Sage asked me to write a blog about the importance of businesses supporting #InternationalWomensDay.
Having spent far too long researching stats and facts, and then wanting to run a mile from a post that might well have sent you all to sleep, I went back to the drawing board. The theme for #IWD2017 is #BeBoldForChange. So this is a bold post – I’m sharing my own story as a woman in business. My hope is that this personal approach will convey the need for us all to #BeBoldForChange in encouraging more women into business.
Setting up my business
When I first set up my business in 2003 as a Career and Business Coach it was certainly a BOLD move. I was a mum with a one-year old and up until that point, I had been working in Tech as a Project Manager.
My IT career veered off track when, in 2002, 6-months pregnant with my first son, I was threatened with redundancy. During that time of uncertainty, I stumbled across an article on “life coaching” in a Sunday supplement. Reading this article was the start of my journey into self-employment.
I worked with a Coach and she asked me to write down what I REALLY wanted from my career. Looking back on those notes, I wasn’t clear on exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew how I wanted to feel. This is what I wrote:
“I want to find a way of making money that I am passionate about, and that allows me to have time to bring up my son – to achieve work/life balance. And I want to have the courage, energy and tenacity to go for whatever I do.”
The only answer for me was to start my own business!
Six months later, I had taken training as a Coach and was on the cusp of setting up my business. All very exciting, but the problem was, I didn’t have a clue about how to run a business. I called HMRC and set myself up as a sole trader, cobbled together a (very ugly) website, printed some business cards, and then hoped that the clients would magically appear.
I wasn’t completely green – I did know about networking, so I started attending meetings: They were the sort of meetings where you have to be fluent in Elevator Pitch and collect as many business cards as possible.
I vividly remember meeting a man who ran a printer repair business (it was a PROPER business, not like mine). He took one look at my business card, asked why my address wasn’t on it and then looked puzzled when I explained what I did. Before he swiftly moved on to someone more useful. At another event, a man said to me “Good for you….Nice to have a little bit of pin money coming in, eh?”
You might not be so surprised to learn that I gave up on these networking meetings.
But I didn’t know what else I should be doing to build a business and my enthusiasm began to wane. As savings rapidly dwindled, I decided to start to look for a job. As there were very few opportunities in IT that worked with the logistics of my son’s childcare, I eventually took a part-time job that paid just above the minimum wage.
Women’s mentoring programme
Mine might have been a story that ended in career misery, but one day I discovered a women’s mentoring programme, organised and funded by the now defunct Business Link, a government-funded business and advice service.
At the first mentoring meeting, I met other women in business who were a few steps ahead of me – and this was the difference that made ALL the difference. I discovered how a group of other female business owners could support each other and a group of 6 of us formed our own mastermind. The impact my business and my self-belief was enormous – I felt nurtured, supported and my confidence in myself and in my business grew and grew.
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m still around, negotiating the ups and downs far more skilfully than I did back in 2003! I am proud of what I’ve achieved and my business has given me the autonomy and work-life balance I craved back in 2002. I earn money doing something I really am passionate about and I’ve been able to be present for my 2 sons.
This story is very ordinary – there are SO many budding female entrepreneurs with aspirations and obstacles identical to mine: They have ideas, energy and enthusiasm, but they are not brimming with unshakeable confidence and they really don’t know where to start. I also know from working with hundreds of them over 14 years that these budding female entrepreneurs are successful when there they have solid support around them.
The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. Part of the work in closing that gap is encouraging more female entrepreneurship – the Women’s Business Council has shown the UK economy is missing out on over 1.2 million new enterprises due to the untapped business potential of women.
The Federation of Small Business, in its 2016 report “Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential” estimates that 900,000 more businesses would be created if the UK achieved the same level of female entrepreneurship as the US, resulting in an additional £23 billion gross added to the UK economy. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, 150,000 extra businesses would be created every single year.
The good news is that we’re heading in the right direction! Women account for 32% of self-employment – an increase of 4% since 2008.But there is still so much we need to do so that the UK can fully benefit from that potential.
As I said earlier, the theme for 2017 International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange
We need to be #BeBoldForChange about addressing the gender imbalance in enterprise in the UK. I have shared my experience because it’s NOT extraordinary. So many women can share similar stories: Make no mistake, lack of confidence and self-doubt is possibly the biggest barrier to women starting businesses. Of course, women themselves need to be #BeBoldForChange – but to do that, they need practical support and encouragement from the start.
Many women don’t understand how to access finance to start or grow their businesses. Indeed most, like me, will assume that their businesses are not big or “proper” enough to even ask for finance. We need our banks to be more #BeBoldForChange in supporting female entrepreneurship. If they really are willing to finance more female entrepreneurs, they need to be bolder and louder about their messages.
As you’ll have seen from my story, having support and mentoring is the difference that can make a real difference to female entrepreneurs, but it’s still a hit and miss affair, especially with the demise of government-funded business support. There IS support out there – but you have to know where to look and who to ask. For many women, they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
What do you think will help increase levels of female entrepreneurship in the UK? If you’re a woman who is considering setting up her own business? What is stopping you? What help do you need?
How can the UK #BeBoldForChange to get more women into business? I’d love to hear your thoughts.