My name is Wendy Jones and I run WJ Cleaning Company. My journey started in 2013 when I suddenly and unexpectedly became a single mum. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mum who volunteered in my son’s school. It was a very traumatic time for both myself and my son and the will to survive kicked in. So, I got a job as a teaching assistant and set up an ironing service which meant I could work at home and care for my son.
My ironing customers started asking for cleaning services as they knew my standards were high. As my son got older, I took on more cleaning work. I loved working in school but soon realised I could not progress, so I looked at taking on a staff member to help with the cleaning and the rapidly-increasing number of customers.
I put a note up on Facebook asking who could help me grow and employ staff and up popped Jane Binnion! Before I knew it, I was pitching my business ideas (along with nine other startups) to a group of 10 business people in front of an audience who had paid to watch. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with a business coach and marketing coach for six months, which gave me the confidence to leave my ‘proper’ job and run the business full time.
I also undertook the Bloom and Grow programme with Jane and The Growing Club, which gave me the foundations and confidence I needed to grow. Since then, my business has grown, albeit in an up-and-down kind of way, but Jane and The Growing Club have been there when I needed them, whether that is just to let off steam in the drop-in or do one of the many workshops around subjects like social media and marketing etc. I was able to sell my house to buy somewhere larger with my mum so she can help with childcare and I can help her which further strengthened my foundations to concentrate on the business.
At the beginning of this year, we had just started cleaning for a large business in Carnforth, as well as all the residential properties we still did. I had a team of around four people who I could offer regular employment to, alongside a couple of self-employed cleaners who helped out when needed.
Like millions of others, I was then halted in my tracks by the global pandemic. My overwhelming thoughts were with my staff. As a result of the timings I was not able to furlough any of them, which was a disaster. I had one cleaner stranded in Kartoum and another who had to shield.
Residential cleaning was not viable and we could not work from home. Again, all through this, The Growing Club and mentor were there for advice and support, having quickly made all their services available online.
My son has additional needs and was being home-schooled and my mum was in the clinically extremely vulnerable group. Left with no alternative, I paused the business.
However, I had had a taste of what things could be like running a business and managing and training a team, and I am confident I will do it again. Customers are coming back but unfortunately, the large commercial clean has stopped for the foreseeable future.
I have spent time training and getting to understand exactly how this pandemic will change the cleaning industry. I feel passionate about providing good employment and training to a workforce who have largely been seen as ‘unskilled.’ Effective commercial cleaning is going to be a vital part of the economy’s recovery. It has made me all the more determined to provide a high-quality, effective cleaning service alongside great employment opportunities for staff.
The cleaning industry is very supportive of one another and I have formed relationships with wonderful people and businesses across the world. This pandemic has made us all think and prioritise what is important for us and our businesses. The Growing Club is one of those things that I would have been lost without, both before and during this unprecedented time.
I am looking forward to recruiting more staff, training and supporting businesses as they open up to this new world – none of which would have been achievable without The Growing Club and the wonderful people I have met through it. We will shortly become a limited company, ready for growth again. We are very lucky in Lancashire to have this invaluable resource!
Catch up on Jane Binnion’s Radio Lancashire interview, recorded on the 23 June 2020, where she talked with Brett Davison about COVID-19 and the negative impacts on women in business, creating a further gender imbalance.
When coronavirus hit, we were unable to continue with our training programme in our usual face-to-face delivery, in small groups. However, we have continued to work from our homes and we adapted quickly to the lockdown situation, delivering all of our programmes online within a week, with additional programmes added to our offering. As we received the government small business grant, we prioritised to keep going, paying the team and ensuring we were around to support the many women we work with.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) conducted their Quarterly Labour Force Survey and found that women and young people (under 25s) were more likely to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with long-term economic consequences for these groups. This, they believe, is due to the groups being more likely to hold employment in areas that have been forced to close down due to the pandemic and social distancing requirements, like restaurants and hotels for example.
And the UN has also issued a warning of the global COVID-19 crisis increasing inequalities for women. The UN’s senior gender adviser, Nahla Valji, said:
“There is no single society where we’ve achieved equality between men and women, and so this pandemic is being layered on top of existing inequalities, and it’s exacerbating those inequalities.”
We surveyed women within our network, on the impacts of COVID-19 has had on their own businesses. Some of the themes that have arisen include:
The responses received showed that the majority of women have been affected by the pandemic, with many businesses needing to close. One respondent stated:
“My business has ‘fallen off the edge of a cliff’ and I have furloughed myself.”
