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Women in Business: Listen Up!

20 July 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on NuWireInvestor.com

For many, investing in the last year has brought massive losses. But for some women, investing has brought great returns.

One financial advisor pulled out of the stock market early, saving her family and clients from terrible losses. A virtual administrator entrepreneur doubled her sales, as job losses mounted. And a real estate investor specializing in foreclosures expects to quadruple profits this year.

The reasons for their success? Using so-called feminine qualities of empathy, flexibility and networking, they said. While men also have these qualities, women are able to tap into them more naturally, using them successfully during critical economic times, said women entrepreneurs.

“Women can actually intuit things differently than men. Our ability to sense and listen is very keen,”  said Saundra Pelletier, a success coach and author of Saddle Up Your Own White Horse.

Women have 11 percent more neurons than men in the brain area that controls memory and emotion, said Pelletier, so women can easily empathize with customers who may be experiencing hardship. “In this market, I have found that when women are using their empathy—to notice a company’s stress or what their customer is feeling or thinking—they can thrive.”

To be sure, old-fashioned qualities of hard work, tenacity and courage form a foundation for their businesses—just as with men’s businesses. But for these women, their feminine qualities give them an edge in a weak market.

For example, empathy is expressed through listening, a critical skill in hard times. Real estate investor Ginger Macias, principal, GLM Investments based in Anaheim, Calif., said her greatest strength is the ability to listen. “When I call people, a lot of people are in stressful positions—going through probate, divorce, foreclosures. After I talk to them, they say ‘Thank you for listening.’ A lot of investors call, but they’re abrupt and ask how much for the house. Nobody’s listening.

“As women, we’re trained to listen and have empathy when we talk to each other,” said Macias. “I’m using the same kind of skills to talk to my clients. They sense that I’m not out to scam them, that I’m really interested in helping them.”

Macias, who started investing in real estate in 2007, more than doubled sales in 2008. Last May, she quit her medical researcher job to focus on real estate investing, and quickly exceeded her previous salary. She expects to do $1 million in sales in 2009.

Financial advisor Brenda Wenning, principal, Wenning Investments based in Newton, Mass., also said empathy is important in this market. “Being a female business owner, I really do listen (to my clients) and am concerned about their well being,” said Wenning. “I try to customize portfolios, based on what my customers are asking for, instead of trying to fit them into what I want to be doing.”

In business, listening creates client trust, which translates into more sales, said success coach Pelletier. “People want to know that they’re heard.”

In a bear market, another important quality is flexibility. Wenning said she saved her clients’ portfolios by abandoning pre-conceived notions of how to invest. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell some 34 percent in 2008, Wenning’s clients lost a maximum of 10 percent.

As the Dow started to plunge early last year, Wenning yanked her clients’ portfolios from the market. She also left the investment firm she was with to start her own.

A money manager of 20 years, Wenning said her ability to think differently enabled her to save her clients’ funds. “Especially in a bear market, you can devastate a portfolio,” she said. “I try to prevent that.”

Some of the men Wenning has met tend to think more rigidly. “They say, ‘It’s the market, the market’s down, it’s not my fault,’” Wenning explains. But she retorts, “Well, maybe your strategy is wrong. You have to be more flexible and approach your portfolio in a different way.”

Flexibility has also helped Cindy Clark, president, CC Designz Business Services, a virtual assistant company based in South Windsor, Conn. This has been important in setting fees. “I find out what people need,” she said. “I adjust my rate to what they can do.”

Clark’s clients tend to be speakers, authors, life coaches and non-profit organizations. As more people lose their jobs and start their own businesses, Clark’s services are growing in demand, she said. Her revenues in 2008 doubled those of the previous year, and she expects to continue growing in 2009.

Another important quality that women entrepreneurs have is networking. Networking enables them to meet new potential clients, generate referrals and find mutual support in uncertain times.

Virtual assistant Clark serves as national vice president of Women Business Owners, a worldwide networking group. In the group, she has found much motivational support, as well as client referrals, she said.

Investment advisor Wenning also met many leads at women’s networking events. In December, she picked up seven new clients, all of whom are women. “A lot of new businesses have women business owners, and they need to manage money,” she said.

Compared to other businesses, these women have relatively small sales volumes. Wenning manages over $10 million in assets, a mere drop compared to billions in other company portfolios. Clark’s and Macias’ businesses are also relatively small in their industries. But the key is that their young companies are growing rapidly, at a time when others are downsizing, shrinking and losing revenue.

“Women can really go out and use their natural grace,” said coach Pelletier. “We can talk about the reality of this economic time, in a way that’s not negative and depressing, but smart and savvy. We can be part of the solutions personally and professionally.”

Published on: Thursday, February 12, 2009

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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