The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship reported that women are less likely than men to consider starting their own business and only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female. An even more sobering report from the British Business Bank found that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p! With these statistics in mind, this International Women’s Day we caught up with Fiona Grayson to discuss female entrepreneurship, from Fi’s own experience setting up a business, to her insights into the challenges faced by female founders, and how we can collectively empower women in business.
She can. She did.’s mission is to build and reward the resilience of female founders and to help them manage and overcome the challenges they face. By providing female business owners with core benefits and resources that not only help save them time, money and energy across all aspects of their lives, but also provide genuine support rather than sugar coating the realities of running a business, Fi’s hope is that more businesses built by women will get past their first few years and will have the security and confidence to define success on their own terms.
First things first, what led you to starting your own business?
FG: She can. She did. initially started back in 2017 because I was frustrated by the superficial narrative of the #girlboss movement. I set out to provide the honest realities that female business owners have to push through behind the scenes to not just launch, but run and grow a business in the UK. I was 25 at the time and I spent my days driving around the UK meeting female business owners for coffee and asking them to open up to me about absolutely everything they’d pushed through behind the scenes to get to where they are today. I then used to type those hour long conversations up in full and share their stories each week.
Almost immediately, recurring challenges cropped up (lack of security, lack of money, lack of time, lack of energy, lack of rewards until you’re financially secure etc.). All of these echoed my own experiences as a female business owner who walked away from a steady corporate job to launch She can. She did. The idea for the Benefits Programme that we launched last September was born off the back of that!
Given that only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female, there is clearly a huge amount of untapped entrepreneurial potential. What advice would you give to aspiring female business owners, or to those who’ve perhaps not even considered it before?
FG: That success comes in all shapes and sizes, so really have a think about the kind of business you want to be running. Even though society at large has a very one-dimensional view of success (that of go big or go home!), some of the most successful women I know haven’t chosen to scale; instead, they’ve built businesses that combine both profit and purpose and work very much around the lifestyle that they want to lead.
When you’re setting goals for your business idea, block out all of the noise, expectations and preconceived judgements about what running a business ‘should’ look like, and make sure you define success on your own terms.
“It’s on the business landscape at large to have a serious think about why we’re in 2021 and the stats are still so heavily skewed in favour of men”
What aspect of running your own business have you found the most challenging?
FG: Funding it. My business didn’t lend itself to a natural business model straight away. Ultimately it began with zero network, my rusty old corsa and driving around the country interviewing a bunch of women! I had to lay a groundwork before I could even begin to consider turning it into a business, and even when I started to earn money, it wasn’t a patch on my former salary.
Even now, nearly four years in, I have to remind myself, the brands that we’ve partnered with and our customers, that there’s no funding behind the Benefits Programme. Everyone always says, ‘just do a friends and family round’ – the natural round that comes before a crowdfunding round or angel investment – but it’s not that simple for everyone!
With that in mind, the lifestyle adjustments to get this business off the ground have been huge and when money is tight and you’re working harder than ever, it can be really tough and a huge test on your resilience and ability to hold your nerve.
In light of the challenges you’ve faced and the stark statistics about the limited access to VC funding by all-female founder teams, how can women overcome barriers to funding when looking to grow their businesses?
FG: Rather than the onus being on female founders to overcome this problem, it’s on the business landscape at large to have a serious think about why we’re in 2021 and the stats are still so heavily skewed in favour of men. Then think about what we can do collectively to not just acknowledge, but actively engage with and tackle the reality head on.
At present, the support that does exist for female business owners exists in silos with little collaboration across the entire landscape, but systemic change requires a ‘we’ not ‘me’ attitude. No one bank, one business nor one woman can ‘fix it’ alone.
How can we empower female founders and help them to build resilient businesses?
FG: We need to do more collectively to champion all of the different variations of success so that women set goals with their overarching happiness in mind and don’t feel the need to contort their business models to ‘keep up’, don’t feel inadequate or that they’re not matching up.
In a viral world that champions the winning not the playing, I also believe that business owners need to do more to address the ‘overnight success’ myth and share the realities of what’s going on behind the scenes. Not only will it help business owners to persevere (by highlighting that setbacks en route are normal) but it will also encourage more business owners to play the long game and not take shortcuts (that often catch up with you later down the line).
“Success comes in all shapes and sizes, so really have a think about the kind of business you want to be running”
You’ve met and interviewed a wide range of female founders through She can. She did.’s network; through these discussions, what areas of female entrepreneurship have you found most exciting?
FG: I am always inspired by any business owner who is committed to combining profit with purpose and applies a long-term mentality to their work, ie. they don’t take shortcuts, and are concerned by the ‘how they get there’ just as much as their ‘why’ and the outcome. We live in a viral world that champions this notion of ‘overnight success’, so any business owner that can block that out and chip away slowly (perhaps) but sustainably, on a more purposeful mission, always gets my vote!
What has been your biggest business success to date?
FG: I’m really proud of the fact that we launched the Benefits Programme in the midst of a pandemic with no funding and got over 50 leading brands on board that believe in our mission. I’m also really proud of the 20 She can. She did. Midweek Mingles (our down-to-earth networking events that took place in 7 cities around the UK before the pandemic) and being asked to host events for global brands like Dior and Swarovski.
FG: Tough one! Though business related, I’m really proud of how often this business has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. Take hosting for those brands for instance. As someone who used to hate public speaking, it’s one thing hosting on my own terms, but being asked to host for brands that I have long-admired was a whole new ballgame.
“I would tell myself to… take more time to understand the boring (but essential!) bits… that come hand-in-hand with being your own boss”
What aspect of running your own business has surprised you the most?
FG: The relentlessness of it! It sounds obvious I know, but I don’t think I realised when I launched my own business that once you’ve started, it’s sink or swim. Before you know it, you’ve hit a goal that once upon a time felt like a long way off and then you have to set another one and so on and so forth…
If you were to start your business all over again today, what (if anything) would you do differently? What one piece of advice would you give to yourself?
FG: I would tell myself to be more strategic with finances and take more time to understand the boring (but essential!) bits and bobs that come hand-in-hand with being your own boss.
Which three female business leaders inspire you the most and why?
- Rebecca Crawforth, Founder of Navy Pro Tools – a yorkshire-based, global nail brand that is revolutionising the beauty industry. After leaving school at 13 and battling a life-threatening condition in her late 20s, she now runs a seven-figure business without compromising her Yorkshire roots and ethical values.
- Lucy Do, Founder of The Dodo Micropub – a small micropub in Hanwell, London. She understands what community really means and has human-connection at the core of her business.
- Hillary Clinton, @HilaryClinton – because she held her own in a landscape that was rooting for her to fail and has paved the way for so many women to step into leadership roles in the years that follow.
Thanks for chatting to us Fi!
If you want to find out more about Fi and She can. She did.’s Benefits Programme for female founders visit the website here.
If you run your own business or are just starting out and need some help with the legal essentials, Sparqa Legal has guidance and resources to help you every step of the way. From starting a new company and the legal requirements for setting up an online business, to protecting your brand and getting to grips with the different ways to raise finance, our tools can help protect you as you build.
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Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.