Changes to working patterns, the new paid parental leave scheme and a generation that’s well educated and business-savvy is set to propel ever-increasing numbers of women to start-up their own companies.
However, female entrepreneurs still face challenges that often aren’t encountered by men.
Experts say women are much more reluctant than their male counterparts to promote themselves and their business.
Plus, although women are great at nurturing others, they often don’t reach out and ask for help when they are starting a business. The result, especially for those who work from home, can be an intense sense of isolation.
But it doesn’t need to be like that. There are literally scores of networking and mentoring programs to help women who are thinking about starting a business, as well as those who have already begun their entrepreneurial journey.
Some groups are focused on particular industry sectors, while others are there to help support businesswomen located in a particular geographical area.
Finding the right network
‘There are so many female business networking groups out there, it’s just a matter of finding a group you feel comfortable being in, depending on your industry sector and location,” says Sue Heins, who runs the Inspiring Women mentoring program for women in small and micro business, and is also involved in a NSW state government-sponsored mentoring program on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Heins’ advice for women looking at becoming part of a networking group is to join a group of like-minded women, but to also find a network that includes people in your target market.
“If your target is larger firms, join a network that includes people from that sphere,” she says.
Catriona Pollard is co-founder of Social Media Women, a free networking forum which was started in 2010 as a place for women to learn from other women with experience using social media.
“Speakers and attendees at social media events are often male and Social Media Women is a safe environment where women can feel comfortable asking the stupid questions,” she says.
Events are held on the second Tuesday of every month, and focus on topics like how to use LinkedIn or get involved in Wikipedia. Members can also access online resources such as articles and reports and can also contribute to a discussion forum. The group has more than 800 members on its Facebook page and around 60 women attend each monthly meeting.
“It’s an amazing network and members feel immediately welcome,” Pollard says.
Bridging the training gap
One of the most extensive networking groups available for female entrepreneurs is the Australian Businesswomen’s Network, which is a series of mentoring programs and support groups for businesswomen and boasts 20,000 members.
Its flagship offering is the MentorNet mentoring program for female entrepreneurs, which has been running since 2007, and connects women in business with mentors and training over a six-month period.
More than 300 women have completed the program so far.
Community director Suzi Dafnis says the program is for “women who have run their business for more than six months, rather than people who just have an idea for a business.”
“The program trains participants in business planning and financial management, marketing, human resources and performance management.”
The 26-week program includes fortnightly mentoring and online training. The beauty of the program is that it’s available nationwide.
Topics covered can include how to hire your first staff member, how to do a competitor analysis, how to develop a vision for the business and how to do a SWOT analysis.
“You can be part of the program from anywhere in Australia, as long as you have access to the internet,” Dafnis explains.
The outcome of the program is a fully developed business plan.
One graduate of the MentorNet program is Annalisa Holmes, who runs The Transcription People, a business that transcribes audio recordings to text.
She says the program was invaluable in helping her “establish business processes and put a business plan in place.”
“Each week I would have set tasks to complete to build up my business processes, which was great, because if you work at home it’s too easy to work in the business, not on it. It helped me develop clear goals and also to feel part of a community.”
There is also a range of government programs available to support women in business.
For example, Michelle Allen, who runs web development business webstuff.biz is part of the NSW Central Coast’s Business Enterprise Centre’s mentoring program to help businesswomen develop their web and social media presence.
The program includes a series of seminars on topics such as how to build a web site and how to start selling online.
It also includes one-on-one mentoring, which Allen helps deliver. “I give people advice about how to be more successful online and how to start a website,” she says.