The impacts for women whose businesses have suffered under the pandemic are varied, with several women stating that their income has been dramatically reduced and they’re unsure what the future holds.
One respondent stated:
“I had to stop working mid-March. It has been tough, not just financially, but emotionally too. I have had to apply for Universal Credit which is upsetting as I was getting to the point that I was reaching the point where I wasn’t needing benefits for much longer.”
Many women have assumed full caring responsibilities for young children, along with having to teach them from home. Several of those children have additional needs, resulting in the women being unable to work on their own business, if it is still active.
The pressures of taking on a domestic role, with often the male partner working full time from home.
One respondent stated:
“[My business has] totally stalled since I am now trying to home-school children. I’m not making anything…I don’t have the energy to work on online selling.”
Many women report feelings of overwhelm, with tiredness and worry impacting them on a day-to-day basis. Lots have reported being proactive in dealing with these feelings, and trying to prioritise self-care, through yoga, meditation and other methods.
Maintaining support for our women
Our plan for prioritising the women from our network has worked well so far – the women appreciate that we have stayed around to help them stay focussed and motivated during a tough time. The weekly virtual drop-in sessions have become weekly goal-setting and check-in sessions. Keeping in touch and helping to keep women buoyant has become our priority.
We have even added new programmes: a daily 10-minute neck and shoulder exercise session live on our Facebook page; weekly Monday morning workshops to help women start the week well, prioritise and stay focussed; and we have even launched a women and leadership course.
However, we are also very concerned by what we are seeing and hearing from some of the women who use our services.
We already know women are hit hardest by poverty.
There is still an assumption that this country is one of happy, nuclear families.
The reality is some women and children are now in lockdown with abusive and violent partners and some women are having to live on next to no income. One woman who has been self-employed for just over a year, not only has to wait until June for her self-employment support payment, but also expects to only get £95 a month. She is a single mum.
The hardest thing for us to see is women unable to participate. Women with young children on our employment skills course had to immediately drop-out.
And women running businesses are unable to give attention to their enterprise when they have caring responsibilities. We fully understand that keeping safe is priority and we are totally reinforcing that message. But what it means in real terms, is that small businesses led by women with caring responsibilities will fall behind those run by men, and that women are carrying that responsibility even when they have a male partner at home furloughed, or also self-employed.
We talk a lot about women doing the double shift – running a business and a home. But this situation has really demonstrated that domestic responsibilities are not shared equally, even when they can be.
The outcome of that is women cannot attend to their business, or take part in the many business support sessions being delivered via Zoom.
We are guilty of that too. We have a number of sessions running at 12.30 . It’s normally not a problem, but in these times of all children being home-schooled, it’s now the children’s lunch break. We are aware now and have made changes, but this situation is not being heard at all by business support leaders – because it’s just another ‘women’s issue’.
What are the consequences of ignoring this?
While the business support world is all about getting the economy restarted, post-COVID19. There is no sense of how many businesses are run by women. The impact on local economies and individual families who once again find themselves struggling on low incomes is going to be huge. We would like to see national statistics on the business impacts on women from COVID-19, but it’s unlikely there will be any.
Post-lockdown, we absolutely must place great weight on creating a level playing field for women. Extra financial support should be prioritised for women running small businesses, on a local and national recovery agenda, because these women have had the critical jobs of caring for and educating our children, caring for the elderly and running homes at the expense of their own businesses.
It’s heart-breaking. So many women were just getting into their stride, building businesses on their own terms, using their skills and gaining confidence.
We can no longer say we are planning for economic recovery without planning for economic equality.
We will recover, but once again, it will be done with women having one hand tied behind them.
My experience of being a woman in business during Covid-19 pandemic
My name is Amanda Gallagher and I am the owner of Tinbox Angel, which is a micro-manufacturer of handbags and accessories.
In January 2016, I joined the first cohort of women who had applied for a place in The Growing Club. The Growing Club is a CIC organisation helping women run and grow their businesses to their full potential. It was an exciting time for my business, and I underestimated the impact that joining this group would have on my future success.
After attending a seminar where Jane Binnion (founder of the GC) presented the pros and cons of social media at my son’s high school, I was suitably impressed and decided to look her up and booked her for some Facebook training for my business. After knowing more about my business, Jane suggested I attend the taster session for a new support group she was hoping to create, for women in small businesses.
