According to the government’s ‘Business Is Great’ campaign (2013), the UK would have an additional 1 million entrepreneurs if women set up in business at the same rate as men. So why are females are only half as likely to take the plunge?
1) Money talks
It is widely established that women find it more challenging to secure funding for business ventures than men. There are a number of possible reasons for this, but the most commonly reported issue seems to be the continued dominance of the ‘old boys’ club mentality within VC circles, coupled with the shortage of female representation in the VC community. Jon Bradford, MD of startup accelerator Techstars also comments “People often fix a problem that’s right in front of them. Hence women might be more likely to come up with solutions to the issues that are more female-centric – and these areas could be harder for a male VC to relate to.” The ‘Business Is Great’ campaign highlighted that financial institutions should ensure they market their services to women who want to set up in business, and cites NatWest as a positive example (the bank has 200 Women In Business Specialists across its UK network). Budding female entrepreneurs should be encouraged by the rise in such initiatives, and seek out grants and funding opportunities that are marketed specifically towards women in business. Other avenues, such as crowdfunding, angel investors and utilising local support networks (such as Chambers of Commerce) for advice are also worth looking into. Thankfully, for all the challenges that still exist on this front, we have come a long way since 1988, when The Women’s Business Ownership Act abolished laws that required married women to acquire their husband’s signature for all loans.
2) Holding the smartphone and the baby
According to Capital One, 69% of female entrepreneurs define success by whether or not they have achieved a good work life balance. For many female entrepreneurs, starting up and running a business is just one of many roles they juggle in a multi-faceted life. Whilst our society still judges men largely on the basis of their career, many women still feel pressure on multiple levels as they juggle their business alongside keeping the home fires burning and the children fed, watered and entertained. There’s no doubt it is not for the faint hearted, but setting and living by clear boundaries and priorities certainly makes for a happier family and work life. You may choose to define ‘golden time’ for family, and switch off the tablet and phone by a certain time each day. Or perhaps you might set yourself limits on how much work travel you do. Regardless, it’s your life, and so make sure you’re in the driving seat.
Building a successful business ‘takes a village’, and whilst for many entrepreneurs, greatness starts from something very small, there is no reason you cannot build a great community around you from the word go. The key is to widen your circle professionally, personally and within the community. Many female entrepreneurs start up their business from home, and this can be a lonely existence. But thankfully, now, there are myriad groups out there to provide support for the female entrepreneur. Whether you build relationships in person or online, these contacts will be your lifelines on a tough day. Everyone needs mentors, advisors and friends in business, just as in life, whether to re-gain perspective, handle a tough decision, or just seek out advice from someone like-minded. Join local business groups, attend events, host events, support local charities, and, most of all, get to know your customers and your community.
4) ‘How’s your little hobby going?’
Being taken seriously as a female entrepreneur can often prove a frustrating hurdle, particularly in the early days. On the plus side, it is far outweighed by the pleasure in being under-estimated and proving the naysayers wrong. Entrepreneurship is still considered as a male-dominated field, and it can be difficult to surpass these conventional views. Arguably, Mattel’s efforts to address this last year, with the launch of ‘Entrepreneur Barbie”, may have done little to help the cause! Thankfully there is no shortage of groups and networks supporting female entrepreneurs and women in business. Applying for awards (including those geared specifically towards female entrepreneurs) can also be a great way to add credibility to your business venture and your reputation.
5) Finding suitable role models
Whilst it is easy to name several ‘celebrity’ female role models who have succeeded in business ventures, finding more accessible role models for female entrepreneurship can be a challenge, and even more so for women who have ventured into male dominated fields such as digital and tech. Local and online networks can open the door to a range of potential mentors, and the key is to make sure you seek out those whose circumstances, outlook and challenges at startup most closely mirror your own.
Starting a business is a rollercoaster ride of risk and emotion, and one in which the fear of failure can be particularly strong for female entrepreneurs. Thanks to a lifetime of social conditioning, women tend to be more risk-averse than men. But in the words of Martha Stewart, ‘It is within everyone’s grasp to be a CEO.’ Ladies, go forth and conquer!