Before we start, I will warn you that this is a long post. It’s about my journey and struggles as a woman in business, juggling all the tasks that come as part and parcel of being a business owner and how I eventually spent less time working in my business and more time on me and my business. This post was first published in Summer 2016, I have since updated it to where I now am.
Start of my journey
I think I always knew that I wanted to work for myself. From a young age, I loved money and what it could buy me and I loved working. My mum would pay us 20p to do little jobs to help around the house and I was always more than willing to help out. By the time I was 12, I had my first real job on Sunday lunchtime at an aunt’s pub, washing dishes in the kitchen. I loved the satisfaction that I got from earning my own wage. I’m very ambitious and have always wanted more, so it came as no surprise when after my A levels at school, I felt there wasn’t a university course that particularly appealed to me.
My First Business
I left school and got my first job. Having a steady wage was great, I bought a car and life was going well. I worked for around 8 months when my Mum & Dad came home one day and asked if I’d be interested in buying a local business- a sandwich bar. I didn’t need to be asked twice and jumped at the opportunity. My dad- who had been self-employed for much of my childhood, along with my mum ran a little shop around the corner from the sandwich bar at the time and I was hugely excited about having my own business. I jumped in with 2 feet and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t so keen on being a manager though- I only had a few girls help out, but found it difficult, having been in school less than a year previous- to managing staff. The first time I had to let someone go- I was terrified! Talk about stepping outside your comfort zone.
I introduced a few new ideas to the sandwich bar. I started a catering business for children’s parties on the side- they were awful to tell you the truth! I also started a morning delivery round, around the local business parks- delivering to all the men at the factories- I often think back at what a bolshie 19-year old I was! I didn’t care and had little fear, I had a fantastic attitude. After a couple of years running this business, I felt it wasn’t enough and the option came up to sub-lease a second shop in the city centre- which again- I just went for. This was a tough time. Trying to do everything myself, as I hugely struggled with delegation and tried to do it all myself, burning myself out in the process. I’d get to the shop early, make loads of baguettes up, go out and do the first load of deliveries to all the factories, then come back to the first shop (which a staff member would have opened), then down to the 2nd shop, make more baguettes and sandwiches up and walk around to some banks and other shops in the city centre delivering there too. I’d then go back to the first shop and do the lunch rush there, go down to the 2nd shop do lunch rush there, then lock them both up and clean at the end of the day- so I was pretty exhausted when the day came to an end! At the end of the 3-month period, the 2nd shop wasn’t financially viable with the high city rates, so, with a heavy heart, I decided not to take it on permanently.
Time to move on?
After 3 years of running this business, the itchy feet were starting to kick in. Around this same time, I went on holiday for a week and left the running of the shop with the staff. I really looked after my staff- they always had free food, wages early if they needed helping out etc., but the lady that had been with me the longest and who I trusted, really let me down. I arrived home from my holiday and went straight to the shop- I told the lady who was working to go home and I’d cash up. She acted really strange and told me to that she’d do it. I had a gut feeling that something just wasn’t right, but pushed it away. I went home with the takings for the day and things just didn’t add up- that gut feeling was back and deep down I knew that my employee had been stealing from the till. The next day, I left her at the shop and went on my deliveries. When I did a till reading after deliveries- my suspicions were confirmed – that she had been taking cash from the till. I was absolutely devastated. Well actually I was evil angry to start with- after what I had done for her, she had the disrespect to steal from me. It really did break my heart and from that day, I lost my mojo for the business. I decided I wanted more so decided that I’d go back into employment. I sold the sandwich bar-, which made me really proud that I had sold it and made a profit. It was sold for more than I’d paid for it, so after paying my mum & dad back what I owed them, I went and bought a new car- with a big down payment- a convertible Peugeot 206cc- and I loved it!
