British female entrepreneurs backing themselves to be their own boss

8 min read
Emma Wardill

British female entrepreneurs want to trade traditional work for the financial freedom and flexibility of owning their own business, a new survey shows.

GoDaddy’s Unstoppable Women research found more than three quarters of women surveyed in the United Kingdom thought there were more opportunities in owning a business than in working for someone else.

The study, conducted ahead of International Women’s Day in March, revealed two-thirds of working women surveyed have experienced burnout at some point in their careers.

The survey of 1,010 women in Britain also shone a light on the barriers holding women back from starting a business or side-hustle. The main concerns identified by the female entrepreneurs who took the survey were:

  • Time constraints
  • Financial costs

However, it also found aspiring entrepreneurs tend to overestimate the cost of starting a business by an average of 40%.

In fact, 72% of those surveyed payed ₤1,000 or less in set-up costs.

Even with the perceived barriers, many women chose to start a business, crediting their self-belief as key factors in their business building.

2024 UPDATE: GoDaddy's 2024 study revealed that 20.9% of women business owners surveyed reported earning more than £50,000 a year from their businesses. Get all the stats here.

Unstoppable and on a mission to create affordable art for all

Catherine Sweet is one of the entrepreneurial women who backed herself in 2021 to launch her online art store, BobCat Gallery.

BobCat Gallery owner Catherine Sweet

An art lover since she was a toddler, Catherine had long dreamt about following her passion into art. She was finally able to convert her side-hustle selling her own artwork into a broader business.

“I love helping someone find a piece of art they love that either reminds them of something beautiful, ignites something special for them, or helps them make sense of the world somehow,” she says.

“The joy that art can create for both artists and collectors, even when the world is burning all around us, is something I want to bring to as many people as I can.”

What women want out of work

As well as following their passions, female entrepreneurs in the UK were chasing financial freedom and flexibility when starting their own business or side-hustle, the survey found.

The GoDaddy research found 36% of current owners and 48% of aspiring entrepreneurs cited financial opportunities as the reason for starting a business.

A further 35% of aspiring business owners cited flexibility.

It’s interesting to note that only 6% of existing business owners said their work was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the barriers to launching a start-up?

While female entrepreneurs have plenty of powerful motivators to start their own businesses, they perceive some powerful barriers to their success as well.

For more than half of the women looking to start a business or side hustle, concern about set up costs was the greatest perceived barrier (57%), followed by time commitments (44%).

Catherine looking at BobCat Gallery website
BobCat Gallery owner Catherine Sweet looking at her business website.

Concerns about childcare costs were a factor for 42% of women, with a third of all women surveyed saying they were a primary caregiver for a child or children. In addition, 82% say they are responsible for most household duties.

For Catherine, time and family commitments were factors that delayed her launching her own business, alongside managing a connective tissue disorder called hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS).

“I was a carer for my mum for almost 20 years, so I knew early on that I wouldn’t be able to manage a business alongside making sure she had the best care,” she said.

Plus I was putting myself through school, college and uni. But in that time, I still made art.

“Even though I understood it couldn’t be my full-time occupation right away, I began selling my own work alongside a day job around 2011.

Catherine admiring a framed work of art
Catherine admiring a framed work of art.

“I also worked steadily to support other artists and build up contacts all around the globe.’’

Catherine’s practical advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs is this:

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

And write a business plan.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. Some of it might be adapted along the way, but it will help crystallise what you’re aiming for,’’ she says.

“I don’t believe success is just one thing — I think it changes all the time for each of us.

“It’s important that you remember not to keep measuring yourself against other people’s ideals.”

Starting a business may be cheaper than you think

While the cost of starting up a business may be holding many women back from pursuing their big ideas, the survey found they may be overestimating the scale of the financial challenge.

Nearly three quarters of women business owners said it cost them ₤1,000 or less to launch their businesses.

This includes 22% who said they had no start-up costs at all.

