According to new research by NatWest, ‘imposter syndrome’ is deterring women from starting their own business and the bank wants to do something about it. The Business decided to find out how...


New research by NatWest suggests women entrepreneurs are being held back because they lack the confidence and faith in their own abilities.

So-called ‘imposter syndrome’ affects 60 per cent of would-be female entrepreneurs, who blame a lack of confidence, the belief that they are ‘not the kind of person’ who could start a business, or a feeling that they didn’t deserve to succeed, for putting them off.

‘Imposter syndrome’ affects both men and women. However, men are more likely to push through the syndrome, while women tend to give in to their self-doubt.

The research follows the publication of the Rose Review, commissioned by HM Treasury and led by Alison Rose, CEO of commercial and private banking at NatWest, which found that only one in three UK entrepreneurs is female. The review found that lack of access to funding, risk aversion, primary care responsibilities and perception of skills are among the barriers female entrepreneurs need to overcome.

To help, NatWest has launched the #OwnYourImposter campaign, which aims to support women by building their confidence to start or grow their business. The bank has also launched a new crowdfunding platform, Back Her Business, to help would-be businesswomen gain access to funding and female-focused initiatives, such as mentoring support from successful women.

One of the mentors who has already signed up to Back Her Business is award-winning documentary filmmaker Stacey Dooley. 

She recently hosted a panel discussion for the #OwnYourImposter campaign with some of the UK’s rising female entrepreneur stars.

She said: “The research shows nearly 60 per cent of women have put off starting a business due to ‘imposter syndrome’ which is shocking. I’ve personally experienced that little, nagging voice of doubt in the back of my head and want to make sure that anyone feeling the same knows that they can face it head on and shouldn’t let it stop them from reaching their goals.”

So how can you tackle ‘imposter syndrome’ head on so you reach your business potential?

Here are seven top tips from SME owners NatWest has worked with who have beaten it:

1. Age is just a number

Rachael Dunseath is the founder of Myroo, a plant-based skincare brand for sensitive and allergic skin. She launched the company just over two years ago.

“I knew it was a great idea. My research showed that the market needed these products, but I was so unsure about taking the leap,” she says. “My ‘imposter syndrome’ hit its peak when I landed a place on an accelerator programme. I was surrounded by younger, more dynamic entrepreneurs, who were taking risks, being brave and hustling.”

While Dunseath is in her early 40s, many of her fellow entrants on the programme were in their 20s. Over time, Dunseath has found that a coping strategy has been to forget about her age and focus on what she wants to achieve instead.

2. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day

A lack of skills particular to your business can seem daunting. For Nikki Hollier, owner of Border in a Box, a ready-made garden border template kit, it was her perceived lack of plant knowledge and general horticultural skills that she believed was holding her back.

“I worked in corporate IT for two decades and recently retrained as a garden designer, so I’m always concerned about not being good enough,” she says. “I’ve learnt to deal with it by reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

What this means in practice is focusing on improving the skills needed to make the business a success and, in time, you’ll find that people will start to take you seriously, explains Hollier.

3. Break down daunting tasks

“I always think of it [‘imposter sydrome’] through the lens of the common mountain analogy,” says Callum Hemsley, co-founder and CEO of Eola, a platform and marketplace for adventure sports and outdoor activity centres.

In the analogy, the mountain is a big task that needs to be navigated and overcome to reach a destination or end goal. Hemsley says that if a particular task is too daunting and is heightening your ‘imposter syndrome’, then it is helpful to break the task down into manageable chunks.

“Doing this reduces the feeling that the whole cannot be accomplished and makes your targets seem within your capabilities,” he says.

4. Enter awards

Rachael and Nikki are in agreement that entering awards can only help your business.

“I won Micro Business Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2016 Great British Entrepreneur Awards,” says Rachael. “The company had won awards before, but I’d managed to explain those away by telling people that not many others had entered. This was a huge, high-profile national win, though. Even I couldn’t fully take the shine off that.”

While losing out on an award might feel demoralising, it shouldn’t be seen as a setback. Instead, you should use it as an opportunity to enter more awards, to seek the recognition you believe your business deserves, argues Nikki.

5. Don’t be afraid to market your business

Helen Campbell, a business mentor and PR coach to SMEs, says that one thing is clear from her experience of dealing with clients: many business owners and founders tend to be reluctant to promote themselves.

“A lot of them are in a loop where they feel awkward about self-promotion, but if they don’t market themselves they bring in little-to-no work, which then worsens the ‘imposter syndrome’,” says Campbell.

“In some cases, this lack of promotion will lead to the business failing. It’s important to remember that marketing your business is not boasting. Not showing off your skills and expertise, however, can stop you from reaching your potential.”

Campbell’s advice is to find your own authentic style and a way of promoting yourself that feels right for you, amplifies your talent and aligns with your company’s values.

6. There will always be doubters

Regardless of success, there will likely always be those who’ll doubt you.

“It’s best to avoid these people, as they can bring your confidence down quickly,” says Nikki. “But while some are very mean-spirited, equally, there are some who are absolutely wonderful, so make sure you surround yourself with them.”

7. Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen?

In the two years it’s been running, Myroo has grown its team and its products are stocked up and down the country, including in stores of fashion chain Anthropologie. Myroo is also about to announce a significant international account.

“I do still battle the ‘imposter’ demons, but I’m getting better at knowing how to handle it,” says Rachael. “And I now realise that failure can be a good thing as long as you learn from it. My mantra is: ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ The reality is usually not as bad as you think.”

Follow the #OwnYourImposter campaign for more information about ‘imposter syndrome’ and how to overcome it. For more information on NatWest’s new crowdfunding platform Back Her Business visit