To mark International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March 2015, this week’s Small Business Star is Joni Farthing. Joni is founder of Women Outside The Box (WOTB), an online platform supporting and encouraging women to achieve business success.

The idea for WOTB was born back in 2012 when Joni took part in an International Women’s Day campaign by Women for Women International – a charity providing training and micro-finance for female entrepreneurs in some of the world’s most war-torn regions. The charity asked women across the world to meet on or by iconic bridges to recall the work women do to rebuild bridges between warring groups. Joni reached out, via social media, to find 100 entrepreneurial women to join the global chain and meet up near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

Joni received overwhelming feedback and was asked to do more large-scale networking events. She took to social  again, this time to get 1000 women to sign up to attend the first WOTB Festival of Female Entrepreneurs. Off the back of the festival’s success and armed with an understanding that entrepreneurial women wanted more opportunities to get together, Joni set up WOTB to help them do just that.

I want to help women build bigger, more sustainable businesses

I’ve always loved the challenge of running a business.  It strikes me as the most basic of human endeavours – setting out to survive by your own work and wits and perhaps even helping others survive too.  My first self-employment was at 18, working as an Avon representative. Living in an all-girls hall of residence at university, I saw it as a way of making friends and extra money for weekend fun. Since then I’ve set up businesses that worked around my family situation. These have included a home-based nanny and au-pair agency when my daughter was born, then a school of English when she started her education.

I see so many women starting their own business. Throughout time, women have always had home-based businesses. But this new wave wants much more. What worries me is that many women are thinking short-term. One day they will need a pension, how are they going to fund that on a very small business? WOTB is all about helping women build bigger, more sustainable businesses.

It’s about offering something new and inspiring  

Over the past few years women’s networking groups have blossomed. WOTB City Business Clubs work with ambitious women who come along to find partners and suppliers, not just sales. That’s our niche. But we offer support to all women, online and at the annual festivals – whether they run a part-time enterprise from home or are building an SME.

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) this year we launch our new brand – Sourceabl. Our mantra at WOTB is ‘Talk.Learn.Share.Promote.’ Sourceabl is our digital platform for sharing and promotion. It’s where women come to find just the right B2B products and services to help them grow. It’s where people offering services, designed with women in mind, can advertise, be reviewed and gain clients. Their services have to align with certain ways of working that women want – no-obligation advice, transparent pricing set at levels small businesses can afford and flexibility of time or place for meetings.

Listen to your audience

Is digital important to us? You bet! Sourceabl is a result of three months at WebStart, Bristol’s incubator for online start-ups. We used our networking groups and festivals to research what women wanted. They said loud and clear ‘we want a way to reach more customers and we want a simple and reliable way to source reliable women-friendly business services.’ Many women we talked to felt that they worked especially well with other women but, apart from offline networking, found it difficult to meet them. Sourceabl can be accessed anywhere, anytime, offers independent customer reviews and a far wider range of providers than we could ever get together at a network.

We’re moving towards a values-driven work economy

We’re working with a new demographic – so we need to be aware of new ways of engaging with our audience. We believe everyone, not just women, want to work in a way that allows them choice. Some want to climb the corporate ladder, others want to spend quality time with a growing family alongside working, and others want to work smart enough that they can spend Fridays making music. We’re moving towards a values-driven work economy, where people want to spend their time working at things that they believe in and feel passionate about. Women are a major force in this shift.  Our products and our marketing are based on these beliefs.

Have the confidence and conviction to succeed

Women have always had to find ways of making things happen despite difficult circumstances.  They are masters of thinking outside the box.  What they need is confidence in their ideas and that is coming. One of my personal successes was seeing my idea come to fruition. It was truly humbling seeing hundreds of women at our first festival – so colourful, so full of chatter, so very different from a male conference. I just loved that day!

Funding is always problematic. Women access a tiny proportion of the investment that is available.  We’ve had two small rounds of crowdfunding so far in order to get WOTB and Sourceabl launched and we’re opening a new crowdfunding bid on Seedrs.com later this month to start to scale. Digital brands need to grow fast if they’re to survive and flourish.

Never put off for tomorrow, what can be tackled today

Entrepreneurship involves taking risks. The important thing is to plan how to get through if things go wrong. Think honestly about what you want out of life. Make sure your business, and how you run it, is part of that strategy. Then get going. Building a business is just the same as climbing a mountain. The sooner you get started the sooner you’ll reach the top. But it’s never too late to begin.

For more information on Joni and WOTB, visit the website: http://www.womenoutsidethebox.co.uk/

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.