As president of the nonprofit National Women Business Owners Corporation, Janet Harris-Lange has made it her mission to help women grow their companies. A prime way of doing that is via the organization's national certification program, which gives women in sectors that range from construction to defense, the access to secure government and/or private sector contracts.
A small business owner for over four decades—Harris-Lange is president of Agenda Dynamics, a meeting and event management firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida—she is well versed when it comes to discussing the challenges that women face when they decide to launch a business. Recently, Harris-Lange shared her unique insights on this topic with business writer Iris Dorbian. She also revealed some surprising sectors in which women are thriving as business owners.
ID: What are your thoughts on the state of women-owned small businesses in this country?
JHL: The women-owned companies that we see are very strong and growing at a good pace. They've had struggles with the economy just like every other kind of company. That's not new to anyone. But I think they've been clever about surviving it and coming out on top. I look at our women and am so proud of what they do because if they don't have the skill set to go to the next level, then they enlist the people to help them do that. We’re also seeing a lot of growth in nontraditional companies. It’s not in the traditional kinds of women-owned companies that you might think.
ID: Can you give some examples of this?
JHL: We have a company that we certified that is the only U.S. company to make parts for B52 bombers. I think that's pretty unusual. We have another company that designs the insides of elevators. [The business owner] is certified and winning stadium contracts. We have other companies that do museum exhibits—they set up displays for dinosaurs and so forth. We also have a lot of construction, manufacturing, and information technology companies as well as women-owned trucking companies where they're transporting goods, whether it's for the military or the private sector across the ocean.
ID: What are the biggest challenges women face when launching small businesses?
JHL: Capital is always a challenge and that remains so. Also, we hear adequate staffing [can be a problem]. They have trouble finding good staff so they're always worrying about that. Sometimes it's making that introduction. Just because you get certified doesn't mean that doors are going to swing open for you. You still have to market your company; you still have to get through the door. There’s that proving yourself stage you have to go through.
ID: Geographically, which areas in the country have the largest concentration of women-owned small businesses?
JHL: Obviously, California, Florida, New York, Georgia, throughout the Midwest, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, that area. Also, in a lot of areas where there's a high concentration of population. But we are seeing a lot more women-owned small businesses in rural areas. And we've certified people in Hawaii, Alaska and all 50 states.
ID: Are the small business owners who should get certified those who are specifically looking for private sector or government contracts?
JHL: Yes, but you never know when the right opportunity will come along. There may be a company out there that has a large contract but then they're required to do a percentage with all of these different groups. If you get certified and you're able to get that small piece of that contract, you never know how much that small piece can grow in the future. You prepare for the opportunity instead of scrambling in a week. You can't certify in a week.
ID: Based on your expertise and insight, what tips would you give to women seeking to launch small businesses? What should they do and what should they avoid doing?
JHL: I think a lot of times you know your craft but still you don't have all the business acumen you might need. You have to know how to run a business and make sure that your company is set up properly. Certainly surround yourself with an advisory group or a board of directors—people who have the skills that you may not have or you're not great at. It's also important to network and do business with one another. I'm a great proponent of women doing business with other women, minorities, and disabled veterans.