Six tips to overcoming the common challenges women face in business

With Entrepreneur in Residence, Jo Burston

Grow/Work /
How to overcome the common challenges women in business face

Powerhouse, leader and serial entrepreneur, Jo Burston, is the visionary behind successful companies such as Job Capital, Startup.Business and Inspiring Rare Birds and has collected years of experience overcoming some of the common challenges women face in business. Jo has just finished up her term as Freelancing Gems’s Entrepreneur in Residence, and over the past two months, has been so generous with her support and advice to our community. If you missed Jo’s recent masterclass on managing cash flow, you can still register and view the recording here

To round out Jo’s seat as Entrepreneur in Residence, she took the time to answer some final burning questions from our Freelancing Gems members on tackling the common challenges women face in business. From the first steps to starting a business, to avoiding procrastination and what advice you really should listen to, read on as Jo tells all…

Jo, you spend so much of your time supporting women in business. What are some on the common challenges women face in business?

There are two really common themes I often hear from women. One is their financial literacy skills that rarely go beyond understanding a P&L (profit and loss sheet) into really understanding the data that leads to good decision making and risk mitigation. As we talked about in the webinar, cash is king and right now money is the cheapest it has ever been. So I love it when I hear women talk confidently about money and are not afraid to love making money. 

Secondly is digital literacy, particularly for those over 40. It seems to be a jungle out there when selecting a partner or supplier to help with all things digital as a means of increasing profitability. As a Gen Xer, I too had a steep learning curve about this part of business and truly am anything but an expert. 

For both of these challenges the answer is simple; you have to put yourself into learning mode and treat every day like a school day. Ask questions when you do not understand and don’t just let things slip into the background without trying to find answers. 

I am still working full-time but am desperate to leave and start my own business. How will I know the time is right and what are the first steps to starting a business or freelance career?

Create a business model. Passion is amazing, but strategy is essential. Whatever it is you want to do, it simply has to make money and become self sustainable after a period of time bootstrapping. Then test your business model on strangers. 

Family and friends will think you are amazing, but the real customers are the people you do not know. Test your ideas over and over with strangers prior to building or investing into anything. I always work on the basis of: “what is the problem someone else is going to pay me to fix for them” and then design customer personas of my target audience to deeply understand who I am seeking sales and engagement from. 

Once you have tested the business model for its robustness, then it is time to ask yourself the next question: “Am I in this boots and all for the next 10 years, doing what it takes to succeed?” 

That mental question is a tough one. Great businesses take time to build. Exceptional businesses take extensive energy and resources to sustain themselves for the long haul. I would also suggest to be self critical about your strengths and play to those as best you can. Surround yourself with others who are stronger than yourself when you need to. You don’t need to wear all the hats these days with so much access to automated technology and outsourcing available. 

I am certain within the Freelancing Gems community there are complementary skills just waiting to be matched up with each other and that is something I would encourage the business to facilitate and encourage. For an example, a freelance bookkeeper could team up with an Accountant on the platform, join resources and share a new customer base. A Freelancing Gems marketing strategist could team up with a Freelancing Gems social media expert. By complementing skills and sharing a target audience, I think more opportunities would present themselves. 

Have you joined the member-only Freelancing Gems community on Facebook? Join now.

It can sometimes be challenging to keep motivation levels up and procrastination down when working for myself and from a home office. What tips and tricks have you discovered to keep balance, focus and productivity in your day to day schedule?

I absolutely LOVE working from home and have no issue with motivation, focus or balance. I’m very time and routine driven, so tend to do hard tasks that require the most brain power first. I know my energy cycles and what time of the day I work best, so I play to those strengths. 

I’m also a very disciplined person by nature when I am focused on an outcome. I do not multitask (I can’t anyway) and stay on board with a job until it is finished, I rarely if ever think “I’ll do that tomorrow”, if I can do it today, and I do not procrastinate. It is the killer of progress a bit like perfectionism. I make decisions and back them. If I make the wrong decision, I will just make another one. 

Our team is mostly part-time and flexible workforce people. So having the space to handle homelife and work life seems to work really well. Particularly for those with school-aged children or those who are primary carers. 

I am all for giving people what they need personally to perform professionally. We are very much output driven, so if working upside down in a tree works for you, go for it!

When things aren’t going as smoothly as planned in business, do you follow some self-control mechanisms to encourage you to keep on your path? 

I usually take a break, change my scenery and let my intuition help me to make the right decision. I confer with peers and colleagues to share my challenge, knowing they will share relevant experiences of their own for me to learn from. There is a vulnerability required to do that, so having a trusted circle of peers is my “go to”, informal board.

I am a member of YPO, a global organisation that gives me the framework for this kind of problem solving. Moving away from the problem gives me better clarity, and I do not rush when managing risk or challenges. Over time I have been able to separate emotion from reality too. 

I have a very reliable mentor of more than 16 years who is always in my corner when I need some help. That is a person I trust explicitly to guide outcomes for me in troubled times.

The bottom line is that everything passes, good and bad. So as an entrepreneur, resilience is only built by the hard times. I feel quite comfortable in uncertainty in business and problem solving is a skill I have honed over many years. There is always a solution, you just have to make the time and space to give it room to breathe and form an outcome. 

As business-owners, we seem to receive lots of advice from all angles! How do you know which advice is valuable and which is not?

Unless it is technical (my accountant, for example) I rarely take advice. Advice has no gravity for the person giving it. And every owner and business is different in many ways. I prefer to learn from the experiences of others in topical situations. I get very weary of the adverts I see on social media about “Helping to make you a millionaire”. That kind of snake oil advertising really leads naive starters into a trap. 

My suggestion is to take advice only from those that have skin in the game and something at risk alongside you. Be that investors, stakeholders or employees. 

You are such an inspiration for a lot of ladies in the business world, especially fellow small business owners. I’m personally a big fan of yours! Who inspires you in business, and what about them is a motivation for you?

It is the everyday people that inspire me the most. Those who overcome enormous personal challenges to follow a passion and do something meaningful with it. Women especially that invest in themselves to learn more, grow more and become who they really want to be. That is a sensational motivator. 

I get a huge kick out of kids learning entrepreneurship at school. With our program ‘Entrepreneurial Learning in Action’ via startup.business I get to see first hand the next generation of change-makers and doers emerge from regional and rural schools across Australia. This motivates me in so many ways. I love seeing these young people come up with their own ideas to affect the Sustainable Development Goals, with business being the vehicle and entrepreneurship being the mindset. 

I see little sparks go off in their minds and am so proud that our program ignites this kind of thinking. After all, these people will be our future leaders and business owners. 

I am also motivated by some of the bigger stories, Melanie Perkins for example – I mean, what a journey. I interviewed Mel when she was starting out at Canva and today it is a $19B business. The book I featured her in is called #IFSHECANICAN and she is an absulute personification of this title. 

Tips to tackling the common challenges for women in business by Freelancing Gems Entrepreneur in Residence