International Women’s Day is a global day to celebrate the achievements of women; from social and economical, to cultural and political. There’s no doubt that during the last 12 months everyone’s worlds have felt a little smaller. So, let’s take a moment to reach a little further and acknowledge and explore the achievements of women; starting off with the wonderful women of Make CIC.
A bit of background…
Spread across three hubs in the Liverpool City Region, Make CIC is a thriving ecosystem of small businesses, sole traders, and hobbyists; blessed with a particularly strong contingency of entrepreneurial women. It’s part of the region’s wider ecosystem, which includes the likes of the Women’s Organisation, Growth Platform, and others; all of whom have supported a record boom in the number of new businesses.
Make CIC champions women led businesses with 54% of their resident base identifying as women across the three hubs. This figure is nearly 20% higher than the national average of self employed women, which sits at 36% (as of November 2020). With this high percentage of occupancy, coupled with Liverpool ranking the 4th UK city with the highest number of female entrepreneurs and tradespeople, it’s not surprising that the hubs are bursting at the seams with so many great women in business.
So, who are these amazing women? How long have they been doing what they do; and what sectors do they work in? What do they enjoy most about being self-employed; and what keeps them going? International Women’s Day feels like the perfect time to tell you all about them.
How has the last 12 months been for women led businesses at Make CIC?
Last year, small businesses had to battle through periods of lockdown, continuous changes in restrictions, all whilst juggling their day-to-day. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread socio-economic challenges. Unsurprisingly, women, people of colour, poor and working class people, and those situated at the intersections of these categories are particularly susceptible to its impact.
For the women of Make it has felt no different. With almost 70% working within the Arts/Maker/Crafting sector which is often work that cannot be completed from home. Access to studio space, materials, and facilities is essential for these businesses to develop and thrive. Nearly half of the challenges faced were not knowing how or where to diversify their business; or deciding what services and products to offer during the pandemic. The majority of women within Make who were most affected by the lockdown restrictions were those whose work is “client facing” and require human interaction. We found that this is a common happenstance for women, regardless of the sector they work in. As an example, 64% of our classes and education practitioners identify as women. This figure alone highlights the impact social distancing restrictions have had on the women’s work within our community.
Before Covid came along the women of Make told us that the “fear of lack of income” was the most common thing that initially held them back from getting into business. Consequently, it’s no surprise that many have part time jobs, often to support themselves and their businesses. Commonly this work was also people orientated in nature, such as working in a shop, cafe or teaching. For some, the uncertainty that arose due to Covid around this additional subsidy work has caused further uncertainty.
It’s also been a moment of innovation and experimentation, albeit out of necessity. From taking their classes online, learning new skills, and diversifying their offerings, to developing different areas of their businesses, and making things work in a socially distanced way, our residents have adapted, chopped, and changed with the fluctuating lockdown and tier systems of the last year. As proud as Plato would be to see the proverb “our need will be the real creator” manifest, the reality of these constant challenges is exhausting for many. There is fatigue with the constant back and forth, up and down, and every other which way the restrictions and barriers have forced people to overcome.
“Working under Covid restrictions was challenging but the feedback from the families made it all worthwhile”
In contrast to those who work in customer-facing businesses, those who operate solely online and in non-people-facing business settings have flourished during the pandemic. Many have experienced sales numbers to rival the festive period, with some even taking the leap to hire their first members of staff! As the majority of the population found themselves with more time on their hands than ever before, craft and creative hobbies have resurfaced and look like they’re here to stay. Online classes, DIY kits, and online communities have made learning new skills from home more accessible. (For me it was knitting). With Etsy experiencing a 630% year on year increase in searches containing “craft kit” and a 591% year on year increase in searches on Etsy containing “living room art”, it’s not surprising that creative businesses have experienced growth!
It’s important that we acknowledge and appreciate the learning, development, and growth that has taken place over the last year, because let’s face it, if you’ve learned to code your own website whilst running your own business and putting on real person clothes in the morning during a global pandemic, you deserve to be shouted about.
Some advice, words of wisdom and ramblings about being your own boss…
At the end of last year, when I was feeling deflated and worn out, I read Failosophy by Elizabeth Day. I want to share one of the chapters really stuck with me; “Failure is Data Acquisition”. When we think of failure it’s often surrounded by negativity – this simple line has turned things on its head for me and view failure in a different light. When we try something out and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t need to be a day ruining drama that it can often be (big up my fellow perfectionists). Instead, if we flip that narrative and start looking at failure as an invaluable learning experience, it’s something we can take with us on our self growth journey or onto our next big project.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a work in progress for me. But I think it’d be a great end (fingers crossed) to a really challenging year if we could stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and acknowledge all of the knowledge, skills and information we’ve absorbed as a result of this experience.
”I found out that I’m quite resilient”
We asked the women of Make what their favourite things are about being self employed. The results show that their primary motivation and behind being self-employed is simply being able to do something they enjoy. At nearly 40% this is almost double what was recorded in Simply Business’ research where doing something you enjoy came it at just 23% which shows us that the women at Make are above and beyond the norm!
We asked the women of Make what the most important things are when running your own business. There were a handful of clear winners that are constant factors in the women of Makes success is business.
1. Engaging with business support opportunities and mentoring programs.
This is not surprising considering that 60% of our Enterprise Hubs participants are women. Take advantage of the vast and resourceful mentoring programs that are out there and aimed specifically at championing and progressing women in business. It’s a great way to realise goals, develop skills, boost confidence and develop coping strategies from other like-minded people.
2. Community is essential
For many people, before the pandemic hit us, the value of a “community” had been taken for granted. That coffee with your friend, dinner with mum or catch up drinks with your old work bestie are the ways we keep in contact with our personal communities. Similarly, small businesses and sole traders have professional relationships and communities that offer advice, share experiences, and lessons learned with the goal of supporting each other. The circumstances of the last year have put into perspective how important that support network and community is, both in and outside of the work environment. Being part of a community completes the circle of the things someone needs when embarking on their self employed journey. This is something Make can attest to as “wanting to be part of a community” is often the core reason people look to join Make.
“I have had so much support from Make and from other arts practitioners”
3. Get on top of your paperwork
It would seem that I’m not alone in my love of new diaries, notepads and weekly planners. Being organised is an essential part of keeping the cogs turning within a small business. Ensuring documents, receipts and other important information are correctly filed and organised isn’t the most thrilling activity. But it will save you a headache in the future when remembering where you put that one really important contract.
4. Give yourself a break
Having a structured work week so you can give yourself some headspace at the end of the working week to decompress, relax, and indulge in hobbies outside of work is something that many sole traders and small business owners struggle with. Whilst it is a journey to get to a place where you feel comfortable, taking days away from work without feeling guilty. Once you start, you’ll find yourself better able to focus come Monday morning.
Whilst all of our women who run small businesses have faced challenges and struggled through the last year, we have no doubt they’ll emerge with new ideas, plans and more determination than before.
“I’m excited to run some face to face workshops and I’ve got lots of exciting things planned for those!”
We can’t wait to see the new and exciting opportunities that will flourish as we move out of lockdown in the coming months. If you want to keep up to date with all things, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter here!
Here are some great Liverpool based orgs ran by or dedicated to uplifting women:
Books Recommendations (as a self professed book worm I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share some of my personal faves) :
Little Black Book – “The modern career guide every creative woman needs”
The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary – For when you feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied
Failosophy – For when things go wrong
Invisible Women – To spark your inner activist
Here are some great newsletters and blog posts to sign up to that’ll make for great reading. (Especially to give you a Monday morning boost):