Greg Clark meets female entrepreneurs making business their own

The local MP and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was at the launch of the Tunbridge Wells branch of the national, not-for-profit initiative Make It Your Business [MIYB], which aims to encourage more women to start their own companies.

Statistics show that around £180billion of extra revenue could be generated in the UK by 2025 if as many women ran their own businesses as men. 

And while figures show two million women are currently thinking of starting their own business, more than a quarter say they don’t because they lack networking opportunities and confidence.

Launching the inaugural event at the Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells on  June 7, the founder of Make It Your Business, entrepreneur, writer and broadcaster Alison Cork, told Mr Clark of the importance of networking for female entrepreneurs, who make up just 20 per cent of small business start-ups.

She commented: “The challenges facing women in business aren’t insurmountable. We can create this support network to help them succeed – and we know women are great at building networks.”

Several successful businesswomen told the MP and audience of female start-ups, business owners and those thinking of setting up their own company how they got started.

Deborah Richards, who left a successful career in banking to set up Maddisons Residential estate agents in 2012, explained how daunting it was to set up in real estate, where existing firms were ‘all headed by men and very traditional’. 

“You’ve got to believe in what you want to do,” said Ms Richards, whose company now turns over £2million a year. 

“I knew what I didn’t want to be as an estate agent. All the competitors are doing their thing, but you have to ignore it. It’s just noise. You have to switch it off and follow what you want to do.” 

The audience also heard from Emily Brown, who launched Emily Brown Photography straight out of university. 

She emphasised the importance of networking, saying: “When I started, I put out 6,000 leaflets, and only got one phone call from it, which was for an invitation to a networking group. That now brings in 80 per cent of my work.”

Successful florist Sharon Wood, who runs the Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal-winning Colonnade Florist, told the attendees that she decided to set up on her own because she thought she knew more than the boss.

“But I hadn’t appreciated the amount of backroom stuff,” she admitted. 

“Working with people who are good at that stuff has been key. 

“Always get a business coach and mentor – you have to play to people’s strength and weaknesses.”

Finally, Victoria Usher, CEO & founder of GingerMay, one of the fastest-growing PR agencies in the UK and Europe, explained how she felt like an ‘accidental business owner’ and an ‘imposter’ when she first started.

She said: “I’d think everyone in the room was more qualified than me and that I didn’t deserve to be there.

“They teach in schools nowadays that the word fail just means the First Attempt At Learning. 

“You have to learn from your mistakes and think what you might do differently, but failure is a gift,” continued Victoria, whose award-winning PR company now employs 45 people.”

After the event, Business Minister Mr Clark explained how UK entrepreneurship was ‘under-represented’ by women.

He said: “Although things are moving in the right direction, there is more to be done, and events like Make It Your Business play a positive role in achieving this.

“Today’s panellists were incredibly inspiring, and it was a privilege to meet them and listen to their stories.” 

Make It Your Business runs seminars across the country, providing opportunities for women to meet established local female entrepreneurs, learn from their experiences, and network with other local aspiring female entrepreneurs in a relaxed environment. 

The next Make It Your Business event in Tunbridge Wells will be held next January. 

Tickets, which cost £10 + VAT, guarantee lifetime membership to Make It Your Business, with a monthly newsletter full of business advice and tips, mentoring opportunities and networking socials.

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