However, some 21% of women looking to start a business said they anticipated it would cost between ₤5,000 and more than ₤25,000 to get their business up and running.

Related: 37 of the best side business ideas

Women are backing themselves in business

Despite the obstacles they face to starting up a new business, women in Britain have proven themselves to be unstoppable.

According to the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, the number of women-led businesses in the UK is growing by more than a third each year. More than 140,000 female-led companies were created in 2021 alone.

GoDaddy’s research found the majority of women (40%) said confidence and self-belief were the key traits that have helped them succeed in business so far. This was closely followed by:

  • Adaptability (32%)
  • Passion (28%)
  • Persistence (26%)
  • Juggling/multi-tasking/organisation (25%)
  • Patience (24%)
  • Problem solving/critical thinking (21%)

For Catherine, patience and resilience have been key factors in building her business.

BobCat Gallery owner Catherine Sweet hanging an image
A bit of tidying up in the gallery.

“Life has taught me to be patient,” she says.

“My mind may be racing ahead, but my body more often than not can’t keep up. So, I tell myself, if you keep your goal in mind and keep moving toward it, it doesn’t matter if it takes 10 days or 10 years. You’ll get there.”

Life circumstances have also demanded much resilience from Catherine, who says her mother passed away at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This while she was working in an incredibly demanding, but unsatisfying, job.

Catherine says it’s important to acknowledge difficult feelings, thoughts and emotions to help work through them and come out the other side feeling more positive.

People talk about resilience as if it’s a constant, but it’s not.

“It’s continually tested, broken and rebuilt. It’s not something that one person can hold onto by themselves. Being willing to ask for help when you need it is a major part of ‘staying strong.’”

Catherine’s website built with GoDaddy’s easy site builder has also been a pivotal part of her success, with her business relying heavily on web sales.

Everything was easy to set up, configure and customise just as I wanted it.

“I’ve used a lot of different website builders and content management systems over the years,” says Catherine.

“When it came to choosing one for my business, I chose GoDaddy’s because it is simple to use and the most cost-effective option compared to most other ‘out of the box’ website packages.

Catherine at her desk in the gallery

“There are tonnes of great templates to get you started, a range of features you can customise to make sure your website reflects your brand. It also comes with great tools to help with search engine optimisation (SEO) and content marketing.”

Like Catherine, almost a third of female entrepreneurs in the UK said they built their own website, while 26% said they had help.

Related: How Catherine curated a colourful website with GoDaddy

What do female entrepreneurs think 2023 has in store?

Even though the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, the impact is still lingering with the cost of goods and energy rising and putting pressure on the economy.

More than half of all women business owners (53%) said they expected the rising cost of living to be the greatest challenge for their business this year.

Turning a profit was a concern for 45% of women in business, followed by:

  • Marketing or reaching new customers (38%)
  • Staying ahead of the competition (29%)

Female entrepreneurs are staying resilient and confident in the face of these challenges.

A third (33%) say they were excited about growing their brand and business this year.

The female entrepreneurs GoDaddy surveyed were also excited about the opportunities this year to:

  • Undergo professional development or grow their skills (23%)
  • Expand their product or service offering (15%)

Catherine says she’s excited about what 2023 will bring for her business.

“My head is a bubbling cauldron of ideas, and I can’t wait to get cracking,’’ she says.

Owner hanging artwork in BobCat Gallery
Catherine admiring a painting.

What I’m looking for at the moment is venues across London (or perhaps further afield) to bring some of my ideas to life!

With passion and persistence driving her business success so far, it’s clear that Catherine, like many other entrepreneurial women in the UK, is simply unstoppable.

Research methodology: Antenna, an independent consumer research agency on behalf of GoDaddy, conducted an online survey of n=1010 female business leaders in United Kingdom. The survey was conducted between 23/12/22 – 09/01/23. The survey data collection was national, and respondents were sourced using an accredited online research access panel. Data was weighted for representation against country census data.

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