This International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the fantastic work being done by some of our women business owners. We spoke with Nadine Oei, founder of cosmetics brand Loella, and Anna Morrison, founder of Amazing Apprenticeships, who tell us more about their stories.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a business?
Nadine: The most important thing is getting your finances in order. Everyone says follow your passion, do what you love and you’ll make it – which is great if you have the budget and money to back you up. It is worth investing in your software skills and using tools like Xero to reduce your overhead costs (although if you do not have a finance background, having an accountant is still the safest way to go) so you invest the bulk of your budget towards the growth of your business.
Also, all of us struggle from time to time with self-doubt. Instead of trying to eliminate it, which I think is a very hard thing to do, I try to find ways to deal with it. I love to take a break, go for a walk and listen to podcasts that talk about entrepreneurship and inspirational stories to motivate me.
Anna: I had a lot of self-doubt when starting a business, and one of my biggest concerns was not earning enough to cover my share of our mortgage. So in the year before I launched the business, I topped up my savings. This gave me my financial ‘safety-net’ – it was psychological of course, but really helped me feel like I had a plan-b if it didn’t work out.
I also surrounded myself with positive people, and some of these were female business owners. I sought advice from those that would encourage me, give constructive advice and ask well-intentioned questions.
How have other women founders supported you?
Nadine: When I started, I joined a female networking group. We met for regular lunches – they mostly worked in completely different industries, but it’s helpful to have supportive women around you and find your tribe. I am also part of organisations like f:entrepreneur and Enterprise Nation. As a starting entrepreneur, you have to find a community in which you are comfortable, as you are out of your comfort zone all the time on the job, and for me that was surrounding myself with like-minded female entrepreneurs.
Anna: I always try to support other women founders and if anyone comes to me for advice or support, I try to make time to be that positive and constructive voice I found so valuable when I was first setting out.
We often find we are experiencing the same challenges. Juggling family with work, the stresses of growing and retaining a team, finding headspace to be able to plan ahead for the next stage of business development, and recognising and celebrating the successes.
Sometimes just taking the time to connect, realise you’re not alone, and there are others out there experiencing similar challenges, can be really reassuring.
How can male founders or colleagues be better allies?
Nadine: By not making the assumption that female entrepreneurs who are mothers have started the business as a hobby or side hustle. A lot of women (including myself) have chosen the path of entrepreneurship to have more say when they work, not to work less. We are still building a career and an empire, just doing it while raising children at the same time.
Anna: I remember a pivotal moment in my career when I was 19, and there was a big meeting with the boss. As we took our seats, he asked me to sit next to him. I was terrified – I thought I’d done something wrong. There was a heated debate about a particular issue, where the participants couldn’t agree on which option they should go with. I muttered ‘why don’t you do both’. The boss said ‘Anna, say that again so everyone can hear’. My heart was pounding, but as soon as the words left my lips, everyone in the room agreed.
Having moments like that may feel tiny, but for a nervous female trying to find her place in the meeting, it was hugely empowering and confidence-boosting.
What’s the one piece of advice you wished you had received when you were starting out?
Nadine: That you should expect a long journey that looks different for everyone. I think there are a lot of ‘overnight success stories’ treating successful entrepreneurs as overnight celebrities, but if you dig deeper you often find they spend years building their skillset. It is important to measure success to yourself and where you are in your journey, keep your head down and keep working as long as your runway allows.
Anna: I wish I’d gone digital with my finances earlier. Creating manual invoices and trying to chase and track payments has been one of the most frustrating parts of running a business. Xero has been an incredible time-saver.
What can businesses do better to break gender bias?
Nadine: Not make assumptions about gender. For example, don’t assume the woman will be too emotional in a negotiation. Firstly, the woman might be great at negotiating. Secondly, emotion and empathy might be exactly what is needed in that particular negotiation. Business is not as black and white as many people assume.
Anna: Although I feel that things have improved, there is still more that needs to be done. Perhaps some of the negative behaviours and language about women in the workplace have become less obvious and accepted, but they are still there and need to be addressed.
It’s important to engage in genuine conversations that progress our thinking. This means not just having a one-off workshop, but creating opportunities to reflect, share stories, identify what works and have frequent dialogue. It might feel uncomfortable, but we can all benefit from hearing the experiences of others.