Whether you’ve moved abroad and the traditional 9-5 office won’t cut it anymore, or you’re following up on a dream to go it solo, starting your own business can feel exciting, but scary. Creating a brand, marketing, dealing with tax returns… not to mention imposter syndrome and motivation… it’s not easy to be a female entrepreneur.
I’d like to say that starting a business as a woman is no different to starting out as a man, but the sad truth is, it isn’t.
The post COVID recession has led to more job losses among women than among men. Sadly this hasn’t translated into more female entrepreneurs. A recent study by the Female Founders Alliance found that, in the US before the pandemic, 87% of women were “highly likely to start a company” whereas, six months later, 51% said they had “delayed or scrapped their plans”.
Is it any wonder? On average, women shoulder more childcare responsibilities and household work than men. In the UK, for every £1 of venture capital investment, all-female founder teams get less than 1p, all-male founder teams get 89p, and mixed-gender teams 10p.
But there are success stories which we can learn from too. I asked a female entrepreneur to share her startup advice. Brooke Markevicius is CEO and founder of Allobee, a digital platform matching small businesses with freelance women.
In this interview, Brooke shares her thoughts on how to become a success in business.
Whether you’re just starting out, or taking it to the next level, here are Brooke’s top tips for female entrepreneurs.
What made you start Allobee?
I have a background in project management. I felt a lot freelancers, small businesses and entrepreneurs were not taking advantage of project management to be as agile and efficient as they could be.
I had to leave my 9-5 job because I needed something more flexible and that got me into freelancing. And from here I wanted to create something to support freelance women.
Personally I also feel that my identity is tied in with my expertise. For me, removing my right to work is like stripping away a part of my identity. Through Allobee I wanted to give back women the opportunity to work on a flexible basis.
I wanted a platform that would be truly supportive of women. I think this is especially important right now.
How did you get going as a female entrepreneur?
Allobee started very small and has grown sustainably. Yes, there have been crazy leaps here and there, but in general it’s been steady growth, not a single deep dive.
Also, I don’t think too far ahead. I operate in a 90-day mindset. Otherwise I would worry about sorting childcare, about the really big step ups in the business.
I need to see the bigger picture, but I try to focus on the day-to-day business.
Do you think it is even possible for women to become entrepreneurs in today’s world?
Some companies were making a real effort to promote women’s rights at work, and to offer more flexibility. Then the pandemic came along and threw an axe at it all.
I’m not sure where all the solutions are for women right now. But I do know that we have so far to go. Governments, companies and society have a long, long way to go. Gender issues at work aren’t going to get fixed overnight.
In the meantime, I wanted to create a platform for women to be able to show up, in whatever capacity they could.
I don’t think it’s fair that women have to do as much as they do. And we should be talking about this. At Allobee we promote these conversations. We get people talking about these issues. Personally my husband and I run our household in as gender neutral way as possible. And I talk about this a lot.
I’m mindful that every situation is different, however. We have members who have been stay-at-home mums for years and had to get back into work when the pandemic left their partner out of work. They needed to step up quickly and we try to offer a space for women to do this.
I’m aware that today’s society is not set up for women to work. We don’t all have family living next door, we don’t all have a great support network. Right now, it’s about doing the best we can within this imperfect framework.
How do you find the time to build your business?
Planning helps. My husband and I look at our calendars on Sunday to figure out the week ahead. We plan childcare, household responsibilities and so on.
I have two young children and this year we organised full day childcare which has made a big difference, too. Last year I had to manage with half day childcare only and it was tough. Early mornings, late nights… the hustle was real!
Finally, I also moved closer to my family. While the pandemic still complicates things, I have some back up if I really need it.
And how about time for your family and yourself?
I try not to look at my laptop or anything business related in the mornings before dropping my kids off at school. So the morning is a non business time where I can just be there for my kids. It’s not always possible but I try my best.
Last year I got pretty burnt out so I took a week out. I went to the mountains with my husband only and it was amazing. I really needed that time.
Do you suffer from mom guilt? How do you deal with it?
I talk about my passion for my work with my kids. I love my work and I think it helps when my kids understand this. I also think that when we focus on our love for our work we’re less likely to experience guilt.
