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Another reason to network

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Owning a small business comes with plenty of challenges and, yes, even aggravations. And, of course, it has its rewards, too.

I like just about everything that comes with growing my business, from creating the vision and leading employees to winning over new clients and creating a unique customer experience.

It's an experience I'd highly recommend, especially this month. October is National Women's Small Business Month, which has prompted me to look a little closer at the big picture of women in business.

One of the many wonderful things, the past few decades have brought us is the rise of equality. According to The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, 29 percent of small business are owned by women. That number seemed low to me, but the promising point is that the number of women-owned business has increased by 50 percent since 1997 -- and that trend is likely to stay strong.

That's opened a lot of doors for women and it has boosted local, state and national economies. Millions of women-owned small businesses employ more than 7 million people and generate more than $1 trillion in revenue.

Unfortunately, while we are seeing a huge increase in women-owned businesses, we aren’t seeing progress across-the-board. That's because, according to some data, women-owned businesses make only about 25 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. That’s a much larger gap than the one that exists in the overall labor market, where the median earnings of women were about 83 percent of men's.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Iowa has ranked 49in growth of small businesses owned by women, and ranked 51st in revenue growth by women-owned businesses. Some believe that women are less likely to secure the start-up revenues and ongoing financial backing in our state.

There's a lesson in all those numbers and it comes down to three words: Network, network, network!

There are tremendous opportunities out there for any woman who owns -- or wants to own -- a small business, especially a niche retail store. But effective networking is an essential part of success.

Networking results in a steady flow of opportunities and customers. Opportunity and customers produce revenue. And revenue generates growth. Networking is also a two-way street where successful business owners can -- and should -- lend a helping hand to up-and-coming small business owners.

Networking can make Iowa a better place for the growth of women-owned small businesses. And, that's something we should encourage every month of the year.

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