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Women-Owned Businesses Showed Resiliency During the Recession
By Chris Owen
June 20, 2012

A new survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Center for Women's Business Research, has found that women-owned small businesses fared comparatively well during the recession.

"Small Business: Lessons of the Recession,” an in-depth look at how women-owned businesses responded to and weathered the recent economic fallout, has found that 45 percent of women-owned businesses concentrated primarily on cutting business costs while 31 percent sought to increase sales.

Regardless of which strategy they chose, women business owners indicate that their real volume sales remain lower than when the recession started in 2007.

Recovery Is Far From Complete

The survey finds that the recovery is far from complete, as most women-owned firms still have a smaller staff than they did before the recession began.

"During the recession, women-owned small businesses did the best they could with the few choices they had available to remain open for business, and they're stronger today for it," says Patricia Greene, Chair of the Center for Women's Business Research. "The real silver lining is that their resiliency provides valuable lessons on how today's business owners can adapt to challenges."

The survey suggests that the resiliency of these female business owners should help the economy. While many women reduced headcount to reduce costs during the recession, they are now starting to hire again. Compared to their worst quarters during the recession, nearly half of women-owned businesses are now increasing headcount (45 percent) and only nine percent report that they are decreasing their staff sizes.

This is a significant improvement, given that 36 percent of women small-business owners reduced their headcounts during the recession.

Important Findings

The survey reveals some important insights about how women-owned businesses have handled dealing with the recession, including:

o Focus on Cost Control: Forty-five percent have focused on controlling costs in response to economic challenges, while 31 percent have concentrated on increasing sales.

o Targeting the Right Customers: Although more than half (54 percent) have focused on new business among their existing customer base, approximately one in four (23 percent) say that they are marketing to a customer base today that is different from their pre-recession targets.

o Social Media as a Business Tool: Half of women business owners now use social media compared to only four percent before the recession. Of those surveyed, 56 percent say that social media is "very important" or "important" to their business.

o Finding Outside Help: The sales record of those who invested in outside help to control costs and/or increase sales (23 percent) proved somewhat better than those who did not.

o Promoting the Business through Community Activities: Thirty-nine percent have increased their involvement in civic, social or academic activities to increase their exposure during the recession and create value for their communities.

o Working Longer Hours: Women business owners are working longer hours than they were during the height of the Great Recession (41 percent).

"The data indicate that many of women-owned businesses adjusted to the new, volatile circumstances, by making changes to their businesses," says William Dennis, Senior Research Fellow at the NFIB. "What is encouraging is that many of these adjustments appear to have been institutionalized."

Chris Owen is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of HireStrategy. HireStrategy provides contract staffing services, direct hire search, and executive search solutions in the technology, finance & accounting, sales & marketing, human resources and administrative professions. HireStrategy, an Inc. 5000 company, has been ranked by The Washington Business Journal as the top staffing firm in the Washington DC region, and recognized by Washingtonian Magazine as one of Washington's "Great Places to Work."

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