Understanding Female Entrepreneurs

Rosie Freshwater


Interview with Rosie Freshwater

Rosie Freshwater set up digital marketing agency Leapfrogg.co.uk, when she was pregnant, at the age of twenty-seven. The company has now grown into a thriving £1 million business.
Rosie is the eldest of four daughters who was a high achieving model pupil at her school in Chichester with aspirations of being an actress. After living a full on, fun filled life in her late teens and early twenties, Rosie focused on creating a family and building her career.
Rosie is driven, no nonsense, sassy; a self-claimed ‘cocky’ business woman, with an infectious belly laugh, a huge sense of fun and a real passion for business and success.
Spurred on by the recession, and seizing the opportunity to reposition Leapfrogg as a specialist luxury retail digital agency, Rosie is leading the business into its second decade.    

Aviatrix: What was the catalyst that made you start your business?

Rosie: I lost my job! I was offered redundancy and they were making everyone redundant and I was pregnant with my first child, so I would have found it really hard to go and get a job – it was a no brainer.  The company I was working with was making redundancies and I decided it would make sense to the owner to let me take my clients for a commission kickback.
The business owner wanted to go into partnership with me but I wasn’t keen and I felt I could do a better job.  The only part of the business that had external revenue and clients was my department.  I was offered redundancy or partnership so I chose redundancy.  The kickback was a 15% commission on the value of the portfolio on a monthly basis for the first year.

Aviatrix: When you started was there a big idea?

Rosie: No, I am not a typical entrepreneur, as I never set out with an idea to set up my own business.  I was working in an industry that I loved, I lost a job, believed I could do it better and I really liked the idea of being my own boss.   I thought I could do it so I did it!  It was the natural thing to do.  I did not start off thinking I am going to have the biggest agency in the world but within the year I started to have some big ideas – I was thinking ‘this is working’ and ‘now what do I want to do?’.

Aviatrix: Did you have any staff in the first year?

Rosie: I started with enough revenue to pay me and then I hired someone to be my sales director.  I told him he had two months of wages to pay him and he had to bring in enough business to pay him from there, and it worked.  We grew organically and Ben is still with me.

Aviatrix: Had you ever had a desire to start a business before that moment?

Rosie: I wasn’t surrounded by anybody who had had a business and I don’t think that I ever had a plan.   I had big career aspirations and I had salary goals.  It was not until I got to that point where I thought ‘I can do this’, that I imagined myself running my own business.  Before that moment I don’t remember that I wanted to start up my own business.

Aviatrix: What were your career aspirations?

Rosie: I guess I was hungry for power back then.  Power is something very different now to what I thought it was then.  Then it was all about money and how many people you had working for you.  Now it is about respect and knowing that when you make a decision you can make it happen – having that self confidence – it is about self-power rather than power over others.  I’m not driven by just being the boss!

Aviatrix: What are you driven by?

Rosie: Depends what day you catch me – some days it is money, a lot of the time it is innovation and results and other days I just want to enjoy it and have time for my family and time to explore all the other things I want to do in my life. I would also be lying if I didn’t say every now and then I just want to get through the day.  Now that the company is established, it is about the legacy and the type of agency that Leapfrogg is becoming and what great work and stories that Leapfrogg will be remembered for.

Aviatrix: What are the three things that would have stopped you starting your own business?

Rosie: A lack of confidence- I didn’t know how to run a business so if someone had asked me to set up a business I wouldn’t have known how to do it, how to do the accounts and all that stuff.   I have never suffered from a lack of self confidence or thought that people won’t listen to me – including men -probably because I have worked in an industry which is balanced between the genders.  The only place I lacked confidence was where I didn’t have the knowledge to run my own business.  I never thought that I wouldn’t be able to manage people.  I was scared about not having enough money especially being pregnant but I was lucky that I had enough business to keep me going when I started.   I can sell but I don’t enjoy it so that was the first hire I made.

Aviatrix: What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?

Rosie: Having my first baby.  I was back to work 48 hours after giving birth.  I had to complete work and be on the phone whilst breastfeeding whilst Ben was out winning new business.

Aviatrix: What was your biggest help?

Rosie: When my husband gave up work and he took care of the baby.  We always knew it would be me that would carry on working and so there was nothing to discuss. When the time was right it just happened.
I started my business early enough in my career that I was not used to having a large regular wage.  I always urge my female friends to have kids early or start your business as early on as possible so you don’t feel starting a business is too much of a financial risk!

Aviatrix: At what point did you know your business was going to be a success?

Rosie: When we got our first office after 18 months of Ben and I working out of our bedrooms, I knew I could make it into a big agency.  We got shortlisted for a new business award and we were good at what we did.  In the first five years we had massive sales growth, it was a booming economy and 90% of our business was from referrals.

