Glenda Stone founded niche marketing company Aurora in 2000. The London-based firm now provides female-focused corporate HR software and marketing services to over 100 blue-chip clients. Stone brings together experience as a manager, entrepreneur, business angel and Government policy-maker. She chairs the Aurora Businesswomen’s Network, which has over 28,000 members, and co-chairs the UK Government’s Women’s Enterprise Taskforce, aiming to increase the quantity and quality of women’s enterprise in the UK.
Learning on the job
The idea for Aurora was always in the back of my mind. I also knew that there were two ways that blue-chip companies would think about women – they’d either want to recruit them, or market to them. So we bridged the gap between the two groups.
When I first started out, I had a small web design business. I knew that I needed to ‘skill up’ on the technical side of things and bring in a bit of money. I employed a couple of people and spent about six to eight months learning on the job and working out which skills were needed. In effect, my clients were my guinea pigs, but it was all part of getting ready to launch the bigger project while learning new skills. As they say: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’.
It was a difficult approach though. It’s hard to learn about business while running a company day-to-day at the same time. You really do need to be organised and upward focused. By that I mean that you have to be thinking about where your business is going: about growth.
This is one of the biggest hindrances for women in business – not thinking big enough, not expanding. Not because they wouldn’t be able to get the money, there are various reasons. Lots of women have more out-of-work commitments like children, and running a business doesn’t always afford you enough time to juggle both effectively – you may get more flexibility in how or when you work, but you certainly don’t get more time. Women aren’t risk averse either, but they do tend to take more calculated risks. Unfortunately, this can mean a tendency to take a safe-looking route – like an offshoot of their professional career. But who wants to see yet another marketing company? It looks safe because there are lots of people out there doing it successfully, but this also means that there are more competitors in the market. You need to look at the business you’re thinking of going into and ask, ‘Is there a demand? Is there a gap that I can fill?’.
A well-oiled machine
Your focus needs to be on creating an efficient business. We are always looking to streamline our processes, making them operationally sound. Constantly monitoring and reassessing processes allows you to pre-empt future issues down the line. It means that your business is more likely to be scaleable and able to grow and, like a well-oiled machine, everything is in place and runs smoothly.
Part of this is down to employing people who are able to multi-skill, who have a breadth to their abilities. Otherwise they risk becoming overwhelmed and end up not being able to work to their best. We use psychometric testing as an aid. You can go by someone’s CV, their references and the interview, but the one piece of truth is their psychometric profile. We look for a high degree of thoroughness and someone who works with a sense of urgency.
Achieving ‘hockey-stick growth’
I wish I’d had more focus earlier on. I wish I’d concentrated on getting stronger in parts of the business that were making money from the start. At the beginning there’s always the desire to test the market, but you need to make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut. You need to be brave and pursue the parts of the business that are successful at the expense of the failing areas.
Then you have to keep on your toes if you want to achieve that vertical growth. The real challenge is to develop new products and services to sell to your existing customers and to generate new ones. The best way to do this is to ask your customers what they want, research it thoroughly, then give it to them.