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The Highs, The Lows, The Realities & The Lessons Learned.

Written By : Donna Tweedale

Oh. A ''New Year, New You '' post. I feel your eye roll's hun. Stand down. That isn't what this is.

What it is however; Is a post that brings you some incredible women. Whether they be at the top of their game or on the cusp of a new venture. As Women in business, they're talking openly and honestly. And, they're talking to You.

Allow me to make the introductions...

Hollie De Cruz

Hollie founder of London Hypnobirthing and creator of the YesMum cards. Should you follow Hollie on her Instagram you'll be familiar with her succinct and calming manner. Hollie's understanding of women and her passion to empower women is incredible.

Steph Douglas

Steph. Founder of Don't Buy Her Flowers, A Huge supporter of women.

A successful business woman who speaks so openly, sharing her vulnerabilities

and experiences openly, from business to mother hood, she absolutely has your back.

Hayley Southwood

Hayley. Founded Southwood Social Hub to create a safe community where women in

business at various levels and experience can really empower each other. And that's

not just a buzz word heavy strap line, Hayley busts her ass to make sure women within

the hub have confidence, the knowledge to encourage them to push themselves and

achieve what they want to achieve.

Jemma Cox

Jemma is a talented floral designer who is expanding her business this Spring to

launch a beautifully curated houseplant store. Her Instagram full of wit as well as gorgeous floral arrangements.

Fiona Grayson

Talented writer Fiona, uses her website as a platform to share the incredible stories

of Women in business. With each interviewee Fiona takes it old school and conducts the

interview in person so you read each feature you really feel like you've pulled up a pew and you`re right there with them.

We've got a lot to cover, so let's just get straight in there.

Y'know the much coveted saying ''What would Beyoncé Do?''. Surely she has day's where she's like. ''Y'know what. Just No. I don't know think I can. '' I mean, she's a business force, she has a 24hr team of support. Sure. but she's also a Woman. A Mother of 3. Under a lot of pressure to 'Be Beyonce' All of the time.

When you've built a career, where you're so well respected among your peers and you're successful, Do you experience those day's? How do you deal with that when you're expected to be on form all of the time?

HOLLIE : I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to bring their A Game all of the time, and I don’t actually think it’s a particularly healthy or helpful image to portray to other women. I am very open about the fact that I experience the same ups and downs as anyone else, and I think people take you more seriously when you’re not afraid to offer up that kind of vulnerability. I do a lot to encourage women to focus on themselves and avoid comparing themselves to other people. We’re all on our own journey and there really is space for everyone. I’m inclined to think that our strive for equality has a lot to do with the pressure we put on ourselves to always be on form. It’s interesting to me that in the quest for the genders to become more equal, what’s actually happening is that women are being forced to become more like men, which in my eyes is a recipe for disaster. The thing is, women aren’t like men. Men are linear and women are cyclical. We work in different ways, and by trying to fit in to this very energy-consistent way of doing things we ultimately do ourselves a disservice. To combat this, I live by my cycle. I chart my cycle religiously and I know exactly when I’m going to be feeling productive, sociable, creative, reclusive, energetic, lethargic and so on, and I plan my diary accordingly. When we lean in to the natural flow of our feminine energy, everything becomes so much easier and you realise how much more badass you can be most of the time. Try it. I promise you won’t look back!

STEPH : I'm not sure I fall in to the same category as Beyonce yet (!), BUT I've just had a baby and have had a bit of an epiphany about looking after myself, and that includes saying 'no' more. I've always found that my 'form' goes in cycles - I can be dashing about, juggling a lot and keeping my head above water, and then the balance tips and it all comes crashing down and I have to retreat, cancel some things and take stock until my energy is back up again. In the first couple of years of Don't Buy Her Flowers it was pretty extreme, because there was so much to do and only me doing it, and it was a constant rollercoaster. You can't keep that up forever and maybe it's the growing confidence as our sales grow but things are much more steady now. I know I need breaks, I know I need to look after myself and I know the business is not all going to come crashing down if I'm not constantly 'on it'. I think it's really tricky when you start something because you do have to be really focussed and work crazy hours to get something off the ground. I remember saying to my uncle, a business man, 'God, it's really hard' when I first started Don't Buy Her Flowers, and he said 'I don't know when everyone started thinking it wasn't hard to run a business' and it's true - it's bloody hard work! But once we were through those first two years, and I could see month on month growth and we started building a team, it's all so much more enjoyable.

