In the UK, far too few women become entrepreneurs, start new businesses or win significant investment. The stats make for depressing reading for any ambitious graduate: just 20% of business founders are female, and only 8% of all medium-sized companies were started by women.
The New Entrepreneurs Foundation is on a mission to change this imbalance and open up entrepreneurship as a career option for female graduates and non-graduates. Its transformational programme trains aspiring entrepreneurs in soft and hard skills, but most importantly, it gives them the most vital quality of all: confidence.
Last year, we held Inspiring Women to Be Entrepreneurswith this unique charity, bringing three successful female entrepreneurs together with young women exploring their options in entrepreneurship. Over the course of the evening, we discussed their experiences, their motivations and their priorities, precisely with the aim of instilling confidence in the women present. And from our inspirational panel of Michelle Morgan, Co-Founder of Livity; Dessi Bell, CEO of Zaggora; and Sarah Wood, Co-Founder of Unruly, we drew eight key lessons for any aspiring entrepreneur.
1. Find your drivers
Michelle Morgan founded Livity because she asked herself what was really important to her. What did she want her career to achieve? Her answer was a business that didn’t just look to make a profit, but which fundamentally helped the youth of today.
2. Female entrepreneurs are more likely to combine profit with social purpose
The theme of the questions from our audience of aspiring female entrepreneurs was a desire to make the world a better place and to achieve that with enterprise. Dessi Bell of Zaggora (multi-million pound turnover and sales in hundreds of countries) now also works with BijouxPlace, a jewellery business which helps women set up their own companies.
3. Women no longer want to fit into a traditional work culture, they want to make their own
Sarah of Unruly Media has succeeded in creating her own work culture. Her business has revenue in the hundreds of millions - and two world records - but in the office she wears slippers and slides around the floor. For a couple of days a week she goes home at 4:30pm to spend time with her children and finds that this approach means she is able to balance her work - which she adores - with her other priorities.
4. It’s essential to control your environment
All three panellists emphasised the need to take control of their workload and their life. They are invited to tons of events, opportunities and meetings, but they keep to their business priorities and organise their time around those. Michelle recalled a time in her life when she was spread too thin, and the lack of focus was making her business and performance weaker. She dealt with the problem in a radical way: she cut down her hours. By focusing on quality over quantity, she says her business gets a “better her”.
5. There’s only one way to keep going when times are tough
Entrepreneurs have to endure some of the toughest business decisions and disasters and our panel were no different. Having lived through those experiences, their advice for prevailing through difficult times was to remember the ultimate purpose of the business. Michelle keenly remembers her worst moment as an entrepreneur - it was when her business had to make 90% of its employees redundant. However, the team always believed in the idea and the purpose and now the company is going from strength-to-strength.
6. The Three Fs are key to a successful entrepreneurial career
Forget KPIs, metrics, revenues and EBDITA, the three things you need for a successful career are fun, faith and friendship. Successful entrepreneurs enjoy their jobs because they have fun. That can range from sliding in slippers around the office to ringing the bell for a huge new deal. Faith in the idea provides the sense of purpose every career needs, and friendship – those human connections – are what keep teams strong and make working with them so worthwhile.
7. Fire yourself every evening
Michelle had excellent advice for decision-making and maintaining focus in a business. Every day she leaves the office and sacks herself as CEO, and every morning she returns to the office as the newly hired replacement. This approach not only enables her to switch off in the evening, it also means she faces her day’s decisions with fresh eyes and an outsider’s perspective. She can keep looking at the bigger picture and not get bogged down in pressure or detail.
8. None of these women are doing the right thing
There is no right way to do something in entrepreneurship. There is no black and white path of correct decision-making. And that can be a very freeing thought. If you know you have an idea you want to turn into a business and you start trying to make that happen, then you can’t possibly go wrong.