Female Business Owners Under 30 Share Their Biggest Challenges – & How They Overcame Them

According to Toluna's Women at Work survey of 1,000 women aged 25 to 35, only 30% of respondents currently hold what they would consider to be their Dream Job. What's more, 64% say they would like to work for themselves. We hear from some women that are doing just that.
In an age where it feels as though more and more young women are at the helm of companies or starting their ‘own thing’, it’s easy to forget that women under 30 are still a minority in terms of launching, running and sustaining a successful business. According to a report by RBS, UK women’s businesses have a higher churn rate than any other. This means more start-ups – but at the same time, more closures.
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Interestingly, the same report found that women are also less likely to attribute closure to "business failure" and more likely to cite "personal reasons", which statistically peak at age 25-34. Hmm. This all paints a rather gloomy picture that seems at odds with the current feeling of ‘girl-bossing’.
However, despite women only representing 17% of business owners, there’s been a continual rise of female self-employment post-recession; women account for a huge 80% of the new self-employed, showing that things must be changing. And if you’re paying attention to women-run business, a week doesn’t go by without a new tech start-up, food venture or fashion label hitting our radar.
To find out what it's like to be a young, female entrepreneur, we asked some of our favourite women in business under 30 what challenges they've come up against, whether personal or professional. From shutting up shop to navigating impending motherhood, these women prove that no challenge is too great – and that there’s never been a better time for women to strike out alone, business plan in hand.
Click through the slideshow ahead to get inspired...
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Photo: Courtesy of Emma J Shipley.
“As a young designer, I’ve had to learn how to work with big businesses” – Emma J Shipley, 30, graphic artist and designer at Emma J Shipley

For most emerging designers, collaborating with large corporate businesses can either be seen as a blessing or a curse. For Emma J Shipley, collaborations with big name brands have been pivotal in the success of her own eponymous label. “I’ve worked on some really fun collaborations,” she says, “from working with Disney on a Star Wars collection to Atelier Swarovski on a line of jewellery. I’ve also just launched a collaboration with Aspinal of London on a range of luxury bags and scarves, exclusive to Harrods.”

After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and having her first collection snapped up by London boutique Browns, Emma has become known for her intricate pencil drawings transferred on to a range of luxury accessories and womenswear and stocked in the likes of Liberty and Fortnum and Mason. Despite the success of her big name collaborations, they haven’t come without their hurdles.

“The biggest challenge is probably negotiating a good deal and knowing what to charge,” she says. “I’ve also had a couple of occasions where the big business wants to change elements of the design – there are often quite a few people that have to sign things off on their side and sometimes they want to have input or make it closer to what the company does already.”

Getting paid on time is also another perennial problem Emma has come up against during her collaborations: “Often things just get overlooked in big companies and there’s nothing wrong with sending friendly reminders!”

She believes that if you aren’t prepared to be flexible, working with a big business won’t be easy: “You want to make sure you’re going to be proud of the project and that it fits with your brand values,” she says, “but if they’re working with you then they want to capture something about your brand, so hopefully they’re open to your direction.”
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Photo: Courtesy of JESSICA MACCORMICK.
“Juggling pregnancy and maternity leave alongside my business is hard” – Olivia, 30, Glasshouse Salon

Olivia Crighton set up her organic hair salon, Glasshouse Salon, in London Fields back in 2013, filling a gap in the market for modern cuts and colour but without the harmful chemicals you usually find in traditional dyes.

With a loyal client base and an accompanying online shop and journal, Olivia juggles running the business alongside her own responsibilities as a hair stylist – but at eight months pregnant, business as usual has had to switch pace. “I’m about to go on maternity leave, but as a business owner it’s not the traditional clean-cut maternity leave you would usually get as an employee,” she says. “I’m always going to have to be available in case of emergency. How am I supposed to leave my business for a number of months when there are so many practicalities, like putting the wages through?”

Practicalities are one thing but Olivia has her own long-term concerns about the future of the business without her full involvement: “If I don’t have a presence in the business, how is this going to affect it? No one can truly ever fill your role, no one is going to be able to look at the business in the same way I do.”

Olivia has taken a step back and accepted this. She’s been able to implement certain structures that had been on the back-burner, all the while giving staff the support to step up in her absence. With just over a month before she’s due to give birth, she’s also learnt to slow things down. “I realised I couldn’t keep rushing around, my body wouldn’t let me. I either got too sick, too exhausted or extremely clumsy.”

