We couldn't think of anyone better to advise you on starting a business as a woman, than those that have been there and done it. The following five female entreneurs spoke to Startups.co.uk about their experiences as women starting their own businesses:
|Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta
YRA: I believe it’s due to a realisation of opportunities available to them; as well as the rise in support services and awareness initiatives specifically targeted at women.
RC: There are more opportunities to start a business from home; something that suits women who are juggling careers and parenthood. In addition, I think women are a lot more ambitious and motivated. Achieving as much as I can is important to me, especially as life seems to be dashing by since I turned 25.
AF: I think that women today are more confident, and therefore are happy to take their destiny into their own hands. I know a lot of young mums who have started their own businesses because of their situation: they can spend more time with their children because of being at home.
KM: The reasons could be endless… Personally, I cut loose when my job in the City was axed after 9/11 and something told me that there was no point in waiting for the work to come to me anymore. I have a passion for organising events so I knew what I had to do!
KG: I think women have more choices in life in general. Many obstacles of the past generations have been removed and this helps greatly in the decision to start up in business.
When you first decided to start a business were you worried that people might not take you seriously because you were a woman?
YRA: It never crossed my mind; but I’d never encountered situations where I was not taken seriously because I was a woman.
RC: To be honest I have never thought about it, because I have always let my own thoughts lead the way rather by being influenced by other people (unless offering advice or constructive criticism). I am a firm believer if you want something badly enough you can make it happen. If you know what you are alking about you can be taken seriously.
AF: Yes. My business is within web design and development, a technical field generally quite male-dominated. Luckily, there is the creative factor, too, and I feel that people appreciate the “feminine” touch that I can give their look. Also, I found that when talking at events, the male speakers got more interest from the public than myself. Now this may be due to the fact that I am a lousy speaker, but I felt that the way they presented themselves was more aggressive. They made everything sound so important and made the audience feel small and ignorant.
KM: Not at all. I’m conscious of my young complexion and petite stature, but my late Godmother, equally petite, was a hugely successful and dynamic businesswoman. Like my Godmother, I would like to be taken seriously because of my professional approach, strength of character, commitment and integrity.
KG: It really never occurred to me that my gender would cause a problem in any career path I decided to take. I believe people take me seriously because of my genuine passion and enthusiasm for property.
Starting a business puts an immediate strain on family life for most first-time entrepreneurs, do you think this is a bigger problem for women than men?
YRA: It most definitely is if you have children, as you not only have the demands of the family’s emotional and physical needs, which is usually the role/responsibility of a woman, but also the demands of a business to cope with.
RC: It is more of an issue for women. From my own experience I want to be a mother but also successful, so there has to be some kind of balance. There are times that I have realised that I have not spent any time with my husband or children all weekend because I have been doing business-related things.
AF: Yes. I am over 30 now, and I know that in my case, if I want to grow my business, I’ll be better off not starting a family just yet. This is a big decision that a man doesn’t need to consider – he can become a daddy at 45 and it’s not a problem.
KM: Family life wasn’t an issue when I founded Savvy Club as I was single. However, I’m sure that any strain or obstacle can be overcome with compromise, understanding and commitment. Family life is only a bigger problem for women than men if you let it be.
KG: I think it depends on the family situation. If the woman is the primary care giver then of course it is more difficult for the family until they adjust.
If this has been an issue for you, how have you managed / resolved it?
YRA: Having a family is not currently an issue for me, but I would advise most women to consider starting a business before a family. However, there are means and ways of working around it.
RC: Communication and compromising.
AF: No children, no dogs, no cats - for the moment.
KG: I am lucky that my partner and I share the responsibility of our family and domestic life. I have received great support from him especially in the earliest stages of starting the business.
Have you or do you still use any women’s networks or organisations? If so, how does networking with women-only groups differ to mixed groups?YRA: I use them as I believe it provides the opportunity to learn and network with other women who can relate to where you are coming from. Saying that, there are advantages of networking within mixed groups as the wider world in which you do business is mixed.