I was a little reluctant to go and thought ‘not another networking event’ but something resonated with me. I went along, nervously to the taster session. I was warmly greeted and met other women, some with ideas for new businesses and some with businesses more established than my own. All the women were so friendly and helpful and for once, I didn’t like a fish out of water, there was no competitiveness or underlying aim to this group, it was simply to help women like me achieve their potential.
It has been over four years since I attended this initial meeting, and subsequent monthly training group which developed from that first session, and as a result, my business is so different to how it was then. I regularly attend other training through The Growing Club, and there is always something of interest on offer. Also, I meet my peer group and trainer from the original cohort regularly to discuss any issues we have with our businesses. Jane regularly mentors me, especially when she can see my focus is slipping. This peer group has been invaluable to me and I have a deep affection for every single one of these women, and I have no doubt that without the support The Growing Glub gave us in the early stages, many of these wonderful businesses would not be around today.
After about three months of joining The Growing Club, the realisation hit me like a thunderbolt that my business didn’t need to be a passive income and it could actually support my family and potentially provide employment for other people. The Growing Club had started to give me the tools and the ambition to think big and took me completely out of my comfort zone. It also supported me to ensure these thoughts were achievable and not just dreams.
Suddenly my mindset changed. I had to look at why my business wasn’t creating me any income, never mind any profit, and at this point, I had to change the entire way I was operating.
The hardest thing and still is today is having to say no to people. I found early on in my journey, that making one-off designs for people was never going to work and neither was some of the products I had enjoyed making for so long. I had to look at simplifying my whole business.
I invested heavily in someone to help me with my marketing and a website, bought some industrial equipment, stopped doing the one-off designs, and concentrated on my range of products that I could produce quickly and effectively. My business was no longer a small cottage industry, selling at school fairs: I was sending products across the country and further afield.
The changes I have had to make haven’t always proved popular with my customers, and I have lost quite of few of them from my early years; many who liked to set me challenges for little or no reward, and I am glad that I have freed myself from the hold of that this kind of business had over me. They were stopping me developing my business any further.
I decided never to discuss my business with anyone other than my ‘cheerleaders’. All of my Growing Club peers are my ‘cheerleaders’: we are travelling the same paths. I have learnt so much from being too open, people always have an opinion or an idea, so I politely listen and smile and usually say, oh I must try that when I am quiet.
I have learnt to believe in myself and love what I do. Now and then, I say to myself, “Wow you are so good at this!”. This is not something I would ever have done a few years ago, not even 12 months ago. The imposter in me still rears her ugly head now and then, but I know when she does, I simply create a new design or read my reviews. It knocks her right off her perch!
I know people look at me, and think ‘who does she think she is?’ or ‘she wouldn’t have got where she was without her early customers’, but in my heart of hearts, I know I deserve to be here and it has been sheer hard work that has got me here today.
I would say I am still on a huge learning curve and if my business was a mountain, I’m probably only half the way up the steep incline, but I can see the summit and what it is going to look like when I get there. I have no doubt that without the support from The Growing Club I would not be at this stage and probably still making aprons for school fairs. I have had some really tough times personally and professionally over the past few years, and since having The Growing Club in my life, I know I have a lifeline, and I boy have used it, especially recently during the Covid-19 pandemic.
My business experienced amazing growth over the past three years and since moving to Lancaster City Centre in September, orders have been consistent and I was starting to considering how I could take it to the next level and possibly look at employing someone to help me. I was so busy and my business was consuming my every waking moment of my life.
My turnover had tripled from the previous year and I was trying my best to control the growth and also ensure I could still provide the level service people had come to expect from me. January sales came and went, and February is notoriously a quiet month, and I was looking forward to time to breathe before Spring orders came along.
This year, however, it didn’t happen. The internet orders didn’t arrive, Lancaster town centre was deadly quiet and customers were no longer popping in. It was a different story less than three weeks previously, where some days I had not managed to produce any products for people calling in placing orders.
I had no orders. I kept saying, it’ll come next week, but it didn’t. People were watching the news and the reports about Covid-19 and were worried witless about their livelihoods and wellbeing. The lockdown, although we knew it was coming, was such a shock.
The night of the announcement, I travelled to my workshop and loaded up my car with materials and equipment. This wasn’t going to be a problem for me, I had worked from home until six months previously – I would just have to turn the clock back, but this proved impossible. My large workbenches and heavy industrial equipment could not be taken home. My suppliers were closing down, one-by-one, the orders weren’t coming in, so I decided to give in to the lockdown, stay home and listen for guidance from the government.
