Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman, talks about the main issues facing female start-ups – and how challenges can be overcome
Many women start a business after taking a career break, perhaps to have children, often in industries in which they haven’t worked previously. Therefore, they don’t have established contacts, and that's certainly something that can affect self-confidence, but joining industry networks can help.
Women still have the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities – and no one should underestimate the demands of running a business. Be realistic about what help you will need with childcare and explore your options, so you can invest enough time in the business, especially in the early days. This should be as much of a priority as deciding what PC you are going to buy or what name you choose.
You might be able to share your childcare responsibilities with someone else in the same situation. Try to build a strong personal network you can call on in an emergency. Also, there will be many times when you will need to make a business call or go to a meeting, for example, without being faced with any domestic distractions.
You shouldn’t be worried. It’s a lot easier to walk into a room ful of strangers when people are like you and have similar experiences. Initial conversation between women, however senior, will usually be about their interests, things going on in their lives, stories about their kids, etc. Then the conversation will move towards business. However, don’t limit yourself to women-only networks. Join networking groups related to your industry and other networks, because you never know what opportunities might arise.
There’s no reason for anyone not to do business with you or to be rude to you because of your gender. Remember, you don’t have to deal with people just because there is business available. If a client shows you prejudice, decide how much their custom is worth and walk away if necessary. The best thing about being your own boss is – to an extent – you can choose who you do business with.
There isn’t any particular type of business – female owned or not – that finds it more difficult to borrow money or attract funding, unless it's a sector that’s been particularly badly affected by the economic downturn. The decision will be made on the strength of your proposition, your business plan and the lender’s confidence in your ability to lead and grow your business. However, our research shows that, on average, men are far more likely to feel confident about loans and attracting investment. Do some research and speak to your bank. Some new companies might be able to attract business angel investment.
The Aspire Fund, which was launched when the government pledged to invest £12.5m in female-led businesses, providing it’s match-funded by private investors, such as venture capitalists and business angels. But most women tend to prefer organic business growth, rather than going down the investment route.
Effective communication, organisational skills and multi-tasking are known as 'typically female' traits and they can be highly advantageous. Women tend to be very good at negotiating and fostering longer-term business relationships, too. Such qualities are essential – they can also help you pull through during difficult times.