Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Ellen Fisher

Radar Love
(How, in 25 Years, Women Business Owners Have Grown From Being 'Off the Radar Screen' to Being the Fastest Growing Segment of Entrepreneurs)
by Ellen Fisher, 1 Aug 2006

Ellen Fisher is Publisher and Owner of the Greater Philadelphia Women's Yellow Pages. If you've ever met her at a networking event and wondered why she is always wearing a hat... it's because she is out promoting all the business owners in her directory who are busy elsewhere wearing other hats.


Imagine for a minute that the year is 1982. On the radio, Olivia Newton-John is belting out "Let's Get Physical." If you change the dial, (a real dial, I might add) you will be equally as likely to hear Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder singing "Ebony and Ivory" or John Cougar sharing the story of "Jack and Diane." I am 25-years old and working in the insurance industry.

Still in 1982, imagine you are an air traffic controller or someone who has access to a radar screen where you can see all sorts of statistics and hear accompanying blips. When you type in 'Women-Owned Businesses' you see absolutely nothing on the screen.

That's exactly what I found when my employer asked me to market insurance to women in business: No list of company names. No statistics. No nothing. So I decided to create one for the Greater Philadelphia area. That's how the Women's Yellow Pages was started. I thought that I'd run it forever which, back then, in my naiveté, meant three to four years. I had no idea it would still be running strong in 2006. But that's another story for another day.

The Small Business Administration estimates that by 1984 there were 3 million female-owned non-farm sole proprietorships in the United States. That means there should have been a lot of blips on the radar screen when you typed in 'Women-Owned Businesses.' But, in 1982, less than a quarter of a century ago, we were off the radar screen. We were not taken seriously. We were not thought of as owning real businesses. We were not running companies that others thought could support one person, let alone a family.

Coincidentally, around the same time, President Reagan was looking to increase his popularity among women voters. So, he started highlighting set-aside legislation for Women-Owned Businesses. This caught on pretty fast nationally, state-wide and even locally. For example, Philadelphia was just getting cable TV in 1982 (even though "Video Killed The Radio Star" in most communities back in the late 1970's) and there was a requirement that a certain percentage of contract business was given to women-owned businesses.

This legislation helped Women-Owned Businesses gain visibility and get recognized as being viable and credible. We started growing faster and faster in income and in numbers. It also had another perk: it helped us to find each other. The old boy's network finally had some competition. We networked among ourselves, made referrals, and continued to grow. Corporations were seeking us out. They finally realized we were sub-contractors as well as customers with a lot of buying power. Statistics were generated. The radar screen was blipping constantly. We were finally on the map.

Fast-forward to current times. I hate to admit it, but I don't have a clue what songs are playing on the radio. I have a Beatles compilation playing on my car CD player. In 2004, according to the Center for Women's Business Research, there were an estimated 10.6 million privately-held 50% or more women-owned firms in the U.S. That's over 7 1/2 million more than 1982. If we were sitting in front of the radar screen, it would be filled with dots and the blips would be deafening! Visibility really does have an impact, doesn't it? And working together further strengthens us from the inside-out.

That's what Women Business Owners are all about: community, relationships, growing together, doing business together, supporting each other, and making referrals for and to the other women-owned businesses that are on our radar screens (a.k.a. Blackberrys or Rolodexes these days).

In keeping with the theme of this article, I thought I'd sum it all up with song lyrics that the group The Byrds made famous:

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

If ever there was a good time to be a Woman Business Owner, it certainly is now. I am thrilled to be among the fastest growing segment of business owners and entrepreneurs. The next time you need to make a purchase or get a quote, expand your network by contacting a woman business owner. If you can't find one, call me. It would be my pleasure to check my radar screen and make a connection for you.

Print Article Brought to you by: Ellen Fisher | Publisher and Owner of the Greater Philadelphia Women

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