Networking, when you’re self-employed, is an important part of working life, and for some time now I’ve been a member of a couple of business networks. Not only do they help you to connect to other businesses that could be helpful to yours (and vice versa), but they also bring you into contact with other like-minded people, and provide those chats and discussions that you’d normally have at the coffee machine in the office which, when you work on your own, you do miss!
A couple of weeks ago, sitting in a meeting run by a South Wales women’s business network in a local restaurant, I was struck by the atmosphere in the room. The levels of positive energy, motivation and vibrancy in the air were almost tangible, and it was humbling to be a part of it. At one point during the meeting someone mentioned International Women’s Day, and I realised that I could mark the day by celebrating some of these women and their journeys in business.
And so I opened up the idea to my network of incredible women. I photographed ten of them and asked them all the same questions: what prompted you to start your business, what drives you, what has been your greatest challenge, and what do you love about what you do? Here are their stories…
"I have been writing for as long as I can remember but I began writing for businesses in my early 20s and saw blogging as a way to earn a living by doing what I loved.
Emotionally, I love connecting with people through my words but also I’ve been able to help many women start their own businesses or follow through on their passions. Being able to stay at home with my son and still earn my own money was also a huge motivating factor.
The biggest challenge has been learning to pivot. When I became a mother I lost the ‘successful worker’ part of me and I struggled to define who I was and what I wanted to do outside of this HUGE new role. I have had to learn that change is OK. We don’t have to always be the same or stick with the same thing. If something isn’t right or no longer serves you, you just need to pivot. Try a different way and see where it takes you.
What I love most about what I do is the community. I run a website for welsh parents, I started it on a whim but it exploded and is bigger than I ever imagined. In this age of digital communication I have created a safe place. I get to speak to people daily in different parts of the country. I get to hear about their lives, loves and challenges and then I get to go out there and create content, competitions and opportunities that benefit them. It’s like having a really large, crazy family/club. I wouldn’t change it for anything."
"I set up my accommodation business in the Hebrides, Shore Cottage, because I saw a gap in the market! I had years of experience in the hospitality and catering industry and knew that with the right location I could create a really good business. I enjoyed hosting B&B guests for 5 years at my home before moving to Wales and switching to offering self-catering instead.
My e-commerce businesses were launched because I am passionate about eco products and was looking for an opportunity to work at home while my children were young.
I’ve been selling things since I was thirteen. I’m definitely an opportunist but I also like a challenge. Motherhood has been amazing and I knew I wanted to spend time with my daughters when they were little rather than have them in childcare but I also needed to keep my brain active, to keep learning and to do something other than just be a mum. I also want to be a role model to my daughters to show them that they can earn their own money and be independent and raise a family if they wish.
My biggest challenge was moving to Wales nearly ten years ago from my island home in Scotland. I was pregnant, newly married and hardly knew anyone. It was a lonely time. Juggling working from home and raising children has also had its moments and you can pretty much guarantee that if I have an important phone call then one of the children will shout loudly ‘Mum come and wipe my bum’ or some such delight!
I love social media most! I work from home but I love to chat to people, whether that is engaging online or face to face. I’m definitely a people person. I love supporting other women in business. I host two women’s networking groups – WiRE Women in Rural Enterprise meet on the third Monday of each month in Carmarthen and I also host an online networking event for Bizmums. In addition to this I host #WiREhour over on Twitter on a Tuesday evening."
"All Things Therapy is a mobile-based therapy business in South Wales. I have been a therapist for over 10 years and I still love what I do. I set up the company to offer therapy to people in the comfort of their own home and workplace. We put so much pressure and stress on our bodies and mind that we need to look after ourselves - having a treatment can make a big difference in our lives. I believe that massage should not be seen as a luxury - it should be part of everyday life, like having your hair done or a manicure regularly. My biggest and ongoing challenge is to promote affordable physical, mental and emotional wellbeing for everyone."
"I began learning NLP whilst working as a specialist Youth Worker. By the time I’d qualified as a practitioner I’d personally made huge changes to my confidence and I started my business because I wanted to share this experience with as many people as possible.
