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Women Business Owner Spotlight: “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 8

 

Women entrepreneurs are optimistic for the year ahead. Tune in to hear Sharon Miller, Bank of America’s Head of Small Business, share insights about economic outlook, access to capital, and the ongoing digital transformation as highlighted in the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Sharon Miller:            I think as a woman it's increasingly—we have so much more ability I should say to be able to manage our life, and that's what a business is. A business owner is not thinking of themselves in terms of “I own this consulting firm,” they're saying, “I have a life, I am a mother,” could be a father, right if we're talking about men. But we're focusing on women here, and I need to manage my whole life, and my business is part of that life and so technology helps me to do that.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            Always a pleasure to talk to Sharon Miller, Bank of America, Head of Small Business. She's back to talk about the 2018 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. I love this. Before, Sharon—first of all welcome to the show—but before we get into your findings, can you give us a little background on this annual report, your Women Business Owner Spotlight?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, this is the third annual Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we conduct it just to understand how women are feeling about their business and how they’re feeling about the growth and what's coming for the next year ahead, including their revenue and hiring expectations, so really just getting our finger on the pulse, to understand what's happening, what's on the mind of women across America.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And how do you do this, this kind of an annual report? In this case, the Women Business Owner Spotlight. How many women do you talk with, and I'm assuming you talk with a good number of men as well. How does it work?

 

Sharon Miller:            We do. So every year, twice a year, go out and survey business owner across the United States and some of them are women, some are men, and then we take those results and we pull out the information specifically pertaining to the questions around women and how they're feeling. And so, we do the study twice a year at Bank of America, and this is the third year we are surveying and focusing specifically on women. And we've been doing this survey, Gregg, since 2012. So over the past three years, it's been increasingly interesting to understand what's on the minds of women and Hispanic business owners and to really start cutting our data into more information around those subsets.

 

Kate Delaney:            So let's dive into this. Can you give us a broad overview, Sharon, of what you found with the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight?

 

Sharon Miller:            I can, Kate, and just to add to what we were just talking about as well, at Bank of America we have 3.3 million small business clients and 40 percent are women-owned. So that's also why it's so important to us to really understand what's on the mind of women. Of the 29 million small business clients across the United States a third are women. Bank of America has been serving women and we certainly want to make sure we understand what's on their minds, so that we can help them and we can help them with their business and to continue to achieve their goals.

 

                                  And so Kate, for the top headlines this year, we found that women entrepreneurs are much more confident on revenue expectations compared to last year, and their growth plans and their economic optimism is up year-over-year as well.  I would say a tone of positive, a tone of growth, a tone of we can-continue-to-grow-our-business-in-spite-of-any-challenges-we-might-face.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And what do you think, Sharon, is driving that optimism about things like revenue?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, we’ve seen the economy continue to improve, not only in our surveys, but in national surveys: for example, for the NFIB, the National Federation of Independent Business Owners, are finding all-time highs in their survey results as well. So, people are spending, people are traveling, we see consumer stability across the board when it comes to employment, and that is a key. People have money coming in, they're earning paychecks and they have more discretionary income to spend.

 

Kate Delaney:            And what are they spending the money on as far as the business is concerned, Sharon, how are women using it? I would imagine technology would be part of a cost.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. In fact in our survey we always ask about how technology is impacting your business, how is it helping to improve your business? And we found that women entrepreneurs are increasingly dependent on capabilities related to technology. So for instance, when you think about the digital transformation, 33 percent of women entrepreneurs use a mobile device to process financial transactions within their business versus only 25 percent of men. So, they're way ahead. And they also foresee over the next five years a complete shift to digital payments. So, as we think about serving these clients so that they can serve their communities in the businesses that they lead, we have to make sure we're keeping up with how they want to help their clients. If clients are coming in and they're using their phone to pay for goods and services, we've gotta be able to help and partner with the business owner to be able to accept payments that way.

 

                                  These are some of the insights and how we use this data in real time to get better at what we do at Bank of America to serve the businesses so they can serve the community.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Sharon Miller, she's the head of small business for Bank of America, we're talking about the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight and being the one male voice here in this interview, I have to ask because what may seem obvious to the two of you as women who are deeply immersed in the world of business—and I being a man so completely looking from the outside—how do the two of you look at things like the technology gap that you've just been describing, Sharon? How do you explain why women are ahead of men in many of these ways? Do you have any insight into that?

