I launched my business four and half years ago with a lot of enthusiasm, no money and 30 years experience. Had I been a man (and good with figures) I probably would have looked for investment in order to fund my start up. But on the advice of someone (a woman) who helps small business’s get funding, I decided to grow slowly, establish a client base and put my energy into doing what I do best, creating content that helps fashion businesses look to the future. Then, if I needed to look for funding, I would be able to create an realistic forecast based on current and potential sales.
Luckily I have built great relationships over the course of my career, am well connected and respected for being professional, honest, hard working and good at what I do. This stood me in good stead in the early days when I had to call in favours and ask ex-colleagues to help out for little or no money. On the whole it worked out (with a few exceptions – but I’m putting them down to experience) and I am eternally grateful to those who were there (and still are) in the early days – when 14 hour days and 7 day weeks were the norm.
One of my priorities was to create an inspiring, creative place to work, where we work hard but also have fun. My mantra is if you can’t laugh at work then there is no point in being there. Too many offices these days are depressing places where people communicate by messaging the person next to them, or sit in silence with head phones on. Creating inspiring content and forecasting the future requires constant conversation and sharing of ideas and even if we are just chatting about what box set we are watching – it is all relevant.
I didn’t set out to create an all female company – but it naturally happened that way, mostly because with women, I find we all start on the same page – there is no jostling for position, proving our superiority or trying to impress. We are not competitive, but supportive and respectful of each other. Childcare and flexible working are not ‘issues’ but things we can work out and if anyone makes a mistake we all work out how to rectify it. We don’t have a blame culture and we all pitch to do the crap jobs when necessary, because thats what women do, they help each other out.
I am really proud of what we have built and although we are still in the very early stages of growth and our main competitor is a corporate giant, I am confident that we can continue to build our business to offer a credible alternative. Creativity and corporate culture don’t always go hand in hand, and being agile and able to react to feedback has created positive relationships with out clients. People love people and they want to buy into the personality of a brand and we naturally have that – because we genuinely believe in what we do and have fun while we are doing it.
I have never written any of this down and have rarely said it to anyone except my partner, as it sounds like bragging – and as a woman this isn’t something I am good at. Especially not a 50 something woman, who was brought up in the sexist 70s! My generation have fought the patriarchy from birth and throughout our careers and that has resulted in a fear of failure, lack of confidence and inability to go after what in our hearts, we know we are really bloody good at.
Perhaps if I was younger or brought up to believe could be as good, if not better than men, I may have secured already funding – rather than feeling frustrated at our potential for growth and the lack of resources to make it happen – or maybe it isn’t about age, but feeling empowered to go after what we know we deserve.
It wasn’t until my friend Vicki asked me to sign the open letter to government that marks the start of The Telegraph’s ‘Women Mean Business’ campaign, that I understood that it wasn’t just me that was frustrated, as female entrepreneurs in Britain are being unfairly held back when it comes to funding start ups.
Here are some shocking statistics that back this up.
- 1 in 10 women in the UK wants to start their own business, according to research by YouGov and Development Economics.
- Yet the Entrepreneurs Network has found that just 9% of funding into UK startups goes to women-run businesses.
- Men are 86% more likely to be venture-capital funded and 56% more likely to secure angel investment than women, according to the Entrepreneurs Network and Beauhurst.
- In a new study by the Federation of Small Businesses, a quarter of female small business owners cited the ability to access traditional funding channels as a key challenge, with many relying on alternative sources – crowdfunding, personal cash and credit – for growth.
There has also been widespread research showing that women entrepreneurs, on average, have lower loan approval rate than men and can be charged higher interest rates – again something I was unaware of – but may explain recent frustrations I’ve had with my bank.
Now more than ever, there’s a need to progress gender parity and on International Women’s Day we are being encouraged to #PressforProgress and motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
So if you want to support female entrepreneurs , download, print & sign the letter, send it off to your MP and tell the story on social media – the time is right and the right is ours.
Happy International Women’s day. #womenmeanbusiness