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Encouraging women to become their own bosses with the secretary of state

We are delighted to have launched Make It Your Business Tunbridge Wells, the fastest growing female entrepreneurial network in the UK, alongside The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark MP, on Friday 7th June. Make It Your Business aims to encourage more women to start their own businesses, and was founded by Alison Cork, the government’s champion for women entrepreneurs.



Mr Clark, who is the Tunbridge Wells MP, was the keynote speaker at the inaugural event. Our director of marketing and PR, Siobhan Stirling, chaired the event at Hotel du Vin and was joined on the panel by four successful Tunbridge Wells businesswomen, who shared their business stories.

The audience of female start-ups, business owners and those thinking of setting up their own businesses heard how Emily Brown of Emily Brown Photography launched her business straight out of university and how Sharon Wood has restructured Colonnade Florist to make the business stronger in a changing retail landscape.  They also learnt how Victoria Usher has grown GingerMay into one of the fastest growing PR agencies in Europe and how Deborah Richards left a successful career in banking to turn an interest in houses into an award-winning estate agency.

Greg Clark MP commented: “Make it Your Business is a fantastic way of encouraging more women to start up their own businesses.

“Women are underrepresented in entrepreneurship in the UK and, although things are moving in the right direction, there is more to be done and events like Make it Your Business play a positive role in achieving this. Today’s panellists were incredibly inspiring and it was a privilege to meet them and listen to their stories. I was particularly interested in finding out they were all successful in spite of the challenges that they faced in business, I will be taking the experiences provided by the panellists and attendees alike back to the government, such as stressing the importance of making business coaches more available.”

Greg cited The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship as an important report in understanding the barriers women face in setting up their businesses. One of the problems it identifies lies in the relative lack of networks and peer to peer support groups women have in comparison to men, adding that organisations such as Make It Your Business are an obvious solution to the problem.  

Alison Cork, who is herself a successful entrepreneur, writer and broadcaster, expressed her delight at the success of the event, adding that: “The challenges facing women in business aren’t insurmountable. We can create this support network to help them succeed – and we know women are great at building networks.”

Alison started Make It Your Business after learning the shocking fact that only one in five businesses are owned by a women, Alison hopes that through women sharing their challenges and successes in business, it will help other women to feel inspired.

The first panellist, Emily Brown, told the audience that networking has been key to her success: “When I started I put out 6,000 leaflets, and only got one phone call from it, which was for an invitation to a networking group. That now brings in 80% of my work.”

Whilst in the first few years of her business Emily struggled to generate year-round traffic, through careful vision planning and networking she is now constantly busy and absolutely loves what she does.

Sharon Wood told the attendees that she decided to set up on her own when she thought she knew more than the boss: “But I hadn’t appreciated the amount of back room stuff. Always get a business coach and a mentor – you have to play to people’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Sharon also shared with the group that she has just changed the direction of her business by coming off the high street, highlighting the need for renewal and change in business. Although finding it a difficult decision to take as she loves the interaction with customers, she knew it was the right thing to do, believing that in the next five years there wont be florist shops anymore.

Deborah Richards described entering into the real estate market in Tunbridge Wells, where there were already 36 firms, “all headed by men and very traditional”.

“You’ve got to believe in what you want to do. I knew what I didn’t want to be as an estate agent. All the competitors are doing their thing, but you have to ignore it. It’s just noise. You have to switch it off and follow what you want to do,” added Deborah, whose company now turns over £2 million a year.

The final panellist was Victoria Usher, who labelled herself as an “accidental business owner” and described the biggest challenge she faced in business as being “imposter syndrome” where she felt unqualified for her position: “Thinking I didn’t deserve to be there, thinking everyone in the room was more qualified than me”.

But she confided that she had learnt most from her failures: “They teach in schools nowadays that Fail is First Attempt At Learning. You have to learn from your mistakes and think what you do differently, but failure is gift,” noted Victoria, whose company now employs 45 people.

It was great to see how well received the event was by the attendees, who found it a valuable opportunity to hear other women’s businesses success stories. “The event gave me the inspiration to know that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and I must remove all my fears surrounding change,” enthused Vicky Webster-Clamp of Tunbridge Wells Foot Care.

“It was great to hear real-life case studies, listening to people’s experiences on how they got to where they are today,” said virtual assistant Polly Buck.

“It was helpful to hear how successful businesswomen had scaled their businesses from the kitchen table to thriving organisations,” agreed Rebecca Homewood, director of Silver Penguin Marketing and Business Development.

“It was incredibly inspiring to hear the panellists’ honest and open business stories,” commented Siobhan Stirling. “I am honoured to have been asked to be the Tunbridge Wells local champion for Make It Your Business as it really is a unique format that provides amazing insights to help inspire and encourage women in business and those just setting up.”

Make It Your Business runs seminars across the country, providing opportunities for women to meet established local female entrepreneurs, learn from their experiences and network with other local aspiring female entrepreneurs in a relaxed environment.

The next Make It Your Business Tunbridge Wells event will be held next January. Tickets, which cost £10 + VAT, guarantees lifetime membership to MIYB, with a monthly newsletter full of business advice and tips, mentoring opportunities and networking socials.

If you would like to receive information nearer the time, please email communications@sharpminds.agency

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