We were recently joined for a lunchtime masterclass with Carrie Green, founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association. During a dynamic one-hour discussion she advised our readers on a wide range of small business topics, from funding to marketing, creating a business plan and social media.
Read all about Carrie's top tips for successfully running your own business - and sharing inspiration with other female entrepreneurs - below...
Getting started and funding
How did you get the money in order to start up your own business? And were you able to just dive right in, or did you need to work somewhere else part-time til it was in full swing?
With my first business I started with a credit card – with that I bought a domain name, web hosting, then spent £30 a day on Google AdWords. I built the website myself using Microsoft front page, which I don’t think exists now. The website was so terrible! But I didn’t have the money to get someone to do it for me, so I had to make do.
Once this started to generate a profit I used that to grow the business.
With the Female Entrepreneur Association I started that with very low cost, using my own money. I bought a domain name, hosting, I made a website myself using wordpress and a themeforest.net theme which cost me $35. I didn’t spend any money after that until earlier on this year when I started to test out Facebook advertising and even then I only spent around £10 a day.
So with very little money I built a network of over 20,000 women from around the world. Just goes to show what’s possible when you get to work on an idea.
Be creative, try new things, look at what other people are doing well and take inspiration from it.
When I started my first business I was still at university – and built the business and did my degree along side it – in third year I went to night school to learn more about web development and I recorded all my lectures and typed up my notes to make sure I’d get a good degree as well. What some people would see as a challenge, I see as part of the adventure of life and of being an entrepreneur.
If you were starting a business from scratch where you needed funding to set it up, what would be the top 5 things you would do and why?
1. I would research online and ask as many people as many questions as I could to get advice and help – millions of people have been in this position before, so you may as well make use of their knowledge by asking them questions. People love to be asked for advice.
2. I would write a brilliant business plan and make sure I got lots of people to read it.
3. I would get started doing whatever I could do with the resources available to me. I would get set up online, on Facebook, Twitter etc. – if your product isn’t ready you could get people to subscribe to a pre-launch list and excite people. I’d try and be as creative as I could. This is a great way to start testing your ideas before you get funding.
4. I would research all the funding options. I’m not sure how old you are, but Start Up Loans has just launched and is providing funding of up to £2,500 to people between the age of 18-24 along with mentoring. You could also check out the Prince’s Trust.
5. I would also look into any grants available and crowdfunding.
Aside from that I’d make sure I was very clear about what I wanted to achieve. Trying to start a business can so scary and hard, so you have know exactly what you want to do and why you want to do it and then never give up.
I always remind myself that successful people are the ones that hang on when everyone else has let go.
I've got a business idea that's hugely ambitious, both financially and in terms of scale - and I wondered if you have any advice on funding? The thought of going up against 'angel investors' scares the living daylight out of me. How did you get yourself set-up in the early days? I don't have any savings - just trying to keep my head above water these days - so not sure how to fund my idea or even where to look.
I’ve never actually had funding, so I’m probably not the best person to give advice.
When I had the idea to start the Female Entrepreneur Association it was massive. I wanted to do so many things, it was a struggle to pull it back and start off small. But that’s what I did. I set up a wordpress website, which is relatively easy and cheap. I bought a theme from themeforest.net and figured out how to get it to look OK. I spent hours doing this… it literally hurt my head trying to figure it out!
I then really leveraged the power of social media and focused on growing my database. Even if you need funding to create your product, you could start off with getting something online and start to create interest – that way when you launch your product, you’re launching it to a group of people who already know you, trust you and like you. I spent just over a year building FEA before I launched the magazine – if I’d tried to launch the magazine first it would have been so hard to get people to read it.
Try and build a reputation online – blog for other people and get your name out there. Go networking and build up your contacts.
You might not be able to make the big dream happen right away, but you can definitely start to take small steps towards achieving it.
Also, have total belief in your idea – if you think it kicks ass and you know 100% that you need funding then do whatever it takes to make it happen. Seek advice wherever you can and never give up on it.
I am a Uni student but the area I've chose is not the one I feel very comfortable with, and I don't know what to do about it! I think what I am currently studying is very important for my future but I do not want to actually work on it. I have a dream job, actually a bunch of them but in the place I live I don't think I will find the opportunity to do it/them. What do you advice to me? Shall I go to another country? I don't want to be one of those people who reach the 50/60 years old and look back and think that never tried to follow the dream. I guess there was a time in your life when you were like me?
