DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa is now ranked eighth for growth in the number of women-owned businesses as well as their own growth in employment and revenues, according to an American Express report. Three years ago, the state was in last place.
Local business owners said one of the reasons for the change is the network of women who support each other has grown as well as access to resources.
Leah Wafful, owner of Bronze515, said that central Iowa is one of the best places to open a small business, especially for women.
“I think here, especially in Polk County and the Des Moines metro area, the support is fantastic for small business owners whether you’re male or female. And I feel there is a really good culture for female owned businesses and there’s a lot of people to just bounce ideas off of and get people through the door as far as referrals go,” Wafful said.
She said it’s also a really empowering time for women.
“The whole girl boss status has really empowered people. One person sees another person do it. They’re in school or they have kids and then they have a full time job and they start this business in the evening and they see that that person can do it. And they’re thinking if they can do it I can do it,” Wafful said.
She owns one of the only custom airbrush tanning studios that exist in Iowa and was able to open her studio and grow her business with the help of social media.
“20 years ago, 10 years ago, you would open up a phone book to find a business, whereas now you just go into google or you go into Facebook or you hear somebody talking about it and that’s how you find them. I think the tools social media has given us, especially female owned businesses, are a huge success,” Wafful said.
Wafful said women inspire other women, which is a similar story for jewelry business owner Ellie VanderPol.
“My sister was a huge inspiration for me starting my small business and honestly the reason Ellie in her Element came to be. When I was looking for a creative outlet to escape my day job, she encouraged me to try something I’ve always loved: make cute jewelry. I sent her the photos after my first round of making and she posted them out into the world as, “Look what my sister is making...” and the rest is history,” VanderPol said.
Another reason women are succeeding in business is a strong all-female network.
Becky Pospisal, owner of The Knotty Nail, said collaboration is key.
“I’ve always believed in community over competition. I think that there’s room for everybody here, regardless of if they are my direct competitor or they’re someone I can just use in my spray tanning or getting my hair done or shopping or getting my car fixed or purchasing something. There’s no reason why we can’t work together,” Pospisal said.
Pospisal says Iowans have always been known for wanting to shop small.
“People want to know where their money is going. They want to get to know the shop owner. They want to know that their money is staying right here supporting a family, supporting somebody’s bills, helping you pay off debt, helping you live your dream,” Pospisal said.
Pospisal and Wafful said they both ran into challenges along the way.
“The most challenging thing for me was just kind of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I’m really good with marketing and the Facebook and Instagram stuff and social media, but it was the financials and legal documents and things like that that were challenging for me,” Wafful said.
Pospisal said one of her challenges was not being taken seriously in traditionally male-dominated institutions.
“One of the biggest challenges I have found, especially because I use a lot of power tools and I buy lumber and wood and I frequent the hardware stores here in Des Moines and lumber yards, was just being taken seriously. And as a woman that’s owning a business, I know what I am doing. I like what I’m doing and I want to learn more about what I need and what I’m doing,” Pospisal said.
VanderPol, owner of Ellie in her Element, said one of the most challenging thing for her is time.
“I feel the pressure as a woman to ‘do it all’ as they say, and that is the hardest thing about running my business. I absolutely love what I do, but there is always another order to ship out or website revamp that needs to be done. When show season comes around, you’re juggling that on top of traveling on the weekends to spread the word about your business. Like me, a lot of other girl bosses start their business as a ‘side hustle’ while still working a full time job or while being a mom. It can get really busy and be challenging to find that balance,” VanderPol said.