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Lessons learned from #VirginWow – a day of celebrating female entrepreneurship

New and Networking

Lessons learned from #VirginWow – a day of celebrating female entrepreneurship

On 19th November 2014, 150 countries around the world celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship day. Women own 37% of businesses globally, and are a major driver to the world economy. There’s a way to go yet before inequality will be a thing of the past – but as more and more women create businesses, there’s also a lot to celebrate.

And today we celebrated in style at Virgin StartUp #VirginWow – an amazing event bringing together over a hundred female entrepreneurs, and an incredible lineup of panellists and speakers that included child nutrition expert Annabel Karmel, the editor of Cosmopolitan Louise Court, founder of WAH Nails Sharmadean Reid, and CEO of Ann Summers Jacqueline Gold.

It was truly an inspirational day - listening to everyone’s stories and meeting so many great entrepreneurs was amazing, and we’re honoured to have been a part of it. Here are our key takeaways from the day on how to succeed as a woman in business.

Be courageous

"For me the opposite of success isn't failure: it's not trying,” says Annabel Karmel, explaining how it’s important for entrepreneurs to take risks – for if you’re not failing, it could mean you’re playing it too safe. Contrary to what most people believe, failure can be a positive - it can lead to a breakthrough, or spur you into trying many different approaches. Annabel’s first book was turned down by multiple publishers; despite this, it’s still a best-selling cookery book decades on.

Equally, have the courage and tenacity to keep forging forward even when it’s daunting. “I started out as a 21 year old with no business experience, walking into a room full of suited men to pitch my idea of Ann Summers parties,” says Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers. “One of them actually stood up and said it would never work. And now, 30 years later, we’re a leading global brand.”

Stick to your guns

As incredible as it seems, when Sharmadean Reid founded WAH Nails, nail art wasn’t the big deal it is now. “Nail art was seen as something low,” she explains. “I got sick of explaining to middle-aged investors why nail art was going to be big!” However she remained true to her vision, and before she knew it there was a nail art revolution happening – spreading out from her East London salon into the mainstream, to the high street, Fashion Week, and beyond.

The rise of the mumpreneur

"Having children shouldn't be the full stop at the end of your CV - there are more opps for mumpreneurs than ever,” says Annabel, a proud mumpreneur herself. “To balance your work and life balance, you have to find your own guilt threshold and work around it.”

Sharmadean agrees. “How do you balance motherhood and business? You just do what you have to do,” she says. “It’s not easy, but you just get on with it!”

Mums make great entrepreneurs – they’re used to multi-tasking, coming up with solutions, and learning quickly. It’s no surprise then that more and more female business owners are mothers, creating innovative products and taking control with employment that works around the rest of their life – not the other way around.

Telling your story is important

One of the most reiterated messages of the day was the importance of telling your story. "Think about why you got here and how you got here - and what difference you want to make. Everyone has a story,” says Madeline McQueen. “Think of it this way: you’re selling yourself all the time. If you’ve got friends, you’ve sold yourself to them – they’ve bought into who you are, and they like who you are!”

Knowing your story gives you emotional impact and allows customers to feel connected to you; they see the real you behind the business, the person you are, and root for your cause. You’re not a faceless business – you’re a person like them with a dream, who’s determined to achieve it.

It’s important for gaining coverage and holding the attention of everyone from customers to press. “When great products and a charismatic personality come together it’s a perfect storm – that’s the dream brand to write about,” advises Louise Court of Cosmopolitan. “But even if you’re shy, you can still connect. Emotionally compelling stories grip people.”

Build a strong brand and stick to its values

"I'm a believer that the brand of your business is an extension of you – so create a brand that fits with what you believe in," says Helen Cammack of Buyometrics. It’s important that you have a strong brand that your customers identify with and believe in.. It’s also vital that everyone else in the business lives these values. All global companies have strong brands that are identifiable, and that people care about.

Nikki Hesford of Made In Preston says "I know my typical customer well - it's really important to know and understand who your buyers are.” By getting inside the head of her customers, respecting them and addressing their needs, she has built a loyal and positive audience – and this can be done by taking the time to connect with and profile her customers, creating a ‘model’ of the typical customer and bearing them in mind when making decisions. Go about your business with integrity, a commitment to your customers and a strong sense of pride in your values, and you’ll go far!

Just do it

Sharmadean confesses that when she started up, she knew nothing about nails. “I had to teach myself everything – reading nail blogs, doing a course, everything,” she says. “If you want to start a business you need to get on with it – stop talking and talking about it!”

There will never be the ‘perfect’ time to start a business; life will always throw up commitments and obstacles. Sometimes you just need to take a deep break and make that first attempt towards it.

Funding is usually cited as an issue; however, Virgin StartUp mentor Robyn McGirl, CEO of Talent Puzzle, points out that "People think you need more money then you actually do to start a business - but startup capital is just to get you off the ground. It’s money to get you up and going – winning millions of pounds in investment just isn’t going to happen for everyone.”

Any excuse or delay is something from keeping you from at least attempting your dream – so make a step towards yours today, however small!

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Happy #IWD2015!