You can have whatever you want or dream of in life as long as you believe it. You absolutely have to programme your mind for success. Don’t focus on the negatives – every time you have a negative thought – one like “I’ll never be able to do it”, “I won’t ever find the right opportunity for me” – force yourself to push it out of your mind and think about something else.
Every morning when I wake up I listen to a 20 minute hypnosis CD which is very relaxing and has lots of suggestions about becoming successful and imaging what it will be like and feel like to be successful. This puts me in the right frame of mind everyday – to get up and get to work on making my dreams come true.
I always put 100% effort into whatever I’m doing, even if I’m not enjoying it that much – if you really feel that your current course isn’t right for you then look into alternative options and think of the pros and cons.
Stay positive, maybe take some time to get clear on what you want to achieve in life and then stay determined to make it happen.
Goals and business plans
I want to set up my own beauty business but get so overwhelmed by it all sometimes. Do you have any useful tips on setting goals at all?
Don’t worry – you’re not alone… I think everyone who has an idea to start a business feels overwhelmed at some point! Goal setting is a brilliant way to overcome this.
You might want to try doing this:
Close your eyes and imagine it’s five years from now and your life is what you would consider to be perfect. Have a think about the following questions.
1. What does it look like?
2. What are you doing?
3. Where are you working?
4. How much money are you making?
5. Who are you with?
6. How do you feel?
Set time aside everyday to think about these things. Just go with the flow when you’re doing this exercise, don’t stop yourself from imagining things, because you don’t think it’s possible. In your imagination anything is possible and the more creative and visual you can make things the more the ideas will start flowing and ideas will start popping into your head.
Once you start to get a clear image of what you would like you will naturally start coming up with ideas to help get you there.
Also, I would suggest that you take some time to write down your goals – what you want to achieve – short term and long term.
There a lots of places which offer mentoring – have a search on google. For inspiration and advice you could check out our fanpage.
Do you have any tips on writing a business plan? how far into the future do I need to plan for?
With my first business I used to write a business plan every month – well it was more like setting very specific goals and targets
- What our sales targets were
- How many new affiliates we wanted
- How much profit we wanted to make
I personally never went more than a year into the future, because I found that things change so quickly.
A great book to read is the E-myth Revisited – it’s all about working on your business, not in your business – so focusing on where you want it to go and how you’re going to get there. It’s my favourite business book ever!
I was wondering if you could give any tips on how to be successful in using social media for your business? My main problem with using social media is getting followers who are really interested in my products and are potential buyers rather than people who are following me in hope I shall follow back
It does take time to build up your social media so that it’s effective – you just have to be patient and test different methods.
Make sure you post things which offer real value – think about it from the readers' perspective. Focus on building relationships, not selling.
In the second issue of This Girl Means Business, someone wrote in with exactly the same question as yours and we got advice from different people, it might be worth checking out here on P.76
When you first started your business how did you go about getting the "word out", what are the best marketing techniques to try and use on a shoestring budget?
With my first business, which was online mobile unlocking I started off by using Google AdWords – I had a credit card and set a spending limit of £30 per day. As the business grew we focused on SEO, which was very effective. However, I’ve also found social media to be incredibly effective and it’s free! So with the unlocking we focused on putting videos out on Youtube and using keywords in the titles and description of our videos to get them seen.
With the Female Entrepreneur Association I’ve used social media and networking on and offline to get the word out. Here are some of the things I did:
- Joined LinkedIn and then joined relevant groups – so for me that was groups for female entrepreneurs. I then invited all the members within those groups to connect with me on LinkedIn and sent them a message like "Hi Jo, I noticed that we are both in XYZ group and would love to connect with you and find out more about what you do. Best wishes Carrie." Once I had quite a lot of connections I created a group for the Female Entrepreneur Association on LinkedIn and invited all my contacts to join. This was a great way to raise awareness. So think of some groups you could start.
- Got started on Twitter and found other organisations that were similar to me and started to follow the people that were following them. I think you can add up to 50 new followers a day. Then I started having conversations with people and building relationships.
