Tim Sawyer, CEO of government-backed Start Up Loans, discusses the issue of the gender gap in business ownership and how women can overcome the challenges of ‘going it alone’.
At Start Up Loans we’ve backed over 15,256 inspiring female business owners across the UK as they’ve launched their own ventures, but when you look at the bigger picture, a divide in enthusiasm for starting a business between men and women sadly still remains an issue.
According to recent statistics, women account for just 17 per cent of business owners in the UK, and research by the Women’s Business Council has shown that the UK economy is missing out on more than 1.2million new enterprises due to the untapped business potential of women.
The thought of setting up a new business is daunting but especially, we’ve often found, for women. That’s because there’s an assumption that going it alone will open up many more challenges and, for those with children and a family to support, this can lead to many putting their ideas on hold. The good news is that all of these can be overcome with the necessary support.
In our experience at Start Up Loans, the number one obstacle preventing women from turning their business ideas into reality is the fear of taking a risk. A recent study, Women Outside the Box suggests men are much more likely to take a risk in order to fulfil their professional ambitions, and women report being more afraid of failure on average than their male counterparts.
In our view, this all comes down to perception. The reality is that men and women are equipped with the same tools and, with the same ambition, are equally capable of achieving success in running their own company. We encourage aspiring female business owners to focus on what could work out, instead of thinking only about potential setbacks.
Speaking to other likeminded people is a good way to seek encouragement. Support networks, such as Young Ladies Club and Women’s Enterprise Scotland, are free to join and provide an opportunity to network with other inspirational women, share ideas and experiences. Through our funding, we also provide free mentoring support to guide start-up owners through every stage of getting their business off the ground.
Another big concern among women when thinking about becoming self-employed is that it comes at the expense of their work-life balance. Worrying that your family could suffer as a result of increased work commitments is understandable, but this is often a huge misconception. And in fact, the opposite often happens when people start up their own business – they often find their time becomes far more flexible. Whilst it’ll likely be necessary to put some extra hours in during the early planning and set-up stages, working for yourself can actually allow for a healthier work-life balance and more time spent with the family
Women aren’t the only ones concerned about accessing the finance needed to start a business – we’ve seen first-hand that this is one the number one obstacle faced by nearly everyone looking to start up. But there is a breadth of help available – initiatives like Start Up Loans help provide repayable loans to people above the age of 18 who have a viable business idea but no access to finance.
One of our biggest success stories, and proof that these obstacles can be overcome, is Amy Barker, owner of Monks and Co Clothing. Amy set up the clothing business in 2012 with the help of a £8,000 loan and, today, the business is experiencing 70 per cent growth year on year and was named best new business at the 2015 Drapers Independents Awards.
As well as this, Monks and Co Clothing is one of six start-up owners recently appointed as ambassador by Start Up Loans to showcase some of the programme’s top success stories.
Amy’s passion and determination is what allowed her to get to where she is today, and her story is representative of what every woman can achieve. In partnership with other bodies, we’re working to drive the message that there should be no gender gap when it comes to starting a business, and we look forward to working with and supporting more inspiring females and exciting business ideas.
The Government-backed Start Up Loans scheme was launched by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in 2012 and has helped support more than 40,000 business ideas across the country. The company provides loans of up to £25,000 at six per cent per annum, in addition to offering a free mentoring service to each business it supports.
About the author
Tim Sawyer is the CEO of government-backed Start Up Loans