Guest Article: The importance of building a support network for women in business

Business, Guest Blog | Fri 16 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
Deirdre McGlone

Deirdre McGlone, Managing Director Harvey’s Point Hotel, Lough Eske, Donegal speaks about the challenges and opportunities for women in business

Having been part of the Harvey’s Point story for almost thirty years, I have, like many women, been on a journey of learning, trying, failing, trying again and generally looking to find my way in business. Parallel to that, I have been raising a family over the past sixteen years, (with lots of help from darling husband Marc and my own family). During this time, I have become older, and maybe wiser, but still learning, trying, failing and trying again.

Support from family and friends is hugely important as you develop and grow your business, especially when faced with the rigorous challenges of business in recent years. Along with these crucial supports it’s also very important to engage with like minded entrepreneurs who know and understand the trials and encounters of being in business, as you build and grow within yourself.

Rural attraction

Nestled in the hills of Donegal on the shores of Lough Eske at the foot of the Blue Stack Mountains has proven to be an excellent pitch for attracting leisure, wedding and corporate business to Harvey’s Point. Coupled with our excellent food and customer service, it’s been Harvey’s Points winning formula for almost 30 years. I’m blessed to run a business I love, in my home county of Donegal.

The stunning scenery, the mindfulness of nature in the Coolest county in Ireland, Donegal also provides much inspiration for me when I’m planning campaigns or setting out my business strategies. Such a rural location is part of the charm that we’ve developed for our Harvey’s Point brand and experience but in the cut and thrust of business, in a challenging rural border county economy, I have sometimes felt isolated from the heart beat of the bigger business world. Over my 30 years in business I’ve set about finding business networks that suit me, as Managing Director of Harvey’s Point where customer satisfaction is our priority and building a family within our Harvey’s Point team, who’s main goal is deliver true Irish hospitality with a Donegal charm.

Challenges and opportunities

For women in business, are well-documented including, gender discrimination, limited access to funding and lack of confidence, not to mention balancing business and family life. However, we must also look at the many positives that are there for women in the world of business. We are naturally skilled at negotiating, delegating and multi-tasking, and it is these life skills that help us overcome obstacles and deal with the ups and downs of business life regardless of your location.

Entrepreneurship – key to success

While it is noted that there is still a gap in the ratio of male entrepreneurs versus female, the good news is that this gap is narrowing, largely due to the range of supports that are now available for women in business and a new confidence and ‘can do’ attitude amongst the sisterhood. However, the reality is that starting and scaling a business, whether you are male or female, it is fraught with fear of failure, moments of self-doubt and even moments of madness. It involves hard work and often sacrifice. The road to success is paved with twists, turns and even bumps along the way, but it can still lead to where you want to go as long as you don’t loose sight of your desired destination. In my journey so far, the key to success is to build a great team and support network, ask for help when you need it, keep learning and keep trying. And never, ever give up! The rewards are certainly worth the effort!

Support systems are vital

At times I found myself at what I call a ‘catering crossroads’, and what really helped me was to engage with other like-minded women who shared similar challenges, even though they may have had different businesses. Over the past few years, I have been involved in Going for Growth, which is a programme to support female entrepreneurs in achieving their business growth ambitions. I found this to be extremely useful in encouraging me to work ‘on’ my business instead of always ‘in’ my business.

Following a six-month cycle, many of my colleagues in the Going for Growth programme reported increased confidence, a newly found support network and a sense of being nearer to achieving growth goals. Besides these positive benefits, results could also be measured in tangible outcomes such as increased sales, job creation and a greater number of exports. The brainchild of Paula Fitzsimons of Fitzsimons Consulting, Going for Growth has been recognised internationally by the EU Commission and the OECD for the excellence of the initiative. ACORNS – (Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-ups).

Growing oaks from ACORNS

Having benefitted personally from participating in Going for Growth, I am proud to be a Lead Entrepreneur with ACORNS. It’s a great opportunity for me to share my experience and insights into creating and developing a business in the North West of Ireland. This excellent initiative, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is designed to support early stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland to create new businesses.

I am involved in the Donegal Women in Business Network (DWBN) and this provides a forum for women in business in the county to share their experiences, network and to discuss topical issues. The DWBN runs seminars / workshops throughout the year based on the identified needs of the members. We are passionate about providing high quality events, which deliver information, education and support services. It is our Vision to have a voice for Donegal businesswomen regarding business issues. We also recognise the importance of links with the Local Enterprise Office and other agencies, whose support to the DWBN has been greatly appreciated over the twenty years since its inception. Collectively within the DWBN we have a huge knowledge and expertise and our unique quality is the blend of professionals, business owners, entrepreneurs, managers and business minded women who have joined, or hope to join the organisation. In doing so, we hope to make a contribution towards developing the next generation of women in business in Donegal.

WIN win

Inspired and founded by the dynamic Samantha Kelly (aka Tweeting Goddess), WIN is a country-wide network offering real assistance to women in business in terms of practical and emotional support. The network regularly hosts educational and networking events. Members benefit from meeting and collectively motivating each other while encouraging inter-trade among their respective businesses.

For everyone in business and especially women as the gender gap narrows, we all need supports first and foremost from our immediate family, and there after like minded entrepreneurs and business operators across industry sectors and Ireland, where we can share and learn from each other as we face the bumps in the road, delight in our successes and find balance. It’s what makes it all worthwhile as we continue to find our way!