International Women’s Day: SBA and Women’s Business Centers help female entrepreneurs taste their own sweet success

Former Administrator Linda McMahon with Julia Fields

Julia Fields grew up in a family business that had a century of success before she took ownership in 2016. She was the fourth generation – and the first woman – to lead Birnn Chocolates of Vermont. She knew a lot about truffles, but she turned to the SBA to learn more about business.

Fields accessed training through the Vermont Women’s Business Center, which she credits with helping her grow her business. One of the changes she made was hiring employees year-round. The company used to hire only seasonally, which made it hard to retain employees. Today, the company is expanding with a product line of 150 different kinds of truffles (it was “caramel day” when I visited in November!). And it’s innovating thanks to new technology and new equipment, offering same-day shipping, recyclable packaging, and even modern touches like logos, symbols and other infographics printed on their chocolates – advances that Fields’ great-grandfather could only dream of when he started the company back in 1915.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I’m proud to recognize the contributions made by entrepreneurs like Fields. While she continues a family tradition, she is also part of a growing community. Birnn Chocolates is among 11 million women-owned businesses in America. Together, they employ 8.4 million workers and generate $1.7 trillion in sales.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is working to help more women start, grow and expand businesses. One important resource is the 114 Women’s Business Centers in communities nationwide, which counsel approximately 150,000 women a year through programs usually offered at no cost to participants. Research shows women often benefit from counseling or mentorship – what I call “a little wind beneath their wings.” According to the latest survey of WBC clients, the assistance they received enabled them to move forward on their path to success, no matter what stage of their business they were in:

  • 21% hired new staff;
  • 36% increased their profit margins;
  • 47% increased their sales;
  • 56% that applied for financing were successful;
  • 91% would recommend the WBC program to other women

Most of these clients also said their experiences with WBCs helped them increase their self-sufficiency and their confidence – qualities that are harder to quantify but no less important among successful entrepreneurs.

Each local WBC offers programming geared toward its own community. Julia Fields completed the Power Forward! class through the Vermont Women’s Business Center. It’s a 13-week business development program that trains women-owned food and product businesses to scale to the next level. Topics include branding, pricing strategies, supply chain management, digital marketing and financial planning. The program aims to help these businesses overcome barriers to growth so they can increase revenue and create jobs.

This spring, the SBA is exploring its own growth potential. The SBA and its partners at the White House and Departments of Labor and Treasury will launch a new interactive, digital platform for women entrepreneurs ready to grow their businesses. This platform will offer practical, tactical advice that aims to empower women to overcome challenges and elevate their businesses. They can access content specific to their own needs and timelines, and it will be especially helpful to women entrepreneurs in rural areas who don’t have easy access to a WBC or SBA district office. We look forward to helping more entrepreneurs like Julia Fields taste their own sweet success!

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