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Getting Social: Online Collaboration Helps Women-Owned Businesses Thrive

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  March 16, 2015 | Focus on Women

By Lisa Wirthman

For women who thought success meant they had to learn how to achieve in a man’s world, Hello Fearless is changing the game. The online education platform is creating a new template for female entrepreneurs that focuses on collaboration and teaches women how to build companies that match their unique strengths.

While female entrepreneurs are making great strides, they often lack access or awareness of the networks and resources required for a start-up to grow. In fact, some 90 percent of women-owned businesses are solopreneurs, says Sara Davidson, founder and CEO of Hello Fearless, the school for female entrepreneurs she started with her partner in 2014.

“There’s a paradigm shift happening in entrepreneurship right now that’s all about business and life integration,” she says.

Courage to Grow

Many women limit business growth because they fear they will have to sacrifice their time or freedom as their company scales, says Davidson. Hello Fearless teaches women how to identify their “zone of genius” so they can hire or partner with people who complement their strengths and then build a company that extends beyond themselves.

As an online education platform, Hello Fearless is also able to bypass “old boys clubs” and gender stereotypes in local business and start-up communities that can isolate women from networking opportunities. The platform offers women an alternative way to connect through an Internet-based community of classes, networking, and mentorships for women entrepreneurs.

“The Internet has been transformational in helping women overcome so many biases by allowing them to hear inspirational stories from women who are breaking down those barriers,” Davidson says. “When you’re part of a community of other ambitious women who are dreaming big and stepping outside of the box, it inspires you to do the same.”

Forging Collaboration

Social platforms like Hello Fearless emphasize collaboration over competition to help female entrepreneurs expand their opportunities to build relationships, reduce their learning curves, and reap collective benefits from their wins.

“When women work together, we are a pivotal force in the start-up ecosystem,” says Erica Nicole, founder and CEO of YFS Magazine—a publication that connects and empowers entrepreneurs and startups.

“Competition cannibalizes efforts and prevents women from solidifying their presence in the small-business ecosystem,” Nicole says. “Merge strong female leadership with efforts to make entrepreneurship accessible and we can become enablers to thriving start-up communities.”

Davidson started Hello Fearless in response to her own experience as an entrepreneur. When she started her first company, a marketing consultancy, Davidson didn’t know any other women business owners. “I was very much on an island by myself,” she says.

She began to network with other entrepreneurs online to share ideas, which, in turn, gave her the idea for Hello Fearless. The online platform is a natural learning environment for women, says Davidson, because it democratizes education and creates a safe community for female entrepreneurs to share their aspirations and fears.

Being the Boss

Support from an online community of women was critical to helping Melanie Zimmer launch Pink Door Development, a mobile and web application development business. Although she had access to resources, Zimmer’s local startup scene was “very male dominated,” she says. “It’s hard for a woman to come into that world and feel confident about herself.”

Then Zimmer found Hello Fearless. She enrolled in “Boss School” last fall—a 10-week course that provides women with the CEO skills needed to scale a company and the encouragement of a community of like-minded female entrepreneurs. By December, Zimmer had quit her corporate job and launched her new company.

“Collaboration gives me the energy I need to keep going,” Zimmer says. “It’s like having a team of people running the race with you.”

Keys to Success

Collaboration is an important factor in entrepreneurial success at any level, says Scott Gerber, founder and CEO of YEC—an invitation-only community of successful entrepreneurs under 40 that provides mentors for Hello Fearless students.

“Success is about a collection of people, ideas, and resources that you’re going to put together over time to make the right winning formula,” Gerber says.

To become a successful collaborative entrepreneur, Davidson offers the following tips.

1. Become self-aware. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses will help you find partners who really fill those gaps, Davidson says.

2. Think long term. “Set aside your short-term interests for the pursuit of longer-term goals that benefit each partner,” Davidson says. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

3. Have an abundance mentality. There’s a big enough pie for everyone to be successful, Davidson says: “You have to believe that whatever sets you apart will naturally attract the right customers.”

4. Don’t worry about someone stealing your ideas. Keeping ideas close to your chest actually hinders your ability to collaborate with people who can help your business grow.

To grow her own platform, Davidson plans to launch a more expansive education platform this summer.
Beyond business acumen, classes will also teach women life skills—like how to determine their strengths and weaknesses, collaborate with partners, and clarify the type of lifestyle they want.

“When you have a clear vision, you can build a business that aligns with it,” Davidson says, “so you can truly have it all.”

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

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