HAYLEY : ​This is such an interesting subject and one we don't really talk about too often Donna. We are all so busy trying to achieve those BIG GOALS but what happens when we reach our own success and it becomes a real business with HUGE responsibilities. How do we cope with those feelings? This is exactly why I love the hub community!! . I am really pleased you are writing this blog post for us at the hub Donna. I have always been really honest, emotional business woman and really hope I don't ever lose this. When I started my businesses. I have always struggled with loneliness, being a self employed sole trader. The bigger you grow, the bigger the stresses I guess and it's always good to talk!

And How about when you're working on building your business, how do you keep those self doubt niggles at bay?

JEMMA : I definitely had a moment in my monotonous office job where I wanted to enhance my identity. Being an office worker never felt successful, creative or interesting enough for someone like me who is notorious for dreaming big. I was 26 years old when I really discovered I wanted to be a business owner; the flowers came later. I was a 'mature' student, of the dread! It was interesting and juggling motherhood and studying was harder than expected. Determination , focus and strong cups of tea is what gets you through.

FIONA : Truth be told I don’t always..! I can be my own worst nightmare sometimes and have a habit of putting heaps of pressure on myself to meet my own deadlines (set by me!) etc… BUT I’m getting better. On a day to day basis, surrounding myself with family and friends that just ‘get it’ helps. Knowing that they’re there to pick me up if I need it or say “put the bloody laptop away and let’s take the dog out for an hour” helps and it’s something I think is essential if you go into business on your own. Not the dog walking bit (!)…. Just knowing who your “safety blanket” are and knowing that no matter what happens they’ll be there to support you; their advice will be honest and be delivered with the best intentions for both you and your business; and that they’ll never indulge in the moments when you’re experiencing self-doubt, goes a long way when you’re feeling low. On a personal level when it’s just me, myself and I though, I find that remembering what I’ve been through to get to where I am today helps. Yes it’s cheesy but sometimes you’ve got to remind yourself that you’re stronger than you think. It doesn’t always have to be work related but remembering personal achievements along the way or moments in my life that really challenged me at the time but I grit my teeth and came out the other side stronger for doing so helps to just remind me that yes it’s hard right now but history tells me that if I work hard and stay focused, I’ll thank myself later down the line! And if that doesn’t work (!) a good old HIIT session or sweaty run tends to do the trick!

There must have been a significant celebratory moment where you really felt success. Where you were like. THIS. This right here was what I wanted for me, for my business. Tell us about it?

HOLLIE : I think this was when I quit my day job and committed full time to yesmum. I’d worked in the corporate design industry before I had my son in 2010, and I found a part time job in the same field when he was a year old. I built my hypnobirthing business alongside working part time and being a mum, and it was a close friend and business mentor who told me I needed to put both feet in what I was doing rather than spreading myself so thinly. I eventually took the plunge and it was the best thing I ever did.

My business started blossoming when I could give it more of my time and creativity, and I became much more emotionally available as a mother because I wasn’t rushing from one role to another all of the time. I genuinely felt at that moment that I was getting closer to the elusive work/life balance, and I felt very fortunate (and still do) for that. Now I get to run a business I love around being the best mum I can be. I’m very lucky.

STEPH : Moving the business out of the house in to premises and taking on a Head of Operations was a big one. I didn't realise how invasive it had been having the business at home until it was gone - we had to do it, to keep our costs down and be sure the concept worked first and that we could pay for premises and staff, but it was a bit mental at times having it in the house along with two small kids. The problem with success is that it changes all the time - I don't feel 'done' and probably never will; as we hit one target I'm already looking ahead to what's next. We wrote down what success would look like before we started the business and I have found it really important to go back to that regularly, to avoid getting distracted but also to remember one of the reasons I started this. A big thing for me was that I would be around for the kids and sometimes I feel torn between demands from both because obviously I love my kids, but I also do love Don't Buy Her Flowers and it has so much potential. Again, now we have a team I can have holidays and it will keep going, or right now I'm working much less as I've a 12 week old and it can all run without me. It's a strange feeling and I have to stop and remind myself that this is what I wanted - a business and a family - and we're doing it. A few months and I'll be back at full speed and will be so glad I took this time to focus on Frank and the big kids.

