Today marks International Women’s Day – a global celebration of the achievements of women as well as a call for gender equality. Earlier this week, we looked at the inspiring businesswomen who are breaking new ground around the world. Today, we’re focusing on the female small business owners who are powering the economy.
Let’s start with some quick facts.
In 2015, 126,000 businesses were created by women – up from 58,000 in 2006 – contributing £3.5bn to the UK economy and creating 77,000 jobs.
For this year’s International Women’s Day, the Inspiring Women Report identifies over 1,000 women who lead Britain’s businesses: “In the last year, these businesses clocked up £25.9 billion of sales: the median turnover was £7.8 million and the median growth rate was 16.6%.”
So, 100 years after some women won the vote, this generation of women are re-defining their careers, creating new jobs, and providing inspiration for the next generation on a massive scale. Sometimes this means re-inventing the workplace too. But with home-offices, tech solutions, and broad networking communities, there is plenty of opportunity for the brilliant female founder.
Britain’s female business founders are all ages and colours, and none more typical than this collection of creative and successful entrepreneurs…
Clothing for kids for life
Jenny and Sam Collen are mother and daughter. They started their UK-based South African themed clothing business JenniDezigns in 2015.
“I focus on the design side of the creation process”, explains Jenny, who lives and works in South Africa. “I also manage the selection of local suppliers and manufacturers to ensure a quality product from start to finish.”
Sam lives and works in London. “My focus is on developing our distributor and retail relationships to take our ranges to market, including outlets in South Africa and further afield. I also manage the brand’s online retail facilities.”
The business grew out of Jenny’s frustration trying to find clothes for her children, then her grandchildren, which sparked the birth of the JenniDezigns brand.
“At first our plan was to run a small online business where mums and grannies could purchase classic, bright, African-print clothing that little girls would love to play in. Very soon, however, it changed gear and Sam and I found ourselves in the tourist retail space, which was a huge learning curve for both of us with many sleepless nights, but so much excitement too.”
“Our ambition is to be a credible, authentic brand in the children’s boutique clothing sector,” explains Sam. “And we want to ensure our range is available direct to our customers, via an easy to use online store, providing local and international delivery.”
The challenges are the same as with any retail business: how to establish good, reliable relationships with suppliers, and maintain a high-quality product as you scale up.
“Choosing to partner with others to deliver on your brand promise is a risky but necessary strategy,” says Sam. “In the early stages, ironing out even the tiniest issues is hard work, but the pay-off is that the quality of JenniDezigns products are trustworthy and consistent.”
Whilst their partnership with Tourvest Destination Retail, who distribute through a chain of stores at major airports, was unexpected, it’s led to their clothing being worn all over the world.
“As a small team, we have to constantly check in with each other on what we are going to focus our energy on – otherwise it would be overwhelming, which it has been at times,” says Sam. But it’s not all hard work: “Being part of the African Fashion Week London 2016 was a great achievement and incredible experience!”
Nutrition for peak performance
Laura Clark runs LEC Nutrition, a diet and nutrition consultancy for individuals and companies.
“Nutrition is a hotly debated subject and I love helping people make sense of it.”
She started work in the NHS 15 years ago but freelance work has given her the opportunity to spread her wings and offer a variety of services.
“I have always known that science, people and food are my thing and I’m lucky that my career combines all three. Running my own business means I have the opportunity to deliver seminars, run workshops, teach budding dietetic students and take part in some media work alongside my ‘bread and butter’ clinical work.”
Laura contributed to BBC2’s Further Back in Time for Dinner, which aired in 2017, and her next appearance for the BBC sees her teaming up with Ainsley Harriott to explore the nutritional needs of the older generation.
“I love the varied nature of my work and my ability to pull expertise from different areas whilst considering the specific needs of those I’m working with. Nutrition is a powerful weapon in our armoury – getting it right has the potential to improve our resilience, health and performance. But how we do it and what makes it achievable and sustainable is what I’m all about.”
Laura blogs at LEC Nutrition and has adopted the slogan #eatitreal to reflect her down-to-earth approach, which she demonstrates in everything she does.
“I chose freelance work, to achieve two things – to enable me to work in the field of nutrition in the way the NHS could not facilitate and secondly to give flexibility for school plays, school holidays and a school pick up at 3.15. Most of the time it all rumbles along quite nicely but there are pressure points and those are the days which are toughest!”
Building business for good
Some women find that their skills also transfer into something broader, taking a different approach to the work-life balance.
Jo and Melissa Stone are business partners and sisters. Whilst some people say doing business with family is risky, they have found it hugely rewarding.
“Through Stone Equity Partners and Stone Property, we buy, renovate, rent and sell property in the West Midlands and offer investors opportunities to get a great return on their money” explains Melissa.
“We are also results strategists. Through coaching we help people to make empowered decisions that support them in taking action to get their desired life,” adds Jo.
At the time they started in property, Melissa was working for other people on their homes. However, they realised they could put this knowledge and experience to use for themselves.
“We have both always had a desire to make a positive change in the world. And by setting up our own businesses we are able to provide freedom for ourselves, help others and in the long term fund compassion-based projects.”
Working in the property industry still isn’t without its challenges though. One of these challenges is being a female in a traditionally male industry.
“Some of the male tradespeople did not like having a female project manager, especially one who knew what she was doing,” recalls Melissa. “Needless to say, we try people out to build the best team so that we can all work together on an ongoing basis.”
And most of their challenges are true for any growing small business:
“No matter what, running a business is serious work and you have to be strategic – from branding to marketing, and from managing finances to managing people – you have to enjoy those aspects or find a team that do and as you grow, scale it.”
Empowering women to start again
Angella is using her startup skills and passing them on. She was born in Yorkshire to Jamaican parents and began cooking at the age of eight. Setting up Angella’s Kitchen in 2014, she’s a Private Cook and Workshop Moderator, specialising in Caribbean, European and Plant-Based fusions.
“My brother inspired me to start the business when I decided I wanted to work for myself, but I have always loved cooking for others and how it brings people together. Running my Kitchen, I get the opportunity to teach others how to cook and experience that for themselves.”
From private catering to supper clubs, Angella works in all sorts of locations across London. But despite the demands of the business, next month she launches The Healed Project a six-week business startup programme designed to empower women to set up businesses of their own.
“I graduated from King’s College with an MA in Criminology, and have always been concerned about the impact of abuse on young children who go on to become adults who end up in the criminal justice system.
“I’ve just finalised a six-week course which pilots in a few weeks. The aim is to empower women to move beyond their past and instead focus on their skills and talents, to enable them to consider setting up income-generating schemes of their own.”