to accept constructive criticism but ultimately believe in their ideas.

“If you’re passionate about an idea, don’t let anybody tell you it won’t work,” she said. “You can use me as an example. I make animal golf club covers for a living. April will be my 38th year.”  The company’s revenue increased by more than 250 percent in 2015.

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