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Why more women should be entrepreneurs - including you

Updated: Jan 11

As International Women's Day approaches, former journalist Belinda Bennett tells women to stop trying to impress male bosses and instead start their own businesses.

International Women's Day 2023

Over the next few weeks, you are going to hear a lot about women who have broken down barriers to achieve success in a multitude of traditionally male-dominated spheres.

From lawyers to elite athletes, there is no end of inspiring success stories out there. Sharing them will serve to motivate women everywhere to harness their strengths and aim higher.

But just how high should women aim in business - and is the effort worth the end result?

If you work for someone else, possibly not.

I've worked with female entrepreneurs in everything from telecommunications and e-commerce to law. One thing I've learned is that those who achieve the most, including the right work-life balance, are those who have taken their ideas and ambition and started their own companies.

I'm not talking about freelancers, who often find themselves trapped in a new kind of inequality, or those who bog themselves down with 'forever' side hustles but women who have trusted their gut instincts and gone the full distance.

These are people with recognised, legitimate brands, offices, staff... The Full Monty.

Having a great vision is often only part of what drives these women.

For some, it is about wrapping work around other responsibilities or coping with a hidden disability or illness. For others, it is about wanting to do things differently or to support good causes.

The founder of one of the UK's most successful law firms launched the business while grappling with a serious cancer diagnosis and juggling work and parenting.

Another woman started a ground-breaking events business after being diagnosed with autism.

They had to break through multiple barriers to create their success but got there because they had the talent and drive to 'make it'.

Would they have achieved the same level of success in someone else's organisation?

That is a question I would like women to ponder on March 8, and then ask themselves: Could I start my own business?

I'll answer that question. Yes!

women entrepreneurs

Equality and Women Entrepreneurs

Just one in three entrepreneurs in the UK is a woman.

According to HM Treasury*, the UK lags behind when it comes to the number of women running their own businesses. In 2019, just 5.6 per cent of females were at the helm of their own brands. At the same time, the figure was 15 per cent in Canada, 11 per cent in America and nine per cent in Australia.

Coincidentally, it was noted that most of those registering as newly self-employed in the UK were women. This is unlikely a positive sign. The gig economy, more outsourcing and the switch away from traditional employment terms could be driving the trend.

Some women register as self-employed to work freelance, many hoping it will give them more flexibility. Others apply for jobs that then require them to register as self-employed.

The problem with self-employment, particularly for women, is that it can be unpredictable, reduce financial security and limit opportunities.

What's more, it can extend the number of hours worked with little to no additional financial reward.

I will cite my own experience of leaving the media industry to work as a freelance copywriter. When I registered as self-employed eight years ago, I had visions of managing my own workload, increasing my income and dictating the hours I worked. 'Freedom' is what I had in mind.

What happened? Instead of having one boss, I found myself with more than 20. Rather than working a 38-hour week, I ended up glued to a computer screen for 14 hours a day - every day.

There was no freedom to pick and choose. Yes, it was financially worth it - just - but the pressure to please all of the people all of the time meant I barely had time to come up for air.

It was all-consuming, and not in a healthy way. The fact that I was diagnosed with cancer in 2020 says it all.

I've often said that, during my career as a journalist, I was like Bridget Jones on steroids. I was hungry for success. Totally driven. I wanted that next big story first, I wanted the by-line, I wanted the top job... Truth was, the latter just wasn't going to happen.

Having the ability and drive to succeed doesn't mean you will. And being the first in and last out of the office every day doesn't do you any favours in the long run. Being 'too keen' can be as unattractive as useless. Especially to big firms.

So, why waste all that energy trying to 'make it' on other people's terms?

If you have got the ability and new ideas, stop trying to impress your male bosses and start your own business. A proper business.

woman opening her own business

Starting a business

Got an idea? Before you book an appointment with your bank manager, get professional support.

Check out what's on offer at Business and IP Centres and make the most of local and national mentoring schemes.

Have a clear business plan with achievable goals that you can build on.

Importantly, believe in yourself. If you know you can do it, others will too.

Already managing your own business and lease premises? Did you know that lenders are currently looking very favourably at firms planning to buy their own commercial property?

If I had my time again, I wouldn't waste three decades trying to impress the unimpressible. I'd take a passion and make it a business.

Don't fritter opportunities away by just thinking about it. Do it!

*Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #EmbraceEquity. It is about promoting fairness as well as equality.

Useful resources:

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