Economic struggles forcing women entrepreneurs to cut their own pay

By Chris Melore

Is the U.S. economy really turning around? If you ask a small business owner, the answer is still no. One in four female small business owners has taken a pay cut in the past year, a new survey reveals.

The poll of 1,000 women who own a small business examined how their experience has shifted in the past year and found that the down economy has forced many of them to cut their own pay to keep their businesses afloat. For those small businesses that have been open for at least a year, over one in three have also raised their prices (37%), and more than a quarter are actively seeking less expensive resources (27%).

Conducted by Talker Research for Office Depot, the survey also found that 53% of female business owners believe the past year has been the hardest for their business. In 2023, a significant number of these entrepreneurs admit they had challenges funding their businesses (42%) and growing their businesses (30%). These issues continue to be their top struggles in 2024 (39% and 30% respectively).

Experiencing fatigue was more of a pain point last year (23%), while marketing is proving to be a greater challenge this year (25%). However, hard work has paid off for many female small business owners this year, allowing them to reach several goals, including growing profit (goal of 59%, achieved by 26%), gaining more customers (goal of 53%, achieved by 41%), and expanding their business (goal of 28%, achieved by 12%).

To keep the momentum going, respondents predict they’ll continue to succeed through continued revenue growth (63%), gaining more customers (54%), and business expansion (27%). However, success is also about a lot more than dollars and cents. Twenty-one percent of respondents said success is all about making a positive impact in their community, and one in five included innovation as a marker of success.

While the next year looks more positive for female small business owners, there will still be challenges to overcome, with inflation (39%) and funding (25%) being the top concerns. To overcome these challenges, female SBOs are throwing themselves into their work more often — but how much is too much?

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Work-life balance improvements have slowed by 15% since last year. In 2024, only 58% said their work-life balance has improved since becoming a small business owner, compared to 73% who said the same last year.

Women in the survey felt they needed to choose between their family and their career multiple times every month, while one in eight felt this way every week. Overall, 42% said being a business owner has made it more difficult to balance their responsibilities outside of work.

To better balance their work and family life, those surveyed are committed to “cutting back on working hours,” “taking time for quiet reflection,” and “being willing to take a day off as necessary.”

One in six also shared that compared to this time last year, they are less confident in the long-term health of their business and lack confidence in their abilities. For many, dealing with difficulties around being a female business owner is the source of this uncertainty, as less than a fifth (18%) of respondents believe they have more opportunities available to them than men. To help combat this uncertainty, respondents will buckle down and consider their finances (74%), time/work-life balance (59%), and mental health (46%) when setting goals.

“The most successful small business owners are those who have identified the support — employees, vendors, partners, etc. — whom they can trust to keep things moving forward so they can focus on other parts of their lives,” says Kevin Moffitt, executive vice president of The ODP Corporation and president of Office Depot, in a statement.

This random double-opt-in survey of 1,000 female small business owners (half of whom are minorities) was commissioned by Office Depot between April 3 and April 12, 2024. It was conducted by market research company Talker Research, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society (MRS) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

Source: Study Finds

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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