News Column

Survival Tips for Women Business Owners

April 9, 2013
Paula Tompkins, ChannelNet founder. (Photo: Paula Tompkins/ChannelNet)
Paula Tompkins, ChannelNet founder. (Photo: Paula Tompkins/ChannelNet)

Nearly three decades after founding ChannelNet, tech entrepreneur Paula Tompkins still finds that she is frequently the only woman in the room. The room is friendlier now than it first was when she was the only woman working in General Electric's marketing and sales department.

Yet the tech executive still typically finds herself in the minority. Studies show that while 50 percent of small businesses are female owned, the percent of female-founded technology companies remains in the single digits.

Privately held ChannelNet, based in Dearborn, Mich., provides Web-based multichannel marketing solutions for the home improvement, automotive, retail and financial services industries.

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Tompkins holds two technology patents and is celebrating 28 years of tech entrepreneurship and her eighth recertification by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Her advice to women today is first and foremost: Be yourself.

"Panty hose and pants go on the same way," she said in a release. "Business is uncomfortable and women shouldn't let themselves be intimidated. But they do need to carefully speak their mind. Whether you are a man or woman, customers typically don't respond well if you are too direct."

Her second recommendation is to create an advisory board. "It's important to surround yourself with executive-level talent that you can trust. They should have real-world experience in a number of key areas such as finance, operations, and small business."

Tompkins is taking her advice to the bank. She has survived several harsh economic downturns, and in 2013 ChannelNet is experiencing a 25 percent growth rate.

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"Owning a small business is a different ballgame than working in a big corporation," she said. "You have to make sacrifices and you can't have it all. You need to make decisions quickly and understand you won't necessarily be popular."

While some decisions may not be popular, small-business owners typically are happier. According to a TD Bank Small Business survey, 69 percent of small-business owners describe themselves as very happy. After 28 years of business, Tompkins whole-heartedly agrees.

In addition to its Dearborn headquarters, ChannelNet has a location in Sausalito, Calif.

Founded in 1997, WBENC, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled and operated by women in the U.S.

Business Wire contributed to this report.

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