All the time we are listening daily to the death rate going up, this virus was coming and no one was immune. Who can blame anyone for not feeling like a leather handbag was what they needed? My finances had been shot to pieces too. I couldn’t expect people to behave differently than myself.
After a difficult six months – the closure of my husband’s business coincided with my business moving into premises – my anxiety was at an all-time high and our finances were so stretched. This was sure to put the nail in the coffin on all my hopes and dreams.
Important announcements were made early on, that was going to change our situation, and for that, I am so grateful. They were allowing self-employed people to register for Universal Credits and also removing the minimum income floor for people, which was a huge relief for my family. Without this, I have no doubt I could not feed my family.
The government also insisted mortgage companies allowed three months’ holiday for people, another massive help for our household. In addition to this, because my business had rates relief on the business premises, I was eligible for the £10,000 grant. I applied for it, and never for one minute thought I would get it. Who had ever heard of the government giving this kind of money away? It was just unthinkable. It was at that point that I started to worry, but the £10,000 landed. I am grateful to the local council for being so proactive distributing this.
I have been so grateful for so much online assistance providing help in the form of training, mentoring, meditation, wellbeing, motivational help and peer groups. The Growing Club has been exceptional in the support they have offered. Isolation would have been a lonely place without all this help available and I will never forget the organisations and people who are providing these services I am using daily to help me get through it.
My son was doing his A-Levels and things may have changed for his future regarding awarded grades due to cancelled exams, which could affect his university choice. My daughter is in year 10 – another key year. I’m grateful my children are older, therefore the home-schooling hasn’t been a problem. We have a nice garden too, so isolation hasn’t been an issue, and we live next to the coast, so exercise has been a pleasure. We have enjoyed our time together. I feel blessed.
I know I will come back stronger than ever after having this time to concentrate on the engine room of my business and I am so grateful for the financial assistance I have been awarded. It’s only a short-term fix and I will have to work so hard to get back to where I was before the virus struck. I fear this will take years rather than months, but I know I have been one of the lucky ones.
Half of businesses are just one payroll away from cashflow disaster and it has made me realise that it’s so important to have a contingency plan in place. We have already lost some great British companies before Covid-19 and I know we will lose more before we come out of this.
We are all human and we all need help sometimes. In this instance, most of us have needed help and for once, I think we will be better people for it. If only so many people hadn’t had to lose their lives during this crisis.
Happy International Women’s day for March 8 2020! (To save you asking, International Men’s Day is November 19th.)
Did you know the first International Women’s Day took place in 1911, supported by over one million people? Understandably, some folk wonder why we still celebrate it, in a time when we apparently have gender equality. Well, I really look forward to the day when we do have equality for all but, both locally and globally, I’m afraid women still do not get a fair deal.
In January, Oxfam published a report stating women’s unpaid work is worth $10.8 trillion a year – three times more than the global tech sector. They calculated that every day, women and girls put in 12.5-billion hours of unpaid care work, whilst countless more carers are paid poverty wages. Here in the UK women still do 70% of domestic tasks, even when they work full time.
As a woman with a few miles on my clock, I have experienced my fair share of overt, subtle and organised sexism. You will have seen some of it yourself in the form of headlines about single mums, working mums, unemployed mums etc, with very little reference, in comparison, to single dads and working dads.
There was a recent headline that personally confused me: “Women only business groups marginalise and fail to empower members”. Now, this was a grand statement considering the researchers only interviewed 14 women in Northern Ireland. But, still it had the potential to undermine good work. So, as someone with a lifetime commitment to equality for all, and the MD of The Growing Club – a social enterprise providing employment and enterprise skills for women – I wanted to put the record straight as to why we run a women’s organisation.
Three main things motivated me to set up The Growing Club. Firstly, most female-led businesses are small businesses dealing directly with consumers (rather than business-to-business) and the criteria for mainstream business support here in Lancashire excludes these. Secondly, when over a 12-month period, three male business owners I knew died from heart attacks, I realised the traditional business education model, of work harder and longer hours, was bad for us. We needed a new and healthier business growth model, a model about sustainability. And thirdly, we had been hit hard by austerity in the North West and women carry the biggest burden of poverty.
In his 2003 International Women’s Day speech, Kofi Annan said:
“When women thrive, all of society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.”
We believe investing in women is an effective way of building community wealth and wellbeing.
