Women in business: the power of mentoring

Barbara Goda, a professional photographer from Mosonmagyaróvár, a small town in Hungary, led us through enlightening moments of her career, but also showed us the shadows of being a woman entrepreneur. She opened her own photo studio in 2017.

By Kornélia Omaszta-Hartai, Interreg V-A Austria-Hungary Programme
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As Mosonmagyaróvár is a small town, there are not really many opportunities to become a full-time photojournalist or a magazine or fashion photographer working for a company. I was doing photography as a side job for a long time, and then I got so busy that I couldn’t combine the two, so I opened my own photography studio. I figured that without a studio I was constantly exposed to the weather, so I could only shoot when it was favourable or I always had to rent somewhere to shoot. There were no photo studios here at the time and not many now, so it was obvious that I would need one. I searched for a long time before I found the right one to get to where I am today. But the feedback is positive; my clients love it and come back to me.

Taking this first huge leap, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic set her development back, as her profession was deeply impacted by the virus and pursuing her job during the hardest years of the pandemic was impossible. However, instead of giving up she started to look for new opportunities and a new way to thrive. This is how FEMskill’s women entrepreneurship mentor-mentee programme came into focus. FEMskill uses a complete mentoring methodology supported by a multi-module training programme for women entrepreneurs and puts it into a cross-border structure. The are used by institutions on both sides of the border.

Barbara Goda at one of her exhibitions in 2021. Photo: Zsolt Lengyel
Barbara Goda at one of her exhibitions in 2021. Photo: Zsolt Lengyel

With the participants of the mentoring process and the project partners a whole cross-border FEMskill community is formed. There are many similarities in the market position of women entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. With the holistic approach of the project, long-term operation of the cross-border community of women entrepreneurs ensures cross-border sector-specific knowledge transfer and better access to finance, training, networking and balancing business and family for women.

A friend of mine invited me to go with her to one of the FEMskill mentor-mentee event so I accompanied her. I liked the programme, and so I applied and was selected. As I had been working and living in Austria for many years, I had already decided on the spot that since my photo studio is close to the West-Austrian border and I speak German, I would prefer to expand my activities in Austria. This is why I participated in the Austrian programme in the first year, and then joined the Hungarian extension this year.

Projects like FEMskill are using their experience to break down the gender stereotypes in business and to ensure steady development of women entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. Barbara’s experiences show that it has its own challenges to lead a business as a woman. By now there are many women in my field, but there are still many more men. I am convinced that a woman can run a full-fledged business.

I think you need to renew yourself as an entrepreneur from time to time, and find the sources of valuable input: not only mentors but also the women entrepreneurs can pass on valuable experience to each other, and businesses can be created, as there have been many examples. Some stereotypes are still there, for example that photography is just a hobby, but I and many others make a living from it. I also work with several women entrepreneurs from the programme. If you want to grow or start a business, this is a great opportunity!

The FEMskill mentor programme inspired Barbara to do her job even better. Besides being an excellent photographer, her personal brand had to be invented and also her webpage needed a facelift. She got introduced to online marketing tools to increase visibility, and reach more interested people . Besides, gathering valuable business-related ideas and gaining new connections, even friendships were just as important thanks to the FEMskill community.

I think women should have the courage to do what they love to do

My mentor in the programme was Anja Haider-Wallnern, who runs a vegetarian restaurant in Eisenstadt, a town on the Austrian side of the border, and also helps with different trainings for women entrepreneurs. Every month we made a date to talk for hours. She shared many useful tips with me about marketing and advertising. We met several times in person. Even during the times when my studio was closed for Covid, we made valuable use of the time and shared ideas and learnt from each other. Since then, I’m doing many things differently, more professionally. I’m present in many places that I didn’t think were important before, like Instagram and Facebook. I also got a completely new design for my business card and gift voucher. We’ve become very close and I think we’ll stay that way in the long term. It’s even possible that we’ll work together on other ideas in the future. The programme also made me want to take part in exhibitions, and since the end of last year I’ve been involved in the local photography association which organises regular exhibitions. I have even managed to get into the World Association of Hungarian Photographers, which occasionally produces a wonderful publication featuring contemporary photographers. This way, I show a bit more of myself. I think women should have the courage to do what they love to do. I had always thought that I wanted to do something that brings me joy and I found that the greatest joy is to give something to other people. It is often a hard road to achieve your goals, but you have to believe so strongly in what you want, that you have no other chance but to achieve it!

Barbara’s story shows that owning a business is a hard nut to crack requiring hard work and an open-mind. However, the ingredients for a successful woman entrepreneur are clear: take a pinch of encouragement and empowerment, a hint of specialised support, and a huge amount of dedication. Projects like FEMskill pave the way to improvement, it is out turn to sustain and further develop the achievements.

More information

The goal of the FEMsill project  is to improve the economic / market situation of women entrepreneurs in the Austro-Hungarian border region through cross-border implementation of the joint “competence development mentoring” and the establishment of a bilateral community.

The project is delivered in partnership between Kisalföld Enterprise Development Foundation – KVA  and Győr-Moson-Sopron County Chamber of Commerce and Industry – GYMS KIK in Hungary and Dachverband burgenländischer Frauen-, Mädchen- und Familienberatungsstellen – DAFF, in Austria.

The project is financed by the Interreg V-A Austria-Hungary Programme.