Interviews with women entrepreneurs (Euro Lider)

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As part of the WP2 the consortium has performed a series of interviews with women enetrepreneurs. Their summary is available in this document.

 

4. Euro Lider

 

First interviewee: Ms Katarzyna Rak, Poland

 

On 15.09.2023r. we spoke to Ms Katarzyna Rak who is self-employed and owns a training company. Ms Katarzyna Rak has previous professional experience of many years. She worked as a telemarketer and seller of telecommunications-related services, then was a manager of a showroom selling mobile phones and telecommunications services. While working in a managerial position, her responsibilities included hiring and training new employees and providing development coaching to all employed staff. As the area of training was more interesting and developmental for her in the meantime, she was gaining new professional qualifications in postgraduate studies in the area of career counselling and training. After graduation, she started working as a freelancer in the area of training working with consultancy and training companies. In May 2020, she set up her own business under the name Inspira Katarzyna Rak. In order to increase her competitiveness and broaden her offer, she started another master’s degree in psychology.

Ms Katarzyna Rak answered the following questions in a comprehensive and inspiring way:

– What inspired you to start your own company?

From the very beginning of her career path, Ms Katarzyna worked with people. This work developed and inspired her. She particularly enjoyed the coaching and training she received as a showroom manager. This area of her work led her to develop and undertake various types of courses and trainings, thanks to which she improved her professional qualifications. After leaving her corporate job, she started working as a freelance trainer. As she did not want to take up employment with training companies on a permanent basis, while at the same time getting more and more assignments, she decided to set up her own company.

– How long have you been running your company?

Ms Rak has been running her own business since May 2020, it is a sole trader.

– What is your biggest achievement to date as an entrepreneur?

Ms Rak’s biggest achievement to date as an entrepreneur is running her own business successfully. Constantly attracting new clients and maintaining a high level of cooperation with existing clients.

– How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological advances, digitalisation and innovation?

Ms Rak’s biggest growth in her business using digitalisation and innovation was paradoxically during the COVID pandemic, where, on the spur of the moment, she very quickly had to learn and adapt to delivering online training using platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Google Meet. Paradoxically, this allowed her to grow very quickly and slightly ahead of her competitors, i.e. companies, trainers who did not take up this challenge and move their training to the Inernet. Nowadays, after the end of the COVID pandemic, trainings are conducted in a much more frequent stationary manner, however, Ms Katarzyna often conducts them online, as she has a lot of experience in this area as well. Trainees appreciate Ms Katharina’s high level of professionalism, content and technical background in delivering both in-person and online training.

– Would you like to share some tips on how to grow your business and make it profitable?

The consultancy and training business is a constant work with people, you have to keep learning and developing to be competitive. In the case of Ms Katarzyna, the success and development of the company is determined by her commitment and diligence, her great openness to change and her ability to react to it. In order to make her company as competitive as possible, she trains in the areas she feels she needs most in her career path. She has embarked on another master’s degree in psychology, which will broaden her professional competences and, as a psychologist, increase the area of her counselling and training activities. Ms Rak also draws attention to the role of so-called ‘whisper marketing’ or ‘word-of-mouth marketing’ and skilful networking. The high quality of Ms Katarzyna’s training has resulted in an increase in orders, precisely due to referrals. Ms Rak believes that solid networking and nurturing relationships is one of the keys to success.

– What makes it particularly difficult to open or run a business in your country (it could be anything related to the national context)? How do you deal with this?

In Poland, a big problem for entrepreneurs is bureaucracy and frequent changes in the law, e.g. tax law. It is very important and helpful in running a business, according to Ms Rak, to work with a very good accounting firm. By permanently employing a competent accountant, Ms Rak feels confident in the area of insurance and tax settlements. As a result, she does not have to deal with this area of the business and can concentrate entirely on winning new business, providing professional training and her own professional development,

– What changes would you like to make? How long will it take to implement them? What is preventing them from being implemented?

Ms Rak wants to expand her training and consultancy offer to include psychological services. She can only do this after completing her master’s degree in psychology, which will be in June 2024.

– Have you encountered any challenges or barriers on your entrepreneurial journey that you attribute to gender bias or discrimination, and how have you dealt with them? Have these challenges affected your business strategy?

Ms Katarzyna Rak has never personally experienced discrimination as an entrepreneur. Moreover, she always promotes diversity and equality in her work. On the subject of gender equality and the prevention of discrimination on the basis of, for example, race, religion or gender, Ms Katarzyna runs original training courses.

