Women undersell themselves. We don’t apply for jobs unless we meet almost all of the criteria, while men confidently put themselves forward with much shakier foundations. And we hold our businesses back from those government schemes which provide generous support to ambitious ventures.
Entry to ‘growth’ business schemes is often based on projected turnover. Women tend to under-estimate their potential, while men are more likely to over-estimate. But of course the result is irrelevant, nobody can be certain of how their idea will work out. To get the support and funds above all you need to be compellingly confident. And if you can’t quite persuade yourself that the hand you are holding is quite as good as you’re making it out to be, you need to learn to talk big.
In every business there comes a time when you need to make a leap, when you spot a great opportunity and just need to stretch your capabilities or imagination to meet it. At this stage the ability to talk big is a huge advantage. That leap of imagination, built on solid foundations of experience and research, is what business planning is all about. It is, quite simply, optimism. It’s much more difficult to get your business moving without it.
For various reasons, ‘talking big’ doesn’t come easily to most women. As a result the numbers of women accessing high value support schemes tends to be very low and our businesses suffer in other ways too. So what can we do?
Sales training helps and is a topic that is strangely absent from many business training programmes. But as Daniel Pink says in his recent book, ‘To Sell is Human’, in this information rich age: we’re all in sales now. Good sales people develop resilience and positivity, which are essential attributes in every area of life and especially when you run your own business.
Talking up the hand you’re holding is a skill that, not surprisingly, can also be honed by playing poker, the game of psychology, skill and luck. As a metaphor for business it’s been said that while chess is like big business office politics, poker is like a more dynamic startup. Having played in both ponds I have to agree. To play poker well you need to be able to project confidence and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Having the best hand doesn’t always mean you will win, just as important is the ability to persuade and read people and to bluff. Those are all great attributes for anyone trying to start or grow their own business.
Talking and thinking big
The most important audience for your ‘big talk’ is yourself. Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, is a perfect example. He uses the term ‘future truth’: a vision so compelling that in your mind it’s already happened. In his story of getting the Eden project off the ground against all the odds, he confesses that in fact a good idea and outrageous optimism was almost all they had. They had no idea of cost, no business plan, no money and no site. Of course if they’d thought through all of the obstacles they would probably have abandoned the project. For start-ups a dose of blind optimism can be a good thing.
Building that compelling vision may be one of the most valuable business steps you take. Plant the seed of what success looks like in your own mind and your route towards it may just be unstoppable.