Recession is one of the best times to start a business. As the whole country undergoes an immense shake-out, businesses and households have no option but to tighten up and review their suppliers. Business as usual isn’t an option and sharper, smarter new businesses can have opportunities that wouldn’t be available in the normal economic cycle.
Women entrepreneurs have a number of advantages. Their businesses are more resilient in tough economic times; lower levels of debt are enabling many to retrench while heavily geared competitors go under. And according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, women are more innovative, more likely to be using new technology and introducing new products. And we have greater long-term social or ethical aspirations for their business, which provide strong foundations of brand integrity and strategic focus.
The number of women starting businesses has increased by almost a fifth in the last decade. Well over 1 million now work for themselves, contributing £130 billion to the UK economy. While still less than half as likely as men to run their own business, women are gradually closing the enterprise gap. This is happening at breakneck speed in rural areas, where women are taking the lead in developing new innovations to fill growing gaps in agricultural incomes.
Women come into their own in times of change. While men’s level of entrenchment and identity in their work can keep them holding on to old industries until the bitter end; women, who on the whole have lower-paid and marginal roles within mainstream industries, are more likely to have the emotional and practical flexibility to innovate when times are toughest. Post-recessionary Britain faces a lag of continuing economic turmoil and unemployment: one outcome is sure to be many more entrepreneurial women.
For many types of business, the practicalities of starting-up couldn’t be easier. The UK has one of the lowest levels of business bureaucracy in the world and many businesses can register and begin in just a day. HMRC and Business Link provide helpful information and advice on their websites, information lines and training sessions. And the proliferation of broadband and tumbling price of computers and technology mean it’s easier than ever to start as a home-based business, with unlimited aspirations.
Raising finance and maintaining the high levels of self-belief and motivation needed can be much more difficult. You don’t need to be alone: there has been an explosion in business networking, with groups out there to support every kind of need.
Just as important is a skilled adviser, coach or mentor. For women this is particularly important: we generally start businesses more gradually, taking time to do thorough research and market testing. Much business support consists of short-sharp often virtual interventions, but there is also excellent relational business support to be found, providing a trusted professional friend who stays with you while you build a solid business and self-belief.
Going for growth
Women’s businesses are just as successful as those run by men, if they make it through the early years. But the drop-out rate is a bit higher, due to a mix of issues which can include lower levels of financing and access to procurement opportunities and patchy business support. In many cases it’s simply a positive life-stage change back into employment.
Those women who do establish their businesses have no shortage of ambition and are a generous source of advice about growing and innovating through recession.
Sarah Daniels launched health and Safety consultancy, The RedCat Partnership, ten years ago. It’s been steadily growing since and Sarah’s advice is to “develop a strategic board of trusted critical friends to act as a sounding board for major decisions; mine get paid with Dinner & Wine!”
Community Filmmaker, Shelly Telly has also notched up 10 years in business. “Don’t panic!” she says, “The key thing is pricing and costing your services realistically so that if you have quiet times, you’ve got some reserves to keep you going. This makes good business sense for your clients too because the quiet times are ones when you can step back from your business and think about what you do in new ways.” Like Kate Elliot of Active Marketing & Design, Shelly has managed growth by using a network of freelancers. For Kate “using freelancers and part-time staff gives flexibility and dynamism and creates the impression of growth which is a bridge to further growth.”
Quality is key for Sarah Steel, who started The Old Station Nursery in 2002. Since then the company has grown to 12 award-winning sites around the UK. Sarah says “During a recession it is important to concentrate on quality and ensure that you are really giving your customer what they need, or someone else certainly will! We have invested more than ever this year in staff training and new resources, to demonstrate to parents that we want to stay at the top of our game”.
Deborah Leary agrees “it is all about people.” Deborah is CEO of Forensic Pathways a leading developer of crime scene products and services. She’s also President of BAWE, the British Association for Women Entrepreneurs. Her advice is to get out there and make it happen: “You have to take massive positive action. You have to demonstrate that there are no barriers only challenges. Spot opportunities and act on them, innovate, diversify, partner, contribute and always do so with integrity”.