RC: There is more of a relaxed atmosphere to talk about things other than business. This gives the opportunity to build social relationships instead of focusing on work issues all the time. However, networking in mixed groups can broaden your ideas and enable you to see things from a male and female perspective.
AF: I go to the Woman’s Place networking group of the ecademy web site (www.ecademy.com). It is usually a much more relaxed atmosphere, and talks are not so much about “what do you do” or sales pitches. It’s all less aggressive and more about people than about business, although it can mean you may not get the results you want.
KM: I have participated in a woman’s network in the past, but find mixed group networking equally as valuable and fun.
KG: At first male dominated networking groups intimidated me, but in reality the intimidation came from my own mind. Now I see all networking as a great opportunity to see the world through other people’s eyes.
Did successful female entrepreneurs such as Dame Anita Roddick inspire you to start a business?
YRA: Yes, but I’d have to say my inspiration and will comes from my mother who built a successful business, and mainly to God who gives me the much needed wisdom and direction.
RC: I have been inspired by female role models such as Jacqueline Gold and also those that started with nothing and built success.
AF: No, I wouldn’t dare compare myself to such a powerful person with a vision. I am just doing something that I love doing and try my best to make it a success.
KM: Friends and family gave me the courage, confidence and support I needed to start my own business. Along the way, I’ve attended talks by Sahar Hashemi of Coffee Republic and, Martha Lane Fox of Lastminute.com which have been very helpful - if they can do it, then I can do it too!
KG: I think great entrepreneurs, male and female are extremely inspiring. Especially when you read about the challenges people have overcome to succeed.
Do ever you consider your gender to be an advantage in business? If so, when?
YRA: I would have to say no for me, so far.
RC: I think women handle situations differently. I have been able to evaluate situations and weigh up the pros and cons rather that jumping in. I think women have the ability to be multi-skilled (ironing and being on the phone at the same time!), which gives them an advantage in balancing work and life.
AF: Hmm, maybe. I find that my male customers are quite charming when they deal with me – drinks are on them! And my female customers bond with me and we treat each other like friends.
KM: I could play that card, but I’m not really that way inclined. I consider myself equal in business. When I win, it’ll be because of my determination, commitment and because I’m me.
KG: I guess I never really thought about my gender being an advantage before. However, on reflection I think women have great communication skills and this helps incredibly when dealing with clients.
What could the government do to encourage more women to start their own business?
YRA: They are doing quite a lot already, but could work more closely with woman at the grassroots who are aware of the needs of their local community.
RC: I would like to see more effort in encouraging women to visit schools/universities and speak about their businesses, hopefully encouraging other young women to startup.
AF: I really thrive on all sorts of mentor schemes and advisors. As a Prince’s Trust business, I have a personal mentor who I meet once a month. It would be nice if there was a web site where advisers advertise their services. I personally would choose a woman over a man to advise my business, and one day, I want to be able to hand over the knowledge I have gained to other women.
KM: I was in my 30s when I started Savvy Club, and found that I wasn’t eligible for grants or loans. Perhaps the Government could encourage women to start a business, with some kind of loan scheme for women aged 30 plus.
KG: I think they have already started to help women with childcare issues, but there’s still some way to go.
What advice would you give to a woman thinking of starting a business?
YRA: First, know yourself. Second, ensure you carry out a lot of research on what help is available to you.. And third, make use of the many women network organisations and support groups available.
RC: Get the advice and do not be afraid to ask for help. Start with a business plan and see what develops. Do your research on market and products. Be positive.
AF: With your natural tendency to be cautious, you are more likely to succeed than the boisterous other half of the world... And, while this is naughty to say, I believe that men in general find it easier to be confident about themselves and to communicate this. We still need to learn this, and while I think it is never nice to hear somebody tell how great they are, we need to find our own female way to communicate that we are indeed great.
KM: Consider the opportunities: the learning experience, the friendships which can be made, the knowledge that can be gained, the recognition and satisfaction of knowing that ‘you’ve done it’.
KG: Research is extremely important. Use your passion to help others and the income will take care of itself. Most of all, believe in yourself and what you are doing or how can you expect others to?