Aviatrix: What was the key to scaling the business?

Rosie: I have never been shy to hire.  I think I have been quite good at balancing what is coming in and spending money.  I have always been very good at reporting on the numbers and the recurring revenue has always been important for knowing what was coming in.  I would never wing it on the numbers – I would only invest if I could afford to risk it.  In the early days I had a 75% rule that if we were at 75% capacity, I was so confident that we would win new business then I would hire.  In recent years, that has changed as it has not been as easy to win business but that has made me more profitable as the staff work harder.  But they are paid a lot more.  The recession has been good for me.  I have learnt loads, and as a result I am running a much tighter ship.  The key to scaling is focusing on what you want to achieve which in my case is to be the best agency – all the decisions are based on being the best agency we can be. It is much more sustainable then just blindly trying to be ‘bigger’.

Aviatrix:  As a result of running your own business what have you learnt about yourself that you didn’t expect?

Rosie: I’ve learnt lots of stuff but I have always been pretty self assured – I didn’t know that I would stick at something for more than 10 years and I didn’t know how I could handle risk and pressure.  This skill has increased over time.

Aviatrix: What do you love about having your own business?

Rosie: I love being a boss – knowing at the end of the day that I only have to answer to myself.  I enjoy the success of the business although I am not maybe as proud as I should be of what I have achieved according to my friends.
Having ideas and making them come into action.  I love being part of the team and watching them all working well we have a good culture and I really do enjoy that – but I hate it when it isn’t going well.
I like being able to control my destiny.  I no longer have to prove anything to myself. Just ensure that my team respect and understand my methods!

Aviatrix: What don’t you like?

Rosie: The worst thing is that everything comes back to me.  The buck stops with me.  Taking it home all the time – even when it is going well you can’t stop thinking about it.

Aviatrix: If you could start again what would you change?

Rosie: There are so many mistakes – There was a really bad year at the height of the recession when I left it too long before I made necessary redundancies – I was too optimistic and had never lived through an economy like that before.  I’ve learnt to manage things more tightly.  I would have specialised the business from the beginning rather than later on.

Aviatrix: If there was one piece of advice you could pass on to a new female entrepreneur what would it be?

Rosie: Don’t feel you need to be treated differently because you are a woman – you are just an entrepreneur.  Just because you are a woman do not let that affect what you can or will do.  I am sceptical of the women only networking groups because in my experience they tend to be too navel gazing – I don’t particularly enjoy being with women talking about how hard it is to be a woman.

Aviatrix: What particular “female” traits or aptitudes make you a great business leader?

Rosie: Women in business are far better at empathising and managing people because they are far more aware of the way people are feeling.  With men there can be a tendency for them to get more aggressive and want to be the alpha male.  The emotional awareness is so much greater with women and that is not always a good thing as they can get too emotional.  Women should be aware of their emotional intelligence and use it to their advantage especially within a group.

Aviatrix:  What do you feel female owned businesses contribute to society and how in your view is that different from male owned businesses?

Rosie: I think that female owned businesses have higher expectations of the people that work for them especially the women.
I bet female owned businesses would be more successful and less boom and bust than men!?

Aviatrix: What makes you feel successful?

Rosie: When the team are working really well together and producing great work and we have a profitable month I feel successful.  We celebrate success all the time- we have an up-sell bell that gets rung every time we gain a sale and space in our monthly meetings to congratulate each other on things we have done well

Aviatrix:  If there was one thing you could change about the world that would create more success for women in business what would it be?

Rosie: Educating and promoting the idea that women can do what men can do.  More support for women to set up their own businesses – maybe business entrepreneurial apprentices where new entrepreneurs can shadow someone who is running a business and see that it is not a dark art and that they can do it.  But I think that should be offered to everyone not just women.

Aviatrix: Why do you think that women don’t own more businesses?

Rosie: Because they have babies and because a lot of people lose their confidence when they have babies in the business world.  It is scary enough going back to the job they did before let alone starting a business.  That is why they should start a business before the babies come!

Aviatrix: As women progress, what will the impact be on men?

Rosie: I think there will be a much higher proportion of men that stay at home and there will be a mix of people at the top of men and women – it will become far more normal and fine.  Some men are better taking care of the family than women and some women are better at business than men – it will mean everyone can have more choice.

Aviatrix: How do you keep yourself sane?

Rosie: My family and husband.  Sharing with people who are in the same boat as me so I can say this is bad or this is great.  Exercise is important – you cannot let the business consume you- you need to know what it is you need to do to keep yourself calm and sane and do make sure you do it!

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