Words : Donna Tweedale
It's coming up to the 1st Anniversary of when Fiona hit the button and sent She Can She Did live. An idea she had and rolled with, a platform to share inspiring stories of women in business. Fiona takes it old school. She takes the time to travel, meet these women face to face. I've had the pleasure of meeting Fiona, there was no note book to be seen, she knew about me, what I did and she was prepared and the questions flowed.
It's not easy to sit still and talk about yourself, your achievements and defining moments in starting your business. In a time where we're so easily distracted, Fiona is very grounding. She's engaged and genuinely interested. This comes through with each post. She Can She Did is a fantastic space to read about other women businesses and feel motivated by their experiences wherever you are in your own journey.
Writing this, I got to turn the tables. The interviewer becomes the interviewee.
Fiona, Hey!. It's coming up to a year since She Can She Did was launched. How does that feel?
Hello lovely lady! I know, it’s crazy! I mean technically it’s not a year until August 7th – that’s when I opened my laptop and started this mad little journey but on April 26th it was a year since I decided to hand my notice in and the idea for She can. She did. popped into my head!
It’s been such a whirlwind over the past few months though – when I look back at how I felt this time last year when it was just an idea and everyone kept saying, “yes but how exactly are you going to fill your days?” and I sat there thinking, ‘shit! How am I!?’ I’m so proud of where it’s taken me. I definitely think the past few months have all been about laying the groundwork though, saying yes to as many opportunities that have come my way and trying to work out where exactly I want to take this thing. So in answer to your question, I guess it’s a combination of pride and relief at the fact that women out there (be it that they’re founders already or are aspiring to launch their own business) seem to appreciate what it’s all about; excitement because it very much feels like I’m only just getting started; and absolutely knackered because you know better than I do at just how tiring this journey can be!
You've shared some seriously incredible stories of women, their journey's their businesses. Meeting these women face to face to record your interviews, how important is that to you, to She Can She Did to make that time to sit together?
It’s really important to me and where I can, I try my hardest to travel around the country to meet everyone in person (of course, there have been a few exceptions where we natter over Skype because of diaries getting busier or they live miles and I mean miles away!)In general though, you get so much more from a face to face chat.
(plus there’s usually coffee and snacks involved so that’s always a perk!).
She can. She did. is also very much about the reality of what goes on behind those squares on Instagram. I think it’s so easy to hide behind a computer/phone screen now and so I’m always intrigued to find out what people are like in person! I always add my views on each founder in every interview’s closing remarks too and it’s so much easier to do that when we’ve spent a good hour/hour and a half chatting away.
And you hosted your first event recently. The Midweek Mingle. Congratulations. Women sharing stories, experiences. Gin. Sounds Amazing. There must have been a moment in that evening where you were like. 'Yes. This.' Tell us about it?
Haha thank you so much! I was a nervous wreck beforehand but I’m so, so happy with how the launch went! I think I had that moment a few times in the night actually – when guests started to arrive, midway through the panel and then when I finally had a G+T in hand at the end of the night and got to chat to everyone.
I’ve always known I wanted to make events a part of She can. She did. from the outset but I made a deal with myself that if I did, they had to be as far removed from the conferences that I used to produce. Ie. not at all corporate where everyone wears black and grey suits! There was colour, there was gin, there were five incredibly honest panellists who have all been on their own inspiring journeys full to the brim with ups and downs to get to where they are now, and there was mingling and lots of it! I tried to keep in mind how I would feel walking into a room of women on my own so I wanted to make sure that everyone felt welcome from the moment they arrived!
Before your event didn't you take some steps to try and help yourself overcome some fears about speaking publicly? It's refreshing to have that honesty, vulnerability to say .'you know what. I'm not feeling as strong with this as I want to, so I'm going to get some help.' As a woman with her own business, doing everything on her own, It takes a lot of strength to look for help with something you need support with, Don't you think ?
Thanks Donna! I think I’d just got to the point where I was so tired of letting my fear of public speaking get in the way of me enjoying the build up to things that I decided to do something about it because I was determined to enjoy myself - not just on the night but throughout the whole build up too. I feel like I’ve worked too hard for this not to enjoy it.
It’s not that I ever let the fear stop me from doing it – I feel like I’ve done quite a lot growing up be it at school, uni or in my last job – but it would come with the anxiety, sleepless nights, nervous rash, sweaty palms, foggy head right before you go on stage etc…
Anyway, I went to see a hypnotherapist two weeks before the launch and she actually did BWRT on me instead (Brain Working Recursive Therapy). I told her she had her work cut out because it would take a bloody miracle to sort me out (!) but whatever she did managed to calm me down. Highly recommend if anyone has any kind of fear they want to address!
You specifically only feature women under the age of 40. It's an exciting time we live in for young women I think. Do you think more women , particularly those in their early 20's-30's are embracing the flexibility and opportunities to start their own businesses, have been inspired by the success and rise of strong women now in their 40's, 50's?
I think it comes down to a combination of things but that’s definitely one of them. Women like Jo Malone who left school with no qualifications and then worked her socks off to create what has become an incredible empire are hugely inspirational and we can learn so much from them. I’ve also been so inspired by women like my Mum who walked away from a senior role in the NHS to become a homeopath when I was about 10 (and because of that, obviously faced a whole host of sceptical reactions from former colleagues when she did), took a huge salary cut and has worked her socks off to create what is now a really successful practice. On a personal level therefore, I figured I’d do what my parents did which was to work their way up in the corporate world and then launch their own businesses later down the line with 25-30 years’ experience behind them.