I involve my children wherever I can, too. For example, my child got really excited when she heard I’d be featured in a newspaper. When they reached out for a photo I chose one with my kid, so she could share in the fun of it all.
I try to set an example for my kids. I want them to see that it’s possible to have kids and a job they love.
What would you advise other women who are starting out as entrepreneurs?
Just keep showing up. This is my number one piece of advice.
Self awareness is key and ‘showing up’ means something else for every person. As for me, I’m right on introvert / extrovert line and I get pretty worn out with too many calls, interviews and meetings. I plan my workload carefully so I know I can get out there when I need to.
If you’re starting out after a long break from paid work, you can promote your skill sets and build up on these through training and further education. I think a lot of women are nervous starting out, but most services are not rocket science to learn, most of it is sheer willpower.
Choose something you really love, and keep on going. If you are truly passionate about your business you’ll stand a better chance at keeping it going through tough times. Then just keep on showing up.
Just keep showing up
How can a female entrepreneur take it to the next level?
When starting out, I told everyone about my business idea. I wanted to get as much information and feedback from as many different perspectives as possible. I got out of my comfort zone and learnt from others.
These conversations also gave me practice at pitching and networking. I quickly felt comfortable pitching to investors.
I’d also recommend focusing on about 25-50 people that you really want to connect with. Whether it’s people who could get you speaking gigs, or future clients, connect with them. Reach out, connect and check in on a regular basis.
Keep connecting with people who can help you, and keep on uplevelling as you go.
Finally don’t compare yourself to others. I was freelancing a few years ago and now I’m on this journey. And I’ve got so far still to go. Entrepreneur life as female is not unattainable, we’re all just on different journeys and it depends on where you want to go.
Connect with people who can help you, and uplevel as you go
How to be a female entrepreneur – 10 tips
- Keep showing up. My top advice to any female entrepreneur is to keep showing up. There have been times when I’ve really struggled, but to grow you have to keep moving forward. You have to keep learning, growing and creating. Just keep on showing up.
- Outsource. If you can, outsource it. You can’t do everything and you shouldn’t tire yourself out with decision fatigue. And besides, there are often experts who can do it better than you. Trust me, I founded a business with their help!
- Don’t overthink it. It’s great to dream big, but start small and concentrate on the now. Don’t worry too much about what might happen in the far off future. Walk before you run.
- Communicate with your partner. Talk to those you live with about the division of duties at home. Every situation is different and it’s important for couples to communicate openly and honestly to find a fair solution.
- Share your passion. Talk about what you love about being a female entrepreneur with your loved ones, especially your children if you’re a mother. Sharing this passion allows them to understand the value of your work and it sets you up as a positive role model. Furthermore, it cements the value of your work within yourself, so you don’t feel guilty for doing something you love.
- Gather feedback. When I first started out I spoke to anyone and everyone about my business idea. Ask questions, network, get inspired. Gather as much feedback as possible from a variety of people. A fresh perspective, that little spark… it’s where the magic happens.
- Remember it’s quality, not quantity. Don’t feel guilty for being away from your loved ones, but when you are with them, be present. Close the laptop, show them you care. And when you’re working, focus. It’s not about dedicating a certain number of hours to your children or your business, but doing your best within the time you have.
- Focus your networking. Make a list of 25-50 people whom you feel could help you in your business and keep communicating with them. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, and most importantly keep the conversation going. Focus on these individuals and check in with them every month or so; keep in touch, show them how your business is growing and reach out to them when you need it.
- Listen to your inner cycle. I am a strong believer that women work in cycles. For example, I spend one month where I’m very outgoing, reaching out for media interviews and getting the word out about Allobee. Then, next month I might want to hunker down and work on something independently. We grow in cycles. My advice is to work in tune with yourself, not against.
- Stop the comparisons. A few years ago I was freelancing, then I started Allobee, but I am no way near my goal. My life is not perfect; it’s a struggle. We are all on individual paths and we’re all heading to different destinations. However, if we keep stopping to check where others are all the time, we’ll never get where we really want to be.
To join the Allobee community as a freelancer, or for cost efficient business support services for your company, visit allobee.com