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How the lockdown is affecting women in business and the creative ways they are making it work

In a report released last year, spearheaded by Natwest chief executive of commercial and private banking, Alison Rose, it revealed that the advancement of female entrepreneurs could be worth £250 billion to the UK economy in the future.

The UK is the ‘start-up capital’ of Europe, with a growth rate of over 5.1% when it comes to the number of new businesses. Over 1,100 new businesses are set up in the UK each day and British companies attract more venture capital than any other European country.

The Rose review added that up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men.

The coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected business owners
With the recent coronavirus pandemic, it has meant that a number of small businesses have faced numerous challenges, especially for business owners who have recently set up, or have been in business less than five years.

In some cases, it has meant that many of these owners have not been able to pay employees or themselves in some situations. One survey also warned that almost a fifth of SMEs could collapse within a month if they don’t get the support they need to keep their businesses afloat.

While smaller enterprises have been offered business interruption loans, it emerged that banks arranging the state-backed borrowing had been seeking personal guarantees, which means borrowers often have to put their homes or other personal ‘collateral’ on the line. Additionally, not every business may be eligible for a loan – making it impossible for new businesses to keep running.

Self-employed women are in the majority of the newly self-employed according to Women’s Budget Group (WBG).

The increase in the number of women in the UK becoming self-employed is unprecedented. Historically, women have made up just over a quarter of the self-employed, but since the 2008 downturn 58% of the newly self-employed have been female. In the last year, self-employment has started to decline for men, but not for women.

Meanwhile, the current public health emergency will probably mean a disproportionate economic impact for women, who often work or run businesses in service industries hit hard by Covid-19. They also tend to take on the bulk of unpaid family care at home, a task that has become more all-consuming amid physical distancing and self-isolation.

Nonetheless, we spoke to three women in business and explored the main challenges they have faced during the lockdown and the creative ways they have kept their businesses going despite the challenges.

Colline Watts – Cake maker and event caterer

Colline Watts

Colline is behind Colline’s Kitchen, a serene space that was quickly becoming one of the go-to cafés in Newbury for healthy and sustainable food before the lockdown.

An accountant by profession, Colline, who is originally from Zimbabwe, quit her full-time job more than a year ago to focus on her business, supporting and collaborating with local suppliers and small businesses.

Colline’s Kitchen offers a variety of homemade food and baked goods made from locally sourced ingredients.

Speaking about how the lockdown has affected her business, she said that the crisis has meant that she had to close her cafe and had all wedding bookings cancelled.

She said: “I had to think outside the box and adjust to the new climate. So, I set up an online shop on my website where people can still order celebration cakes, treat boxes plus fridge and freezer meals for collection or delivery.

“The juggle of still trying to work and family life is tough but we have to do what we have to do to keep going.”

Maryanne Scott – Wedding and branding photographer

Maryanne Scott

Maryanne runs a photography business called The Branding Photographer.

Maryanne created The Branding Photographer in early 2017 and has worked with 150 businesses since then, transforming their visual identities in a way that has not only led to business growth but also inspired personal and business confidence.

“As a photographer working with female entrepreneurs, it is obviously impossible to do face-to-face shoots, so for the time being, I remain visible to potential clients on social media, as this isn’t going to last forever.

“ I think this epidemic came as a shock to us all. With the cancellation of photoshoots, including wedding bookings, l realised that relying so heavily on photography alone is a mistake that I won’t make again.”

She added: “Thankfully I have always created WordPress websites and that hasn’t been affected by the current situation. I always had a few ideas in the background that I never got round to doing , so it has been a blessing in disguise that l am able to focus on them at the moment.

“They’re not reliant on me having to meet people in person either, so in the short-term should be useful. I feel less anxious now and I’m just grateful that my family and friends are all safe and well.”

Minihaha Garande – Creative director and brand strategist

Minihaha Garande

Luxe by Minihaha & Co. is a London, Yorkshire and Cheshire based luxury wedding event company founded by Minihaha. She is also a brand strategist and works exclusively with high-end brands across the UK.

She said that the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on her business has been immense financially. Adding that she has also seen a decline in enquiries.

“I usually have about 10 -15 enquiries a week and I have seen a massive decline since the lockdown. I have also lost over 90% of actual bookings due to cancelled events as well as project postponements.”

“Regardless of the financial loss, I feel blessed to have more time to work on my business. I can now work on developing and enhancing my systems and processes which I normally wouldn’t have time to do due to client workload.”

What can be done for women post-pandemic?
There are a number of talented women, with great business ideas and business acumen, who, in so many ways have been affected by the current pandemic that has affected everyone around the world.

Already there is the challenge when it comes to awareness of funding for female entrepreneurs across the entire entrepreneurial journey, from intention to scale-up and with the UK economy also trying to find its way back to normality; it means that those also trying to get their businesses off the ground are facing an uphill battle.

The Rose review revealed that female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their journey and there is a need to ensure that women, like men, will receive the support they need during this crisis and after, to continue to build sustainable businesses.

Start-up funding overall is a significant barrier mentioned by women non-entrepreneurs and many women launch businesses with 53% less capital on average than men, are less aware of funding options and less likely to take on debt.

Only 1% of all venture funding goes to businesses started by all-female teams, inhibiting scale up and meaning in some instance, that UK women entrepreneurs are also less likely to scale up to £1 million turnover than men, with only 13% of female established businesses making this leap.

This is despite the fact that women are as successful as men in sustaining a business once established, with 73% of entrepreneurs of both sexes running businesses beyond four years.

Key to helping improve UK productivity post-pandemic will be to ensure that women have access to the advice and support they need to fully develop their entrepreneurial skills, and support for women who wish to scale up their enterprises, especially as they recover from this crisis.

Enhancing female entrepreneurial skills and supporting women who wish to scale up could also go a long way to help bridge the UK’s long-standing productivity gap with global rivals like Canada and the US, who combined, have 14.4 percent more women in business.

Sarah Gallacher, founder of Cocoa Cabana chocolatiers, said she initially struggled to secure capital for her chocolate maker, even though she owns several other businesses with a proven track record.

Gallacher was refused finance despite running very successful businesses. However, she said that she refused to give up, and was able to secure more than £80,000 of private investment and £50,000 of asset finance.

Her message to other female entrepreneurs is not to lose faith. She said: “Financing business isn’t easy but it’s entirely possible if you have a good idea, good planning and projections, and the determination to get yourself out there and find what you need to get your idea off the ground.”

Improving access to information and support for men and women entrepreneurs in all regions could help level the playing field between cities and rural areas, and between different regions.

Only through a concerted and coordinated programme of action can the UK bring about the cultural changes and supportive nationwide ecosystem needed to tap into the unrealised economic potential of women as entrepreneurs and give them the confidence to start or run their own enterprises confidently[Source: World View]

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