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Careering Towards Self Employment
During the 10 years of heading the Australian Businesswomen's Network I met many women filled with enthusiasm for starting their own business. When they informed me of this decision, often, it seemed as if they expected me to give them a prize, or at the very least be highly impressed (and perhaps jump for joy!).
For a lot of people the decision to start their own business is good news. They have done their homework, researched their concept thoroughly and have enough financial backup. They are in a fine position to start their own business. For many others, their decision to become self employed signals the end of a happy and relatively stress free life.
In the last decade I have learned that 'Not everyone should run their own business.' There are many people out there running businesses that are not happy or fulfilled whilst others love it. My intention is not to discourage those who wish to start their own business.
I encourage self employment and I know for many it offers flexibility, independence and other benefits that may not be available as an employee. (I am self employed and it suits me but I must admit sometimes I'd love the problems to be 'the boss's' and not always mine!) Being your own boss, setting your own wages, hours and holidays is a very enticing idea.
Unfortunately, with 9 out of 10 new businesses ceasing within 10 years, failure is more common than success. For many, their own business simply means more work for less pay. The businesses that grow and prosper are professional -they plan and set goals effectively, regularly review their plans and work hard and consistently towards their own custom made goals. No magic there.
Yet, magical business fairy stories are much more attractive to read rather than slightly boring, real life how-to, blow by blow descriptions with no fancy or colourful euphemisms to enhance the story. The media have done amazing things for highlighting successful small businesses and the superwomen behind them, but be sure to put your x-ray glasses on.
Recently I read an article about two entrepreneurial women in a professional businesswomen's magazine. Their photo looks stylish, their business name sounds like a 'must have' concept and the story reads like every-one's desirable success story. We've all read them, and we should, for knowledge and inspiration but... Stop! Read the article again without the starry eyes of desire.
Ask yourself: have business points been glossed over? Does it sound 'too good to be true'? When 'financially successful' is mentioned, what does that mean? Is that $20,000 or $100,000, how do you judge? I'll bet the article doesn't give an itemised balance sheet. What about some of those casually euphemistic comments which sound so fun and attractive such as 'She only works part time' which really means 'there's not enough work for both of them' or 'they were fortunate to both have husbands with professional day jobs' ie. they were supported while their business didn't support.
It is important to keep success stories in perspective. Even when I read an article about myself I am usually incredibly impressed by the story and wish for as marvellous a life as the article describes. Remember, it is the media's job to make stories readable so we don't put the magazine down.
We need to hear about successful role models but it is vital to distinguish the differences between those individuals in the articles and our own specific career and business needs. One of the reasons I started the ABN was to offer women the opportunity to meet with successful role models and have the opportunity of mingling and asking them directly, in a supportive forum, how and why they had achieved and what costs there were etc., etc. Guests attending functions used to be pleasantly surprised to find themselves mingling with the evening's guest of honour.
We always encourage our speakers to meet and talk with the audience. I believe in inspiring role models, but putting women on pedestals separates us all and is disempowering. I encourage you to write to women you admire and ask for their advice. Maybe they could mentor you, even have coffee once? Nobody is totally inaccessible.
Considerations Before Starting Your Own Business
Firstly, it is worth having a look at the book A Woman's Guide to Starting a Small Business by Ro Saxon and Clare Allan-Kamil. In the book, there are two exercises on assessing your suitability to running a small business. Analyse your reasons for wanting to become self employed. Is it because you hate your boss or you want to be the boss?
Check that it wouldn't be easier to get another more senior job. Do you want to work your own hours and not be dictated to by your job? People in small business can rarely ever leave responsibility for their business. For this you need to be excellent at delegating and building a responsible team of workers. Be aware of the type of person you are and, in particular, your strengths and weaknesses. Ask difficult questions and be honest with yourself.
Do you suit that style of product or service? Is someone already running that business successfully? Could you do it better and if so, is there room in the marketplace for more, similar businesses? Worth thinking about, long and hard! Why Be an Employee? There are definite benefits for employees. If you are good at your job you have the flexibility of changing positions at will.
Wages and terms are negotiable and you get paid even when the clients haven't. When the company downsizes, employees get paid to leave, but nobody pays retrenchment money to those 9 out of 10 failed business entrepreneurs. In fact, many end up losing personal assets and even their homes. Even so, women employees are leaving the workforce in droves, mostly to begin their own businesses.
Six years ago, Professor Leonie Still, academic and expert on women, leadership and career warned in her book Where to from here? The managerial woman in transition, of dire consequences for women's continuing equality and level of power in the business decision making world if this trend continued. Now before you get defensive, think about it. When I first heard Leonie Still speak at an ABN function years ago and read Where to from here? I was very confused, particularly as I held such a strong commitment to the belief that self employment can be truly empowering for all women.
Leonie's message made me start exploring the concept that small business is not for everyone and I realised the collective power of women in small business is not strong. No one group represents us at any political level. Big business is where leadership and power opportunities lie. Big business decisions affect all of us, so we must ensure that they are not continually made from a dominantly masculine perspective which historically has been disadvantageous for women. We must encourage and enable more women to develop their small businesses into big businesses to increase women's powerbase in the business community.
We must also encourage women to stay on the career ladder, keeping enough highly qualified and capable female candidates available for senior positions. We cry out that it is unfair that so few women are promoted to the top and that it's a crime that less than 5% of Board Directors are female, but sometimes the only best person available for the job is a man, literally, even in the most equal opportunity companies.
Young women coming up through the career ranks need encouragement and active mentoring to inspire them to push through glass ceilings and keep renewing active role models. For all of us it is vital that the right women are staying in career positions and the right women are choosing self employment. Work and life have changed over the years; nobody planned the Industrial Revolution. In the 60s, they thought we would be living in plastic houses on the moon by 2000AD and still today there are countries in the world where women don't have the right to vote, let alone walk freely out their front door.
Here in Australia we (as women especially) have ample opportunity for choosing where, when and how we want to work. It is important that we spend as many years of our lives as possible in jobs that are fulfilling and consistent with helping us achieve our goals and desires. Life is too brief and precious to spend unfulfilled.
I believe in inspiring role models but putting women on pedestals separates us all and is disempowering.
You might be interested in this event...
Upcoming Event: Reflect Your Success!
Building a Strong Personal Brand and a Powerful Network
How can building your personal brand help you achieve your goals? A strong personal brand allows you to network more easily and to connect with more people (and have them connect with you).
Join us on 29 May when Marny Lifshen, author of Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women presents a new webinar: Reflect Your Success.