– Based on research, the fear of failure is very heavy for women, especially in the business environment. What does failure mean to you? How do you deal with it?

Ms Rak says of herself that she is hard-working is independent and responsible and has an ease of taking on challenges and adapting to changing circumstances. She believes that these qualities protect her from failure. Ms Rak also points out that every female entrepreneur should not be afraid of change and making mistakes. Through mistakes, we can learn lessons, make substitutions and improve our business.

– How do you make your business stand out from the competition and create a unique value proposition for customers?

When working with people in the training area, Ms Rak always focuses on personal contact and relationship building. Her consultancy and training proposal is always of the highest level and she always prepares it according to the needs of her clients. It is the quality of her service and her openness, friendliness and sincere interest in the client that makes her a valued trainer and has a very high volume of commissions.

– Have your priorities changed from when you started? If so, how?

Ms Rak has clear goals and set priorities and these have not changed since she started. Continued professional development and expanding her training offerings in line with her clients’ expectations are important to her.

– What role does mentoring play in helping women succeed in business?

According to Ms Katarzyna, mentoring is a very good and welcome form of support especially for women who are just starting out in running their business. Contact with another, more experienced female entrepreneur can be very beneficial. Learning from each other and supporting and accompanying each other’s development can be very beneficial for growth. Indeed, mentoring allows you to discover talents, empower leaders and develop skills that are important for your business.

– How do you manage your free time as an entrepreneur (family-children, running the home)?

Ms Katarzyna tries to take care of her work-life balance. She has devoted friends with whom she tries to spend her free time. She has various passions that she tries to develop to relieve stress and fatigue. Ms Rak likes to spend time being active, she personally recommends long walks and swimming, they help her to calm down and reflect on her challenges and career plans.

– What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own business?

Ms Rak encourages all women to follow their dreams. She encourages them to develop, work on themselves and believe in their own abilities. She reminds us that women are highly educated, highly qualified and very hard-working. Women often lack self-confidence and therefore fail to realise their dreams! That is why Ms Rak encourages every woman who is considering setting up a business to take the risk and make her dream of owning her own company come true.

Ms Katarzyna Rak is an extremely positive and open-minded person, her professional experience and willingness to share her knowledge with other women can be very helpful in the development of women’s business.

 

Second interviewee: Ms Sylwia Kostrzewa, Poland

 

On 14.09.2023r. we spoke to Ms Sylwia Kostrzewa who is also self-employed as the owner of a training company. She has many years of professional experience in the field of promotion and marketing and has also worked for recruitment and training companies, being responsible for the organisation of training courses and the recruitment of participants. At the same time, she worked as a freelance trainer. In order to develop her professional qualifications and increase her competitiveness, she took part in various courses and trainings. Two years ago, she started another master’s degree in psychology.

Ms Sylwia Kostrzewa answered the following questions with great commitment and openness, which can be an inspiration for women who want to start their own business.

– What inspired you to set up your own business?

Ms Kostrzewa, as she says, has always worked with people in various areas from marketing through to training and consultancy. While working in corporations, she often conducted various meetings and trainings. After graduating with a degree in career counselling, she increasingly provided this kind of individual support and group training. However, as a freelancer, she did not have a completely stable professional situation, and while working at the same time in a corporate job, she could not fully decide on her career development and direction. Therefore, she decided to set up a company and become completely self-employed.

– How long have you been running your company?

Ms Sylwia Kostrzewa has been running her own company, SKills Lab – Sylwia Kostrzewa, since July 2020, and it is a sole proprietorship.

– What is your biggest achievement to date as an entrepreneur?

Ms Sylwia’s biggest achievement to date as an entrepreneur is running her own training company successfully. Ms Sylwia sees running her own business as a great life and work experience. According to her, the reasons for running her own business are professional independence and the possibility of continuous development.

– How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological progress, digitalisation and innovation?

Looking at technological advances, Ms Sylwia believes that they are a great help in running a business. In the case of training, it provides the opportunity to work remotely, online training using platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Meet. The use of the Internet has allowed her to develop and slightly outpace the competition, i.e. companies, trainers who have not taken up this challenge and do not provide online training. often Ms Sylwia conducts trainings stationary and online, she has a lot of experience in both ways of conducting classes.  Participants appreciate Ms Sylwia’s high level of professionalism, substantive and technical preparation.

 

– Would you like to share some tips on how to grow your business and make it profitable?

