Last month I hosted our 10th Annual WMB Conference & Awards in the salubrious surrounds of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin’s leafy Stephen’s Green. It was a great success and the passion in the room was palpable.
I set up my business a decade ago to highlight female entrepreneurs and businesswomen. At the time, I was one of a very tiny minority of women who was heading up a major publishing entity on the island. My lightbulb moment wasn’t instant as such but more of an awakening on my part about the total lack of female role models in corporate and entrepreneurial Ireland. I felt I had a role to play in levelling the playing pitch and Women Mean Business was born.
My business model is gender-specific and as a woman in business, I have a keen interest in how other women are engaging in entrepreneurship. The relative untapped entrepreneurial potential of women has been recognised for many years at national level and a range of incentives to encourage more entrepreneurial activity among women have been put in place to release their perceived potential.
According to the European Commission women constitute 52% of the total European population but only 34.4% of the EU self-employed and 30% of start-up entrepreneurs! The main barriers cited by the Commission include access to finance; access to information; training; access to business networks and reconciling business and family concerns.
Among the 45 economies participating in Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) surveys, a trusted resource on entrepreneurship, from 2013 to 2015, several showed year-on-year increases in ratios of both female to male entrepreneurship participation rates. However, looking to Ireland and female/male TEA, we rank 54 (out of 60) and the UK ranks 38.
On female entrepreneurship, the GEM Report suggests that we “Maximise the untapped potential of women who, when participating at lower rates than men in an economy, suggest missed opportunities. Policy makers can design specific interventions to encourage females to enter the world of entrepreneurship. A broader policy approach is also needed, however, to equalise women in the entrepreneurship arena: for example, the provision of adequate child/elderly care.”
It is disappointing that so few women have set up in business thus far but I am quietly confident that more will take that leap of faith to not only start but grow significant successful businesses. I am reminded that regardless of gender, it will always be the most capable, the most talented and the most visionary that will succeed.
As WMB celebrates its 10th anniversary in business, I know that I was one of those fortunate to have survived one of the worst recessions of our time. Tens of thousands of businesses closed their doors in the intervening years and I am reminded of the risks and trade-offs of setting up in business – especially if you’re a woman.
Here are some of my ‘learnings’, which I’d like to share…..
• Time – this is one of your most valuable commodities. You will learn to think smarter and value what little time you have for leisure and your loved ones!
• Money – expect to pay yourself a pittance for at least three to five years. Yes, you can have a fantastic business plan with a nice salary detailed, but when push comes to shove your remuneration will fall way behind other overheads.
• Security – it is one of the most naked moments of your working life when you leave as an employee to launch into entrepreneurship. Becoming an entrepreneur is like bungee jumping without the elastic cord, exciting but could be deadly!
• Pension – you know you want one; you know you need one. You may already have one from your previous life. However, pensions are one of many perceived luxuries that get bumped to the bottom of the list. There’s one certainty if you don’t have a pension – your later years won’t be all that golden.
• Fear of failure – like a hangover, the fear comes, plays havoc with your head and leaves you feeling exhausted. Avoid at all costs.
• Lost identity – entrepreneurs live the dream 24/7, which means that you are likely to become a total bore about your business. For the sake of your relationships, be self-aware and learn to ‘shut off’.
• Personality switch – unlike identity loss, you will go through phases of personality switch. This is where you are expected (or even forced) to take on the persona of Cinderella when at home (all scrubbing and cleaning with a ‘no show’ from your fairy godmother); editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (all hiss and no humility in the office when things go wrong); and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (you know you’ve no interest in having an affair but you still want to boil that rabbit!). Yes, you have to be all things to a lot of people as you multitask. Once you’re aware of possible negative outcomes, think more along the lines of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally – fake it and you’ll sail right through!
• The myth of the finish line – what finish line? As you start to invest sweat and tears into your business, you do so with the false belief that there is an end to your journey. Indeed, you believe that your pot of gold will appear way before your grey hairs as you meticulously plan your exit strategy. Don’t be fooled as, once you start your journey, endless challenges and opportunities will present and the finish line will become a small dot on the very distant horizon. Let’s face it: retirement is for bankers, politicians and lottery winners!
Article published by Rosemary Delaney