Last week I went along to the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs – a day-long conference celebrating successful businesswomen, held in the At-Bristol Science Centre. It was a very interesting day packed with inspiring talks, and I thought I’d share a few nuggets of the wisdom I was given on the day.
The main event of the morning was an interview with Julie Deane OBE, founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company (which you may remember from this Google advert of 2012). Julie started her company because her daughter was being bullied and she wanted to pay the fees to move her and her brother to a new school. When she started she only had a £600 budget, but within 5 years her company was worth £40 million. (It’s no surprise that that earned a big round of applause!)
Julia talked about how she coped with the rapid growth of Cambridge Satchel – “there was a lot of chocolate involved!” – and the various challenges she had to face in building her business. At first it was a small operation run from her kitchen, with her mum taking orders over the phone, and Julie learning how to code so she could build a website. Further down the line, when she had thousands of bags on back order and a variety of small manufacturers working on producing them, she discovered that one of these manufacturers was stealing her leather to make his own satchels. When she turned up to collect her leather, he said, “You don’t know anything about manufacturing, you’re just a stupid woman.” Cue hisses from the audience, as Julie laughed and told us that she took her leather, went home, found a building on Rightmove and set up her own factory.
Ultimately Julie’s advice for being an entrepreneur is this: wear lots of hats. When her marriage ended, she was able to move on because not all of her was invested in being a wife – part of her is a mother, part of her a businesswoman, and so on. The only way to ensure relative stability in your life is to wear lots of different hats, so you can still be OK if one of them falls off.
The rest of the talks covered a wide range of entrepreneurial subjects. Oliver Tress (Oliver Bonas), Rosie Wolfenden (Tatty Devine) and Helen Walbey (Recycle Scooters) came to talk about running retail businesses. Tress revealed that the ‘Bonas’ part of his company name came from the surname of his then girlfriend, who is now immortalised in all his stores, while Walbey delighted us with tales from her budgetless start-up days, when she had to borrow paper, stamps and internet access to blag her way into her first deals with motorcycle companies.
Leanne Spencer of Bodyshot Performance chaired a session about being at your physical and emotional peak in order to perform well in business. She recommended being “100% on when you’re on, and 100% off when you’re off,” and said that taking a certain amount of time for yourself each week is “integral to business success”. She also advocated replacing the term ‘work-life balance’ with ‘work-life blend’ because it sounds a lot more difficult (and disheartening) to find a perfect balance, whereas a blend seems much more achievable.
There was also a fantastic talk by Kate Cox from 123-reg about the importance of tech for businesses. 123-reg offers free business training lessons about everything from building your site to selling to customers, as well as a Digital Skills Assessment to show you the main tech areas on which your business should be focusing. She also emphasised the importance of blogging for your business, because by creating interesting content your customers will naturally want to share it, and good content can also help you to move up the Google rankings.
Perhaps my favourite inspiring moment from the day came from the live recording of the Small Business Sessions podcast, hosted by Emily Chiswell, who was talking to Deborah Garlick, the founder of women’s website Henpicked. Garlick told us how important it is take time to celebrate the achievements and good moments, no matter how small, “because they’re your rocket fuel for the next one.”
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