Rising to the challenge: What it takes to be a successful businesswoman  

 By Judith O’Leary, founder and managing director of PR and digital comms agency, Represent

Smiling young African entrepreneur standing in front of the counter of her cafe talking on a cellphone and using a tablet, single parent business ownerThere’s no denying that running a business is tough and rewarding in equal measure.

There’s no better feeling as a business owner than celebrating a new client win, seeing your colleague fulfil his or her potential and ultimately, seeing your business grow because of your hard-work. But at the same time, there is nothing worse than losing out on that all-important pitch, making the heart-breaking decision to let someone go or most recently, trying to deal with factors completely out of your control.

In fact, running a business is a bit like riding a rollercoaster. I should know, I have done it for 20 years! And while starting a business is easy, actually running a successful one takes time, effort, commitment and a willingness to constantly learn from others and always improve. And unfortunately, due to an underlying gender bias that has existed for generations, women are more up against it in the business world than their male counterparts, meaning it takes even more for us to succeed.

I have learned a lot along the way about what it takes to succeed, but also (and crucially) how to deal with the pressures and failures that come alongside it. Yes, understanding profit and loss, learning how to network, being creative and knowing how to market your business are all important when it comes to determining your success, but there are two key traits I would say are absolutely fundamental to business success as a woman: resilience and emotional intelligence.


It takes a lot of guts and a lot of grit to run a business and deal with the challenges that come with it. You have to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone to succeed and in my case, repeatedly stave off feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. That’s why resilience is so important – take risks, accept when things go wrong and learn from it. As Sheryl Sandberg puts it: “Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.”

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognise and influence the emotions of those around you. In my experience, it is absolutely fundamental to successful leadership because as the leader, you set the tone for your whole business. Effective emotional intelligence helps you get the best out of your team, manage stress, deliver feedback and better collaborate with others.

Whatever your business model, emotional intelligence makes you a better leader and therefore helps reduce employee turnover. After all, if your employees feel respected, understood and valued, you have created an environment they won’t want to leave. And you don’t need me to tell you that it’s the people within your business that make it successful.

There’s no denying that running a business is hard. Yes, there will be setbacks, yes, every day will present a new set of challenges and yes, you will have to make difficult decisions all the time, but it is also one of the most rewarding things you can do. You get to determine your own success and help others achieve their own. And while it is important to master the intricacies of business including finance and sales, if you can demonstrate plenty of resilience and emotional intelligence along the way, you will succeed in the long term.

About the author

Judith O'LearyJudith O’Leary is founder and managing director of Edinburgh-based PR & digital marketing agency, Represent Comms. She has over 20 years’ experience working with businesses to build their profile, manage their reputations and generate leads. Recently awarded Creative Industries Leader of the Year, Judith is well known for living and breathing her clients’ businesses and her enviable contact list is testimony to the reputation she has built during her career to date.


Are you an entrepreneur or looking to start your own business? We’ve got hundreds of articles on learning entrepreneurial skills, how to become your own boss, marketing your products and managing your own team. You can find more of our entrepreneurial articles here.  

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