Three successful women in business reveal their top tips as female entrepreneurs
I’ve often talked about how easy it is to stay glued to your Mac as a freelance copywriter. But having written the website and literature for the second year running for Wandsworth Enterprise Week, I was on a mission to have an office jail-break and actually hear some of the inspiring business talkers I’d written about: Nancy Cruikshank, Susan Hanage and Shaa Osmund, three highly successful entrepreneurs.
According to Start Up Donut, at least 25% of registered self-employed workers in the UK are women with an estimated 300,000 mums running businesses and adding around a pretty £7.4bn to the UK economy every year. Wow.
So, what makes a great business idea? What business lessons had they learnt along the way? What, how, why, where, how much????? Here’s what these three mumpreneurs had to say…..
Nancy Cruikshank – MyShowcase
Nancy is a serial entrepreneur, set up Handbag.com and is now founder and CEO of MyShowcase, a brand new concept in beauty retail.
How Nancy started as a business woman
She began her career in 1996 as marketing manager of Vogue at Condé Nast, in the days when you might mention ‘World Wide Web’ and the reply would be, ‘what on earth is that?’ with an email pinging into your inbox once in a blue moon. Managing Director Nicholas Coleridge asked her, when just 25, to set up Condé Nast World Wide Communicator, even though she had no real digital experience. She was also asked to run Sky’s first technology-focused station, even though she had no TV experience.
Nancy launched Handbag.com in 2000, which became the UK’s leading fashion and beauty site with an audience of over 1.3 million women a month. What struck her was just how many women in the site’s discussion area talked about wanting to run their own business yet work flexibly while bringing up a family. When Handbag.com was bought for £22m by the Hearst Corporation, Nancy went on to be CEO and founder of MyShowcase, which sells over 30 different beauty brands through a network of female stylists looking to work when it suits them. No wonder it’s often hailed as ‘Avon meets SpaceNK’.
According to Nancy, ‘Beauty is a gift that keeps on giving.’ It’s also a market worth £17m in the UK alone. She’s just launched an absolutely stunning campaign through BBH.
Nancy’s 5 tips for getting a successful business off the ground
- Being lean and agile is key.
- Take some risks and don’t be afraid to fall. It’s important to make mistakes.
- Be relentlessly determined – it’s the differentiating factor between success and failure.
- Have fun along the way because the journey can be tough.
- Having connections is all-important because seed investors are more likely to buy into you whereas getting funding from a VC is highly unlikely. (She managed to raise £600k that way in just one week!)
Shaa Wasmund MBE – Smarta.com
Shaa’s attitude has always been to just get on with things – even though she didn’t necessarily have a clue about what she was doing! This woman’s career is eyebrow-raisingly impressive.
How Shaa started as a business woman
Shaa grew up in a council flat. Her mother told her to never be afraid of taking risks and pursuing dreams. And to not live her life by other people’s limitations because ‘your life is you’. She maintains her strong mother’s words have been her absolute inspiration.
And so Shaa started out with all the confidence of youth (where does it go to?). While on an internship at Cosmopolitan magazine, she took some headed paper and wrote a rather cheeky letter to Chris Eubank asking for an interview. Cosmo’s editor, Marcelle d’Argy Smith, sold the article for her to the News of The World for a whopping £20k (I’m obviously in the wrong job) and Shaa paid off her student loan in one strike.
Chris Eubank then offered her job, telling her to turn up at Gatwick airport with ‘enough stuff for 24 hours’. He tasked her with putting on the UK’s biggest fight to date in Manchester, with 18 million people watching on TV. Despite thinking ‘What am I supposed to do?’, Shaa got on with it. After five years working with Sir James Dyson, and then Sir Bob Geldof – building up travel website Deckchair.com and selling it in 12 months – she set up MyKindaPlace.com and then Smarta.com: the website that connects entrepreneurs with one other and provides access to the tip top business advice.
Shaa’s ‘superpower’, as she describes it, is taking action. Her book Stop Talking, Start Doing was the number one best selling business book in the UK for 14 months in a row, and she’s already signed a deal with Penguin for her next two books.
Shaa’s pearls of business wisdom
‘If you have a dream to pursue, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from but where you’re going.’
‘There will be moments that aren’t going 100% the way you want. External confidence can be taken away at any time, so you need inner confidence to know you’re good enough. Perfection doesn’t exist – just your version of it.’
‘If you know your ‘why’, you’ll find your ‘how’. Knowing how to do something may seem the easiest part, but it’s actually the hardest. What’s hard is working out the why.’
Shaa’s recipe for business success
- Ask for help if there’s something you want to do.
- You have the power within you to make your business a success.
- Your most valuable asset is your support network.
- Perfection doesn’t exist – what exits is our version of it.
- We envy others’ success yet it’s often a façade.
Susan Hanage – NappyValleyNet
Susan is founder of NappyValleyNet, which now receives visits from over 50,000 info-hungry mums each month in the Wandsworth, Balham, Clapham, Teddington and Richmond areas.
How Susan started as a business woman
Susan launched NappyValleyNet in 2009 because of a frustrating lack of information, having spent an agonising five hours trying to find the number of a scout hut for a child’s 7th party. That was her light bulb moment. Although two websites for mums existed, there wasn’t a local mums’ forum, like a neighbour, nest friend and all-knowing school mum wrapped up in a website.
She therefore decided to set up an online community for mothers in South West London to give and receive advice on anything from great local schools to the funniest party entertainers to the dodgiest builders.
Susan remarks, ‘I love every day of NappyValleyNet but it’s not a job, it’s a huge commitment.’
Her 10 tips for starting a successful business
- It’s hard work, especially with a young family. What do you want to be: a mum setting up a business? Or a business run by a woman who happens to be a mum?
- Set ground rules.
- Inflate costs. Deflate revenues. New business eats up all your cash.
- Work with amazing people and get rid of rubbish people and rubbish suppliers. (I sense your head nodding vehemently.)
- Banks aren’t your friend. Try crowd funding instead and ask family and friends who know you and care about you.
- Hustle and be paranoid: find that street fighter within you.
- Listen to your customers. (Susan recommended The Mom Test as a great read about how to talk to customers and see if your business really is a good idea when everyone may be lying to you.)
- Networking is important, so make time for other people.
- Recognise what you can’t do. A bookkeeper could transform your life – and make invoicing the last thing you have to worry about rather than the first. As for legal costs, skimping is a no-no.
- Have a plan and financial forecast. What do you want to do? Expand worldwide? Make a profit? No one cares about cash flow as much as you do.
Whether you’ve got a great business idea that you’re burning to launch, or looking to get your business flowing and growing, it seems you just need to take a deep breath….and get on and do it. (And if you need a name for your lovely new idea or a punchy website to lure those customers like moths to a flame, why not get in touch?)
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter