Are you a kitty or a cougar?

Conference encouraged women entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level

At the fifth annual Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs, organised by the Department of Commerce and Investment, key note speaker Rhonda Abrams challenged female business owners and women aspiring to become entrepreneurs to think about what they want to achieve.

In her presentation about making the leap and taking a business to the next level she asked attendees where they would see themselves five years from now. “Are you a kitty or are you a cougar?” she asked tongue in cheek, encouraging women to be more aspiring.

In order to make the step and grow a business, women needed a vision, confidence and a plan, according to Ms. Abrams. Visualising where you are going to be in the future and challenging yourself to think big is necessary to grow a business, she said, setting the rule that “you cannot reach a goal you haven’t set”. Part of this vision should be to take a business from income to wealth.

Mrs. Abrams distinguished four types of businesses. They include the ‘actualising activity’, which is more of a hobby and done mainly for the enjoyment of the activity, and the ‘solo sustainer’, a self-employment that brings enough income to sustain oneself. Women are generally more reluctant than men to hire staff, she explained, which is what is required to take the next step and develop a ‘balanced business’. The highest level of the four-category food chain is the ‘visionary venture’, a business idea that can grow very large and extend even internationally.

She reminded the audience to think big, that “it’s OK to make lots of money” and not to be intimidated by that idea.

Comparing men and women she noted confidence as an important factor. Self-doubt and self-censorship were often stronger in women, Mrs. Abrams said, who demanded that women entrepreneurs need to learn to “toot their own horn” and “have the confidence to have a team”.

In addition to vision and confidence, a plan is absolutely essential to take a business venture to the next stage and part of that planning process is to focus and not try to pursue too many ideas at the same time.

Mrs. Abrams also advocated several success strategies that should be part of the plan.

To improve return on investment the first strategy should always be to focus on leveraging the existing business more rather than spending more money on staff, branding or marketing. She gave the example of her own publishing business, which refocused on the academic market and thereby increased sales without having to make a major additional investment.

Developing a niche in the market and a speciality based on core competencies that sets one apart was often another good way to grow a business and to be able to charge more, she said.

Other guest speakers also gave insights into their businesses and what it takes to be a successful women entrepreneur. Bon Vivant owner Cynthia Hew used examples from her own kitchen store to present effective communication strategies to help grow a business. After outlining the complexity of the communication process she recommended on researching target groups, the use of social media and co-branding. Irrespective of whether new technologies or traditional media are used consistency is key, Mrs. Hew advised.

Noting that “everything you do is your own money”, she said it is not only important to plan communication efforts but also to measure their success.

The owner of Cayman Immigration Consultant Services Sabrina Fennell said the most important thing is to “be true to yourself” and that one has to enjoy running a business as well as providing the services that make up the business.

Speaking about the decision when to enter or exit a business she said it was important to be realistic about costs, budget and the time required when planning to start a business.

Sharing her decision to exit her own loss making beauty salon business, “one of the toughest things” she had to do, Mrs. Fennell recommended to not let pride get in the way. The lesson she learned from this venture was: “Can you run the show on your own or are you dependent on other people to run your business for you?”

All three speakers were joined by moderator Nancy Barnard for a panel debate, which debunked some of the myths about women in business and explored the problems of gaining access to capital, networks, information or markets.

Cayman’s small but dynamic environment can make it more complex for women entrepreneurs, said Mrs. Fennell, because “sometimes you are judged before you are given the opportunity”, something that would be easier in a larger, more anonymous society.

The possibility of balancing family commitments with a career was another dominant topic, with Mrs. Hew stating that the guilt of not being there all the time for children and the family was a constant factor. Mrs. Abrams weighed in that, for the development of a child it did not matter whether you are a full-time mother or pursuing a career “as long as you don’t feel guilty”. Women also did not have to be perfect at either of them.

Children want to see their parents as a good role model as a successful adult, she said. Mrs. Fennell agreed, saying that balancing family and career was about team work, which also teaches children about responsibility.

Also in attendance, the Minister for Gender Affairs Mike Adam acknowledged the important role women and women entrepreneurs played for Cayman’s economy, stating that over 55 per cent of small businesses were run by women.

This importance was reflected in the attendance at the event, held at the Marriott Beach Resort event, which attracted approximately 150 delegates.