How to start your own business - tips from some of Manchester’s top female entrepreneurs

A new study suggests businesses led by woman struggle to attract investment compared to those run by men.

Greater Manchester female entrepreneurs have spoken about what it is like to be a woman in business in the city-region as a study suggests there is a gender investment gap.

The UK Domain compared how much money the 10 female-run businesses that did best for investment in 2021 with how much the most successful male entrepreneurs raked in from supporters.

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And while Manchester has done reasonably well on both lists there is a stark difference in the piles of cash that have been collected.

Female entrepreneurs have been sharing their tips for start-up success in Manchester while business analysts have also taken a look at the data.

What does the data on business investment in 2021 show for Manchester?

Manchester came in seventh on the top10 list for female-led businesses in 2021 in the shape of Samantha Palmer’s fintech start-up PayL8r, which attracted £29.76m in funding last year.

The online finance company is aimed at millennials and provides flexible repayment plans for customers when shopping online.

Manchester entrepreneur Samantha Palmer. Photo: B Daily

While £29.76m is a very respectable figure, though, it is dwarfed by the £3.7bn that was ploughed into Manchester-based e-commerce concern THG or The Hut Group, run by Matthew Moulding.

And even the country’s most successful female-led business for investment, Anne Boden’s Starling Bank, got nowhere near that total with just over £606m.

There are also discrepancies within the same sector as fintech but male-run business Revolut received £1.2 billion more in investment in 2021 than PayL8r, despite both offering a similar portfolio of products and services.

There is also evidence that before the Covid-19 pandemic female-led businesses received less money than ones put together by men.

A report by the British Business Bank revealed that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p where all-male founder teams get 89p.

Just 32% of UK businesses are female owned, and 17% of those are founded by women.

What do Greater Manchester female business owners say?

Architect Jane Leach runs iarchitect, which she set up in 2009 to create green eco-homes.

While she said she had not encountered differences in funding available because of her gender, she said there were still undoubtedly glass ceilings faced by women in business.

She said: “When I set up my business I did seek out support and had some from various government-funded places. I’ve also done a business course at Manchester Uni business school.

“I’ve found the most useful help was from female business coaches online who I paid for rather than the free help in the city.

“There are lots of opportunities, but it may be more difficult to find out about these opportunities if you don’t have the right networks. I took opportunities of funded start-up support and business training and they helped me a lot in the beginning of my business journey.

Eco-architect Jane Leach. Photo: Marni V Photography

“As a female architect working in a very male-dominated industry I have certainly seen ways that women are at a disadvantage.

“There are only 15% to 21% of female-employed architects in the UK, the percentage varies depending on location and is higher in London than other places.

“The biggest struggle that female architects face is juggling childcare with the pressures to work unpaid overtime in many large architectural practices.

“When you work for yourself you are able to take control of your work life in ways that are impossible as an employee. I’m sure that more female led businesses will create a change to work culture over time.”

What tips would Jane give to female entrepreneurs?

We asked Jane for the top three tips she would give to other women running their own businesses or developing a start-up.

She said: “Spend time networking in person and online, it’s crucial to creating relationships and getting your first clients. Don’t forget about your personal networks too.

“Don’t be afraid to charge good money for what you do because you can’t deliver your best work for your clients if you’re having to take on too much work or you resent them for not appreciating you.

“When something goes wrong (something always will!) look for the lesson in it and make the changes necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but don’t be afraid to start because something might go wrong.”

What have business analysts said about the investment data?

Sam Sweetland, head of marketing and business-to-consumer (B2C) at Nominet, the official registry for all .UK domain names, offered some insight into why businesses in the to 10 lists have drawn in investment and how women-led businesses can get ahead.

Sam said: “These businesses all have one major trait in common - they’re each approaching a need and trying to close a gap in the market. For example, Anna Boden’s Starling Bank was one of the first prominent challenger banks to enter the market. Their key USP being that they have no physical stores, only a prominent online presence. This immediately cuts overheads and streamlines the business model - an attractive prospect for potential investors.

“Another great example is Romanie Thomas’s Juggle Jobs, which focuses on headhunting female professionals for specific job roles. All in a bid to help prominent companies diversify their staff - a socio-economic driven need that’s becoming increasingly prevalent.

“But women-led businesses are still competing in a male-dominated market so how can smaller businesses owned by females hope to get ahead? The key is understanding what your business goal is. What gap in the market or need are you trying to fill? And most importantly, what’s your USP?

“Being a women-led business is also appealing in its own right, especially if your business’s target audience leans towards fellow women. Don’t be afraid to shout about this!

“It’s worth saying that the businesses we’ve looked into have flourished into international corporations for the most part. But small business owners shouldn’t feel the pressure to achieve this type of scale. Needs and solutions can equally be met on a micro-scale in the local economy!”