Transformational coach and business consultant Dr Yvette Ankrah MBE is a prominent advocate for women in business, working with female entrepreneurs to achieve sustainable success. Describing herself as a “recovering overachiever”, she shares with us her personal experiences as an entrepreneur, and how she strives to empower others struggling to transform their business and life. Having been diagnosed with a condition called Fibromyalgia which dominated her life for a good six years, it was when Yvette was recovering from a lumbar puncture that she realised she had to make a significant life change. She was managing running her business, motherhood and completing her PhD all at the same time, and in constant pain. This was not sustainable – she made the decision that she would not do this again.
“It took a long time to get to that point because the whole overachieving thing has been my entire life. I never learnt any other way of being.”
Starting with external changes, Yvette began by looking at what she could do to streamline or simplify in her life, starting with quitting her non-executive role at work. “The hardest thing I needed to work on was me, so I did that last.”
What would you say are the main challenges faced by women in business today, and what obstacles did you face when you started your own business?
In terms of self-employment, the recurring thing is confidence. Owning your work, what you want and going out to get it. Particularly with women, it is a big issue. It’s not that they aren’t capable – statistics consistently show that if you put a woman at the head of a business, it becomes successful. Women create great environments, they lead well. But having the confidence to do that is important.
The other thing is accessing finance and financial support. Women need opportunities to pitch and spaces where they can do that. Also, being able to get good advice and support is missing. On a smaller scale, is there any micro-funding available? Women aren’t necessarily risk-averse, but they may be less likely to put their house up for a business venture because they prioritise family-orientated responsibilities. More of these things need to be available to help people start. When I was involved in writing the Manifesto for Women in Business, those were the things we were asking for. Now we have a lot of representation on a government level, for example, but we aren’t always at the table when being discussed. Finding ways so we can get more advocates, women on boards; all of these things change dynamics for women.
Personally, the confidence thing was huge because when I relaunched my business, I just had a baby. After maternity leave, I was in a completely different space. How I came back was by launching a network for women. This meant that I had a support group, and I had people around me. Childcare was huge – all of my money paid for childcare and travel. Good quality and affordable childcare can be prohibitive for people. Because of what I do, it wasn’t about finance or big investment. I was lucky enough to win a business competition quite early on, meaning I had equipment and access to things. Also, having a good support network. I have been quite blessed in having that. If you don’t, it can be a challenge.
“Helping high achieving women in business achieve success without burnout is my focus.”
Your work to elevate and coach other female entrepreneurs must be extremely rewarding. Where does your passion for working with small business owners stem from?
Before I moved away from London, I used to work with small arts organisations. They had great passion and drive, but often didn’t have the background knowledge – I’ve done fundraising and business strategy work so I used to do these things for them. When I moved to Essex, where I currently reside, I was pregnant and knew nobody. After I had my son, my husband suggested I mingle with baby groups. I found a lot of women who had passions and interests, who wanted to create businesses but had nobody to talk to or get advice from. Some asked their husbands, even though their husbands weren’t necessarily business people!
There used to be things like Business Link and other advisory services but they’ve all been dismantled over the years. I realised that the skills that I have, could transfer to working with these women. So, it stemmed from that desire to help them. I started by doing something with a few people, working for free, to see how the kind of ideas I had would work. Then, I switched and made the change.
You mention helping clients to become “sustainably successful” and achieve a “healthy and wealthy business”. How important is maintaining a balance between these aspects?
It’s fundamental! Without looking after yourself, your business will not thrive. Most of the people I meet have similar journeys to myself. Unfortunately, achieving may get success, but it doesn’t get you good health. It may get you wealth, but you’re just too tired to do anything about it. Having that balance is crucial, and making sure the business is sustainable, making money and moving forward. Also, making sure success is what you define it as. Often when you start a business it becomes just another form of employment. I help people find what they truly want. Sometimes you may need to be able to step out of your business; that is what I help people to create. Sometimes they need to change the business they’re in, which is fine!
So how do we get them to transition? It may be understanding that the business needs to begin taking on staff, partners, expanding differently, or it might need to be sold. If you are in the business, how do you manage your time and energy? Are you aware of what’s going on and how it is showing up in your business? If you are drained and overwhelmed, you won’t make good decisions. That is why it is crucial to understand how you operate and what you want from your business.
What is one key piece of advice that you would give to any female entrepreneur that wants to successfully run a business?
Look after yourself! I talk a lot about self-care, the reason being that if you are not thriving, your business won’t. You are the thing that holds your business together.
It’s not just about that bubble bath, but how you maintain your health and well-being every day. It’s about creating practices that you do all the time, to change those habits and behaviours. That makes you well, 24/7. If you can get that right, and change those behaviours, you will see it change absolutely everything you do.
To find out more about Yvette’s work, visit www.yvetteankrah.com.
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By Katie Chan