woman going through business receipts
Despite federal relief efforts provided in the CARES Act, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, many female-owned small businesses are still struggling. — Getty Images/ aldomurillo

While the business impact of COVID-19 has varied depending on industry, there's one group that has been hit particularly hard in America: women-owned small businesses.

According to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the number of female business owners who ranked their business's overall health as "somewhat or very good" fell 13 points during the pandemic, from 60% in January to 47% in July 2020. By contrast, the number of male business owners reporting a "good" business health status only fell five points in the same period (67% to 62%).

Female small business owners are also less likely to expect future success in the coming year compared to male owners:

  • Revenue: Less than half of the female owners surveyed in July believe their revenues will increase in 2021, while 57% of male owners believe the same.
  • Investments: Roughly one-third of women plan to increase investments in their business, compared to 39% of men.
  • Staffing: Thirty-six percent of male-owned businesses expect to increase the size of their staff. Just 24% of female-owned businesses agreed.

[Read: 3 Big Challenges Female Entrepreneurs Face Every Day]

These numbers could be a troubling sign that women in business may have a harder time recovering than their male counterparts. Despite federal relief efforts provided in the CARES Act, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, many female-owned small businesses are still struggling.

One business is Cuisine Unlimited in Salt Lake City, Utah. This catering company has survived economic ups and downs during its 40 years in business, but founder Maxine Turner doesn't foresee making it through the current pandemic without additional federal help.

"We desperately need another boost from the Paycheck Protection Program," Turner told the U.S. Chamber. "Time is of the essence, as so many of us have exhausted our funds and have no additional resources to keep our companies afloat until this pandemic is under control."

We cannot allow this pandemic to set back a generation of entrepreneurial women.

Suzanne Clark, president, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

How women business owners can make it through COVID-19

In the entrepreneurial world, many women already start a step (or two) behind men. For every dollar generated by a privately held company in 2019, women-owned businesses generated just 30 cents, according to American Express.

Lack of funding, lack of confidence and market saturation have presented significant challenges for women in business, all of which are compounded by the current pandemic and economic crisis. If female-owned businesses hope to survive, they'll need more government assistance than they're currently receiving.

"We cannot allow this pandemic to set back a generation of entrepreneurial women," said Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We need to help struggling small businesses safely reopen and stay open so they can continue to grow and create jobs in their local communities. The health and existence of small businesses is essential to the economic recovery of our nation."

[Read: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act: What Small Businesses Need to Know]

Women whose businesses are struggling during COVID-19 can take the following steps to improve their chances of making it through the pandemic intact:

Become a certified woman-owned business

If your business isn't already certified as a woman-owned small business (WOSB), now is the time to explore this certification. As a WOSB (at least 51% owned by a woman), you'll qualify for certain set-aside federal contracts that aren't available to other types of businesses. There's also a special certification for economically disadvantaged woman-owned small businesses (EDWOSB) if you meet certain economic requirements.

Seek out service providers that are specifically looking to help women entrepreneurs

Many service providers that work with small businesses are attempting to fill the gaps left by the CARES Act with special offers for struggling entrepreneurs, including women. For example, Mastercard has been working to strengthen relationships with female business owners by offering expanded access to cyber security protections, enterprise-level market intelligence data, and mentorship and networking programs.

Join a women-focused entrepreneurial group

Numerous resources exist specifically for women-owned businesses, which can be incredibly beneficial during these times of crisis. Connecting with a group like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) or the SBA Office of Women's Business Ownership (OWBO) can provide greater access to the networking connections and resources you need to thrive.

[Read: 6 Everyday Women Who Became Super Successful Entrepreneurs]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published September 10, 2020