Obviously, I should not have to write this, and yet I seem to say it most days: women are not all the same! ‘Women in Business’ is a broad term that includes women like Deborah Meaden, Michelle Mone and Sue, who makes jewellery at home when her children are in bed.
One of the missions of IWD 2020 is: “To support women to earn and learn on their own terms and in their own way.” And this is what we do. We have worked with more than 300 women since starting in 2016, with a 95% success rate of women meeting their goals and 99% success rate of increased confidence and focus.
Do we marginalise and fail to empower women?
“Before I joined The Growing Club, I was just procrastinating. Procrastination is about emotions not productivity. You taught us to manage our emotions in a new way. To change the habit, you taught us to ‘dare’ to focus on the ‘bigger, better, picture’ you taught us self-compassion and to treat oneself with kindness. You have changed so many lives.”
And Pat wrote:
“I have, over the last two years since coming into contact with The Growing Club (and their courses), turned my life around, found hope for my future and realised that that potential and talent was always in me, but The Growing Club empowered me to reach it.”
So, I’m going to say the answer to the question of whether or not we marginalise or fail to empower women is no.
When I was new in business, just 10 years ago, there was nothing like this. As a social media trainer, I joined a business networking group, but as I walked in all I could see was a sea of grey suits. Try as I might to fit in, I knew it was not me. It was joining Pink Link, a women’s networking group that helped me build my confidence and a supportive network.
Women’s business support will not suit every woman and not all women are nice to each other, but we have created a growing network where women from all backgrounds come together as equals. Just last week, we started a film project for women aged 50+ to share their thinking on healthy ageing and being economically active. In the room, we had women from South Africa, India, Germany and across the UK. Women raised with privilege and those raised in hardship. All heard and respected each other’s experiences and I feel privileged to be a part of that, because it is uncommon.
If I had a wish, it would be that this International Women’s Day would be inspired by a conversation I had recently. I was explaining how a young woman was being sexually harassed at work and was considering quitting her job when another woman replied: “That’s just how it is” and recommended the young woman toughens up. It made me sad to realise some adult women think: “I coped, so why can’t they?”, rather than realising that no one should have to put up with such treatment.
So, my wish would be that as adult women and men, we use our experiences to reduce the impact of sexism for future generations, not simply accept it.
Hello, my name is Amanda and my business is called Amanda Topps Consultancy. I run a health and social care consultancy, which means my day-to-day work involves research, evaluation and working with clients in person.
I’ve been involved in the Growing Club since 2017 when I discovered the Sowing Club was starting up at the Cornerstone in Lancaster. I had recently left a 26-year career in health and social care working for a local authority. I was seeking what to do for paid work whilst I developed ideas for creating a unique, inclusive holiday retreat and community.
I knew I needed to learn about setting up a business as I’d never done this before, and I felt The Growing Club would be a safe place to learn with other women and gain confidence. The Sowing Club finished and I was invited to do a pitch at Angel’s Den, where local business people offered support for your idea to help you grow. I was actually very blessed, securing three business angels, all of whom have been fundamental to the development of my ideas and attitudes to business.
Then I went on to do take part in Roots and Shoots – a year-long course involving more in-depth study about business start-up, including topics like finance, branding and self-care. As a result of this course, I gained an amazing mentor for three years – a relationship which is providing many foundational ‘A-ha’ moments, for example, learning about the fundamental importance of self-care. I also gained supportive friends from the course who particularly helped me with personal growth and building my confidence.
Currently, I’m taking part in the Bloom and Grow course. We are allocated a buddy to share ideas and plans with and I find the monthly contact with Growing Club women and trainers of vital importance to help me develop in my business and working life. I often work from home, which means I can sometimes feel isolated, but The Growing Club enables me to feel connected and I know I can go to the weekly drop-in to co-work and connect.
The courses have given me information and knowledge; people who I know will be in my corner and believe in my business and support me. The women have given me focus, inspiration and motivation when I was struggling; ideas and encouragement as well as a host of learning about different ways to set my business up – finance, branding, networking and ways to manage my time.
My business and how I feel about it has evolved from being uncertain and limited, to becoming more confident, based upon my skills and passions in the social care sector. I’m doing some fabulous work with a national charity about employment and I am just starting some exciting life-changing work with people with learning disabilities.
I definitely feel more confident: I know I have the knowledge I need or know where to find it if I don’t. Finding new work, contracts and money are definitely a challenge but I’ve learnt that I don’t have to know everything all at once and that I can cross that bridge when I come to it and get help at The Growing Club. I have learnt to quietly trust and be patient.
