Flexibility key for business women

One of the main reasons that women leave the corporate world to start their own businesses is the idea of having more flexibility to manage family and household responsibilities.
In “The Hidden Factors: SA Women in Business” research report by the Sage Foundation and Living Facts, 59% of respondents had bought into the promises of self-employment: being paid to do what they love; to work when they want; and to use their skills to build their own businesses rather than someone else’s.
The idea of being able to cheer her son on at his football game or to attend a networking breakfast on a Tuesday — because she wanted to — appealed to many female entrepreneurs.
But the research also found that, when it comes to entrepreneurship, time is in short supply — at least in the beginning. In fact, 19% of women actually returned to corporate life because a nine-to-five job gave them more flexibility than self-employment.
“Flexibility is one of the drivers of becoming an entrepreneur,” says Marylou Kneale, founder of Living Facts. “However, without adequate support structures in place to manage the administration and the financial side of the business and assist with family commitments, flexibility is eroded and entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed.
“Corporate provides a more structured environment — with both business support internally and a more defined line between work time and home time, allowing women to better manage their roles and responsibilities.”
But those who stuck it out and put in the long hours in the first crucial years of business development, say the hard work is worth it. Once their businesses were thriving, they eventually got their flexibility back and so much more: financial independence, a sense of purpose, and an important role in growing South Africa’s economy and empowering other women.
“Many women don’t realise how much time goes into starting and running a business and, often, a corporate job actually gives them more time to spend with their families,” says Joanne van der Walt, Sage Foundation programme manager for Africa.
“Many would-be entrepreneurs find it difficult to strike that balance between work and their personal lives. Changing gender stereotypes of who does what in a family and women overcoming their own reluctance to ask for help are key changes that could encourage female entrepreneurship.”
Those who have found the sweet spot between entrepreneurial success and flexibility say the secret is time management and prioritisation.
They offer the following advice to women who are considering venturing out on their own:
* Focus on your core business and delegate the rest. If someone else can do something better and cheaper than you could do it yourself, outsource it.
* Buy time by automating as many business processes as possible such as billing and accounts receivable. Streamline payments and accounting processes with reliable, secure online solutions.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on your support network to help manage the household responsibilities. Arrange a carpool with other parents; ask your partner to hang up the washing or cook dinner this week. Everyone wants to see you succeed. Let them help you do that.
Entrepreneurship is hard work. Initially, you won’t have the flexibility you crave, but remember why you’re doing it in the first place. When you realise your dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and when your empire starts to take shape, it will be so, so worth it.

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