Ladies in red.... 500 of them

One of the great privileges of working with WES is the opportunity to share our experience and learnings with female entrepreneurs internationally. I had the honour recently of speaking at the fabulous seventh 500 Podjetnic Business Women Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, organised by my good friend Marta Turk, a fierce champion of women in business for many years.

What an amazing event it was. Well over 500 dynamic, ambitious and inspiring women from all walks of business - entrepreneurs, corporate, academics – buzzing with excitement and thrilled to be able to get together to learn, share and be inspired. And how terrific they looked as well - all dressed in power-red for the day – it certainly made an impact. Maybe at future WES events, we should all dress in WES colours…green, white and violet…the colours of the Suffragette Movement “Give (green) Women (white) the Vote (violet)”!

My first talk was all about female entrepreneurship, sharing my story, warts and all, the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. That amazing feeling when you hold in your hands for the first time a product you have invented and brought to market. The creeping self-doubt and “who-on-earth-do-I-think-I-am-to-do-this?”. The pain when you see your fancy handbags flying out on Ebay

one month just to pay the bills (believe me, that hurt…). The soul-crushing lows of loneliness…and the soul-souring highs of “Yeeeees, I have finally done it” when you find your way, you find your champion and you sell, sell, sell. It’s so important to share the honesty and learnings of your journey with others: it makes us all feel more “in it together” and gives us the resilience and hope to keep going.

so, my Top Tips for women entrepreneurs in Slovenia? The same as in Scotland and everywhere else…

  • Learn to sell (repeat…learn to sell) – it’s the lifeblood of every business.

  • Learn to say no. A lot. To just about everything.

  • Listen more. Many times, you just need to be quiet and properly listen.

  • Ask for the sale, ask for the business, ask for help – just ask.

  • The F-word - expect and embrace failure - it propels you forward.

  • Take decisive action and just start – the perfect time to start never comes. The perfect time is now.

  • Self-care – look after you and put your own oxygen mask on first. A burnt-out and stressed-out entrepreneur is no use to anyone, especially yourself.

  • Be kind wherever possible. And it’s always possible. Always.

I also spoke at the evening event about the importance of business angels to early stage businesses, the difference that ‘Smart Money’ can make to growing businesses. And why the group of Slovenian women gathered to learn more about angel investing should NOT invest (you will lose money, companies will fail, entrepreneurs don’t execute, bad stuff and bad luck just sadly happen)…and why you SHOULD invest (you can make a lot of money, you have fun and learn, you can give back to society, you can help others grow).

But most importantly, I emphasised that women business angels are a key way in which to change the gender imbalance. It makes good business sense because women do business well. We are risk-aware, pragmatic, resilient, confident and innovative. It is a powerful combination that positively impacts on the growth of the business. Why wouldn’t you invest in women-owned businesses?!

And to the three incredibly courageous women business owners who pitched their ideas to the panel of investors and the audience, very well done. It was terrifying and exciting in equal measures for them, but they did it, and they did it very well. I’m looking forward to making my first Slovenian investment in one of the companies that presented!

The President of Slovenia Borut Pahor attended to give his full support to the day. He is incredibly popular - it was like a rock-star had arrived when he came in – selfies-galore! – but we had a good chat and I was so impressed with his commitment to supporting women in business in his country. Strong, committed and visible leadership from the top down is what will drive sustainable change for women in business.

It really was a terrific conference but sadly, there aren't the opportunities and resources to run events like that in Slovenia very often. And it struck home to me that whilst I know we can do a lot more and a lot better for our female entrepreneurs in Scotland, we really are incredibly lucky here to have what we do have – a strong, collaborative, experienced and highly evolved support system. We just need to get a lot better at gender-specific support! Watch this space…

Lynne Cadenhead is the Chair of Women's Enterprise Scotland and Visiting Professor in Governance and Enterprise, Edinburgh Napier University

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