Employment lasted a few years, from retail to sales, but as time went on my yearning to work for myself again was there. During my time in sales, I met my now husband and on our first holiday together, we discussed how we’d love to start another business- he too had run various businesses before we got together. At the end of 2 weeks in the Portuguese sun, we had decided on a guesthouse. We figured it was a fantastic lifestyle choice for when we had children (my husband already had 3 children too), so as soon as we got back from holiday the search was on. We spent all spare minutes researching guesthouses in the area and viewing houses and businesses. We viewed a house that wasn’t a guesthouse at the time but put in a cheeky offer and it was accepted! God only knows how we got that deposit together, but we managed to do it and on the day we got the keys we walked into this huge house and thought what the hell have we just done! It needed so much work to get it to a stage of being ready for guests. We had to build and install 3 en-suites for a start! By now, I was also 4 months pregnant, so we were both working, I was pregnant, had a whole house renovation and a business to build from scratch. We had ceilings falling down, nails in water pipes- the lot, but after my husband and dad took 3 months off work to get stuck in, we started to see the progress and the guesthouse was ready. Our very first booking- 3 months after buying the property was a booking for all 3 of our guest rooms for the weekend. It was so scary and nerve-wracking- wanting to get it all right- but we did it! We saw loads of guests come and go in the space of the 5 years we owned it, but with 2 babies arriving during that time- so 5 in total when all the children were with us- it was manic. We lived in one-half of the property and the stress was awful at times, with screaming babies and young kids arguing. The idyllic thoughts we had of running a guesthouse alongside our growing family, was a far cry from idyllic!
We had so many learns along the way and juggling a life, as a business owner with children was just the start. I was so glad to sell after 5 years, but no matter what, we had achieved what we set out to do- which was to be able to bring the children up, whilst bringing in an income, without me having to go back to employment!
Alongside the guesthouse, I set up various online businesses selling SD cards, jewellery, cosmetics, self-tan, and some funky LED clocks I started importing 100’s of from China. Crazy times to say the least! One Christmas I literally sold around 500 of these clocks that I had tracked constantly from China, packed them all myself with the kids and turned up at the post office with bags full every day. I think this is where I really started my love affair with the internet.
When we had sold the guesthouse, I had a couple of months to start a new business. I knew I wouldn’t go back into employment and knew I wanted to do something from home, around the kids. So after much thought, I decided that I loved Shabby Chic & Vintage gifts & homeware, that’s what I’d do. I called the business ihearthomes. I literally started posting on Facebook a few times a day with my £500 worth of stock that I’d bought from a wholesaler that I’d found and asking people if they were interested. I’d get people ask for a PayPal invoice and for months that’s how I’d sell. The FB page grew in popularity and I also set up a website myself, and after Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Youtube. The first Christmas in business I came across some hessian sacks that were being sold by a wholesaler called East Of India, I loved them and ordered around 50. They went crazy and sold out within a few days. I knew I was onto something and between eBay, Facebook, but mainly Amazon, I went on to sell a couple of 1000 that Christmas. My home – that was only small had boxes of hessian Christmas sacks in every room and the mess would get everywhere! The business was growing!
As it was growing so fast we decided to move to a larger house, where I had a large office and stock room, and later another stock room too. I had stacking shelves all around and a packing bench where I packed and sent all the parcels out. Christmas was crazy- I remember one day when I had staff helping me packing a total of 126 parcels in one day- it was mental and I loved every minute of it. I worked crazy hours, as most entrepreneurs do and worked my socks off trying to make this business be as successful as I could. I tried selling handbags and purses, which at first were really popular. I sold a fair few 100, but that seemed to dry up. At another stage, I tried selling vintage dresses by Lindy Bop and others. Again another really hard time, so many sales- that was great, but as we are all different shapes and sizes, you’d also get lots of returns-, which was not so great. So after a few months, I knocked those on the head too!
After a year or so at this house, I was massively outgrowing the office and stock room so decided to bite the bullet and lease a small unit. I’d hit the VAT threshold sometime before and had so much stock, that my house was once again being taken over. Talk about a hard move- I had so much stuff crammed into my house and when we moved it all into the unit- it was quickly apparent that it was virtually full straight away too!
I remember coming up with a concept for a subscription box (which at the time were relatively new in the UK) of gifts. I couldn’t see anyone else doing it at the time and thought I have to do this. It was the first of the month in 2 days time and I worked tirelessly to get it launched in 2 days time. It was a huge success and my aim in month 1 was to sell 50 – I sold 66 boxes and I was so chuffed and proud of my achievement. This continued to grow but my real aim was 1000 boxes-, which I never quite reached, unfortunately.
