We’re deep into planning Spring Forward Festival 2020, for this coming March. So I thought I’d ask some Brighton-based women entrepreneurs what made them start their businesses and who inspired them. I freelanced in agencies for years and now run a limited company, so I know how important networks and particularly women’s groups can be, to support me and others like me to acquire new business, build reputation and thrive.
In 2010, legendary feminist science fiction novelist Ursula K. Le Guin wrote:
“Wherever the male arrangement of society permits the fellowship of women on their own terms, it tends to be casual, unformulated, un-hierarchical; to be ad hoc rather than fixed, flexible rather than rigid and more collaborative than competitive … Instead of rising from the rigorous control of aggression in the pursuit of power, the energy of female solidarity comes from the wish and need for mutual aid and, often, the search for freedom from oppression. Elusiveness is the essence of fluidity.”
This made me think of the Brighton women-of-colour group I’m in and, to a certain extent all of the women’s groups I’m involved with. Female friendship groups are very important for support, even if they interact primarily online. Journalist (for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue) and activist Kuchenga writes: “I am in constant contact with a group of incredibly successful women who are my closest friends. Together we dare to be bold, brash and vulnerable. I look people in the eye when I speak to them because I have the protection of my community.”
Joanne Munro is well known across Brighton’s freelance community. She runs the successful online business The VA Handbook, training people to set up their own virtual personal assistant businesses. She also hosts an accountability group that I found hugely helpful when I was looking for a particular kind of inspiration. At that point, checking in on monthly goals was essential to keep me on track as I nurtured a new business. I gained a lot of knowledge and inspiration from Joanne, seeing her achieve so much in her own online company. I asked her what drove her to start her own business.
“Most of my working life has been in hospitality and events, because I like each day to be different and I love solving problems. But even though I enjoyed working in these industries, I had never enjoyed working for someone else. In every company I experienced incompetence, inefficiency, laziness and a lack of values. Management just took what they could get from their employees and customers, without considering what they could give back. It was so one-sided and I had felt undervalued, underpaid and overworked since the day I left school and entered the archaic world of traditional employment.
“After being offered some part-time admin work by a juggler (yes, you read correctly!) I discovered that many businesses would pay someone to just “sort stuff out for them” and lo, my new career as a Virtual Assistant was born. But to be honest, I was already so disillusioned by the world of work that when the opportunity presented itself, I knew it was the right decision for me. I couldn’t wait to finally be the one who called the shots! Women have a habit of overthinking things, underestimating their abilities and undervaluing their worth. They get in their own way.
“My advice is to only take advice from other business owners and to focus on the core activities you need to do in order to bring in money. Because if you’re not earning money then you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. There is a lot of information out there but most of it is just noise. I’ve learned that it’s not about doing more, it’s about eliminating what doesn’t need to be done, or that isn’t working so you can focus on the important things. Also, people have been doing business with each other for thousands of years – way before social media and the internet. Business has always been about building relationships, and if you focus on that then you won’t go wrong.”
I’m in a group called Tribe that supports one-woman businesses. It can be hard working on your own and in the Brighton Tribe we meet once a month to discuss personal and professional worries as well as celebrate our successes.
Jody Juba has a warm heart and vibrant outgoing personality. I love meeting up with her to hear about how she supports and manages a team of freelance artists. House Of Juba grew from a one-woman visual research consultancy to become a fully-fledged artists’ agency. Her agency represents a carefully curated roster of photographers, stylists, prop makers, set designers and videographers working across fashion, editorial and advertising. I asked Jody, what made her go out on her own?
“I was working in advertising as an art buyer and, whilst I loved the glamour of working on photo shoots, I didn’t enjoy this male-dominated industry. Also commuting was taking its toll. This was pre-Instagram so there weren’t all the platforms we have today, to talk openly, share views, support others and chat about equal pay and flexible working. The creatives in advertising agencies were mainly men, the board level were mainly men and I knew it wasn’t an environment I wanted to work in. There were four female creatives at the time in a floor of 30 male creatives.I got made redundant at three months pregnant, when we had just moved to Brighton and I got into a complete panic! I didn’t know who was going to employ me, or if we could we afford the mortgage. It was a very uncertain time. A good friend gave me three months of freelance work, doing image research at a publisher. This set me off on a freelance path that I had not discovered or entertained.
