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Women seek to be their own boss

Women are increasingly wanting to escape corporate life and to be their own boss, trading their office salaries and power suits for entrepreneurial ventures, a report has found.

The Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) survey indicates the number of female entrepreneurs in Australia, especially with online businesses, is rising fast - by about 200,000 in the last five years.

And many start their venture with less than $5,000 capital.

The AWCCI's report, released in the lead-up to International Women's Day on March 8, shows that Australian women are following their US counterparts in setting up their own businesses.

In the United States, the number of female-owned businesses had grown by more than 42 per cent in the last decade, the report says.

"Australia is heading in a similar direction," says AWCCI CEO Yolanda Vega.

"We believe this trend will continue," she says.

The last census, in 2007, showed 700,000 women were running their own business. The AWCCI estimates the number is now closer to 900,000.

The top reason given in the survey for women starting up a venture is to go solo and to be the boss (19 per cent of respondents).

Other reasons were work/life balance (17 per cent), flexibility (16 per cent) and wanting to escape corporate life (12 per cent).

Of the 2,952 women business owners who responded to the AWCCI online survey, 42 per cent started with less than $5,000.

And 27 per cent of respondents had an annual turnover of more than $250,000.

"In years gone by, it used to cost half a million dollars to set up a shopfront, but now it can cost as little as $300 to $400 to set up a website," Ms Vega said.

But, the sticking point for many female entrepreneurs was marketing costs and lack of capital to expand, she said.

Fifty-one per cent of survey respondents said they now needed capital to grow their business.

"It is clear from the research results that businesswomen and female entrepreneurs are growing in numbers and turnover. However, they still need access to capital, access to markets and business capacity and skills building to expand and grow," said Ms Vega.

The survey shows that a majority of women are giving up reasonably high salaries at senior levels to start their own venture.

It shows that of those respondents who previously worked for someone else, 78 per cent had left employment at middle- to upper-management level to start their business.

Most Australian female entrepreneurs operated in service industries, which was partly why their start-up costs were so low, Ms Vega said.

Women's businesses didn't grow as fast as those run by men because they were more conservative with money, but they had a higher return on investment because they didn't spend as much, says Ms Vega.

About 48 per cent of survey respondents worked from home and 68 per cent lived in major cities of Australia.

One-third of respondents employed two to four people, she said.

Which is why it was important that their ventures were supported by institutions such as banks and government agencies, she said.

"The 'new economy' must bring with it new models to ensure women are given access to capital and access to markets.

"And that includes ensuring they are given a fair go when it comes to the procurement of contracts," Ms Vega said.