 

Sharon Miller:            We are ahead in a lot of ways, frankly.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well I was getting there. Right.

 

Kate Delaney:            We're just gonna focus on technology today, okay.

 

Gregg Stebben:          For those kinds of things where women excel, I think the more we talk about them the better it is for all businesses in technology and all kinds of areas because then businesses can get better at identifying best practices and who should implement them because they tend to have an advantage there.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yeah, I think so, and you know we just had a discussion in New York a week ago with women business owners and entrepreneurs across the country, and we asked that question: how are you using it, why are you using it? And I think that, some of the answers that came up that evening were around “I want to make sure I'm understanding all the ways to make it more efficient for me. I may not just be the owner of this consulting firm, but I also have a family, a life, I'm a wife, a mother, I go to school, I'm still doing all” ... so all these other elements of a life came up.

 

                                  It kept coming up in that conversation, and I think as a woman it's increasingly—we have so much more ability I should say to be able to manage our life, and that's what a business is. A business owner is not thinking of themselves in terms of “I own this consulting firm,” they're saying, “I have a life, I am a mother,” could be a father, right if we're talking about men. But we're focusing on women here, and I need to manage my whole life, and my business is part of that life and so technology helps me to do that.  I can do business wherever I want, whenever I want, however I want, and that's what my clients are telling me and asking me to do.

 

                                    I don't know Kate if you have any other thoughts on there, I know-

 

Kate Delaney:            Oh no.

 

Sharon Miller:            You certainly talk to a lot of business owners as well.

 

Kate Delaney:            I do, and I talk to a lot of women, and I think, how can we do it bigger, better, faster, and for the reasons you said you're pulled in a lot of directions and I know for myself, I love technology. I didn't start out that way because I would get frustrated not learning it because I wanted to know it right away, but the more patience you have and the more that you embrace technology the easier it becomes to do the things that you need to do and all the things on the list I do, from mobile payments to whatever on down, to CRMs to using Zoom or other forms of technology to do what I do. So, I completely agree with it. I love that your survey found this because I think it's absolutely on point from everything that I've seen with my own friends who are either heading up big corporations or they have their own business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's fascinating as a man, we hear stereotypes of course, and they've been around for a long time about how men are traditionally out of balance in their lives, completely focused on work, not balancing their family life well and I think what you might be suggesting, Sharon, is in the future we're going to see more and more emphasis on the healthy part of balance, work/life balance and that we're largely going to be thanking women in business for bringing that trend.

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it's healthy. I think it's balanced. It's bringing your whole self to work. It's bringing your whole self to your business and I think it makes for better corporations and it makes for better business.

 

Kate Delaney:            How about this, this of course is on the minds of many. Sharon, access to capital. That's a big challenge for women business owners, or is it? What did you find this year?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, you know, access to capital is improving, and we did hear that loud and clear from business owners. But they do feel that they're facing bigger challenges when it comes to access to capital than their male counterparts. At Bank of America, we see our lending business is up. We see high demand for capital, and we are finding that for women, who represent 40 percent of our business, and I feel like we have a very strong representation of women coming to us every single day. However, at Bank of America we know that there are some issues and there are some items that we can help with, and so from our survey results we do hear that training or education or knowing what to ask for, when to ask for it, has been in the past perhaps a road block.

 

                                  So, we have recently launched the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship in partnership with Cornell University, and this focus is going to be all around access to capital as one element, training, education and making sure that women have all the information, because as women, and I read about this a lot, women want to make sure that every single box is checked, all 10 items if that's what's required for this, versus a male who may come in with two done and eight left undone. We're certainly hearing this from the panels we have, and so perhaps the male counterpart would understand that okay you have to have this, this and this, because they're getting the education along the way. Whereas a woman may wait till they have everything done and they still realize, oh, there was something else I needed to do. So, I think just that conversation, the dialogue, the information, whether it be online, across the desk from an advisor, is gonna be helpful in closing the gap on access to capital.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Wow, perfect place to wrap this up, Sharon Miller, Bank of America, head of small business. Fascinating always to talk to you, and this information is fabulous from your 2018 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. Thanks so much for coming on.

 

Sharon Miller:              Gregg and Kate, thank you so much for having me.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

                                  Check out our Small Business Story Collection:

 

                                  The Unique Values Women Bring to Small Business Ownership on the Bank of America Small Business Community. 

 

                                  Learn more about how Bank of America invests in women.

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