- I set up a Facebook fanpage and try to post content that I think people will love to see. I find that quote images get a really great response and get people sharing and talking about your fan page. I have advertised on Facebook – in the past I’ve had a budget of £10 per day and it’s been really effective and you can target really specific groups of people.
- Go to as many networking events as you possibly can and follow up with the people you meet.
- Ask to guest blog on other websites to get yourself and your business out there – you can guest blog on FEA if you like. Just get in touch via the website.
The best strategy for you will depend on the type of business you have, but give everything a go and see what works best for you.
I have very recently started my own business (on the side, still have a full-time job!) in sourcing and selling coffee, and although it's going fairly well, I am struggling to move from selling through word-of-mouth to larger customer base. I have set up a website to do online sales, but what would you suggest one could do to market the product and find the right customers? I'm on a budget and the product isn't honed to Starbucks-standards so selling in supermarkets isn't doable at this point. Also, what tips do you have for setting goals and figuring out which way to go - I started this sort of as a hobby but now am so passionate about it that I want to make it a career but not sure how to take the right steps to make it a reality?
People love coffee, so I’m sure there are a few coffee groups out there that you could get involved with – either offline or online. Your product must be good if you are selling it, so perhaps it’s just lack of self-belief that’s stopping you from thinking that you can sell it in shops and supermarkets? I publish a free digital magazine – This Girl Means Business, and in issue one we interviewed a woman who had an idea to sell apple chutneys – she started by making it from the apple trees in her garden and then slowly (without funding) managed to get it sold in supermarkets across the UK. You should have a read of her story and possibly get in touch with her and ask for her advice.
You can make your coffee business and big as you believe you can. Have more belief in yourself and you’ll be able to get lots and lots more people buying and loving your coffee.
I was wondering how you go about getting 'success stories' into newspapers as the business I'm running might be seen as having an impact on the community. How do you approach reporters/editors and is it better to phone or email? Any other tips for getting stories into newspapers?
Write a great press release about your story and make it as interesting as possible and then make a list of all the magazines and papers you want to get featured in and then work your way through looking for contact details and sending in your story.
When I launched FEA I created a google alert for ‘female entrepreneurs’ so I could see what articles were being published. I came across an article written in the Telegraph and how the number of female entrepreneurs was coming to a standstill, so I searched online for the journalist email address and emailed him about what I was doing and he wrote about it.
Keep your eyes peeled for articles you can reply to and keep sending out your story. Also look out for business events where journalists will be at.
The Female Entrepreneur Association
How does one get involved in your organization? I am currently in a small business dominating by two micro-managing directors, total control-freaks and I am finding it very hard to mould to the person they want me to be, personality wise. I would love more women to speak up about issues as such. Everyone who left the company before me was unhappy but was too afraid to speak up about it! Why? I just want to be one of those people that encourage women to have a voice in organization but in the same time, maybe being an employer is not for me?
You can get involved in FEA from our fanpage - all the links to the site and subscribing are on there.
It sounds like you’re in a difficult situation at work. I can imagine it’s tough being in an environment like that. One website you might want to check out is Escape The City – you might be able to find some amazing opportunities on there. Perhaps it would be a good idea for you to write some goals about what you want to achieve over the next few years? If you have any ideas to start your own business then you can start researching and planning how you’re going to do it. If you want to read some inspiring stories about women who quit their job and started a business check out my website.
As well as Sisterhood, are there more associations or groups that young female entrepreneurs can join? I'm based in London and have recently set up a PR company specialising in fashion, food and entertainment.
There are more and more networks cropping up for young female entrepreneurs now – I’m based in Manchester, but have a search online. Would be great to see you at the Sisterhood event, it should be amazing!
Good luck with your business – you should definitely get involved with blogging!
Do you find that it is a male dominated industry that you work in? and how do you deal with that?
There are a lot more men in business than women. I found that when I was networking I’d often be the only woman there and I also found that all the business publications were very male orientated. This is partly why I decided to set up the Female Entrepreneur Association and the digital magazine for female entrepreneurs. I think that men and women think very differently – with my first business I didn’t know any other women who were running a business that I could chat to. It was difficult and I felt really lonely. Now with the network I’m able to talk with female entrepreneurs from around the world about problems and challenges I’m facing and I love it!