The biggest challenge is arguably yet to come, but there’s no denying that being her own boss has hugely benefited her pregnancy: “I’ve had so many appointments and I can fit them into my schedule because I run my schedule. Likewise, if I want to create an office environment where I can bring my baby in, then I can. That’s down to me to set the culture.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Seenit.
“I launched a business in an industry which I had no experience in” – Emily Forbes, 29, Seenit

When most people decide to quit the safety of their career to start a business, it’s often in an area they know best. Not for Emily Forbes, who was instead motivated by idea, rather than experience. She launched Seenit in January 2014, a business which Emily says enables companies to be “storytellers”, creating video content from the material produced and shared by their followers, fans or customers. The video collaboration app collects footage from smartphones, editing it together and allowing advertisers, broadcasters and other organisations to use and share the ‘crowd-sourced’ material.

After working in events, Emily had no idea how to code or to produce the kind of technology she needed for her idea to materialise. “I didn’t know how to brief a tech team, review code or where to even start writing a tech job spec,” she says. After getting a software developer on board and winning backing from a technology accelerator fund, she found that surrounding herself with the right people taught her quickly about a previously unknown industry. “Trial and error, being honest about what I don’t know and having a killer team has meant my business can progress just as fast,” says Emily.

A little bit of “big dreamer” naivety also proved to go a long way, enabling her to jump in headfirst and get going. It worked. The company’s turnover last year increased sixfold and Seenit’s most recent project has involved powering video from Team GB athletes to the BBC and BT Sport.

“This is one of the most exciting times in history to be a woman in business,” concludes Emily. “I recently went on a trip to San Francisco and got to meet Sheryl Sandberg, who nailed it by saying, 'You can’t be what you can’t see'."
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Photo: Courtesy of Floom.
“Building and nurturing a team has been one of my biggest challenges” – Lana Elie, 29, Floom

Lana gave up a job at a top London fashion magazine to pursue her lifelong passion for flowers in the form of her company, Floom, which she launched earlier this year. Collecting a network of some of the city’s best florists and most original, seasonal bouquets, Floom offers an easy, clickable service that’s beautifully curated and supports the city’s floral industry at the same time. Lana employees three full-time members of staff and works with a handful of freelancers too.

Building and managing a team who share the kind of passion and commitment it takes to work at a small start-up wasn’t plain sailing: “Enforcing the urgency I feel as a founder can be difficult across a team that rightfully doesn’t necessarily feel those same obligations,” says Lana.

“Once key milestones are overcome, it’s easy to fall to a slower pace of working, which isn’t possible when you are running on invested funds instead of company profits, and every day is being scrutinised against huge targets.” Luckily, her previous experience managing and hiring has meant she’s ended up with a small, hardworking team who share her vision for the business.

Like any company, each role has key responsibilities and Lana has found it challenging at times not to step on toes in areas of the business other members of her team are responsible for. “It’s a difficult trade between wanting to control output, but also wanting to promote responsibility in each team member,” she says. “It’s really easy to get too close to the tasks I’m not really required for anymore, which is bad for the overall growth of the business. It’s just so friendly and collaborative that it happens without me noticing.”

By playing to the strengths of the close-knit environment she built, Lana seems to be doing something right: “I had a recruiter visit our office once and he later followed up with an email about how impressed he was with the culture we’d built. He said he’d never seen so many smiling faces in the office – that made me pretty happy.”
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Photo: Courtesy of HARRIET TURNEY.
“My restaurant closed down”Missy Flynn, 29, Rita’s

Missy Flynn started the restaurant Rita’s in 2012 with her two best friends, Gabriel Pryce and Deano Jo. After a NINE-month initial pop-up in Dalston bar Birthday’s (think late-night fried chicken and frozen margaritas), the team opened a permanent site in 2013 on Hackney’s Mare Street. This summer, they closed the premises for good.

After struggling with the space and location, as well as the rising financial pressures that come with running an independent restaurant in London, the team felt that it was the right time for Rita’s to shut up shop. “It was a hard decision to make,” says Missy, “but ultimately it was clear the Rita’s we all believed in and knew inside out could not exist in that space.

"For us, keeping Rita’s intact and loved was more important than running a business with diminishing integrity and a very low chance of ever making any real money.”

Putting staff out of jobs and saying goodbye to a business you have spent the last three-and-a-half years nurturing is a challenge most business owners fear the most. “We lost a lot,” says Missy, “some people lost money and there comes a huge element of guilt with that. There’s also the stigma of having ‘failed’. Yes, our site failed to have the longevity or profitability we aimed for, but true failure would have been to ignore that or not act on that knowledge until it’s too late.”

With a huge following and plans to continue the Rita’s brand and open a new premises in the future, Missy has faced a tough period and come out the other side, armed with the knowledge and experience to tackle anything that might come her way. Plus, she got to host the mother of all closing nights in celebration. “We drank the bar dry and gave speeches. We listened to all our favourite Rita’s songs and at the end, Gabe and I locked up and walked home. It was devastating, but I wouldn’t change that last memory for anything.”
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