Monthly Archives: March 2013

Female led businesses – a ripe opportunity for economic growth?

 

Let’s face it. Ireland needs all the economic upswing, enterprise growth and entrepreneurial talent it can harness at present. A recent UPC/Amarach report projects Ireland’s internet economy to double to 6pc over the next three years, translating into the employment of 18,000 if Irish industry is to keep pace our EU neighbours. So why does over half our population not even represent a fifth of our country’s entrepreneurs?

Women in Ireland continue be less entrepreneurial, tend to have lower confidence and aspirations when it comes to running their own business than their male counterparts who are are 2.5 times more likely to be an early stage entrepreneur than are women, (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2011)

The economy needs enterprise and start-up enterprise needs more women

It seems like a no brainer to me, if we are to meet our online projections, we need both genders creating quality enterprises … at pace. If more Irish women were encouraged and supported into running their own businesses it would add millions to the exchequer, contribute thousands to employment and make significant inroads towards economic recovery. Back in 2007 Mary McAleese stated that “If women in Ireland were to become entrepreneurs at the same rate as men in Ireland, there would be as many new entrepreneurs in Ireland per capita as there are in the United States.”. However, not much has changed since, and with an online gap to bridge (Britain has more than double our internet economy) there’s a risk that we feed economic growth to our international neighbours. Too much of Ireland’s online purchasing today is purchased over US and UK websites.

So, in light of this, and looking ahead to International Womens Day on March 8th, why is it that Irish women shy away from running their own business? Why do we have one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurs in the developed world?

Why the lag in female entrepreneurship?

Yes, the high cost of childcare plays a role, and compared to the US some Irish ‘paid’ employment offers very compelling maternity pay in contrast with what you earn working ‘for yourself’. Add into the mix  that one of the prime motivators for women in starting their own business is because it appears on the face of it to offer more flexibility but the reality of the hours required often differs.

The issue of ‘family responsibilities’ is one where there is a major discrepancy between male and female entrepreneurs, the general thinking being that women are less likely to be willing to spend as many hours away from the family home as men may be. Not always a recipe for fast paced business development, but issues I understand only too well having 2 children myself under 3 years of age.

The GEM also reports that women are 5 times more likely to set up their own business as a result of meeting other women entrepreneurs. It’s well known that women naturally tend to collaborate, share information and support other female entrepreneurs. In a recent article Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook said ‘men tend to attribute their success to innate qualities and skills, women attribute their success to luck and help from others’. The local enterprise boards in Ireland have recognised this need and actively promote excellent business networks for women.

This is not meant as a sympathy plea and I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist. But this drive for more female-led digital businesses is important. A lot of emerging female run businesses are microenterprises and don’t typically don’t fall within the profile for government support who focus on manufacturing, internationally traded services, high potential start-ups etc. Enterprise Ireland has recently launched a feasibility funding initiative … but more supports are needed.

For my part I want to do my bit.

An exciting new community of digital women

Enter #DigiWomen – a project I am supporting along with co-founders Rita Tobin of Asar and Pauline Sargent of Social Zavvy. It’s an exciting initiative that aims to create an interactive, online platform for women running their own digital businesses (ie any female led business with an online presence).

The premise is simple. I meet so many women starting out and there’s a common thread to the challenges. They feel they lack the expertise – be it sales, marketing, technical, communications, design, business development and so on. We want to play our part by starting a series of practical, visible projects to educate and inspire women to scale their businesses. We want to create a connected, educational community of professionals who are interested in supporting other women in reaching their potential, whether that be running a sustainable business, becoming thought leaders for others or becoming a higher performing SME.

DigiWomen will be a free to join, member based online organisation. We have been asking female led digital businesses to become part of the launch by supplying an image of themselves that shows their name, their website and a visual saying “I am a DigiWoman” to digiwomenirl@gmail.com. The official launch is this coming Friday 8th March, International Women’s Day, in Fumbally Exchange and a promotional video will be produced to feature businesses who responded to our #Digiwomen call out. We will also be speaking at Digital Dublin Day in the Mansion House later that evening.

Keep up to date on DigiWomen on Facebook. Or follow the Twitter hashtag #DigiWomen for further news and updates. Our new website will be live from Friday at www.digiwomen.ie.

I’ve heard it said that China is not the next big superpower … and that it is, in fact, women. Strong words.

#DigiWomen – watch this space.

 

 

WAIT, IS YOUR START-UP IDEA GOOD ENOUGH?

First of all – entrepreneur; what does that mean exactly? A person who starts a business where there was none before? Definitely, being a challenger of the status quo is  key along with the trait of being a keen observer. After that, it’s about making well spun, well targeted NOISE about what you do. It’s not much good being a change-maker if nobody ever gets to hear about it, or is interested enough to want to buy it. So my definition would be; Entrepreneur = innovative thinking + marketing.

The biggest failure with start-ups is usually in commercialising the concept or more simply, in not finding enough customers to justify the business. There may be a business, but is it really a sustainable, long term business? Is your passion for your business idea clouding your judgement?

One good way to address the subjectivity issue is to set out your plan on paper.

This is not for your grant or bank loan application but it may form the basis for the financials and strategy that feed into them.

It’s mainly for you to decide if your idea is good enough.

Don’t answer these in your head.

Get a piece of paper and write them down.

Try to complete it in one sitting.

If you can’t complete it or are you missing key information, update it when you can.

Or better, realise that you haven’t thought it through properly.

 

Start-up checklist

  • Do you believe in this project enough? Are you really passionate about it? It’s a lean path at the start and one that requires drive.
  • What are you afraid of? And why?
  • When was the last time you did something for the first time?
  • What is the problem in the market that you are setting out to fix? Or the customer desire you are looking to satisfy? Tip – Make things or sell services that people really want!
  • What are the top 3 benefits your product/service offers customers? No industry jargon please – in the words of your customers if you can.
  • What is this business to be about? What will you not compromise on? Don’t be safe – pick areas you can really own or be known for. This is about uncovering your distinct competitive advantage.
  • Who is your customer? What are the segments groups within your target market? What do you know about them? What do they love/hate? What media do they consume? Is your information recent? Have you actively researched it or are you making assumptions?
  • What are the channels to market or the paths to the customers?
  • Who are key influencers, gatekeepers, authorities?
  • What’s your story? What’s your background? What inspired this business? Your vision, your ethos? What do you really value in terms of the goods/services you supply?
  • What does success look like? What’s really great? What’s good enough? Get these measures down now.
  • Who are your competition? Where are their strengths? What are they weak on?
  • Financials: What are your projected revenues and what are they based on? Costs: Distribution costs, what are the costs of acquiring one customer? Are these one off purchases or likely to repeat? What is the lifetime value of a customer?
  • What does failure look like?
  • What improvements could you make? (ie after looking more closely at your market would you change your distinct position?)
  • What things could you take out or add in that would improve your product/service?
  • List the items still to be decided and put some timelines to them

If you don’t know where to start, begin here.

The upfront thinking is crucial when starting a business.

Give this stage the focus it needs and you will find decisions much easier at a later stage.

‘Whatever you can do – or dream you can – begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ Goethe