To make a company profitable you need diligence, perseverance and development. It is also important to have a plan for yourself and your business. In a training business, you should always remember to be committed and customer-focused. To be competitive you need to train. You have to be open to change and trends. Ms Kostrzewa knows exactly what can further increase her business area. She has started further studies for a master’s degree in psychology, which will broaden her professional competences and, as a psychologist, increase her area of activity to include psychological counselling. As one of the tips for business development and success, Ms Sylwia points to the ability to build networking. Establishing business relationships in order to cooperate, exchange knowledge and skills, is a very important area to keep in mind when running a business. It can be said to consist of making friends based on mutual trust, thanks to which we pursue our goals – no longer as an independent company, but with the support of our partners. Therefore, the ability to build relationships is a very important skill in running a business.

– What makes it particularly difficult to open or run a business in your country (it could be anything related to the national context)? How do you deal with this?

Ms Sylwia says that in Poland, above all the bureaucracy and frequent changes in the law, e.g. tax or social security, is a hindrance to setting up and running a business. That is why it is advisable to work with a professional accountant. By hiring a professional tax office, Ms Sylwia does not have to deal with this area of her business and can therefore concentrate on winning new orders, providing professional training and her own professional development.

– What changes would you like to make? How long will it take to implement them? What is preventing their implementation?

Ms Sylwia is studying psychology because she wants to expand her offer to include psychological counselling services. She can only do this after completing her master’s degree in psychology, which will be in June 2024.

– Have you encountered any challenges or barriers on your entrepreneurial journey that you attribute to gender bias or discrimination, and how have you dealt with them? Have these challenges influenced your business strategy?

Ms Sylwia has never been discriminated against as an entrepreneur. She promotes diversity and equality in her work. She provides training on gender equality. She believes that the training environment is open and tolerant.

– Based on research, fear of failure is very hard for women, especially in the business environment. What does failure mean to you? How do you deal with it?

Ms Sylwia considers herself to have a positive attitude towards life and people. She has no concerns about failure in business. She believes that a very important factor that can protect any business from failure is long-term cooperation and caring about interpersonal relations, appreciating all the people around the company, i.e. co-workers, customers, family, friends, anyone who supports you in running your business. It also encourages you to grow and step out of your comfort zone, change can be difficult, sometimes it can fail, but what is important and essential is to be able to learn lessons and follow your dreams and realise your vision for your business.

– How do you differentiate your business from the competition and create a unique value proposition for customers?

According to Ms Sylwia, the most important thing is people, personal contact and building long-term relationships, both with colleagues and clients. Ms Sylwia says of herself that she is a professional, and that with her consulting and training offerings she is always prepared according to the preferences of her clients and is at the highest level. The quality of her services stands up for itself. Ms Sylwia also points out the qualities and skills that help to run a successful business, according to her, these are diligence, openness to people and change, a willingness to constantly learn and develop and constant monitoring of the company’s environment, i.e. trends and competition.

– Have your priorities changed from when you started? If so, how?

Ms Sylwia is committed to continuous development, so her priorities have changed compared to when she started running the company. She tries to work less these days, as she can afford to do so due to her regular assignments. At the same time, she has clear goals and priorities in mind.

– What role does mentoring play in helping women succeed in business?

Ms Sylwia sees mentoring as a necessary and great development tool for future and budding female entrepreneurs. According to Ms Kostrzewa, mentoring not only allows for development and sharing of experiences, but more importantly for giving each other support. Contact with more experienced female entrepreneurs can be very beneficial, Learning from each other and supporting and accompanying each other’s development can be very beneficial, it can help you grow mentally, personally and as a professional. Ms Sylwia points out that mentoring relationships can be built through networking, personal contacts or formal mentoring programmes.

– How do you manage your free time as an entrepreneur (family-children, running a home)?

Ms Sylwia is very careful about her work-life balance. She spends a lot of time outside of work with her family friends. Her passion is swimming, it helps her to relieve stress and fatigue. Maintaining a balance between her professional and personal life allows Ms Sylwia to maintain her serenity and plan the development of her business.

– What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own business?

Ms Sylwia encourages women to start their own businesses. She encourages them to grow, to work on themselves, to believe in their own abilities and to make their dreams of their own business come true. It is one thing to take risks, but it is another to be able to use professional help, e.g. accountancy or legal assistance, in order to reduce the risk of failure as much as possible.

In conclusion, Ms Sylwia Kostrzewa, an experienced entrepreneur, shared her vision of running a business, which can be very valuable for women wishing to run their own enterprise.

 

 

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