But one of the main reasons I decided to focus on this particular age group is that so many girls I know and know of that are my age – and I was one of them- end up in corporate jobs that we’ve fallen into because we’ve almost been programmed into thinking that was the only option at school or uni but then end up feeling trapped in those jobs, get that Sunday night dread each week but stick in them because there’s rent to pay, a social life to maintain etc etc… and yet with so many businesses nowadays, if you’ve got a phone and a laptop and an idea that you genuinely are passionate about, you can start on your own. So I guess I just wanted to provide women like me this time last year, with a whole host of stories that give them the belief and understanding that it is possible to do something else and create something on your own and that actually you don’t necessarily have to work your way up in the corporate world and gain that experience before going for it nowadays. There are young women out there that are just throwing themselves in at the deep end and learning as they go because that’s what they want to do and they’re willing to put the work in to make it a success.
However, if I was going to share these stories, it had to be honest and show the full story because I also think growing up with social media has encouraged us in many ways to become more impatient. There’s a tendency to constantly want that glamorous story to share and want it straight away and saying that you’ve founded your own business comes with this illusion of a glitzy lifestyle when in reality, we both know it’s anything but (or if it is now, it definitely hasn’t been the case to get to that point!). There’s so many articles out there that feature women doing their own thing that list all of their highlights and it makes it all look easy. So it’s a combination of saying, if you want your own business it is possible but you’re going to have to work your socks off because there’s a whole lot of groundwork that goes in if your business is going to be and continue to be a success.
I met you through the Southwood Social Hub, Hayley must be a great inspiration to you, in what she does to champion women in business. How do women in business, inspire you with yours?
In so many ways. I walk away from every interview on cloud nine because every chat provides me with new lessons and takeaways that I can apply to She can. She did. and I genuinely feel so lucky about how many incredible women I get to meet through this – both younger and older than me. I met a girl that started her business when she was in her first year at uni and had turned over £100,000 before she’d graduated a few months ago and I just sat there with my mouth open for the entire interview because her work ethic was so admirable. There are so many incredible women out there and because I talk about their low moments and what they’ve pushed through to get to where they are now in every interview, if I’m having a bad day or a moment where I think ‘why the hell did I walk away from a regular pay cheque?!’ I can fall back on 50+ stories of women that have been in that exact same position or way more stressful positions and every single one of them have just grit their teeth and got on with it. They remind me that if they’ve got through those low bits, I can too and that sometimes you just have to just trust the process and see where you end up!
And as you draw a close to your first year in business Fiona, What would you say have been your biggest lessons you've learnt?
I genuinely feel so lucky to have spoken to so many successful women over the past few months that there are so many valuable lessons that they’ve taught me but I think the main one that has really taken me by surprise is that the journey to “success” is never ending when you run a business. I’ve gone to interviews where I think the lady is smashing it but when I ask her whether she feels successful yet, there’s always something else she’s working on to get her business to the next stage. I think I went into this thinking if you work bloody hard for a good few years there’s an end goal, you reach it, and tick. You’re done. But it’s dawned on me that it doesn’t work like that. Even the business owners at the very top are constantly having to evolve and adapt and add-on to stay there!
This project has also reaffirmed my original suspicions that those Instagram squares definitely don’t give you the whole truth. As one girl put it, “It would be odd if you looked on Instagram and you saw a photo that made you think “why is she crying about her business?!”
Hypothetically, let's say I'm a woman who's been mulling over an idea for a while. quietly. I'm wanting to work for myself. launch a business. What do you want to say to me?
It’s hard not to say “just go for it” because I genuinely think sometimes we all just need that shove in the right direction but I get it, sometimes it’s not that simple. What I would stress though is that often, the deciding to go for it is one of the biggest hurdles in the whole process and once that bits out of the way, you’ll be surprised at how motivated you feel to just get going!
I would also say take comfort from the fact that the majority of us are making it all up as we go along and no one I’ve interviewed has known exactly what they were doing and how they were going to do it from the start. Also, don’t let the fancy pants terminology associated with start-ups and entrepreneurship put you off. Words like venture capital, bootstrapping, private equity etc… can be really intimidating but when you break them down, they’re not as complicated in reality as their name sounds. (Bootstrapping for instance means saving your pennies and starting a business without external input!)
Lastly, go in for the right reasons. Everyone has said they’re working harder now than they ever have before, that they’ve had days where they’ve been challenged beyond belief and that it can sometimes feel like it’s 24/7. Don’t be fooled by the glitz and glam – if you’re genuinely passionate about your idea and are willing to give it everything you’ve got, then go for it – it’s a crazy journey but an incredibly rewarding too. If you’re doing it because you think you’ll get more time off, be on a beach living the high life in a couple of years’ time, and that it’ll be an easy ride to success, perhaps not!
Such sound advice Fiona, Thank you. I think the lessons you've learnt really resonate with many women. Congratulations on a great start to She Can She Did. I'm looking forward to seeing how you grow your business.