Almost one-third of small businesses in the United States is owned by women. That number is on the rise, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, especially in fields which were once dominated by men.
On the move
Chances are, a few decades ago, a moving company, with all of its trucks and heavy duty equipment, would have been owned by a man. But Apple Transfer, a company located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, belongs to Barbara Ayers.
She is president and CEO of the company, which helps move households and businesses all across the U.S., and overseas.
Ayers started the company with her brother Joe Garlick, in 1988. When they started out, it was just the two of them.
“We actually had one small truck, on trade," she says. "He did the moving and I took care of the office."
Today, she oversees a fleet of trucks and a large storage facility, employing up to 100 people during peak moving season.
Ana Harvey, assistant administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the U.S. Small Business Administration (
SBA), says women-owned small businesses in the U.S. are flourishing.
“If you think about 1979, only 5 percent of privately owned businesses in this country were owned by women," she says. "So here we are in almost 2013 and 30 percent of the privately owned businesses are owned by women.”
According to Harvey, the trend started with a federal law passed in the 1970s.
“Back then, there was an act passed that allowed women to actually get a loan without having a male co-signer,” she says, “and that really made a difference in terms of women business ownership.”
And then, says Harvey, there’s been the economy.
“There’s been a batch of layoffs, and women just turn around and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to look for a business but in the meantime I’m going to start something I’ve always wanted to do.’ And that becomes the actual business.”
Harvey, who used to be a small business owner herself, adds that the federal government is there to help women in a number of ways.
“Last year we helped about 160,000 women with business plans, marketing plans, social media interactions; everything that you need to build a business," she says.
And while the SBA, which promotes the development of small businesses in the U.S., is not a lender, it does work with banks and micro lenders to make sure that entrepreneurs have capital to start or grow a business.
The SBA also assists small business owners like Barbara Ayers to procure government contracts.
The bulk of her client base comes from the Department of Defense. However, the savvy business owner says she heeded some advice that has served her well:
“I had a wise person tell me a very long time ago, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’" she says. "So we try to make sure we are diversified in our client mix.”
In addition to government contracts and corporations, her clients also include private citizens, whom she affectionately refers to as “our moms and pops and our aunts and our uncles.”
Women in male-dominated areas
Government support has also helped entrepreneurs like Ayers explore businesses that have been traditionally closed off to them.
“I’m in the trucking industry and so I’m a novelty because this is traditionally a male-dominated industry," she says. "So I sometimes find resistance. No reflection on men, but it is just the attitude and the thought of the way that it was.”
But Ayers says it has all been worth it.
“When I’m driving on the highway, and I see one of my trucks, it is a very proud, proud moment as I see it drive by,” she says.
Judging by the statistics, it's a feeling being shared by a growing number of American women entrepreneurs.
"I say to anybody, ‘Just do it!’” says Ayers. “You will have your trials and tribulations, you will have your sleepless nights, but you’ll never know unless you try, and it is very, very rewarding, extremely rewarding."