Sisters networking for themselves


There are also special support groups for ‘mumpreneurs’ – women with children who also run businesses.


Two such groups are Working Mums’ Masterclass and Mumpreneur Masterclass, run by Penny Webb, who also has her own training, event management and consulting businesses and who has two toddlers.


Typically between 20 and 25 women attend each event, and Webb has purposely kept groups small so attendees get one-on-one time with guest speakers.


She started the group because, “I felt so isolated at home and I realised I had to get out there and network with other women in a similar position,” she says.


Webb started her business after the pressures of full-time work became too onerous, but now has an equally hectic workload running her own business.


Just before she went on maternity leave for her second child, she felt obligated to attend to teleconferences and phone calls on her days off and, once she had her baby, was almost immediately pressured to return to her role.


“I knew that with the cost of childcare being what it was for two children and considering the amount I got paid would be swallowed up by those costs, I decided to go it alone and run my own business from home around my children.”


“Initially they were in day care one day a week, now they are in two days a week, as the business starts to pay for itself,” says Webb.


“I only work when the children are at day care, at my mum’s or asleep, which means my day starts at 5.00am when I get two hours done before they wake up, and finishes at about 10.30pm when I get three more hours done after they go to sleep.”


“I also have managed to get them to sleep at the same time in the afternoon and I get a couple of hours done then. So I average around a seven-hour day most days and then I make up extra time on the weekend when my husband is home.”


“It’s hard and constant work, but I have never been happier or more in love with my family and what I do,” she explains.


Mentoring from close to home


Of course, formal networking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Female entrepreneurs who prefer a less formal approach should also remember to leverage their friends and family to provide support as they embark on their business journey.


Liz Rowell was a formal mentor of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network’s Marketing Women mentoring program for two years, but has also mentored friends who have started their own business.


For the past five years she has also run her own business, Red Ark Marketing.


“Women are more challenged when it comes to networking than men… they tend to separate their business and personal life, while men still have the old boys’ network to rely on.”


“The challenge for women is to talk themselves up a bit more and learn to be a bit more ruthless when it comes to staffing and making sure everyone in their team is pulling their weight,” says Rowell.


“I’ve been a mentor to two friends who have started businesses… the first 12 months is very difficult and one made it and the other didn’t.”


“But in spite of all the difficulties you face when you’re starting out, being in business is incredibly rewarding.”


“There are networks out there you can draw on and the most important thing to remember is that if you don’t have a crack, you’ll never know,” she says.


Falling barriers?


Interestingly, Rowell says the socio-economic barriers to females setting up a business are disappearing.


“Many women go into business for themselves because they think they will have greater flexibility and work/life balance, particularly if they have kids,” she says.


“Personally my work life/balance has deteriorated since setting up my business – but the financial crisis can be blamed in some measure for that.”


“I think women may be less risk averse than men, by which I mean that you don’t just play with your own life when you set up a business, you also feel responsible for the lives (and mortgages) of your staff.”


“So emotionally that’s a big consideration – if you fail, will you bring others down with you? And how will that make you feel?


“[Celebrity chef] Heston Blumenthal once said he was more motivated by fear of failure than dreams of success and I can empathise.”


“You see male entrepreneurs crash, burn, walk away and start-up again the next day. I don’t think women can be as cavalier about that process.”


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