Startup Diaries: Helping Yourself To A Bigger Slice Of The Pie

Victoria Arnold, winner of the "Best Young Business 2012" award.Victoria Arnold, entrepreneur and founder of online ventures Desk Union and Homestayfriend, shares with The NextWomen her top five startup tips for female entrepreneurs, drawing on her own experiences of the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.

1. Dream big

Over the last few years, I have found that women often seem to get pigeonholed into the ‘lifestyle business’ category. Yes, this may be accurate for some, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring for a business that brings in enough revenue to support your life, however, I believe that women are missing out on the chance of a bigger slice of the pie.

I have to admit that ultra-confident, global aspirations seem to come more naturally to most of the male entrepreneurs I know …but really ladies, it’s out there if you want it, so dream big and realise your potential!  

2. Build a killer peer group

There’s nothing quite like surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Entrepreneurship can often be a lonely journey, one which can weigh heavy on your shoulders with euphoric highs and all-time lows (often within a single day). To help me on my way, I’ve developed a core network of six fellow entrepreneurs who I trust implicitly. We meet up once a month to discuss our issues and work through options as a group. No matter how big or small my problem, it is incredibly reassuring to know that I can pick up the phone and talk to these folk any time. This has been instrumental to both my business development and personal growth.

Through no fault of their own, family and old friends can’t always relate to the trials and tribulations of running a business, but my peer network can.

The waves of stress, the sleepless nights and the pangs of self-doubt can be tough going, so it really helps to know there are others out there on the same journey.

I honestly feel that my peer group is a huge driver to my achievements; if you haven’t built up that trusted support network yet, make a start pronto!

3. Network till you drop

If you’re not networking and meeting people at least three days per week, then you’re missing a trick! No matter what type of enterprise you run, people need to know who you are. Networking is key for a number of reasons:

  • People begin to remember your name and your company name
  • You become associated with a specific skillset
  • It’s an awesome soft selling tool
  • It initiates valuable introductions

Broadly speaking, going to a networking event won’t directly bring you business, but you never know who you’ll get talking to and who they might be connected with!

Don’t people say we’re only ever seven connections away from anyone in the world? Well, by networking effectively you are seriously increasing your chances of gaining that all important contact.

Be bold, be confident, and of course, when the conversation turns to the weather, politely excuse yourself and go and talk to someone else!

4. Get external support

One of the most important and life changing parts of my journey was joining a business incubator programme. Entrepreneurial Spark reshaped my mindset, and provided free workspace as well as access to funding. This programme enabled me to become hyper-connected with the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Whether you sign up to a business incubator programme or not, there is a wide range of support out there for budding entrepreneurs. You have to really want it though! Be persistent and don’t be afraid to ask.

Here are a few suggestions of who to approach:

  • Local councils often have grants available for growth businesses
  • Local enterprise agencies can provide practical and financial support
  • Business incubators or accelerators have intensive programmes
  • Banks are often overlooked, but if you work to build a good relationship with your business banking manager, you’ll find they can often make great introductions
  • Seasoned entrepreneurs are also an amazing resource of knowledge and will usually be more than happy to grab a coffee with you 

5. Believe in yourself

Without doubt, the most instrumental element to your success is … you!

I used to laugh when advisors told me that it would take twice as long and cost twice as much as I thought it would to reach my goal, but they were absolutely right. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.

You have to continue to believe in yourself, every hour of every day, and when you don’t feel like smiling, you have to put up a positive front to the rest of the world. Don’t forget that people are buying into YOU.

It’s by no means easy. We all have good and bad days. But entrepreneurs are eternal optimists. We live with our heads in the clouds and dare to dream big. We’re also not afraid of hard work and of learning from our mistakes. We roll up our sleeves and get stuck in!

From my experience, at times many female entrepreneurs will experience unwavering pangs of self-doubt (and I am no exception to this). I share an office with a couple of male entrepreneurs whose businesses are on exactly the same trajectory of growth as mine, but I have never heard them vocalise doubt or seen them cry quietly in the corner when the pressure is too much. Perhaps they do this in the privacy of their own home! Who knows? But as females, we are programmed with empathy and we shouldn’t think of this as a negative. We make fantastic leaders and have the ability to grow confident, solid teams.

I find it essential to retune my mind and body every few weeks with some reflective time. Then I jump back in and it’s full steam ahead! Taking time out every now and again is important and shouldn’t be overlooked … believe me, I’ve tried powering through on more than one occasion … the words ‘crash’ and ‘burn’ come to mind!  

Find the best way to keep up your momentum, remember why you started and believe in yourself!

You CAN do anything you put your mind to. I wasn’t born to be a slave to someone else’s dream, and if you’re reading this, then I guess you weren’t either.

Victoria Arnold is an entrepreneur and the founder of two online ventures, Homestayfriend and Desk Union. Homestayfriend is a service offering short-term homestay accommodation for international students, interns and those travelling on business; while the Desk Union platform aims to connect commercial landlords and corporates with small businesses and independent professionals seeking cost-effective workspace. Victoria Arnold was the winner of the “2013 Youth Business Scotland Regional Business Award” and the “Best Young Business 2012” award from the Association of Scottish Businesswomen.  

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