After a few months at the unit, It was so full, I needed more room desperately, so moved to a unit double the size and a bit more, around the corner. The business, by this time, had grown quite considerably and was taking up a lot of my time. I worked lots of house and literally ate, breathed and slept ihearthomes. At the same time, I realised that social media was a huge part of my business and went to university for the first time to study a Foundation Degree in Social Media- gaining a merit. Very annoyed that I didn’t get a distinction!
My social media really was the main source of traffic for my business and I spent a small fortune on FB ads, as they really worked for me and brought me more business and traffic. Alongside FB, I started IG, YouTube videos each month, Pinterest and Twitter.
For, me, as the FB algorithm started changing, IG became a bigger source of traffic and sales and many of my customers found me through there. I really loved social media! I’m still hugely passionate about it and what it can do for your business. At the end of my time with ihearthomes I had over 144k FB ‘likes’, 21.5k IG followers, then a fair number on the others too!
Highs of 2015
My highlights were in 2015, I had moved to the larger unit, I had won a business award- Business Boost award at the Mumpreneur awards, which was amazing and made me feel so proud of my achievements. I also went to China, with my husband on a business trip. We went to Canton Fair, a huge fair that has 1000’s of wholesalers attend for you to see what you’d like to buy. I set up a presence in China and had ‘Chinese offices’ so the company that we paid to work with us, could speak directly to the wholesalers we had met at the fair and get some quotes from them, with the aim of importing directly from China. All very exciting and was a trip of a lifetime.
As the business was growing, looking back, I probably wasn’t. Still a huge control freak, I struggled to let anyone in. It was my baby; my business and I wanted to do it all. Deep down, I knew that in order to grow, I needed help but I found it so hard to hand over. I had one lovely girl that had been working for me for some time since I was at the house, who I trusted completely, she was fab and was a joy to have around. She was more than happy to get on and loved her job packing all the parcels to post out to customers.
I had a few other part-time staff members at this time, none of which worked out. Again, I wasn’t a fan of managing staff! But for me, it took a long time to realise that in order to grow I had to have help and start to outsource.
Losing my ‘mojo’
On the surface, the business was going great guns, and I can’t tell you what changed, but something did and I lost my ‘mojo’. The business had had a few quieter months than usual and that affected my mood. I became quite withdrawn and anxious. Looking back, I can see that it was probably me that had some blocks and mindset issues first, then the business was affected. I had some things that really affected me – again as much as I like to think I’m strong, which I am, I’m also very emotional and things really hurt. I had a company that copied my every move. As much as I could try and put it off as a sign of flattery, it really upset me. The company at times literally copied every word of mine on Facebook posts, the website was very similar and low and behold, a few months after I launched my subscription box- happymail, they launched theirs, with some of the items the exact same items as mine. It felt like a blow to the stomach- all my ideas, my hard work and someone could just come along and replicate like for like was soul destroying. I had to seek legal help at one point and he told me he had never seen such a blatant case of copying in all his years as a copyright and intellectual property solicitor. I’m not going to harp on about that, but it did really get me down. I know it was my issue to overcome and to some extent, it drove me onwards and motivated me, but at times when my mindset wasn’t as strong, it felt like a constant battle to overcome.
Selling my ‘baby’
In Spring 2016, I was feeling completely miserable and was no longer enjoying the business. Luckily, I have a supportive husband and after a few heart to hearts, we decided it was time I sold the business. I listed the business and within a couple of weeks I had had over 36 enquiries. I’m naturally a very positive person, but at the time was struggling with my value and self-worth a little and this was a lovely feeling, that this amount of people were interested in the business that I had started from scratch!
The 1st people that viewed loved it – and later told me they were about to offer, however the 2nd person to view loved it too and the next day made an offer, that I accepted. On one proviso, not being the type of person with much patience, I wanted the sale to be completed within a month, in time for the start of the summer holidays so I could have the summer off with my children.
