By Rulebooks, Sam White, founder of Freedom Services
Recent reports have shown that women in business in the UK is on the rise. Almost a third of businesses are owned by women, a remarkable shift from figures in 2016 when just 17% of founders were female. While this is a positive trajectory, there is still much work to be done before the playing field is levelled. My experiences in business, as shared by many fellow businesswomen, have shown that until women are given the same access to funding and opportunities our counterparts, we continue to operate in an age-old financial system that favours men… and this must change!
Twenty years ago, I couldn’t get a bank overdraft for my business. It was my second attempt – the first had ended with the bank removing my own personal overdraft, despite being profitable and having a solid plan for its development – and I was baffled by their thinking. Yes, I was a young 24-year-old, but I clearly had my head screwed on and was doing well – I just needed a small cash injection to help me grow.
I soon realised, the bank’s reluctancy to lend me money wasn’t because of my age, it was the mere fact that I was a woman.
To prove my theory, I asked my dad to pretend to be involved in the business to make the bank feel comfortable and guess what – the overdraft was quickly approved!
Although I was pleased to get the funds, I was frustrated that I was only taken seriously with a man by myside. How outrageous and absurd of the bank to assume that because I’m a woman, I’m not capable of running a successful business on my own.
The truth is – women are held back and not trusted when it comes to financing. We are seen as a liability. A risk. A red flag.
What’s more frustrating though, is that it’s been twenty years since my involvement with the bank, but things have hardly changed.
Biases Exist and the Facts Speaks For Themselves
Traditionally perceived as a very male-dominated field, it has always been a tough market for women entrepreneurs. A study between 1995 and 2011 found that 11% of all new businesses were registered by women yet, women are 63% less likely to secure funding.
The issue stems from gender biases. Study have found that venture capitals prefer pitches delivered by men, over those delivered by women and the stats speak for themselves. 60% of men were more likely to get the funding for their ideas, whilst being a physically attractive man increased their chances even more by 36% – a factor that does not similarly benefit women.
In fact, where both genders were pitching the same thing, 68% of participants chose those that came from male voices as opposed to 31% from female voices.
A more recent 2021 report by The Female Founders Forum revealed that only 15% of all equity is received by female founders, concluding that if women founded companies as often as men, the UK economy would be £250 billion better off.
So why are females not getting the support they deserve? It is absolutely outrageous but part of the reason for this, is that women tend to undervalue themselves.
Time to Rip Up the Old Rule Book
Despite growing and running a multi-million turnover insurance group with over 160 staff, I have still struggled to access funding in the UK, particularly as a female business leader.
Over the past twenty odd years, I’m proud to say that much of the growth of the group has come from hard-earned profits which were then injected back into the business. Many times, I’ve had to think outside of the box – most recently, when UK markets proved difficult for finding funding, I looked elsewhere and brokered a deal to launch a female-centric motor insurance business called Stella in Australia. I secured my first VC there and also raised $15m dollars in a media for equity deal during the pandemic.
It’s amazing what investment opportunities are available in other countries, if you’re willing to travel and do your research. Stella has been hugely successful in Australia and we will be launching in the UK this year, replicating the same model.
I am also looking to launch my own female accelerator fund for women, to make it easier for them to receive investment – because let’s face it – it really shouldn’t be this hard! The only way to incite change, is to get more women in power and rip up the old rule book.
4 Tips On Finding Funding
I am no stranger to the challenges of trying to find external investment and I have a fair few battle scars to prove it is by no means easy. Two odd decades of being in business later, I have now some useful learnings under my belt which hopefully you’ll find helpful.
- Numbers Matter – Firstly, work out how much you think you need and roughly what you will be spending the cash on. If you are willing to take on debt, make sure you are comfortable your ability to pay back without crippling the business.
- Reach Out for Help – If you are looking for an equity partner, I would consider getting help putting an investment deck together, there are a number of advisors out there who would be happy to support, often only taking a fee upon successfully raising the capital.
- Know Your Options – If you don’t want to dilute your stake in the business, explore all other options first, there are several government grants available for the right type of businesses – check whether you are you eligible for any of these. Bank loans are also an alternative to equity, but they will likely want some security over the debt. Family and friends are a softer alternative to outside investment but ensure everyone understands the risks
- Think Big! – Finally, if you are ambitious don’t think of yourself as a small business, think of yourself as an early-stage investment that with the right support can grow into a much bigger business – the possibilities are endless!
Sam White is the multi-award-winning CEO of Freedom Services, an ever-expanding insurance business including Action 365, Pukka Insure and Freedom Brokers in the UK, and Stella Insurance in Australia.
Having started her first company in 1999 aged just 24 in her sister’s conservatory, 20 years later she employs over 160 staff with offices in Cheadle, Cheshire, and Sydney, Australia with a turnover of over £14million.
Sam cares passionately about diversity, equality, innovation and above all, making business human. Motivated by a desire to change the insurance industry for the better, Sam is a vocal advocate for levelling the playing field for women and championing female leaders within the industry.