Our Women in Business Conference is the highlight of the Socially Shared calendar, and the excitement builds as soon as the date is released. Now in its third year, the conference offers attendees a day of inspirational speakers, networking opportunities, and a variety of workshops aimed at business development. From the laughter and conversation that filled the conference room at the Honiley Court Hotel, Kenilworth, it was clear that everyone had fun.
Karen Heap, the founder of Socially Shared, gave the opening address and thanked the packed room for braving the inclement weather and motorway closures to join us for the annual conference. The network has just celebrated its fourth birthday, and Karen touched on the importance of getting local business women together to celebrate their achievements and support one another through juggling the demands of life and career.
She introduced Anne Wordsworth from Cube Accounting who sponsored the morning drinks reception. Anne’s company offer a no jargon approach to clients’ needs with tailored services and regular business support. To find out more visit www.cubeaccounting.co.uk
Returning for the third year to act as MC for the conference was Joanna Tidman, Journalist and BBC News Presenter. Joanna talked about her passion for helping people to tell their story and reiterated Karen’s message of supporting other women in business. She went on to introduce the social media team for the day, Kate and Emma from Piece of Cake Marketing. The ladies made sure everyone was logged on and aware of the hashtags for the event, and even enticed the audience to get social with the promise of prizes – ‘tweets mean treats!’ To find out more about Piece of Cake Marketing visit www.pieceofcakemarketing.co.uk
Davidson Mahon Solicitors were one of the main event sponsors, and we were treated to a short introduction from Kate Mahon, founder of the company. “When you work with death and divorce you need a sense of humour,” Kate told the room to a ripple of laughter. “Our success is measured by how well we look after our clients.” Kate’s all-female team work hard to support their clients and offer the best advice possible. “It’s important that our clients’ see us as people first and not just lawyers.” To find out more visit www.davidsonmahon.co.uk
Alongside Davidson Mahon Solicitors as the main sponsor was Loretta Milan from Milan Creative. Her writing agency helps people and businesses to stand out using the power of words. Loretta asked the room a couple of questions.
Who loves what they do?
Who’s amazing at what they do?
She asked the audience to stand up if they thought they were amazing and it was fabulous to see everyone rise from their seat. Once the giggles died down Loretta explained that celebrating success had nothing to do with ego. It’s perfectly acceptable to be ‘everyday amazing’ and appreciate the work you do.
Using eye-catching slides, she highlighted some of the words we need to cut from our lives.
They’re simple words that weaken us as business owners. Instead of saying ‘I’m just a…’ she advised us to start saying ‘I am a…’ Her advice was to be clear and proud about your work. Loretta also challenged us to stop saying ‘no problem’ even if a task has taken us hours to complete. Loretta suggests using ‘you’re welcome’ instead as this puts you in a position of power where you value your worth. To find out more about Milan Creative and to subscribe visit www.milancreative.com
At this point, Joanna introduced the first speakers of the day, Emma Woodwood and Sam Yair, current owners of Lucy & Jane Limited, previously of regional women’s lifestyle stores, Aspire Style. Emma began with a startling statistic – sixteen high street shops close every single day. It was quite a shock to hear this.
Sam turned the clock back and shared the story of how she and Emma met in 1986. It was a slightly turbulent meeting as Emma broke Sam’s arm during a netball match which also happened to be Sam’s tenth birthday! Fortunately, this mishap shaped a great friendship between the two which continues to this day. Through their bond and similar tastes in the quirky and unique, they decided to launch Aspire when they were in their twenties. Warwick was the first store to open in 2004 after they roped in friends and family to help out. In the first year they made a loss of £12,000. Undeterred, they listened to their clients and used this feedback to provide the service and products they wanted. Eighteen months later they opened their Stratford store and took £2000 in the first few hours. It was a huge success.
Over time they grew to five stores plus e-commerce with forty members of staff. At their highest point, they were making two million a year. They were on a roll, and at every step of the journey, they would listen to their customers and provide a memorable service and fabulous products. “Our superpower is being an independent business,” said Emma, “as we can go above and beyond for our customers.”
In 2015 something started to go wrong. They began to see a decline in sales. There wasn’t one major reason behind this but more of a culmination of things that were out of their control. ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ was how Sam referred to this period in Aspire’s journey.
