Attitude Shift Creates New Opportunities For Women

Rachel Spaul reports on the changing attitudes towards women in franchising and the subsequent growth in the number of organisations providing 'women specific' advice and support.

Organisations in the UK are waking up to the subtle differences between men and women in the world of business and recognising that in order to play to both men and women's entrepreneurial strengths, they need to take a slightly different approach for each. Far from being discriminative or sexist, this has simply opened up more opportunities to those women who may otherwise not have had the confidence or tailored guidance to push forward in business.

Even the banks are beginning to recognise that men and women have subtly different needs when it comes to finance, with the Bank of Scotland leading the way. It is the only UK bank with a dedicated team focused solely on the Women in Business market. 'In the last five years, targeted support and information provision for women in business has increased dramatically and is becoming an increasing priority for government organisations,' states Clare Logie, Director Women in Business, Bank of Scotland Corporate.

'Research suggests that women entrepreneurs can differ from men in a number of ways. This includes their motivation for running a business, their attitude to debt and risk, their willingness to mobilise personal financial resources, their management style, their perspective on business growth and measurements / definitions of success. As a result, although the elements of good business practice remain the same, business plans and decisions may differ.'

Franchising is quickly following suit with a number of official bodies, such as the British Franchise Association (bfa), providing specialist advisory services and networking opportunities for women. Working with CREATE - a partnership of national organisations helping people who are considering self-employment - the bfa is actively encouraging women into franchising through workshops and seminars. Franchise exhibition organisers, Venture Marketing Group, is also opening its events to a wider audience by staging a 'women in franchising' area with presentations from female franchisors with established franchise operations.

Franchising today offers a kaleidoscope of opportunity for people wanting to set up in business for themselves with plenty to appeal to women. Flick through the pages of this edition of The United Kingdom Franchise Directory and you'll discover opportunities in children's education & fitness, women's health & fitness, artistic concepts such as ceramics, retail, care services etc. Franchising offers the flexibility to work full or part-time to fit work around family life, on your own, or with a friend or partner.

Although the franchisor should make sure you have everything you need to set up your business and will help support the development of that business, you are still your own boss and will have to work hard to make the business a success. You should therefore evaluate yourself to see if you have the drive, determination and support of your family to succeed.

It has been commented on by professionals in the industry that women inherently possess many of the skills necessary to be successful in franchising. Clare confirms: In theory, gender should make no difference in the logical process of business start-ups but, in practice, research shows that women often have different motivations. Women tend to have intuitive people skills and are very good at handling team dynamics. They can also be less ego-driven and focus more on the issues and less on the personal competition or personal agendas, and they have great communication skills, which are crucial yet still massively underrated. The old chestnut of 'multi-tasking', which comes very naturally to women, also helps enormously.'

Previously highly under-represented in the franchise industry, women currently account for 21 per cent* of all franchisees, although only nine per cent of new recruits in 2004 were female*. For women, the main attractions of franchising are the opportunity to be their own boss, to fit work around family, financial independence, and a route back to work at the same or a higher level after having a family.

So, if you're a woman who needs a confidence boost or a tailored push in the right direction, where can you go for advice? Clare suggests: 'When starting out in business, everyone faces the same question: 'Where do I get the cash I need and who can give me advice. The challenge of finding start-up capital is one where gender differences can appear.' Many women also lack self-confidence and create reasons why they 'can't' be a business owner. With training, support and encouragement part of genuine business format systems, franchising is ideally suited to women who have the 'get-up-and-go', but not the confidence.'

Addressing women in the Women in Franchising area at the 2005 franchise exhibition in Birmingham, Rosemary Conley of Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Centres encouraged women to remove the 'false ceilings' that were preventing them from achieving their dreams so that they could move gently towards their goals. She further advised listeners: 'You can only conquer your fears by doing what you fear most.'

The main high street banks recognise that franchises offer a higher success rate than 'new' business start-ups, and will lend up to 70 per cent of the start-up costs - for new franchises this figure will probably be around 50-60 per cent. Advice and guidance on becoming a franchisee or franchisor is readily available from the bfa, franchise consultants such as Franchise Development Services, the high street banks, franchise lawyers, franchise magazines such as The Franchise Magazine, websites such as this one and franchise exhibitions. You'll find a number of advisory features within the pages of this edition of The United Kingdom Franchise Directory and don't forget to take your 'Checklist' with you when you visit franchisors to ensure you've asked all the right questions. Most importantly, don't forget to thoroughly investigate any franchise offering before signing any agreement.

*Source United Kingdom Franchise Survey 2005 BFA/NatWest