Australian women are increasingly becoming self-employed and, for many, it’s not something they planned. One of the biggest motivators is the lack of affordable child care. Fees can often equal, or even exceed, their potential take home pay. Another factor is the need for flexible work hours to accommodate school pick-ups or to spend more quality time with their children.
It’s not just mums, though, who are looking for alternative options when it comes to employment. There are many other groups of women for whom a 9-5 job is either difficult to access or doesn’t meet their current lifestyle needs.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics report for the Office of Women: A Profile of Women In Business, 2015 over 28% of female business owners were aged 55 years and over and 12% had a disability, suggesting that they have turned to self-employment due to a perceived lack of employability by ‘regular’ business owners. Then, there are the women who need to care for an older or disabled relative while still earning some sort of income.
The report also showed that 42% of women business operators had a diploma or degree. The reason for this may be two-fold. Some are driven by their own interests and see a niche in the market they want to pursue. Others may have had equal gender access to their chosen qualification but found the subsequent employment opportunities very limited.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency report: Untapped opportunity. The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential (July 2013) shows that this is often because the average age of post-graduates is 32 – also the age at which many women consider starting a family.
Benefits of self-employment for women
For many women, having flexible work hours is a huge drawcard. It allows them to plan their work around family commitments and allow them to put things on hold if they need to help others such as a sick child or an ailing parent.
Flexibility can also mean you can change the business focus or structure if new opportunities arise.
Choice of where to work
Working from home has many advantages. To start with, you skip the daily commute which saves time, money, and stress. You get to set the dress code, too.
You are not limited to home, either. For example, you might prefer a shared workspace, a local café or library or anywhere around the world with a good internet connection.
Being in charge
Having the ability to make decisions is very empowering and rewarding. Your work isn’t defined by someone else’s values or business plans. There is no glass ceiling to peer up to and you don’t need to wait for a promotion. You can follow your passions and instincts as you see fit.
Reward for effort
Although not having a fixed income can be risky, it also means that you have unlimited income potential. You decide what to charge for your products or services so you can design your own paycheque. If you plan your business well, there is no reason why you can’t generate a very healthy profit in just a few years, especially if your overheads are low.
Income is not always the main incentive for becoming self-employed. For some women, it is more about doing work they find interesting and challenging. For example, you might want to set up a social enterprise that makes a difference in other people’s lives in some way or you could set business goals that stretch your personal comfort zone.
Challenges of self-employment
Difficulty accessing finance
Female entrepreneurs of any kind can find it difficult to access business loans to get started. This can sometime be because they’ve don’t have a consistent work history or any form of credit history. Women are also less likely to receive venture capital for start-ups, possibly due to a perceived increased risk of failure. This point is discussed further in the Mentor List article Where are all the female bosses?
Financial risks and obligations
Unless you’ve established your business and set up some form of residual income, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Also, if your business fails, you could lose a lot of money and assets and wind up in debt.
You also have to ensure you cover your income and business tax obligations and your personal superannuation contributions. If you have employees, you’ll need to cover their PAYG tax, superannuation payments, and any leave entitlements. While these obligations are not necessarily a bad thing, you can get into a mess if you don’t handle them appropriately.
Lack of business skills
The main reason new businesses fail is due to a lack of proper planning. This is mainly due to the business owner not having a high enough level of financial, management and planning skills. For some, it could also be due to poor computer or even literacy skills (especially for migrant women).
If you are considering going into business, it is important that you do your homework properly and seek professional help in areas where you lack experience. Build a team of trusted advisors around you and you’ll have a much greater chance of success.
Lack of support
When some women go into business, they can experience a distinct lack of support from their family and friends. Others might not have access to (or be aware of) the many community and government resources available to them. The pressure of working in isolation or against the wishes or advice of those around them can be too overwhelming.
On the other hand, many find a new network of like-minded women with similar goals either through online platforms or local business networks.
To help you weigh up more of the pros and cons of owning your own business see our article Is being self-employed a good career choice?
25 business ideas for women
We’ve created a list to get you thinking about a business that might suit you. Many of these ideas are scalable, so you could do anything from spending a few hours a week on them as a consultant or freelancer, to employing others and building an empire.
This article originally listed 25 business ideas here to get the creative ideas flowing, some businesses ideas were traditional, historically female driven and some more recent and evolved. The truth is the only limitation is the limiting belief of either us as an individual or as a collective.
In reality in today's information economy where training and information is readily available at our fingertips, the overwhelming question I see is of all the many options available to us, which one do I pursue. This luxury of choice can be a real preventative procrastinator to taking the first step and pursuing a new direction.
1. Write your own list here.
Scan your local classifieds or business directories to see what other women are doing in your area.
Where to get help
Local business networks and government business and taxation websites provide lots of sound, general business advice at every level.
There are also many organisations specifically set up to help female entrepreneurs. Some target home-based businesses while others aim to help those with high-end business goals. They include:
- The Talented Ladies Club
- Grace Lever – Stop Dreaming, Start Doing
- Business in Heels
- Heads Over Heels
- Inspiring Rare Birds
- She Starts
- Gumption Trigger
- Springboard Australia
Search Google and LinkedIn and ask around your community and you’re sure to find many other people out there willing to help you and your business every step of the way. You just have to ask.
Call to action…
Jo Burston is the founder and CEO of Job Capital - a company she grew from nothing to $40M in less than 5 years with a team of 12 - co-founder and director of Phronesis Academy and founder of the entrepreneurial movement Inspiring Rare Birds. Rare Birds works to promote opportunity for women in entrepreneurship and has a global vision to have ten million women in its community by 2020.
Jo has been recognised as one of Australia’s top entrepreneurs for the past six years and is a leading authority on global women’s entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship as a whole, and SMB markets.
Find out how Jo ‘accidentally’ became an entrepreneur and went on to discover an ‘underground network’ of like-minded women who helped her on her journey. You’ll also learn how Jo went on to run multiple businesses and hear her personal tips for success on her podcast interview on The Mentor List.
While you’re there, be sure to explore the other podcast episodes featuring successful business women. Their stories and sound advice could be just what you need to hear right now.
Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au
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