Changes in the retail landscape lowered footfall. Grand Central opened in Birmingham centre which meant their Solihull store felt the impact. In Oxford, the Westgate Centre opened which meant a 30% downturn in sales. There were other factors at play too. The lease on their premises were ten to fifteen years without any room for negotiation. Online shopping matured as Amazon and ASOS dominated the market. The business rates went up. Emma admitted that they should have prepared an exit plan, but unfortunately, they learned this lesson too late.
In May 2018 they won Best Independent Store award, but this huge achievement was clouded in sadness as they prepared to end a fifteen-year journey. They emptied each store and closed the doors for the last time on 31st August 2018. There was an emotional silence in the room as Emma told this part of her story. Every person present understood the passion, integrity, and pride that these amazing women put into their business, and it was incredibly moving to listen to.
Without letting the dust settle, Emma and Sam embarked on the next chapter with determination and fifteen years of experience under their belts. They launched Lucy & Jane Limited, an online jewellery business using social media to drive traffic to their site. They’ve begun to amass a large following and continue to embrace their excellent customer service by listening to what their customers need and providing products to match. Their clients become top fans and cheerleaders for the business.
“People buy from people,” Emma said. “Building strong friendships with your customers is vital to your success.”
As well as launching a successful online jewellery business, the ladies have also founded Stories Marketing where they help other ladies to grow their business through brand personalities and stories using the magic of social media.
To access their 7 Top Tips to Build Relationships on Instagram paste the following URL into your search bar: bit.ly/7instatips
To find out more about Emma and Sam’s work visit www.storiesmarketing.co.uk and
The second speaker of the day was writer, speaker, film producer, and casting director Marie Rowe. A girl from Coventry who ended up in Hollywood!
Marie entertained the room with her story starting when she was just fifteen, leaving school with big ambitions but side-lining them to become a secretary, get married, and have a family. Even in her secretarial roles she showed a flair for directing and writing, although her boss at the time didn’t appreciate her talents. ‘You’re not paid to think’ was a common put down when she used her writing voice and individuality. Marie took up drama which gave her the outlet she needed to use that creative voice.
Years later she would take a production manager role after a different boss told her that he believed in her. What a difference encouragement in the workplace can make!
In her mind, Marie knew that she would get a job at The Samuel Goldwyn Company. She visualised herself in the role she wanted and never gave up on that goal. In the interim, she took a temp assignment with Hustler Magazine which was an eye-opening experience and then worked with two crazy comedy writers who were writing sketches for HBO. Going back to her old ways, Marie continued to use her skills for directing and writing until one of the writers took notice and said ‘finally, someone who thinks!’
“Marketing for film is the same as any other business,” Marie said. “You just need to believe in the product and sell it.”
The people she met and the jobs she did allowed her to explore her creative skill set and go above and beyond in her work. She began writing scripts, casting actors in films, and working on set. The list of celebrities Marie has worked with was mind-boggling, and we were all fangirling at the photographs she shared. Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman were among the many famous faces.
All these experiences and stories had an impact on Marie, and she now gives inspirational talks and lessons about her time in Hollywood. Helping people to write their life stories was also a natural transition and is something Marie enjoys. “I love seeing someone come alive as they talk about their childhood or passions in life,” she said.
To find out more about Marie’s memoir writing workshops or talks visit www.marierowe.com
It was then time for a coffee break sponsored by Lorna from All About the Sew who offers small, fun, friendly, sociable sewing workshops. To find out more visit www.allaboutthesew.com
It was also the perfect time to check out the Connection Zone sponsored by Nanna who provides childcare and event staff. Visit www.nanna.uk.com for more details.
We returned to our seats for the final speaker of the morning who was Sue Moorcroft, Sunday Times and International Bestselling Author. Her talk was titled ‘Twenty Years to be an Overnight Success’ which appealed to the audience. Sue entertained everyone with her straightforward approach to writing and making money from it. It was incredibly refreshing to hear a woman speaking so positively about finances and knowing your worth.
“Anyone can write a book,” said Sue. “In the early nineties, I wrote two which are now in a landfill!”
Looking at the incredible array of book covers on Sue’s slides you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that she is a popular and highly successful author. While this is indeed the case, it was liberating for everyone to hear how Sue’s writing career began with short stories sold to magazines as well as letters of rejection. One of her first paid submissions was £150 from Readers’ Digest that consisted of a piece 89 words in length. “I repainted the kitchen and bought two new chairs,” she told us. At the time she was selling one in ten stories. “It was hard work,” she said, “coming up with new ideas to fit exactly with a magazines brand.” The editors she worked with wanted stories that were ‘half as long and twice as funny.’
