The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 9, 2014

Balancing Act: Hesitancy can hinder women in business

Allison Sokol, CEO of Specific Beauty, needs to be a risk taker. Her marketing channel, HSN, wants her Miami multicultural skin care company to forge into new product lines. Her buyers want her to expand into Europe. Her business partner, Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, wants to showcase the science behind results through infomercials. But Sokol approaches risk-taking cautiously.

“I’m not risk-averse,“ she said. “I’m just not impulsive. I believe in being sure and taking educated risks.“

Sokol’s caution mimics many women who run businesses. But when big risks lead to big rewards, female leaders must shift their thought processes if they are going to increase their growth prospects. How exactly does someone become more of a risk taker?

The first step is a mind-shift. A new survey shows female business owners in Florida are struggling to find an appropriate balance between risk and caution. The survey of nearly 250 women by the Commonwealth Institute South Florida found female leaders and owners are optimistic about growth for their businesses in 2014. But while they express interest in expanding product lines and moving into new geographies, most hesitate to take a financial risk.

Most telling: More than 63 percent said they plan to fund growth in 2014 with internally generated funds. That represents a startling figure when research by the Department of Commerce shows most male owners are willing to borrow money to fund their ambition and growth opportunities.

“Women by nature are not gamblers,“ said Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director of the Commonwealth Institute. “Some want to grow their businesses, and to do that, they need to take risks. But it’s tough for them. It’s not in their nature.“ That might be especially true if they juggle their business with caring for small children or aging parents.

Those women who do consider themselves risk takers generally take a studied approach. “They are not completely opposed to taking potential risks but really think carefully about taking them,“ said Colleen Moore Mezler, president and CEO of Moore Research Services, which compiled the survey. The survey found female leaders who want to expand are scrutinizing the right location, right personnel and the right mix of services.

For some, visualizing the potential outcome can make risk taking less scary. Though Judy Leibovit, CEO of Sweet Endings Desserts in West Palm Beach, Fla., said she is not an inherent risk taker, she is about to take a big leap as her company expands distribution across the country. At the same time, she is augmenting her wholesale business with a retail storefront that will be operated by her twin daughters.

Seizing those opportunities would help her revenues increase by 30 percent in the next year, she said. “When you’re growing a company, there is always risk. It’s about doing it carefully, slowly and smartly and seeing clearly where the risk will take you.“ Unlike some business owners surveyed, Leibovit said she has no fear of incurring debt to fund growth. “If I’m going to grow to the scale I want, I have to take on debt. I don’t think of it as risk.“

Sizing up competitors’ risk tolerance can become the necessary trigger. Risk can be critical to increasing market share, the outspoken Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has noted. In this competitive economy, avoiding risk can be its own gamble. Branson’s wild success in creating a culture of risk taking at his company starts with encouraging his staff to think about what could go right more than what could go wrong. “It’s important not to be put off by failure,“ he has said. “More likely than not, you will succeed.“

Reframing risk as an opportunity to succeed has helped men build more million-dollar companies than women. Of course, some of that may be by choice. Female business owners often work harder at juggling work and family; accordingly, they often have smaller performance expectations for their businesses, according to research by the National Women’s Business Council.

“Women are taking risk consistent with their goals, but their goals aren’t big enough,“ said Sharon Hadary, former and founding executive director of the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C. “We live up to our own expectations.“

While change is slow, women are thinking more boldly as they gain business confidence, said Mary Jo Eaton, who oversees Florida for her commercial real estate firm. In her career, Eaton, executive managing director for CBRE Florida, has relocated twice and taken on difficult roles that she saw as opportunities to stand out. “I have had great male mentors who I’ve watched assess risk, take significant risk and be rewarded.“

As the head of Florida operations, Eaton has closed an office in one market and opened another. She has moved the commercial real estate firm into a new sector and made key hires. To boost her odds of success, Eaton said, she weighs short-term risk against long-term payoff and puts the smartest people in roles around her to increase the odds of success. “Taking strategic risk comes back as a benefit, but sometimes it may take time.“

In her research, Hadary has noticed male owners tend to be impulsive risk takers looking for immediate payoff and high returns, while women seek consistent, long-term rewards.

In the Commonwealth Institute survey, female leaders reported they do not feel properly recognized by business and community leaders for their contribution to the economic health of the Florida. Yet it is big risks and impressive results that typically lead to recognition - something Sokol of Specific Beauty sees clearly. The greatest rewards, she has found, come from preparing for risk in advance and seeing short-term setbacks as a stepping stone to long-term success.

Her company’s history offers a case study. Her initial strategy for distributing her tone-evening skin care line required an unsustainable marketing budget to support sales through retail stores. She has since begun distributing the projects through doctors’ offices, med spas, the Internet and HSN.

Still, Sokol wants big rewards for her company and factors that into every potential risk: “The bottom line is I didn’t go into business to make little bit of money. I went into it to make a lot of money. If I am taking away time from family, I want to do it in (a) big way.“

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at Read her columns and blog at


Text Only
  • Career Coach Q&A: job search follow-up; introverts as leaders

    Starting a business:

    Q: I have a stable job that I don't hate, but I have an idea for starting my own business.

    July 25, 2014

  • How to become a leader

    QUESTION: I’ve just been promoted into a leadership role. I’m excited, but also kind of overwhelmed. What do I need to do to be good at my new job?

    July 24, 2014

  • Balancing Act: How much is your time worth? Consider outsourcing some tasks

    Todd Paton has a booming business getting customers noticed on the Web. One tool he uses is generating online press releases to build brand awareness and create links that will send traffic to a customer’s website. But Paton, owner of Paton Internet Marketing, acknowledges that writing the releases is not his strong suit. Rather than spend his time doing it, he hires out the task.

    July 23, 2014

  • The Color of Money: No easy way to get out of debt

    Many people who are deeply in debt are desperate for a quick fix. They ask the question: What can I do to get out of debt?

    July 21, 2014

  • Watercooler: When to speak up if you see problems down the line

    Q: Our organization has hired a new director. I am one of a number of division heads; above us, there's the associate director, and above him is the director. The associate director is feared and disliked for his duplicity and dictatorial nature, though few have come forward because of his vindictiveness.

    July 18, 2014

  • Career Coach: Bringing a purpose-driven spirit to work

    Increasingly, religious beliefs and practices of employees are becoming more evident in the workplace. Religious diversity and concepts of spirituality are more prevalent in organizational settings.

    July 18, 2014

  • Ask the Mompreneur: It’s best to farm out your payroll

    When my husband and I hired our first employee at our Web development company, we had it easy when it came to doing payroll.

    July 17, 2014

  • Protecting against unnecessary losses

    QUESTION: I run a small bar and grill which is open 7 days a week and have to rely on others for some of the shifts. How can I ensure employees have not become my partners?

    July 17, 2014

  • A checklist for keeping you focused at work

    A quick check of Facebook and next thing you know, a half-hour’s passed. Start chatting with a co-worker and suddenly 20 minutes is gone and the report you were supposed to finish by lunch is late.
    Workplace distractions are everywhere, especially in an age of social media and open-plan offices. In the face of so much temptation, accomplishing what you’re paid to do can be tough.

    July 16, 2014

  • It could be time for a career coach

    Need a little help figuring out your next career move?
    If you’re putting in the hours and still not seeing the rewards, feeling undervalued or simply striving to be more successful, it may be time to hire a career coach.

    July 16, 2014

Business Video