Why it pays for female entrepreneurs to encourage diversity of thinking - Sue Jefferson

I  recently spoke at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Business Day on the topic of unlocking female entrepreneurs.

Sue Jefferson is an award-winning business woman.

Curious, I wondered, what does the data say?

For every £1 invested by venture capital, only 1p goes to a female-led business, according to researchers. Yet a 2016 Women in Enterprise report commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses showed that female-led businesses, although slower in growth, are more profitable.

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Encouragingly Sparkfund.co.uk, which offers grants in North Yorkshire, East Riding and Humber regions towards innovative ideas, processes and services, has seen female-led initiatives take 14 per cent of funds issued to date. A step in the right direction – but why is there such a disconnect?

Analysis of research for the Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Board Business Support Task Group, plus my insights talking to a £100m fund management CEO, highlighted four key challenges: Business type, Mindset, Engagement and Language.

Women often choose a business idea that is home, family or lifestyle-themed. Some are very successful but it’s a crowded market – and today’s investors are focused on the growing sectors of skills, digital and technology. Consider exploring opportunities in the emerging circular economy where there is much scope.

When our mindsets are on autopilot, we fall into common behaviours. Both men and women have a tendency to work IN the business rather than ON the business – invest time looking and planning ahead. Self-doubt holds women back, and we also have a strong aversion to debt, not knowing the many options available for securing finance.

Engagement with a broad range of connections is critical but women may avoid pure networking events, considering them wasteful.

We may often talk about our business choice, the journey, even about our family – to the extent that our business essence is lost in the noise. And finally, our choice of language, albeit unintentional, has less talk of “potential,” “competitive advantage,” “determination” but more talk of “risk”. Interestingly, evidence tells us the risks in male and female-led businesses are the same, but women voice these more.

Here’s a few suggestions:

Carry your business overview in your head – the unmet need you are addressing, the conflict you are resolving, the reason to believe your solution works and why choose you. Paint a picture of your business future: in five years’ time what does it look like in terms of impact, scale, finances?

What will your clients see and be saying? Map out risks and mitigation but only voice those that are high impact and likely. Ask and answer what’s missing to realise this now. Then tackle that priority. If you face hesitation from a customer or investor, ask what’s missing for them to say yes.

Build your network knowhow. Network like a Pro author Ivan Misner’s 12 x 12 advice is useful: at 12 inches’ distance, give people your undivided attention, keep eye contact, listen generously and plan your first 12 words of introduction such as “Hello, I’m Sue Jefferson, a non-executive specialising in scale up and successful change” or “Hello, Sue Jefferson, owner of an organic flour mill, now at capacity, seeking to expand”.

Finally, do leverage diversity of thinking in your business development.

Gain feedback from breadth of age, gender, backgrounds and seek out challenging viewpoints; in listening generously to a differing point of view, your business plan and actions will have less hidden risks and more solutions to impact at pace. The talent and business potential I have seen in Yorkshire is brilliant – don’t let these unconscious barriers get in the way of your success.

Sue Jefferson is a non-executive director - SparkFund.co.uk Innovation grants