Learning to delegate the things I am not so good at or will be a drain of my time, is a key piece of learning. I’ve learnt so many things, including taking opportunities when they come along, like Angel’s Den. I’ve learnt to ask for help and take the help that’s available; think about my contacts and how they may be able to help me; use networks like LinkedIn; meet new people at events and conferences; keep curious and open-minded when developing my business ideas and most importantly for me, follow my heart and values, my instinct and intuition when making decisions about my work, finance and lifestyle.
As a person, I’ve become more open and able to be more vulnerable to discuss problems or challenges. I’ve also learnt to value my skills, knowledge and abilities. These changes may not have occurred if I hadn’t been in the safe, supportive environment of The Growing Club.
Following networking at conferences, in 2020 I am developing some new opportunities, collaborating with people with whom I share values and aspirations for my work in health and social care. I am excited to do more collaborative work again and will enjoy learning from new opportunities and colleagues. I’ve developed an inclusive holiday with a national charity Through the Roof and we’ll be sharing time together at Sherwood Center Parcs this June.
Hi, I’m Kate Manders and I own and run the Wagtail Deli Café
in Arnside and the Wagtail Kitchen at Lakeland Food Park, Plumgarths, nr Kendal
in partnership with my husband Steve.
I’ve known Jane Binnion for a few years now. We initially met around 2014 when my husband and I did some Facebook for Business training with her and I loved the way she delivered her training. She was full of practical advice; I knew I’d found someone who could really help me. I signed up for the newsletters! In 2016 Jane mentioned she had designed a course for women in business who wanted help, not just to achieve their goals, but to fit it round real life. The Growing Club was the outcome, and the timing was perfect for me to sign up for the second cohort (GC2). I’d just sold a previous business and was going into full-time catering with my husband. We knew we wanted to make big changes but didn’t really have a clue where to start.
Being in the Growing Club was life changing. I know you’ll be rolling your eyes right now,
thinking I am some sort of over-enthusiastic groupie. But honestly, I can’t think of how else to
describe it. I spent 12 months with a
group of other like-minded women, all at different stages and from very
different backgrounds. But from our year
together, we all have so much clarity in our business, and understanding of how
better to balance work with the rest of your life, and a fantastic support
network of people who are all rooting for each other. This is what the Growing Club does. It gives you the confidence to, well, to
Since graduating from GC2, I regularly attend the Growing
Club Graduates meet ups, and I have an ongoing business buddy. That chance to receive and offer support to
and from other amazing souls is worth more than anything for me. We opened the Wagtail Deli Café in 2018 and
have just started developing our Wagtail Kitchen brand. I don’t think I would have the guts to do any
of this without the Growing Club.
I would always be happy to talk to anyone who is considering
a Growing Club programme. When something
is this good, you’ve just got to share it.
In the next in our series of blog posts introducing Growing Club women, we meet with Janet Hampson of JHPM to chat about taking the plunge into starting her own business and how The Growing Club has played a role in her success.
Janet first heard about The Growing Club online in Autumn 2018, when she saw an advert for ‘Crafty Women’; a course designed to support women who want to turn their art and craft skills into a viable business. “The big thing that caught my eye was that the training was being held in Morecambe, and not Lancaster,” Janet told us.
“Once I learned that Crafty Women was just one element of what The Growing Club offers, I started to look at what else might be a good fit for me. I moved away from the idea of craft pretty soon. I realised that the answer to what I should do next was right under my nose.”
Janet, whose background is in casting and who lives in Morecambe, was moved to start her extras agency, Bay Casting, when primetime ITV series ‘The Bay’ came to Morecambe for filming.
“The agency started by recruiting local people who wanted to be extras whilst I was still part of Crafty Women. The website went live in February 2019 and we got our first job – for Coronation Street – in May.”
Since then, Bay Casting has gone from strength to strength, and we are delighted that she has achieved the goal she originally set out with.
“We are now supplying extras to series 2 of The Bay. It’s now time to think about what happens next…”
As is the case for many women who run their own businesses, Janet has experienced the difficulties that working alone can bring, and shared with us how connecting with the Growing Club has helped her overcome some of these barriers.
“When you are self-employed – or intending to be self-employed – you can really miss having a sounding board. Having a place to say ideas out loud and get feedback has been fantastic. I found friendships, which are always a good thing.
