Female Entrepreneurs: the secrets of their success
by John Smythe and Ruth Saunders
Firstly - full disclsoure - I was a participant in the development of this book and was interviewed - as an entrepreneur myself. Which takes us to the first challenge for women leaders and entrepreneurs - how comfortable are we with these labels? It's one of the many questions the authors address in their analysis of 52 interviews with women entrepreneurs across a huge age range - from 10 to 60+. It seems that being proud of one's achievements as a woman in business, and inspiring the team to feel good, is one of John and Ruth's "Top Ten Tips" for female entrepreneurs.
Secondly - the challenge. Why is a book of this kind still needed?
There are two sides to the venture capital issue - around which the entrepreneurial world orbits -
- The first is access to venture capital by all-female teams (that's 1% of available capital) and 9% to businesses with at least one female founder. 91% of available capital goes to businesses with all male founders.
- The second is that the make-up of those (UK) investment teams are low on women - only 13% of senior people in those teams are women and nearly half (48%) of investment teams have no women at all.
As is so often the case with the world of women in business, the authors acknowledge each other in this ground-breaking field and Caroline Criado-Perez's work is duly acknowledged as a ground breaker in this field (see 'Invisible Women'). Because the insights we need to support, inspire and - most importantly - enable women entrepreneurs to succeed are now becoming clear - what Forton is doing is building a reading list of some useful books in this field.
However, let's focus back on this book.
Female Entrepreneurs is organised thematically, with relevant quotes taken from the interviewees, and interspersed with the authors' analysis. The entrepreneur's stories are hugely valuable, because they help explain what leads to setting up one's own business: the initial impulse; the emotional drive; the determination to succeed. Issues like early childhood experiences, curiosity and the desire to find solutions and, as the authors emphasize - the need for control. The good news is that this is a diverse group of women: from many cultures and backgrounds, not just mainstream society.
The authors cover the entrepreneurial journey from start up - to dealing with 'failure' and overcoming the challenges - all the way through to scaling up and selling the business. They write about the naturall advantages that women have - and the need to either involve a home partner (if available) or to find an alternative. As a co-owner with my partner, I can relate to this journey and the joys, and pitfals, of having one's partner involved in the business.
The authors have created a list of 'top ten' factors that need to be addressed along the entrepreneurial journey - alongside the real life stories of the entrepreneurs. I find this really helpful because it acts as a checklist and signposts the kinds of resources women will need to access as they build their journey. Here's my summary of the factors:
- Self-awareness: the authors emphasise the need to know one's own strengths and weaknesses - and one's control needs - because these will determine how one will run one's business as well as who to work alongside - and, just as importantly, how to work alongside them.
- Plate spinning: many entrepreneurs start their business as a 'side activity' while still in corporate life - so they're used to spinning plates. Add to this family factors, such as bringing up children, negotiating responsibilities with partners, caring for parents - and more. This can be both a strength and a weakness.
- Having a vision: knowing the destination of the business - what it's going to grow into; what success looks like and so on - is a clear success factor.
- Acknowledge oneself: being proud of one's own achievements and creating a feel-good team who celebrate success.
- Confidence: this isn't about ignoring doubts, but not giving way to the reality of 'imposter syndrome' and certainly not adding to doubt. This means that it's important to learn to trust others, delegate as appropriate.
- Partners: involving life partners in some way - at least having their support (even tacit) will make all the difference to success.
- Balance: successful entrepreneurs balance the day to day delivery and operations of the business with taking a helicopter view of the strategic business direction.
- Development phases: it's key to success that entrepreneurs recognise the end of the launch phase of their business - when the business model has been tested and adjusted, and knowing when it's time to introduce systems and structures.
- Protect IP: The authors emphasise the importance of protecting intellectual property. It's too easy, in the launch phase, to jump over these points - but they come back to bite you when they are not clearly addressed.
- Enjoy the journey: what's so nice about the book is that being an entrepreneur isn't for everyone. For some people, just enjoying the journey; getting to do what you love and earn a living from it is enough. For others it's about creating a legacy and for some it's about having a saleable business. The point is, whatever it is for you, enjoy it and get the most out of your experience.
So many of the points made by John and Ruth resonate with my own experience and I'm delighted to recommend this book. They've already made a big impact in the media with their thoughts and expertise and we're delighted to be interviewing them in a small group to hear their own stories, not just the story of their subjects.
So this is a book both for women entrepreneurs and for their partners, team members and colleagues. It will help you understand the motivations of women in business, as well as see how their - often radical and innovative - approaches contribute to the business world and to society. I hope the book also helps change attitude towards investment in these female-led businesses and to more growth in female leadership.
Helen Caton Hughes