What Makes Fast Growing Women-Owned Companies Tick?

Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 8:33 PM EDT

There are 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., and they employ 13 million people and generate nearly $2 trillion in annual sales. But according the Center for Women's Business Research, only 3% of them have revenues of more than $1 million, compared to 6% of men-owned firms. So what's the secret sauce behind a highly successful woman-owned company?
Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) and American Express OPEN recently released the third ranking of the 50 fastest growing privately held women-led companies in North America. It's a list that includes a huge variety of companies. Number one on the list, for instance, is Argent Associates, a supply management firm in New Jersey; number 50 is Camp Bow Wow, a pet care franchise in Colorado. In between, you'll find an online seller of lingerie (Andra Group), a heavy industrial construction company (The Saxon Group), and a maker of organic sweeteners (Suzanne's Specialties), among many others. Collectively, the companies on the list generated a $2.3 billion in gross revenues in 2009 and employed an average of 128 employees. WPO president Marsha Firestone shared a few key observations about the companies on the list:

They're generous with benefits. "80% provide health insurance, 72% provide both health and life insurance, 86% have 401K plans, 52% provide tuition reimbursement, 56% allow telecommuting, and 50% have flextime," says Firestone. "So all of the anecdotal stuff about women CEOs being more nurturing and more interested in their employees was validated in this study.

They know the value of a good team. "All of them talked about the need for a highly skilled team and two thirds sited that as key to their ability to grow fast," says Firestone. While respondents indicated that hiring good employees is one of their toughest challenges, they also noted that the three most significant factors in hiring and keeping staff were: the company's positive reputation; competitive compensation; a flexible work environment.

They're good at delegating. "85% rate themselves good or excellent at delegating," says Firestone. But, she notes, delegating doesn't come naturally. "The company is like their baby and they don't want to let go. They learn how to do that as their companies grow."

They hold on to ownership. 68% of the women on the list own between 90 and 100% of their companies; 56% own 100%. That wasn't so surprising to Firestone. "Once they have the power and the influence, they don't want to give it up," she says.

Do you think success factors are different for women and men entrepreneurs? What's you own secret sauce for high growth?