A woman’s guide to launching a business careerBy Angelica Malin
It’s no secret: starting out in business is tough, and it can be even tougher if you’re a woman. Despite the massive progress made over the past half-century, there are still disproportionately few women at the top levels of business. Women find it difficult to get a seat in the boardroom, and they find it harder to secure funding for their own businesses than male entrepreneurs. To overcome these disadvantages, you’ll need to have a clear plan at the outset and the confidence to keep on pushing no matter how tough things get – because women do succeed, and you could be one of them.
Do your research
Building a successful business always begins with research and developing a thorough understanding of what will be involved. You’ll have to know the sector that you want to work in back to front and understand your competitors just as well as you understand what you want to create. Identify a market niche you think you can fill and then find out all you can about what that market wants so that you can target your customers as effectively and efficiently as possible. This will save a lot of time and trouble after you commence trading and it will also help you to prepare an impeccable business plan, improving your chances of finding funding.
Build up your networks
Setting up your business starts with finding the right people: not just potential co-owners and employees but also potential suppliers, distributors and investors. For this to happen, you will need to put yourself out there. You can do some of it online using social media and industry-specific platforms, and you can attend events like industry conferences, local enterprise gatherings or Women in Business gatherings. Your local Growth Hub or Business Gateway Centre can provide you with advice about what’s going on. Most entrepreneurs also find that their friends and family can help, if not directly then by sharing their contacts. One good strategy is to identify people you think it would be useful to know, work out the connections that exist between you and them – often fewer than you’d think – and then start working your way along that chain of people until you can get an introduction.
Find the right support
As a woman in business, it’s helpful to have other people on your side who understand the specific challenges you face. This can mean women’s enterprise groups, or it can mean investors with a track history of helping female entrepreneurs to make the most of their talents, like Lady Barbara Judge. Bear in mind that a good investor can provide you with much more than just capital. When it comes to funding, you should also look into the range of grants and loans targeted at women. You may be able to get additional help if you fall into a minority group or if you have been unemployed for some time – many women start businesses as a means of getting back into the workplace after raising children.
Understand your value
Although most people starting out in businesses are excited about the enterprises they want to develop, and nothing appeals to investors like realistic but passionate vision, it’s a sad fact that many women don’t value themselves highly enough. Years of being undervalued in the workplace and encouraged to see other people’s needs as more important can take their toll. This doesn’t mean that you should be egotistical, but it does mean that you should establish a practical estimate of the value that you personally bring to your business, based on your experience, qualifications and work history. If you want to put a number on this, using average salary scales can help – if what you were actually paid was less, then you shouldn’t carry on associating yourself with that lower value.
One side effect of women’s tendency to undervalue themselves is that they sometimes give up too easily. It’s worth keeping in mind that many successful entrepreneurs launch two or three businesses before they hit on a winning formula. Starting up even one takes a lot of persistence – you probably won’t be lucky enough to be offered a good deal by the first lender you approach or to come up with a successful marketing strategy right away. For most people, getting it right involves a degree of trial and error, and this isn’t altogether a bad thing, because it will get you into the habit of routinely reviewing everything you do to see if there’s a way you can do it better. It’s that ongoing dedication to improvement that gives a business the ability to adapt to change and makes it resilient.
Did you know that female-owned businesses are, in proportion to their size, more productive than those run by men and that they create more jobs? Believe in your potential, plan well and work hard, and yours will be a success.