When Lynda Baumgartner and her husband opened Image Technologies of Missouri, an office equipment and maintenance company, in 1995 they decided to put the company in her name.
She said they did it to take advantage of different funding options, but it operates as a partnership.
“Women are really encouraged to go for it, more so now than they were in the 10 to 12 years before,” she said.
A recent nationwide study by the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C., said firms that are majority-owned by females are on the rise.
The number of women-owned firms in Missouri grew 46.7 percent between 1997 and 2006, according to the study. The nationwide growth was 42.3 percent.
“Those numbers are fantastic, but they don’t surprise me,” said Leigh Nutter, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Network. “Many women have been working toward and building an environment for women to make starting their own businesses easier.”
Mary Cottom, president of the Missouri Women’s Council, said the rising number of women-owned businesses reflects the economy and a change in the perception of women in business. The Missouri Women’s Council is a 15-member board that supports and assists women in achieving their economic goals.
“Our economy is growing as a result of the hard work of Missourians who are creating and recruiting high-quality, family-supporting jobs to our state,” she said in a press release. “These numbers prove that women are playing a significant role in helping to move the economy forward.”
There are 141,986 firms privately owned by women in the state, 32.3 percent of Missouri’s 439,485 firms, according to Keener Tippin of the Department of Economic Development.
Sales by women-owned businesses make up 5.09 percent of sales in the state, or $23 billion of $468.86 billion.
Cottom said a lot of women-owned businesses are small and just starting out.
“I think you will see a tremendous increase of sales going up as women-owned businesses continue to grow,” she said.
The study ranked Missouri 18th in the nation for the number of women-owned businesses and 14th in employment and sales.
“I am proud Missouri is 18th in the nation,” Cottom said.
While women-owned businesses affect Missouri’s economy, Cottom said it shows social change, too.
“Women are getting a little more attention,” she said. “Women see it and think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”
Nutter said the growth of women-owned businesses shows that the traditional woman-as-homemaker stereotype is weakening.
“As women in business grow, that stigma about women owning their own business will lessen,” Nutter said. “True or not, it is still a challenge.”
One of the keys to success, Nutter said, is plain, old-fashioned encouragement and an example to follow.
“Women who owned businesses 20 to 30 years ago paved a trail,” she said. “Those ladies went out and took the risk. They made it easier for other folks to follow them.”
“It is almost a snowball effect. As it increases it makes it easier and more welcoming for other women because they see other women succeeding.”
Anne Farrow, president-elect of the Women’s Network, said the 26-year-old group started with about 25 members. Today, it has more than 500.
Cottom said the Women’s Network is known for the helpfulness of its mentoring program.
Kelley Marchbanks, co-chairwoman of the Women’s Network mentoring program Network Connect, said mentoring can be a scary term because it implies a large time commitment.
She said seasoned members and new members of the Women’s Network meet in a casual setting, usually a restaurant, to see where there are natural connections.
Then a seasoned member and a new member are paired. They attend a committee meeting together, a luncheon together and one event outside of chamber events, like getting a cup of coffee.
“A lot of women say it is really helpful,” Marchbanks said. “We provide the venue and let women connect and find their mentors in the natural progression of things.”
She said the luncheons of 500 members can be intimidating. Also, the Women’s Network isn’t exclusive to business owners, or to women.
“Men can be mentors for women, too,” Marchbanks said.
Baumgartner, for instance, said her experience with male role models in Columbia’s business community has been positive.
“Columbia’s been nothing but supportive since 1953,” she said. “And in the world of work, the copier world, from day one the men — I was the only female in most of those meetings — helped me understand. I think men as a whole are open to helping.
Good leaders, no matter what their gender, want you to succeed.”
Women still face difficulties when opening a business, Cottom said. She said women have trouble getting financial assistance.
“I hate to say it, but mainly it’s because you are a woman,” she said. She said the Missouri Women’s Council has a Women’s Resource Guide available on request. The guide helps women find educational opportunities and resources available to them.
Don Laird, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said it isn’t getting any easier for women to open their own business.
“It’s a matter of spinning off and forming a creative idea,” he said. “It’s not easy, whatever it is. It’s all a matter of coming up with the right idea and sticking with it.”
Baumgartner said women face the same difficulties in business as men — keeping good help, making decisions on staffing, purchasing, direction and putting in long hours. But overcoming the difficulties helped her business, Image Technologies of Missouri, win the Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award.
Owning a business is a difficult task, and Marchbanks said the thing women need is encouragement.
“It’s sheer numbers,” she said. “You look around and see really powerful women in our community sitting there and it seems really tangible. Here you can see it, you can see women who have succeeded and haven’t been held back by anything.”