By Daniel Hunter

The percentage of small businesses that are run by women in the UK has risen sharply from 20.13% to 30.22% since 2008, according to a new study.

This represents a large increase in the number of women starting their own businesses or taking on the running of existing enterprises in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The research was conducted by XLN Business Services who looked at the gender of the business owner behind more than 100,000 XLN small business telephone and card processing customers across the UK.

So why are so many women set on becoming small business owners? In the first instance the timing of the rise suggests redundancies and the difficulty of getting the right job during the recession may be giving women the drive they need to start up a business for themselves. The possibility of flexible working conditions are also a big pull for women, as they can work from home, put together their own schedule and, if mothers, fit work around childcare duties.

Another reason may be the types of businesses that women start. With a large percentage of homes in the UK having access to the internet, and little or no start-up costs, setting up a business from home has never been easier. This gives an advantage to women wanting to start out as accountants, web designers, mobile hairdressers and beauticians compared with traditionally male dominated areas that require expensive premises — manufacturers, mechanics, etc.

“Women are setting up their own businesses now because they want more flexibility,” says entrepreneur Catherine Longton, who runs specialist book shop Moorland Books in Oldham.

“Many women want to manage work and home life easily so running businesses from home and going into partnerships with likeminded women means they can get a better work/life balance.

"An economic downturn can be a good time to take the plunge, as there is more availability of vacant premises and landlords prepared to be more flexible. If you can survive the downturn, your business will be thriving in the better times!”

New support and advice may also be accountable for this increase in female business owners. Business Secretary Vince Cable has stated that the Government has 20 advisers for SMEs and three quarters of those are women. Furthermore, websites and women in business groups and websites have sprung up all over the internet to give mentoring and advice to women on issues regarding the start-up of a business. For instance, groups like Every Woman, Women Unlimited (which are businesses in themselves) and charities like The Prince’s Trust. Cable said, 'It's the SMEs that drive the economy.”

Interestingly, 10 years ago, the least active area in the UK for new and existing female entrepreneurs was the North West of England. New data from XLN business services shows that female business owners in the North West have increased from 13% in 2009 to 18% in 2012.

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