I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Bridge, Enterprise Editor for the Sunday Times and successful author of three books about successful entrepreneurs: How I Made It: 40 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Made Millions , My Big Idea: 30 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Found Inspiration , and her latest book You can do it too: The 20 Essential Things Every Budding Entrepreneur Should Know . Rachel isn’t afraid to say what she thinks and has a very ‘no BS’ style about her. We had a good debate about whether women need female role models or general business role models (my view we do, her view that our role models should be any successful business person… and I think we’re both right). Rachel took some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to give us her perspectives on the current economy, what it means to be a woman in business and her tips for business success.
The media seems to be up and down with recession stories, what’s your view on what’s going to happen next?
Rachel Bridge: It’s almost impossible to tell . The media over emphasise the ups and the downs – we get bored otherwise. But what’s interesting is that the number of startups is really holding up and even growing during this current climate.
The people who are starting these businesses are not just people coming out with their redundancy, it’s other people wanting to get into business too. This is a real vote of confidence.
Also, what we are seeing is that things are holding up better than expected. We’re not going to be able leap out of the recession, but entrepreneurs can react quickly to the market.
I think that this is a big business recession, not a small business recession. What are your thoughts on this?
Rachel: Small businesses are in a much easier position to deal with the recession. They don’t have the fat in their business. They can be much more flexible and change their price, change their products or even change their packaging. People are being very inventive in how they are approaching the downturn and much more flexible and mobile in their approach.
What are the key things that small businesses need to be doing to stay ahead of the game at the moment?
Rachel: The recession is forcing small business is to be very aware of their cash-flow. Now people are being quite grown up about how they manage their businesses and finances. It’s important to understand about credit rating customers, chasing bad debts and small businesses are being smarter and choosier about who they deal with.
Do you think it’s tougher for women to start or run a business?
Rachel: I fundamentally disagree that there are any differences between men and women in business. Women’s circumstances can make it tougher, when they are starting out, particularly when trying to run a household, but creating a successful business is the same for men and women. Very few women are able to devote their entire time to running a business. For men it is much easier for them to shut themselves away in the shed.
I’m sure there are women who encounter problems when lending from the bank. I think some women do themselves down and keep their plans too small. What I see is that when men create a business their business is always going to be enormously huge; they always approach it with full confidence. Men assume it’s going to be successful right from the start and act accordingly . However, Women publicly doubt themselves and don’t really show that confidence when starting a business.
The worst phrase ever invented was Mumpreneur because it’s like saying we’re mums first and business owners second.
Which female entrepreneurs stick out for you as being particularly successful and what do you think separates them from the crowd
Rachel: Deidre Bounds – Deidre is the founder of i-to-i Travel, which she sold to First Choice Travel for £20m. She has had so much life experience, working in Greece, working as a teacher, and even being a comedienne – for Deidre, setting up a business was just another challenge.
Sarah Duchas – The founder of Storm Modelling Agency; Sarah is a very strong woman. She defied her parents and went against their expectations to become a laywer and set up her own business. She was very strong and hard headed about it
Carole Nash is another one. She started out with a part-time job in an insurance business and saw a great opportunity when they were going to close down the division she was working in. She ended up buying the business and turned it into a hugely successful company. She definitely made the most of being a female in a traditionally male field. She knew she was different and really made it work for her. She didn’t just think ‘I’ll just keep it small’ – she thought ‘how far I can go with this?’. And then she just let it run.
Who do you think are our female business role models?
Rachel: There aren’t many of them – it’s difficult to be all those things. The most obvious answer is Anita Roddick. She was focused on saving the world and raising kids. There are lots of successful female business owners out there; they’re just not household names. They’re too busy running their businesses. Deidre Bounds is great, Hilary Duvet, Stephanie Manuel. These are the hidden role models in our society.
What are the top 5 things that we should be focusing on when starting a business?
1. Understand how you are going to make money. Figure out where the profit is – it’s amazing the amount of people who don’t think about that
2. Do your research and make sure you protect anything that needs protecting – register your design, logo, or business name. Protect everything! And don’t choose that name if you can’t get the .co.uk and the .com you’ll regret it
3. Be a realist about the amount of money you need to start up. The amount of time and money everything takes will always be more than you think
4. Think big – don’t limit the size of your business. Think global, think international
5. Get your advisors earlier than you need them. Size matters. If you need to make a big presence then get a big name accountant as people will notice. Don’t wait until you think you can get there, make a big splash in the beginning.
And finally, anything else you would like to add?
Rachel: Remember your success is absolutely possible. Don’t do your business half heartedly, you don’t have the luxury of doing it small. You can’t do it part-time – you’ve got to commit to it and do it 110% percent.
Almost all businesses get to a point where they nearly fail and think ‘do I go for it or do I quit’ and you’ll have to make your decision. Give it a big push to get it to the next stage – you can do it.
About Rachel Bridge: Rachel Bridge is a writer, journalist and public speaker specialising in entrepreneurship, start ups and growing businesses. She is the Enterprise Editor for the Sunday Times, and has written three books, the latest of which is You can do it too: The 20 Essential Things Every Budding Entrepreneur Should Know