How the pandemic impacted female business owners - The Telegraph

Summary

We’re used to hearing about the business challenges faced by women during the pandemic – and accountant turned glass-maker Cheryl Steventon, 42, has probably had more than her fair share.

Pregnant during lockdown with her fifth child, she fitted business hours around home schooling – and looked on as the markets, galleries and workshops she relied on to sell her glass designs and sculptures were shut down. Based in a village near Solihull in the West Midlands, she had to rethink.

We’re used to hearing about the business challenges faced by women during the pandemic – and accountant turned glass-maker Cheryl Steventon, 42, has probably had more than her fair share.

Pregnant during lockdown with her fifth child, she fitted business hours around home schooling – and looked on as the markets, galleries and workshops she relied on to sell her glass designs and sculptures were shut down. Based in a village near Solihull in the West Midlands, she had to rethink.

“I don’t have a bricks-and-mortar shop,” she says, “but I had to keep my business going somehow.”

Lockdowns hit female entrepreneurs harder than male ones, according to the latest research by the Rose Review (published in February of this year).

The latest Rose Review suggests that despite the rapid growth in female-led start-ups, female entrepreneurs have spent twice as long on caring responsibilities during the pandemic as their male counterparts, and that their businesses have been less likely to recover.

Creative craft: Cheryl produced make-at-home kits to keep her business afloat during the various lockdowns

Progress on the horizon

Since the publication of the first Rose Review in 2019, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs – including Steventon – have benefited from subsequent funding, advice and mentoring.

Reluctant to take on the burden of a loan or to seek investment, Steventon instead devised a new product – make-at-home workshop kits.

Customers post their designs back to her for finishing in her kiln and she returns them with a personalised message. NatWest helped her in her plan to expand online and focus on the letterbox kits in order to grow.

“It was a good way to connect with people and give them some sort of workshop experience,” she says.

“Creativity is so important for our mental health, particularly during lockdown.”

She’s also been able to bounce ideas off an entrepreneurial peer group that she’s met through NatWest’s Accelerator programme.

“Social media can be an echo chamber,” she says, “so it’s been fantastic to float ideas and polish up my product.”

Being part of the Accelerator programme has given her confidence and added structure to a business that had grown organically.

“My mentor is very good at getting me to write a plan and assess my goals, which is great when you feel like you need to be everywhere at once.”

NatWest’s Accelerator programme was a game-changer for Absolute Collagen entrepreneur Maxine Laceby Maxine Laceby: “I think women overlook themselves – they don’t always see what they’re capable of”

Attending a presentation of the Rose Review in 2019 was significant for business owner Maxine Laceby, 56, founder of health product Absolute Collagen – which first grew from kitchen experiments at her home in Wolverhampton.

As a 50-year-old mother, she couldn’t even get the bank she was with at the time to return her calls. She asked for help and eventually went on to join NatWest’s Accelerator programme.

“There, I learned to speak the language of business,” she says. “I needed things explaining and they took me seriously. Before that I hadn’t been able to get a bank to support my business.”

Success story: last year Absolute Collagen turned over £21m

She went on to secure financial backing through a series of introductions prompted by the scheme – and last year she turned over £21m. Being able to sell directly via her website meant that business increased during the pandemic, while a strong partnership with her manufacturers meant they continued to make her product: “I’m very loyal, and we have a strong partnership,” she says.

In December 2020, she secured a sixth round of investment – but nothing was easy about running a business through multiple lockdowns.

“My family is grown up, but my daughters and their partners moved in with us – and we had a house full of collagen, which we packed ourselves because facilities were closed. Women tend to carry the brunt of everything,” she adds. “Our workload during the pandemic went up massively.”

Her staff members with young families needed support and understanding, too. “Many of our team would spend Zoom calls with their children crawling on them, and I’d urge them to take time off. I tried to help them balance their lives and understand their challenges.”

While acknowledging the progress made since 2019, NatWest’s CEO Alison Rose has announced extra support measures, particularly as more women than ever are starting new businesses.

“We must propose fresh, imaginative solutions to challenges posed by women’s caring responsibilities,” says Rose. From managing cash flow to staying afloat and finding finance solutions, NatWest publishes advice and toolkits designed to help small businesses thrive.

“I’d say to women, ‘look what you’ve achieved, even during the pandemic’,” says Laceby. “I think women overlook themselves – they don’t always see what they’re capable of.”

100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch

Are you a UK-based female entrepreneur? The Telegraph and NatWest have launched 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch, which will celebrate women who are redefining success and helping others. Share your entrepreneurial journey for the chance to receive a £10,000 grant and expert mentoring to help elevate your business to the next level. Plus, you’ll also feature in our list of 100 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch.

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NatWest is dedicated to helping women succeed in business. To find out more, visit natwest.com

How the pandemic impacted female business owners - The Telegraph
Photo Credit: The Telegraph

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