“The main thing I’ve gained has been time to think and reflect. I’ve recognised my strengths, I can look at my skills with an outsider’s eyes,” Janet told us. “It gave me a big dollop of self belief.”
Janet’s journey started with a craft course but took a different route into representing extras for TV and film. We asked Janet if she had any advice for other women just setting out on their business journey. She said:
“For me, the realisation that the business training I was receiving was transferable to any business was an Aha! moment.”
“I’d say turn up for all the sessions. You might think ‘I don’t need to know x, y or z for my idea’ – but how do you really know that? And why turn your back on hearing from experts in their field? You never know what might spark an idea off.”
So what does the future hold for Janet and Bay Casting? Building on her initial success, Janet shared with us her plans for the future:
“I’ve recently opened another agency – this time purely for actors. Bay Casting was born out of wanting to do something locally, using the skills and contacts I already had.”
“The new agency, JHPM, gives me the opportunity to work with actors again – which is what I’ve done my whole working life. So far, it is working out really well and I’m feeling very positive about the future.”
Janet is continuing to work with The Growing Club, having signed up for our 12-month business growth course, Bloom & Grow, and we wish her the best of luck with her future projects!
For me, The Growing Club came along at the perfect time. A few months before I started the very first Growing Club course as a member of ‘cohort 1’, I had taken a huge leap. I had worked for the NHS in mental health service for 14 years and decided to finally start work as a photographer and creative workshop facilitator (a long-held dream of mine).
One of the biggest struggles was leaving a close-knit team environment, to going solo. I had never run a business before either and so the offer of a course to help me get to grips with business basics was invaluable. Being part of The Growing Club course helped me gain clarity regarding my business focus.
I decided to follow my passion for portrait photography and started saying ‘no’ to the jobs I disliked. The support from my GC crew had the biggest impact. To travel this road with a group of fabulous businesswomen, all looking out for each other was so important (and remains so).
Once the course was over, I joined The Growing Club Graduates scheme and still meet regularly with members of my cohort and those who have been through the course since.
I then took an opportunity to join Jane in co-running the start-up programme, Roots and Shoots. We are now on the second group and it’s another valuable addition to the ever-growing options for women needing business support and guidance.
I have created many images for The Growing Club’s promotion too. I love how women stay involved in the organisation, for years after their initial courses have ended.
The regular reminders to create a vision and set intentions have become so important to me and my business. One recent and powerful example began when Jane and I sat down over 12 months ago to discuss my goals as part of a mentoring session. I identified my passion for creative portraiture and that I would like to have my first photography exhibition in a year’s time from that point. One year later, I was stood in front of 70 people who had come to the launch of my ‘Ablaze!’ exhibition in Morecambe. It was wonderful and surreal.
I have taken away so many nuggets that I try to remember on a regular basis. My favourites include:
“Your customers are looking for you, so make yourself as visible as you can be.”
“Don’t compare yourself to others, just focus on YOU!”
“Look after yourself! If you’re not healthy, your business isn’t either”
“Women are awesome at supporting one another!”
If you’re a woman in business, I encourage you to get involved in The Growing Club. You will gain so much, but additionally, you also have so much to offer, whether your business is currently an idea or you’re well-established.
Last week, we received a grant from Sport England, to fund a brand-new project: fitness and relaxation for women running small businesses.
Women and fitness is not a new concept of course, and there are many examples of initiatives aimed at getting women and girls to take up sports.
But here at The Growing Club, we are focussing specifically on women business owners.
We help women to set up and grow sustainable businesses. We’ve worked with over 300 women so far, but time and time again, the thing that we see which blocks sustainability is the lack of self-care. Whilst for many women running smaller organisations self-care is seen as a bit of a luxury, the reality is self-care is essential, because if you are a sole trader, what happens to the business if you become unwell?
Recently, a question was put to women in business on a Facebook group, asking: what stops women taking care of themselves? The answers were sobering:
Feeling guilty about taking a day off.
Fear of failing, I push myself harder than I probably should, no downtime and rarely a day off.
Lack of being able to switch off and totally relax.
Fear of failure. Constant anxiety and a lot of my family are negative about my idea o feels an uphill battle.
Switching off even on holidays and days off, it’s hard to ignore your phone. I have fibromyalgia, so every day is a challenge. I think I push myself too hard, so I can allow myself to give in to it.
All of these issues are down to women still doing the double shift: working full time and still carrying the biggest share of domestic tasks. This obviously impacts women who own micro-businesses more, as they are less likely to be able to afford help at home, such as a cleaner, nanny etc.