I'm driven by the understanding of how much change is possible from just a few hours of focused work. I simply love to see people make those huge shifts in awareness and self belief. I've been doing this for ten years and it still absolutely fascinates me, watching those light bulb moments flash up in people.
When I first started in business in 2008 creating a website was a huge challenge to me, something I had never even considered doing. Recently I've started filming some of my training and 1-2-1 sessions. This has been another big challenge, a whole new area of technology to get to grips with but I'm loving it.
My passion is helping people to transform the way they feel and clear the obstacles to success. Along the way I've discovered I have a gift for teaching others to do transformational work. I feel so blessed to do what I do and I love to light the touch paper of change in hearts and minds."
"I was made redundant from a demanding job that I worked long, hard hours for. After months of disappointing job-hunting, I was encouraged by a friend who started their business in similar circumstances. They knew of my talents and experience, and willed me to give it a go.
I wanted to use the skills I had developed during my career, without the timetable that went with it. My attempt to balance a career and a young family had left me unhealthy and exhausted, robbed me of my confidence, and made me doubt my own abilities. I wanted the chance to produce work that I was proud of, and to grow personally and professionally. Most importantly, I was able to deliver skills to businesses who could see the value in what I offer - something which had been missing from my professional life for some time.
I gave myself six months to make it work… that’s the hardest part. Being used to a regular wage, someone else finding you work, adjusting to working alone - so not saying a word to another human all day! I was fortunate to receive some mentoring in the early days, and it’s something I contribute towards now so that another start-up - just like me all those years ago - gets the benefit of another perspective and experience in business.
I now work fewer hours during the week in my own business. I can stem the flow of my work to suit my other commitments. I like the flexibility of being able to take holidays, ‘dependent days’ for caring for my family, or choosing to take time to further my studies in areas that have piqued my interest. I get a buzz when I hear about how my input has helped boost another’s business in some way - more sales, or compliments on a creative project, or increased awareness.
My network has expanded out from the office kitchen to much farther afield! I can source pretty much any industry professional locally, to those I know and trust. Many of these contacts have similar start-up tales to my own, and it's satisfying to see them grow and prosper."
"Having worked for ten years in an office environment, with shifts changing every year to ever more family UNfriendly hours, I realised that I wasn't giving my best in work, or at home. Neither my work nor home life were fulfilling. I chose to be a gas engineer on a whim almost - my family are all tradesmen, and I wanted to have a "trade"; we didn't have a gas engineer in the family so I thought I'd take that spot. Having trained and qualified I chose to set up alone so that the family aspect of my life could be balanced. Working for myself meant that my set hours were my own- I chose the "balance" of work/life myself.
I love my job, and what I love most is my customers. I meet different people every day from all walks of life. I take so much from a happy customer - I love people to love my work. That's what drives me, making people happy - seeing people's reaction to their new bathroom, seeing relief when the leak is fixed, reassurance when their boiler is pronounced safe. Equally I am driven by my daughters. I want them to see that they can do anything. That they can succeed. It's important to me that I teach them good values, pride in themselves, self confidence. I want to role-model those virtues for them - and my business succeeding, my job helps me to do that.
"I started my first business in 2010. My sister Gillian was diagnosed with cancer in June 2007. At the time I was 7 months pregnant on my second child, the first was just 9 months old. It was a stressful time and I remember feeling so helpless. I had an overwhelming need to understand cancer from a very different viewpoint and assist with the mental and physical trauma that families have to deal with when faced with cancer.
I decided to change career and go back to full time study in complementary health care. With two very young babies, I knew I had a challenge ahead, but I was determined! My goal was to open my own therapy centre and treat those with cancer. I wanted alternative answers and was willing to dig deep. Over the course of my 3 years study her cancer had returned 3 times, each time requiring major surgery and chemotherapy. She survived each time. I achieved my dream and I opened my first therapy centre in April 2010 .
