WASHINGTON (Gray DC) – It’s early morning and the sign on the doors of the Brew Shop hasn’t opened yet. But inside, Virginia business owners Julie Drews and Beth Helle work hard to prepare orders before their customers arrive.
The former colleagues-turned-best-friends have run their small business in Arlington, Virginia for almost 7 years. And they say you can do it too.
“If you want to do it, do it, pursue your passion. You really have to be fully involved. And that is also conveyed to the people who come into your store. So people see us here, they know our passion is here. We’re all in,” Drews said.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported that women were more vulnerable to job losses at the height of the pandemic. Between March and April 2020 alone, the number of women in the workforce fell from 57% to 55%, according to the US Department of Labor. Two years later, things are back to normal. Nevertheless, the number of employed men exceeds that of women. Last month, the same data showed that labor force participation is 68% for men, compared to 57% for women.
The US Small Business Administration wants women to follow the example set by Helle and Drews. On Sunday, November 20th, the nation celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. As part of an effort to increase the number of women-owned businesses, the US Small Business Administration is also opening Women Business Centers nationwide and supporting efforts to educate women about the resources available to them.
Find resources for women who want to start their own small businesses here
Find out more about the labor force participation of women and men here
“I think a big issue goes back to childcare and caregiving in general. That usually falls on women who, like me, are single mothers or even married women,” said Tene Dolphin of the National Women’s Business Council of the challenges women professionals have faced during the pandemic. “When school was out and childcare difficult to access, it really pushed women out of the workforce. Many women have made these choices, and some have taken this opportunity to pursue entrepreneurship as well.”
Dolphin added that many women are still working out their next move. She gives this advice to women who are considering becoming their own boss by starting a small business.
“Do you know your market, do you know whether you work stationary, whether you go online. Really do the necessary research and planning before starting your business. But thirdly, I would say make sure you get comfortable with your numbers. What we saw at the beginning of the pandemic was that many small businesses didn’t have access to the resources at either the local or federal levels because sometimes their books were out of order,” she said.
For Julie Drews and Beth Helle, they decided to quit their jobs as process consultants when they started their own bottle shop.
“We did all our market research, figured out where to put it, and here we are,” Drews said.
“It’s a long process and I think everyone prepares you for it,” Helle added. “One of our business consultants describes it to us as like pushing a boulder up a hill. And that’s how it really feels, because with every step you have to exert maximum effort. So everything from clarifying alcohol laws to going through the permitting process to understanding architecture and construction and hiring the right people.”
Drews and Helle are happy their shop has been able to stay open during the pandemic. They saw demand increase in March 2020 because their bottle shop was one of the few alcohol-based businesses allowed to operate. However, the sudden increase in demand also brought major challenges. Drews remembers the time as “wild”.
“There was this real panic, for us too. We didn’t know. We were declared essential, but it felt like that could be taken away from us at any moment. Things were always changing. We didn’t know if we had to close the shop tomorrow, you know. So we’ve had a lot of scary conversations about this, you know what it’s going to be like when we close? said Drews.
Helle launched an online store to speed up its operations. However, she also lost her child care during this time. According to Child Care Aware, a network campaigning for more childcare resources, “Recent results from the RAPID-EC survey indicate that 40% of female respondents have quit work or reduced their hours – most of them because of the Child care restrictions.”
Noting how this affected her as a small business owner, Helle said, “It was a real challenge for us because I couldn’t be here as often as I used to. I shared childcare with my husband. I also found out I was pregnant in April 2020, so a lot of things came at once.”
The couple offer this advice to new female business owners.
“I would say patience is really important and making sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people,” Helle said. “It’s easy to choose the easiest option, or the easiest lawyer, or the easiest real estate agent, or the easiest landlord. But you really have to wait for the right opportunity to make sure these people have your genuine interest at heart.”
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