Not addressing this will mean we do not address the rate of failure amongst women small business owners. And this sums up why many women feel they have to quit business…“The reason I gave up was because I never had downtime. I never felt I could refuse a call.”
But it’s a bigger issue than that even. We have seen a very disturbing trend when it comes to women’s health, with a significant increase in strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and an all-time record high of burnout.
It was shocking to discover that each year, twice as many women die of a stroke than breast cancer – did you know that? And the risk of stroke is a third higher for women in stressful jobs, because we eat fast food, self-medicate, stop exercising and pile the weight on. Heart disease kills six times as many women than breast cancer every year. In the UK, an average of 65 women per day dies of heart disease.
The crazy thing about those statistics is that we could really reduce those figures with some simple lifestyle changes. And that is what our course, Healthy You, Healthy Biz is all about.
We all know the clichés: put your own oxygen mask on first; you can’t pour from an empty cup…and so on.
We know it, but we don’t act on it and in fact, self-care becomes just another stick to beat ourselves with, as we try to relax slumped and exhausted on the sofa with a glass of wine and bar of chocolate, mindlessly scrolling Facebook.
The aim of our initiative is to use The Growing Club ethos that women have come to trust: peer support, buddying and creating a safe space, to work together as a group on our eight-session course.
Healthy You, Healthy Biz is designed so that women are able to incorporate some form of exercise into their daily or weekly routine so we are making it accessible with no fancy equipment required…think cans of baked beans rather than dumbbells!
We’ll be using a pick-and-mix exercise programme, which includes dance, strength work, walking, yoga and Pilates. But because we have found women are unable to relax, we are also adding simple meditation and self-massage. We believe that if we can learn to relax, we are more likely to be able to jump off that never-ceasing hamster wheel and make time for ourselves generally.
The co-founder of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, is a finalist for a Lifetime Achievement Award from She Inspires.
Here, Jane tells us a little about herself, her background and how she came to create a successful social enterprise to help women in business on all levels.
Tell us about some of your struggles in your childhood.
“After a tonsillectomy went wrong when I was four-years-old, I was left with a lifetime of speech and hearing problems. And yet now I stand in front of groups and talk about things that are important to people, including doing business differently and defining success on our own terms. Despite years of being in and out of hospital and speech therapy, it seems I was always meant to do this.
“I also grew up experiencing domestic violence, in a poor working class family. I left home at 16. Somehow, I put myself through sixth form, despite living alone in a bedsit.
What happened after after college?
“In an interview at Essex University, they saw something in me and offered me an unconditional place to study sociology. That was my escape and I then spent the summer volunteering on a kibbutz.
“From there, I did postgraduate youth and community training and was a youth worker for 20 years in the more difficult and socially deprived areas of Birmingham and Lancashire.
“At 34 I became a single mum and raised an amazing daughter who came on fantastic adventures with me, including volunteering in a remote village in central Ghana.
You’ve experienced being on benefits as a single parent – what happened with that?
“Whilst employed as an advocate in a young men’s prison, a shoulder injury left me and my daughter just £80 a week Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to live on. I thought we were going to lose the house as my injury left me unable to drive. So I set up a business from home which, other than having my daughter, was the best thing I’ve ever done.
You’ve authored two books up to now. How did you start writing?
“At the age of 10, my daughter was diagnosed with dyspraxia. We then discovered I also was dyspraxic. That led me to write the first ever children’s storybook about Dyspraxia – a beautiful book called You’re So Clumsy, Charley. The emails I get from parents about the difference that the book has made to their children’s self-esteem is a huge reward to me.
“My next book was The Heart of Sales, an ethical sales skills book, as so many business owners struggle with the concept of sales and selling as part of a business.
How was The Growing Club created?
The Growing Club was an experiment I started through my own business – Ethical Business Training, as I saw a real gap in business training and support for women running micro-businesses.
So back in 2016, myself and Rachel Holme invited women to work with us on a 12-month programme and the rest is history, as they say.
We now have a thriving social enterprise and have already had more than 250 women go through our courses from all over North West England.
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
“Despite my disabilities and start in life, through working as a youth and community worker, women’s self-defence trainer and business trainer, I have given hundreds and hundreds of women the confidence to stand their ground, develop their skills and follow their dreams.”
What tips would you offer to women in business?
Find or create a good support network.
Self-care is essential – not a luxury.
When you feel like quitting, rest and re-group.
You can NOT do it all yourself.
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