Three female entrepreneurs share the best advice they’ve ever received
The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose to Challenge’, a sentiment that certainly feels right for the moment.
The events of 2020 saw all business owners, regardless of their gender, step up to the challenge of COVID-19 with grit and determination. This theme, however, is especially pertinent to female entrepreneurs who choose to challenge from the moment they decide to turn the spark of an idea into a fully-fledged business.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to three successful female business owners about the things they’ve learnt along the way. Sophie Hampel, co-founder of Inkling, Vanessa Wilton, co-founder of Manly Spirits Co and Prue Gilbert, the founder of Grace Papers, share their hard-won advice with female entrepreneurs of the future.
All three women pointed out the sense of loneliness that goes with starting your own business. In the same breath, though, they were quick to acknowledge the networks of support they had built by reaching out to others or being approached by established business leaders. “A group of successful female entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to support and invest in me,” says Hampel. “I feel really grateful because they’ve been so open with their learnings and, even though they had similar businesses, there was no sense of competition.”
Gilbert had a similar response when she asked for advice: “There are many people who are willing to support you, but they need to be reminded of why,” she says. “Though finding a sponsor can feel quite daunting, my experience – particularly with senior leaders – is that they are really willing to open up their networks and offer their time to support you.”
Wilton also acknowledges the importance of building a network outside your business. “Learn the skill of walking into a room, knowing zero people and being proud of who you are,” she says. “But be prepared to give, too. Sometimes, when you’re on your juggernaut of starting your own business, you forget to give back, which can become tiresome for the people around you. Remember to give and it will come back in spades.”
The pressure to perform at an elite level while maintaining the illusion of perfection is a daily reality for female entrepreneurs. And this is something that needs to change, according to Hampel and Gilbert. They’ve found letting their guard down is a matter of survival. Hampel shares her take on this, which she says is inspired by noted TedX speaker Brené Brown. “When we’re young, we learn to put on an armour. Though it makes us look like we’re polished and well presented, it gets in the way of authenticity and connection, and it can be absolutely exhausting,” she says. “As a business leader, there’s a pressure to look like you have everything together. But there’s a balance – don’t come in and overshare, but if you’re not leading in a way that creates psychological safety, you’ll start to miss problems developing in your business.”
Gilbert found that striving for perfection actually hampered the growth of her business. “If you’re waiting for perfection you’ll never, ever get started. Your business will remain a perfect idea only within your imagination,” she says. “Let go of perfection, embrace imperfections and learn from them.” Instead, she opted to fail fast but tried to make those mistakes as inexpensive as possible, drawing the lessons she needed and moving forward.
Money was a topic that Gilbert and Wilton didn’t shy away from. “Figure out how you’re going to pay yourself almost straight away,” says Gilbert. “Particularly for women, there can be a temptation to sacrifice your own salary when you’re getting started and that comes with sacrificing your own super. So get really clear about how much money you need and want to be earning. Not just now, but in the future. Don’t become one of those statistics of women not living with enough super in retirement.”
Wilton, too, doesn’t sugar coat it when it comes to finances. “Whatever budget you think you need to start a business, double it. And then, once you’ve started your business, you have to triple it,” she says. “Sometimes people are just running to the goalposts of opening their business and don’t realise that you need a lot of cash flow to run it.”
Finding the courage to branch out on your own is, in itself, a way to challenge. And Wilton is thrilled to see this happening more and more. “It’s now the norm for women to own their own businesses, which I never saw when I was younger,” she says. “But you have to be brave. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. At some point you have to take a leap, knowing you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Hampel encourages women to disrupt the barriers to inequality. “Women often feel pressured to dull themselves and when we soften ourselves we lose the essence of who we are,” she says. “You’re always going to be too much of ‘something’ for someone – too quiet, too chatty, too loud, too soft. Make sure you’re managing your weaknesses but leaning into your strengths and being proud of who you are. The ripple effects go beyond just you, they’ll inspire other women, too.”
For Gilbert, the idea of ‘Choose to Challenge’ is very close to her heart and the purpose of her business. Her advice for other entrepreneurs? “Let’s challenge the view that women shouldn’t be making more money,” she says. “Let’s challenge the view that caring contributions shouldn’t be valued and challenge those outdated biases and expectations that continue to hold us back.”
If the willingness of Hampel, Wilton and Gilbert to share advice is anything to go by, there’s a strong sense of solidarity within the female entrepreneur community. Sharing these successes and failures can only make the group stronger as a whole and, it’s clear, the future is clearly very bright.
This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general. It is an overview only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon. Consider obtaining personalised advice from a professional financial adviser and your accountant before making any financial decisions in relation to the matters discussed in this article, including when considering tax and finance options for your business.