HAYLEY : The day I moved into my own premises was MASSIVE for me. I felt like a proper grown up business woman. I had worked with Jessica for years building up to this. We had used visualizing techniques and my business grew organically until 2 years ago I finally took the leap. Having my own space completely changed the way I worked and the way I saw myself as a business owner. Of course being able to pay myself a full time wage was a MEGA achievement too.

There must have been a significant celebratory moment where you felt. Right. I'm doing this. Tell us about it?

JEMMA : My business has developed so much over the years. I treated it as a hobby initially, but that was only ever because I was so scared of feeling exposed and getting it wrong that I took a back step. For me, experience changed my business model and it changed me. It's ok to not get it right the first time, or the second. I'm still making mistakes but they are getting smaller and I'm becoming less wounded and more motivated by each of them.

FIONA :​ There was indeed! For me, that light bulb moment came on April 26th 2017. I woke up in a hotel room somewhere in Boston after running one of my foreign exchange conferences the previous day. Pumped on adrenaline from a morning workout in my hotel room and jetlagged from the five hour time difference between here and there, I opened an email I didn’t want to see from my old boss, forwarded it to my big sister saying: “I don’t know if I can do this anymore” and in an instant she replied saying: “it’s time to leave.”

In that split second, I knew I was going to hand in my notice and just like that a huge, metaphorical weight was lifted off my shoulders. I spent the rest of the day walking around Harvard University in the torrential rain (pretending that I was Elle Woods in my head) whilst simultaneously trying to conjure up what I was going to do on my own. When Mum picked me up from Heathrow the following morning, I filled her in on my plans for She can. She did. and with her immediate support, the decision was made.

Your business, career gathered pace before social media; namely Instagram, Became what it is today. There's a real movement on social media of Women seeking more flexibility in their work life balance and taking control of that. Becoming their own boss. What are your thoughts on the effect social media has had on Women in business?

HOLLIE : Social media offers up a wonderful platform for networking and inspiring and I think it’s an amazing thing that we can now connect so easily over interests we share. It also means that campaigns like Mother Pukka’s Flex Appeal gain more traction and start filtering into the radars of more traditional workplaces and establishments, which can only be a good thing. It gives people a voice to raise awareness about things that are important to them and to speak up when something needs attention, and I think that is inevitably having a positive effect on how businesses conduct themselves in terms of equality, and in how confident women feel in asking for what they are entitled to instead of feeling fobbed off and powerless to fight back. With a lot of vocations now moving online too, it also offers up so much more flexibility for working mums, although I think it’s now as important as ever to uphold boundaries to ensure you’re looking after yourself and are actually achieving the balance you sought, rather than it all merging into one.

STEPH : Social Media is an AMAZING tool for small businesses. We launched with no marketing budget and I did all the social media myself and it was how we drove awareness and sales - social media and PR. The number of women using Instagram to launch businesses is phenomenal. People share and tag each time they do that puts eyes on your business. So it's fab from sales POV but also the support it brings is so important - running a business is really lonely, especially at the beginning. I went from managing a team and seeing people in an office to being at home at my tiny desk in the corner of a room, and at a time when you're questioning what you're doing and doubting yourself. Having this community behind you going 'YOU CAN DO IT, YOU'VE GOT THIS' in invaluable for morale. On a practical level, it's also pretty handy for chat about couriers or accountants that your mates don't have businesses might not find as riveting as you!

HAYLEY : I felt so alone when I had my boys, we were VERY young. I had no friends in the same situation, they were either at uni or travelling. I would of LOVED to have had the instagram community behind me when I was in the midst of motherhood and juggling work. I think women are so lucky to have instagram today! I find it HUGELY inspirational when I see other women making it happen on their own terms.

There are some incredible successful business women that inspire and motivate other women to take that leap into starting their own businesses. Instagram has proved a popular platform, a big voice for new businesses. What are your thoughts on the effect social media has had on Women in business?

JEMMA : Love it or hate it there is no denying that instagram is such a powerful tool in Business and I believe the masters of it are women. We love to 'chat', we want to hear about the good days and the bad days. We love to see what you're wearing, what you're having for breakfast, glamourous rooms, glamourous people, babies......everyone loves babies. The very makeup of us is wrapped up in Instagram and when that penny drops I think it gives you confidence. My voice is louder now and through following (stalking) amazing inspirational women it has definitely opened my eyes up to greater opportunities for my business and made me dream a whole lot bigger.

