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Why more women in business should focus on scaling and selling

Fiona Hudson-Kelly has built two businesses and sold them for life-altering amounts of money. Here, she explains how she did it – and how you can, too.

Written by Beth Williams
Published 28.06.2023

By Fiona Hudson-Kelly

Historically, women have been hugely underrepresented in UK business.

But this is gradually changing. For example, 145,200 all-female-led businesses were incorporated in 2021 – nearly triple the number in 2018.

However, as with most small businesses, many female-led businesses do not successfully scale. Of the six million UK businesses in 2022, just 32,000 (0.01%) grow beyond 45 employees and only 8,000 businesses scale to the point that they employ more than 250 people.

Why is this and what needs to happen for more women to successfully sell their businesses and enjoy the benefits of doing so?

Types of entrepreneurs

There are, broadly speaking, three different types of entrepreneurs:

  1. Those who want the benefits of self-employment
  2. Those who started their business to capitalise on a particular skill or idea
  3. Those who set out to grow and exit a business

It’s the last of these entrepreneurs who tend to scale because they start with the end in mind. Their aim is to grow, so that’s what directs their business decisions.

However, many women fall in to one of the first two types. Some will be focused on the flexibility their business gives them. And though flexibility can be a great thing, finding ways to scale the business could help lead to an exit that can generate life-changing wealth, allowing whatever work-life balance you might want.

Why don’t more female entrepreneurs scale their businesses?

Lack of confidence: The main reason more women don’t scale and sell their businesses is simply the lack of belief that it is possible. Maybe they started the business on the back of a good idea or skill, so their focus is bringing in some money from that skill or idea.

Lack of know-how: Small businesses, sole traders and side hustles tend to require little management. As soon as a business starts to scale, it requires employees, legal frameworks, regulatory compliance, and fiscal management. These are not things easily learnt in the school of life. So, for anyone who didn’t go to business school, scaling a business can be hard and intimidating.

Overly focused on details: Many entrepreneurs who do plan on scaling and selling their businesses often get stuck focusing on the minutiae of day-to-day operations. But it’s important to keep the horizon in view and hand over certain responsibilities to employees.

Little encouragement or accountability: Life gets busy, and we can find endless reasons not to take action. A good mentor or coach can provide inspiration and encouragement as well as hold your long-term plans to account, helping you to maintain that essential long-term view.

How can we support more women scaling and selling their businesses?

Inspiring Role Models:

Men have a lot of role models to choose from. What we need are more real-life role models for women to look up to and emulate. Women who share their success stories without shying away from sharing the challenges they faced and strategies they employed. With more inspiration, we can cultivate more belief in women that they will be successful business leaders, helping embed that important mindset from the very foundation of their business.

Encourage Bootstrapping:

Advice for entrepreneurs (of any gender) tends to focus on starting up a business and getting it investment-ready. Of course, this advice can work, but it drowns out other considerations and ways of growing organically.

We need more conversations about how to grow a business, especially without seeking investment. Seeking investment from the outset focuses the mind on chasing potential investors rather than trying to grow a loyal customer base and a good product offering.

It’s often far better to keep costs down, bootstrap your initial product range, grow your customer base, develop products in line with feedback, and progress from there. Then, if you decide to seek investment, you will have a far more attractive proposition. This way, you can continue to grow organically, keeping more of the business for yourself!

Developing Know-how:

Scaling and selling a business with multiple employees can be difficult and intimidating. Having some business know-how can be really useful to avoid common pitfalls and ensure that the foundations of the business are in place early on.

Now, there are benefits to not having this formal education, too. Self-motivated entrepreneurs will often be hungrier and more self-reliant – great qualities for any business leader.

However, while these qualities are an excellent starting place, they need complementing with more formal skills and knowledge if you are to avoid making mistakes and successfully scale your business.

Fortunately, there are organisations focused on helping female entrepreneurs. See: https://www.startuploans.co.uk/business-guidance/support-for-female-entrepreneurs/

What can you do right now to adopt a growth mindset?

The most important thing to help you scale and sell your business is a growth mindset. Imagine what your business will look like in three years, five years, 10 years. Where will it be without you? Does it work as a scalable business and, if so, what needs to happen to get there?

Try and look at it from all angles. What would you be doing? Who else would you need to hire? Perhaps even work back from your target turnover to figure out how many sales you need. How can that be achieved in a realistic timeline?

Simply by exploring these questions, you start developing a growth mindset, and begin to set realistic goals. This in turn will help make the process feel more achievable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fiona Hudson-Kelly has built two businesses and sold them for life-altering amounts of money. She now helps owners of small businesses scale and exit, enabling them to realise their dreams.

In her new book, Grow and Sell your Start-up; How to create a business you can sell for Millions, Fiona explains how she did it, and how you can too.

Find out more on Fiona’s website

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