Magazines then began to print fewer short stories, so Sue ventured into teaching creative writing. “I’m no teacher,” she said, “but I am a communicator.” Over the years Sue has taught workshops for Universities at degree and masters level. “I have neither a degree nor a masters,” she told us. She never let this stop her and has since taught all over the world as well as creating a correspondence course.
There were a few false starts with her novel writing career as an agent picked her up and then decided not to be an agent, followed by a publisher who did the same. Undeterred, Sue went back to square one. The second agent she worked with almost sold her first novel Starting Over. This title went to the acquisition stage but no further. She then won a Katie Fforde Bursary which gave her plenty of publicity material. Sue developed a few serials as she had still been unable to sell her novel. Finally, in 2004 she received the call she wanted. “I have an offer for you.” By this point, she was eight years down the twenty-year road.
There came a time when her personal life tested her, so she took anything to do with writing that paid. She pitched for workshops, talks, articles, and writing courses.
“It was a long apprenticeship.”
Writers’ News magazine then recruited Sue to be a fiction judge for their competition entries, and she did this for five years as well as writing two columns a month.
Following a bereavement, Sue didn’t feel like she could write fiction and so began to explore writing books about writing. She produced ‘Love Writing: How to Make Money Writing Romance to Erotic Fiction.’ In 2009, determined that she wasn’t going to be writing novels anymore she parted ways with her agent.
Through her connections, she was introduced to Juliet Pickering who then became her third agent and successfully negotiated the publication of The Little Village Christmas which thrust Sue into the limelight and onto the Sunday Times Bestseller list. One Summer in Italy followed and then the Christmas Gift – all Sunday Time Bestsellers.
“I work hard, and I don’t give up,” Sue told us.
All that hard work paid off as publishers began pitching to Sue. Her agent was able to sell her books in Germany meaning a 25% increase in income.
“I’m always happy to earn more money for not doing any work,” she said to an explosion of laughter. I think we all agreed with her on this point.
Sue works on three novels at any one time. She’s always promoting one, writing one, and planning one. She also makes time for events like the Women in Business Conference and Swanwick (a writers’ summer school). Finishing her talk, Sue advised us to do good in the world and make money – you can’t argue with that!
Before we broke for a fabulous lunch sponsored by Beth from Beth Taylor Aesthetics (www.bethtayloraesthetics.co.uk), we had the opportunity to ask Sue further questions as she was joined on an author panel by local authors Elizabeth Beetham (www.powerforhealth.com) Shelley Wilson (www.shelleywilsonauthor.co.uk), and Lyn Bromley (www.firstimpressions.uk.com).
The afternoon was broken into a series of workshops giving every attendee the opportunity for business development. The sessions included:
Presenting with Confidence by Nishi Mehta from Career Mums (www.career-mums.co.uk)
Social Media Stories with Claire Henley from Treehouse Social (www.treehousesocial.co.uk)
Take Control of Your Diary with Sandy Hearn, Founder of Elite PA Solutions (www.elitepasolutions.com)
SOS Stopping Our Stories by Rebecca Mander from Guru You (www.guruyoucoach.com)
We gathered back in the main room for the closing address, and Joanna asked what our best bits of the day had been. Here are just a few of the comments:
“Listening to the speakers.”
“Honest and authentic talks.”
“Realism – the speakers shared the truth of their lives, and I appreciated that.”
“Understanding how important it is to value myself.”
“Realising how much I undersell myself.”
“Talking about money in such a positive way.”
After a full and fun-packed day, and a long list of thank you mentions from Karen, we headed off to the bar for closing drinks sponsored by Sarah Wood from Grenfell James Associates (www.gjassociates.co.uk) and to continue networking.
The feedback received on the day was fabulous. Our incredibly talented photographer, Abby Wilkes (www.abbywilkes.com) and videographer Ria Gor (www.bethecreativepenguin.com) continued to capture the happy smiling faces, and Event Manager, Nichola Kelsey from Welcombe Events (www.welcombeproductions.co.uk) took a well-deserved seat. The beautiful brochures designed by Rebecca Jones from Glory Design (www.glorydesign.co.uk) were carefully guarded by each delegate ready to pour over the information once home, and the Socially Shared Associate Team, who were instrumental in bringing the event together, basked in the glory of another successful conference.
A wonderful day was had by all, and we can’t wait to see you all back for more in 2020.
Karen and the team