Luckily, the lady that was buying it was lovely and we got on like a house on fire. She came and spent time with me and we completed the sale at the end of July. It was a scary time that I felt hugely out of my comfort zone but also a time that I could look at something that I started as successful. I had started this business from scratch and sold it 4 years later.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like a success, I felt like a failure in some ways that I had stopped loving the business, and it took many months to get past these blocks in myself.
Starting a new business
Before I sold, I had decided that it would be amazing to continue working within social media as that was and still is where my passion lies. I also have another passion, I love helping people too. I always have done throughout all my jobs and businesses- customer service was also hugely important to me and I loved nothing better than having a happy customer. I had realised late in my business that I couldn’t do it all. I was always trying to juggle work and home life and often felt guilty for my children, guilty that I wasn’t spending enough time with them, guilty if I wasn’t working, it was a constant battle. As most mums will know!
I decided I’d like to be able to help all these other women that were like me. The ones that knew what they needed doing and realised that they needed some help, but who didn’t want full-time staff. I started building a website myself and setting up a business in the background but didn’t realise at the time, that this role existed as a Virtual Assistant. I could offer a helping hand to all these people that like me, that needed some help and I had the skills and the experience from all the businesses I had run and sold to help them. I set up as a VA and then decided that rather than a typical VA, I’d specialise in the online business side of things. I like to help entrepreneurs improve their online presence through social media & associated tasks, which saves them stress and time.
After ihearthomes had sold, I took most of the summer off to be with my children and really started knuckling down to build this business in October of 2016.
It has been a time of many learns and opportunities and I’m constantly learning every day and more importantly growing myself. I have spent a lot of time on my mindset and myself and I still get really wobbly days now. I realised that selling ihearthomes affected me more than I realised at the time and it took me a long while to move on from it. I didn’t miss it, but I missed having a structure to know what I was doing each day, and I definitely missed the constant income!
Deciding on more of a niche
In January 2017, I realised that my passion lies with working with women specifically. Women who were just like me, trying to juggle all the tasks they have to do to not just keep a business going but to grow a business. Work on the business, not just in the business, as so many entrepreneurs do. Since I have made the decision to work with women, I have started to attract more women through enquiries. I changed my website to suit me and the clients I’d like to attract- it’s much more feminine (as you’ll notice). I also decided that I don’t want to be anything other than me. I want my clients to like me for me and work with me for me- nothing else. I’m not the type of person that gels well with many ‘corporate types’ because I am what I am. I’m positive, full of energy, talk too fast, not particularly well spoken, but I do have the experience of running various businesses and have learned so much along the way. Skills that I am happy to share with other female entrepreneurs in their pursuit to grow their businesses.
Where I’m at
Apologies for the ultra long story and thank you if you have managed to stick with it until the end!
I like to work 1:1 with just a few VIP female clients that can have more of my time, attention and brain! I love brainstorming with clients about ideas they may have to grow their businesses. And I love being on that journey with them, by their side. I’m continuing to grow my new business too and I’ll always be considering adding new ideas. If you are a kick-ass female entrepreneur who knows they need help if they are to grow their business, that also realises that in order to grow, you need your team to understand the juggles and the pressures being a business owner have, get in touch. I’m not looking to work with clients that are playing at this and who want 5 hours of my time, I’m looking for amazing like-minded ladies that know what they want and are ready to go after it, with me helping the process. I can’t guarantee you’ll be completely stress-free, but I can guarantee that you’ll feel less guilty about things, as we’ll be achieving more together, you’ll have more time as I’ll be dealing with so much more for you and you’ll be free to do what you do best. That may be going and finding extra clients for you that may be spending more time with your family or more time for you, all of which are equally important. I want ladies that value their time and know their worth. Being in business is a roller coaster- ups and downs, but isn’t it so much more fun, when someone is sat by your side!
6 Months later (Early 2018)
Since originally writing this story on my blog, I have been featured as a co-author in Mumpreneur On Fire, which became an Amazon No.1 Bestseller within 24hrs.
I have also been featured twice on Thrive Global as a contributor.
I am now offering business mentoring to women starting out in business, or who are ready to take the next step to up their game and learn the skills they need to succeed as well as have the help & support they require.
If you’d like to see how I can help you, take a look at my mentor page