July 5, 2015

Small Business 2014

It's a growth environment for women entrepreneurs in Florida

Florida ranks as the 6th-fastest-growing state for women entrepreneurs.

Women are starting small businesses in Florida at a rate faster than the national average. The state has seen a 74% increase in the number of women-owned small businesses in the past 15 years, ranking Florida as the sixth-fastest-growing state for women-owned businesses.

Women's organizations have proliferated throughout the state and provide support for small-business owners. "It's really a great climate because we are champions for each other," says Pat Blanchard, director of the Jacksonville Women's Business Center. Coral Gables business coach Jody Johnson, owner of ActionCOACH, says women who run the more successful companies hire for the functions in which they lack expertise. "That's the differentiator."

Following are profiles of several successful womenowned businesses in Florida.

Five years ago, Natalie Boden participated in a national program for women who wanted to grow their businesses to at least $1 million in revenue. Today, she says she has surpassed that goal and has built her 7-year-old firm into one of the fastestgrowing U. S. Hispanic public relations agencies. "Our growth has been enormous this last year, and it has been really exciting," Boden says.

Boden says she has been able to grow because she targeted a niche — Hispanic females in the U.S. — and studied what drives them, looking at how companies can leverage social media to reach Hispanics. Her biggest coup came in July, when she landed Target, which saw Boden's ability to reach the U.S. Latina and gave her firm its multicultural PR account. Boden says her firm has a strong focus on reaching Latina consumers and understanding their mindset and relationship with brands. "U.S. Hispanics represent $1.2 trillion in purchasing power," she says.

Boden also recently landed Bacardi and AT&T's no-contract wireless brand, Aio Wireless. She adds those to a client roster that includes Delta Dental and United Healthcare. In 2014, Boden says she will focus on hiring. The firm will roll out a few new services such as helping brands engage with social media influencers. Boden says she has learned that growth requires more than just finding a niche. "You have to put scalable processes and systems together, and you have to hire well." The firm has 10 employees.

Meanwhile, Boden is monitoring the trends in marketing to Hispanics, particularly how brands interact on social media platforms with consumers. With a growing Hispanic market and an even faster-growing bilingual market, brands are looking to engage with Hispanics across segments — women, youth, millennials — and across platforms — newspapers, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit. "We are rethinking the entire spectrum of Hispanic PR. The press release is dead. We have to look at Hispanic PR in a different way."

A mother of two young children, Boden says she makes time to be part of the Latina Advisory Board of Girls Inc., the pre-eminent voice for the empowerment of young girls in the U. S. She says a percentage of the firm's yearly profits go to organizations that advance and protect the lives of at-risk girls. Although she previously worked at two other Miami agencies, Boden, a native of Honduras, says she always has had the entrepreneur mentality and comes from a family of entrepreneurs that includes her grandmother, mother and father.

After 24 years in the U.S. Navy as a registered nurse and a five-year stint as director of health services at Mayo Health Plan, Kathryn Murphy was searching for a business that put her nursing and leadership skills to use. She saw financial possibilities in buying a Jacksonville franchise of Comfort Keepers and purchased the in-home care franchise with the help of an SBA loan in 2002. As the field of senior care has expanded, her firm has grown from a staff of two to more than 75. She bought a second Comfort Keepers in Jacksonville five years later. In 2011, Murphy was selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration's Champion of the Year for the district and state.

"The demographics are all in my favor," Murphy says. "We're in an aging society, and Florida has a higher than the national average number of seniors." With intense competition in the industry, Murphy says some of the home health agencies in the area didn't survive the recession. "We think we made the right decisions not to be the fastest-growing or biggest, but to be the best." Buying a franchise gave her an advantage in terms of trademarks, a logo, budgeting and strategic planning, she says. However, she hasn't been timid about seeking support from the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida for guidance on future growth. "Health care is changing, and running a business is getting more and more challenging," she says.

While the majority of her business comes from seniors, Murphy says she is trying to expand her scope of services, marketing her caregivers to adults who have surgery or need help even for a short time to remain safe at home or marketing in-home safety inspections. "We can provide from four hours of help to around-the-clock help." Her company does not provide live-ins, a service she believes is about to get more complicated and expensive.

In 2011, Murphy was selected as the U. S. Small Business Administration's Woman Champion of the Year for both north Florida and the state. Last year, the Florida Commission on the Status of Women recognized her for her contributions in the enrichment of women business owners and volunteer work with young women in her community.

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