“If you have an idea then grow it, own it and believe it. Start small and keep it manageable. Put yourself out there – and remember you are good at what you do and the years of experience you have are valuable. Working for yourself has ups and downs. Not having a team of people to share the load, or congratulate you on a good job, or even a good day, does feel weird even now, ten years on.
“Take help and advice. Don’t be scared to ask for help. You keep on learning and you learn from your mistakes. I can now look back and be grateful for the stressful shoots, tricky clients, or not winning a job. I have learnt not to be too sensitive (that’s a tricky one) and remind myself that I have done this on my own and made it happen. Taking time out for yourself is so important too. I have got better at that. I make time to run and sea swim. Time away from my desk to think and just ‘be’, is massively productive and if you can’t enjoy the benefits of being your own boss then what’s the point! A supportive partner and family is key and for that I am hugely thankful.
“When I say ‘I did it on my own’, that’s not entirely true. Dear friends helped right from the start. I have a group of four very special women in my life and over the last ten years they have played a huge part in my life. They are a powerful group and I’d be lost without them! When I first told some old colleagues from my ad agency days about starting my own agency, some told me I was mad but others gave me firm but good advice. My old boss Mary Martin is an incredible woman. Other friends wrote copy for me for my website such as my dear friend Kate Johnson: writing about yourself is hard! In the last few years I have been part of a wonderful Tribe of women, founded by Rachel Gilmore who meet monthly. It’s where we listen and laugh and share experiences. This is totally invaluable to me. Without my Tribe I would not have made as many bold moves last year as I did. A group of six supportive women who are all working for themselves, with passion and self belief is a powerful thing.”
I’ve been a fan of Aneela Rose for a number of years. Aneela is the founder and MD of Rose Media Group. Not only does she run an award-winning media company in Burgess Hill but she’s also a world champion weight lifter! I asked her for some inspiration, for people new to setting up their own business.
“I wanted to choose who I work with and when I work – but also to experience a greater sense of achievement working for myself. I had worked for companies in publishing, manufacturing and IT for eight years before I became self-employed. I worked my way up the career ladder, and with each job I was paid a higher salary, was trusted with greater responsibility, increased my PR and Marketing knowledge and became increasingly ambitious and confident. Reporting into a Manager who didn’t understand my job made the decision to work for myself easier! It became a natural next step for me and in 2004 I set up Aneela Rose PR. I had no idea about being self-employed, I had to seek advice from other people including how much I should be charging and how to find clients.
Self-employment is not for everyone, it is really hard work as you are responsible for everything, from setting up and managing your IT, accounts, HR and admin, to securing new business and managing clients and projects, as well as looking after yourself. When I started on my own, I recognised very quickly that I needed regular time out, so I started voluntary work each Friday afternoon at a local animal sanctuary. This was blissful, as it provided the balance I needed, as I could escape from the pressures of work. It sounds obvious but choose a business that you are really passionate about and you are an expert in. You will enjoy it far more and you will be more successful.
Get a mentor. I joined Sussex Chamber of Commerce and the membership provided free access to a business advisor – this was worth every penny of membership in the early days. These days my release comes from my sport – powerlifting and the female powerlifting community in Sussex is incredible. I meet with two kickass women: my long term lifting trainer is Sara Harpin, a British bodybuilding champion and more recently I’ve started training with Tori Beaumont, UK leading calisthenics expert – based at Underground Gym in Brighton.”
It is clear from all these amazing women: yes, it is hard work to work for yourself but the rewards can be enormous and are yours to own. There are lots of fantastic women-led groups to support you in your journey, here in Brighton, England.
P.S. If you’d like more help and advice on setting up your business, on growing your network, finding new clients, or looking after your wellbeing, get in touch today.