One of the delightful parts of being a female business leader is getting the opportunity to talk to young – and not so young – women entrepreneurs just starting out. This is most definitely a two-way street in that I gain so much motivation and inspiration from hearing about their plans. But it’s also gratifying to be able to pass on some of the things I’ve learned the hard way.
In business – and especially in my sector, the media – women can often feel that the odds are stacked against them. The daily challenges we all face at work can be compounded by the need to overcome prejudices and, for many, balance work life with family life. Last week was Global Entrepreneur Week and, as such, I want to remind women that it is most certainly possible to thrive as a female entrepreneur – you just need to be very self-aware right from the start. Plan for how you intend to support yourself with just the same motivation as you think about financing and marketing.
My tips for would-be female entrepreneurs boil down to the following:
Commit to your company
Before you even scratch out that business plan on a restaurant napkin, answer this one: am I really sure I want to do this? Running a business is exhausting: it requires sacrifice, energy and lashings of self-belief. Of course, it is also fascinating, inspiring and empowering but there is no doubt that there will be moments when you wonder why you got yourself into this. You need to have a firm answer to this question when it pops up. You also need to be sure whether, even if you want this, now is the right time to pursue the dream. Can you wholly throw yourself into it at this point in your life?
Network, network, network
There are the obvious rational benefits to this in that you need to meet people who may become your investors, customers, partners, employees and suppliers. But as a woman running a startup, you face challenges that the guys don’t – namely the lack of that default old boys network. You need peers: women or likeminded men who are a little way further down the track and are able to support and inspire you when times get tough. I found this invaluable in our early days.
Whether you seek formal mentoring or go the more informal route will depend on what you know works best for you. However you access them, spend time with people in similar positions with similar values by going to everything you’re invited to. Read voraciously so that you have something to say but remember to spend at least twice as much time listening as talking. One last point on networking – tempting though it is to gravitate towards people who reflect your experience to date, try to focus more on people who represent what you are moving towards. Make your support team aspirational.
Rise above prejudice
If you detect sexism, in any aspect of your business operations, fight prejudice with awesome preparation. Recall Michelle Obama’s appeal during the American election: “When they go low, we go high.” Concentrate on preparing yourself so well for battle that you focus your audience on the facts rather than your gender. Always remind yourself that you have a right to be heard.
Many female business leaders in the 1980s and 1990s felt that they had to repress their femininity to succeed. These days more women are feeling confident enough to run their businesses according to their own personal beliefs and character. This sense of authenticity creates a powerful base for your business’s positioning in the market.
Deliver on your promises
This is something that one of my mentors passed on to me and it’s a simple but very powerful way to mark yourself out, helping to make clear that your personal principles underpin the business. One of the things I’m really proud of about Astus is that we have an 85% rebooking rate. That kind of customer satisfaction will always pay back. Irrespective of gender, this is the mantra that is most likely to ensure your business succeeds.