May 15, 2024

Lauren Clemett

In our national Telstra Award pitch for Accelerating Women, we shared key statistics about female-led entrepreneurship in Australia.

We pointed out that women account for around one-third of Australia's small business owners, and that number is growing. We noted that the number of female small business owners increased by 24 per cent between 2006 and 2021, more than three times the growth for their male counterparts.


So why do women start a business and what do they need and want from being an entrepreneur?

At the Women In Business Big Day Out, held at the Brisbane Business Hub on May 9, leading ladies who are kicking goals and scaling up, shared their insights and why they started and it highlighted some interesting aspects about why women start in business, and what can help sustain them:

Petina Tieman of Complete Business Solutions shared that she knew she couldn’t work for anyone else.

“I wanted to drive my own results, do crazy things, being proud to stand up and butt heads with government” without being held back.

Her success has been born of struggle and has fed her sense of purpose, “even through hardships I know I can face adversity and power through.” She suggests women “be self-sufficient, speak with integrity and be proud to boast about your success.”

Sarah Yip, group managing director of KEASE International started her business 16 years ago for three reasons: 

“I was a 4th generation entrepreneur, I knew it was what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to choose between family & work. I wanted flexibility and I wanted to take all school holidays off”.

She suggests success comes from within, “I lent into my strengths, taking complex leadership ideas and communicating that to those who need it, problem-solving strategically.”

It appears that although women might start in business for themselves, at their core they are focused on solving other people’s problems.

Zolsa Kilmartin of Kilmartin Knyett Lawyers started because they wanted to be boutique. “We saw a gap in the market, our friends, family and associates needed personalised, accessible services from a legal practice offering multi-service expertise.”

It seems that when a woman sets her sights higher, she makes it her core driver in her industry. Zolsa explains “I wanted to be able to take a holistic approach which traditional legal practices that have arbitrary billing goals, couldn’t deliver.”

This has led to a totally refreshing model for legal firms, “We wanted to practice law in a different way, doing our own thing and in 2 years we grew to a team of 6 with a panel of experts, taking care of small businesses.”

However, not all women know running a business is for them, but they do it anyway.

Haley McDonald, CEO & founder of 3P Studio which creates animation and film said she “didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body and started because of redundancy”.

Having a family with an entrepreneurial spirit definitely seems to help women do the same, but in Hayles case, she stepped into business ownership without that upbringing.

“My family always worked full-time jobs, but I heard that people can start a business to solve a problem and I thought that was a good way to start and avoid being made redundant ever again”.

Although entrepreneurship didn’t come naturally she created success and now has a wide range of clients and services and has established multiple brands.

It was noticeable that over time all of the women on the panel had ideas of success initially but they changed and developed as they grew.

Sarah's idea of success at the start was “to be able to travel wherever and whenever we wanted” and she achieved that and travelled to amazing destinations with her family but now she measures success “by my client's success”.

Impact matters to successful women, and having an impact bigger than themselves is what drives their success, no matter where they started.

Petina had an abusive upbringing and as a result, she didn’t connect or feel like she ever really belonged. “Originally I wanted to be seen and recognised and was driven to success so I could show others what I was capable of.”

She’s now working with regional and remote communities with those who have themselves been ignored or marginalised and don’t have the support they need. She says “The difference we can achieve is my measure of success. I believe there’s a positive in every negative”.

Success isn’t something that comes from one individual's effort though. The advice offered around achieving success as a woman in business focused on getting good support

Zolsa said, “I invested in creating partnerships early on, giving myself permission to have time with friends and being supported as we grew the practice.” 

She advised that “often in business we can feel isolated but if you reach out, you never know who your biggest champions will be.”

Turns out, what women do best naturally is a superpower when it comes to developing business. 

She confirmed to the audience of over 50 business women in attendance at the event that “going out and chatting, networking or coffee meetings might not seem productive to many in business but it’s vital to forge long-term sustainability and a big benefit of being in business for yourself”.

Hayley agreed, stating that “when I started I felt it was me, myself & I and I was often working alone and in tears as I struggled to kick start it”.

She thought success was having the biggest post-production house in the city and now she’s done that her idea of success has shifted “My real measure of success is being able to attend school and family events whenever I want to”.

So what overarching advice did these women have to achieve success?

Petina said women in business should “confront challenges head on. Find the positives and learnings and use them to drive you forward”.

Sarah suggested “Don’t do everything yourself, reach out and concentrate on building a trusted network.

Zolsa believes women have to “trust your gut and back yourself”. She explained that women undervalue their own innate skills and instead, they should “go with your unique talents and figure out how to do business based on your strengths, supporting others in your company to do the same”.

Hayley topped off the panel with the bold advice that women in business should “never take anyone’s crap!”.

She suggested that “it’s ingrained in women to be nice and polite” but that they needed to “stick up for yourself, lean into your intuition and don’t put up with anyone who rips you off or treats you with disrespect”.

The main theme from the panel of extraordinary women at the Big Day Out in Brisbane was that to be successful and build sustainable businesses, women need to tap into their natural intuition and instincts and be self-reliant but also constantly seeking support.

It’s ok if you’re starting in business to start for reasons that support you, and then, when you achieve growth and have a good foundation, you can aim bigger.

Women in business in Australia, based on the metrics, are a leading force as entrepreneurs and the guiding instruction from those to follow is that you should primarily know that you can do it.

Women are naturally built to handle the juggle and struggle and you can create a massive positive impact in business, with the right support around you and the ability to keep pushing beyond your own boundaries.

Be bold, brave and Audacious 

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Lauren Clemett

Lauren is an International Award-Winning Personal Branding Specialist with over 30 years experience in brand management working within world-leading advertising agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy and Clemenger BBDO. A five-time bestselling author and International Award Winning Neurobranding expert, she uses her dyslexia disability as her greatest asset - helping entrepreneurs understand how the brain sees brands.

She is also a keen sailor, golfer and vodka quality control expert.

annette densham

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