FIONA : Instagram has been a game changer for women in business in so many ways. Because those little squares are so visual, for industries such as retail, food, health and wellbeing for instance… it’s provided a platform to share content quickly and creatively with target audiences not just locally but on a global scale too. Importantly, it also gives business owners a voice that is critical nowadays for engaging on a personal level with their client base. Businesses have to offer an experience as well nowadays, so being able to share the story behind the company allows customers/clients to get to know the founders and understand the personal stories that go on behind the scenes etc… which in turn helps to bolster their brand and as a result, the loyalty of their customer/client base.

However, I do think Instagram sugar coats a lot of the negative sides of running a business. As one woman I interviewed recently said, “if I uploaded a photo of me crying at my desk, everyone would be thinking ‘what the hell is wrong with her?!’” One of the reasons I set up She can. She did. was because I was very aware that there were women my age running businesses that looked glossy and perfect when the reality was likely to be very different. I’ve had women reveal that they’d uploaded photos on to Instagram that looked like they were living the high life when they were actually dealing with a whole lot of stress behind the scenes that has ranged from fraud cases where they’ve had to get rid of the majority of their team because they could no longer afford to keep them to massive hiccups with deliveries and so on…

As long as people take the perfection it portrays with a pinch of salt, I love those little squares and the opportunities that they can provide.

As cliché as this questions is, I totally respect your achievements and as such want to hear what you have to say. As the woman in business you are now, Any words of wisdom for a Woman toying with their own idea for a business?

HOLLIE : Whenever I get asked this, the first thought I offer is to get in touch with your own agendas. Why do you want to start a business? What does it mean to you? What are you hoping to get out of it? What’s your cause? I think a lot of women feel the pressure to start a business because it’s trendy or because it’s what everyone on social media is doing. It really is okay not to start a business. Being a mum or working for someone else is bloody fantastic in loads of ways, and I think we run the risk of glorifying busy by feeling we’re not powerful unless we’re running a business too. Running a business is such hard work, and if your heart’s not in it you’re probably not going to enjoy it much, and if you don’t enjoy it, it probably won’t make you money. I guess it’s just important to ask yourself whether this is your dream or one you think you’re meant to have. If it’s yours, then go for it. Believe in yourself above all else, start small and acknowledge your achievements every day, even when they are small.

STEPH : I've learned so much I could ramble on for hours! But I think number one is to look after yourself. You need a kick ass idea, you need to do your background and you need to know it can work financially as it's too much hard work to do it for nothing, and businesses take a while before you see any pay off. I think those things are a given for anyone starting a business, but something that women really struggle with, and may be why less women historically have started businesses - we're still trying to do the majority of childcare and household organization. You have to let go of some things and we found we needed to divide up more stuff at home, and also I had to care less about how the house looked some days, or eat beans on toast over a hearty home cooked meal. You can't do all that you did before and run a business on top. I mean, you can but you will probably combust somewhere down the line. No one is there to tell you when to stop or go home, so you need to be able to take stock, including recognising what you have achieved before you plough on with the next thing on your to-do list. It's easier said than done, but a few crashes in that first year and I realised how important it is. And then just fucking do it. Life is too short to wonder if you could have done it.

HAYLEY : BE FLEXIBLE, be prepared to PIVOT all the time. Whenever I start a new project I am always thinking ahead. I love change and have always enjoyed that aspect of being self employed. Business is fast paced and you have to be prepared to FAIL FAST. I am an emotional business woman and always go with my gut.

As a woman who's recently taken that leap, Any words of wisdom for a Woman toying with their own idea for a business?

JEMMA : Surround yourself with positive and inspiring people; eventually you'll become one if you're not already. Plan. A Lot! It`s important and you'll always have an excuse to buy a fresh, new notebook. And lastly, dream so big that you'll wake up each morning feeling excited and alive. Life is precious; don't waste a moment.

FIONA : I don’t know if they’re full of wisdom but I wrote a post on NYE about everything I’ve learnt since setting up She can. She did. which includes my advice for anyone thinking about setting up their own business. You can find it here.

Woah. I find it so hugely fascinating to hear other women's stories, outlooks and experiences. We can learn so much from each other.

Girls. Thank you. For your time and your honesty. So much love and respect to each of you.


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