The biggest challenges I have faced have been dealing with personal injuries, and of course, family illnesses. I had to close my first business in May 2013 after two injuries which left me unable to work for several months. I soon bounced back and opened another premises in December 2013. Sadly in January 2016, my father suffered a stroke and two heart attacks, Gill's cancer returned also and I suffered a back injury which left me unable to walk properly. It was then I decided to relocate my clinic space at home, take time out, recover and support my family further. My Dad sadly passed away in September 2016. Gillian thankfully beat her cancer for a 6th time and my back injury is 80% healed.
I have learnt over the years that despite what is happening around us, we must remain strong and focused and never lose sight of our dreams. My role as a hypnotherapist and holistic practitioner is a huge passion for me. Working from home suits my lifestyle and my clients love my new room. I love the fact I am able to assist so many on the road to recovery and can offer such a diverse range of therapies. I love it when couples conceive through my fertility programmes, quit smoking with hypnotherapy and recover from anxiety through reflexology, it's just amazing how complementary health can do so much! My dream is that one day the NHS recognise this and we can all work together hand in hand! It's my next goal!"
"I was in a job I'd outgrown, it no longer challenged me, there was no hope of progression and I was bored. Add the struggle of childcare to this and I was frustrated and desperate for something else. I knew I wanted to work with or for children, it actually took me years to find Daisy First Aid as nothing else suited but once I saw the job advert I knew it was right for me.
Without sounding too self absorbed, it's the reviews and feedback I get from parents and carers that drives me and the fact I get to share them with family and friends who I think had got used to me being miserable in work! They're seeing a different side to me now. Plus knowing I'm doing a job that makes a difference and could one day lead to someone saving a child's life is a huge driving force.
Public speaking is definitely my biggest challenge! Having lost my way and therefore my self confidence, being asked to speak to 80+ people at a Mothercare event was terrifying! I've just done my 4th talk (as they invite me back to each event) and although I do get nervous I'm now more able to take it in my stride.
I love the flexibility that this job gives me. If my children need me due to illness or they need me to attend a school assembly then I'm there without having to worry about it or juggle jobs or use annual leave. Plus I love meeting all new people and new babies and having baby snuggles!"
A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jo's business, which is 1 year old today!
"Ever since I was a child, I’d always wanted to have my own business. In 2008 I was made redundant, and I had access to the £1,500 ReAct training grant from Welsh Gov/EU funding to train and make myself more employable. I found NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) around the same time and became fascinated by how a better understanding of my mind and how it works enabled me to change things that had held me back for years - such as limiting beliefs such as “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do x,y,z” etc. I combined the two - the grant and my interest in getting better results through mindset training. I set up Unleash Your Potential- an NLP Training company in 2014 and left a 15 year corporate career in HR & Training to follow my passion. I now run public and in-house NLP courses and love it - I’ve never looked back!
Seeing people grow and achieve things is what drives me. I love that on my courses people transform and start to believe they can achieve things they once thought were impossible. I love it when I get emails and messages from delegates from the courses telling me about their achievements - both personally and with people that they go onto work with.
When I set up my business I wanted to spend all day every day training and then quickly realised I needed to learn to be great at sales and marketing so I could fill my training courses! I learnt quickly and applied all the skills I’d learnt on all my courses and it worked well, and now I’ve got one of the most successful NLP business in Wales!
Watching my delegates change their thinking, and change their results is what I love most. Seeing and hearing about their success stories and being in such a privileged position to see them transform on the courses and then go on to help others. Some people ask me: why do I focus on delivering training and put less focus on coaching these days - and my reply is simple: I can help one person if I coach them to go on to achieve great things, but if I train 12 people on a course and they go on to help just 1 person each (invariably it’s a lot more!) - I can impact 24 or more people as a result of each course - so I can have a bigger and more positive impact on the world and that makes me so happy to be doing what I do!"
"I have always wanted to work for myself and achieve the independence that comes with being an entrepreneur, lifestyle-wise and financially. I eventually ran out of reasons not to and realised there would never be a right time.
My biggest driver is excitement. I am a very creative person and love trying new things. My business allows me to try new ideas and do different things all the time.
For me, the biggest challenge is distractions – there are so many things you could do, attend, explore. It can be really hard to know your path, and then stick to it.
My business challenges me every day, which enforces rapid learning and self development. There is always something to learn which keeps me excited and fulfilled."