Soaad Patel is the owner of Ayesha’s Attire, an independent boutique providing high-quality clothing that helps busy women dress well to feel good. Here she shares her story about how her business started, and how The Growing Club has helped her gain confidence and create solid business foundations. Soaad took part in the 12-month Roots and Shoots course – The Growing Club’s start-up course.
I’m Soaad, and my business is called Ayesha’s Attire. It’s named after my five-year-old daughter. As a single mum, she is my inspiration. What drives me is to give us both a better life. Before having her, I was very into fashion and loved buying clothes. But when I became a single parent I had to rethink my finances.
So I thought of the concept of buying pieces that I can wear over and over again, which are versatile and can be worn at home, or out with friends and so on. I also heard a lot of other women saying the same thing, so that’s why I started my business to help women buy affordable pieces which will go a long way. My pieces are modern, stylish and require minimal effort, you can dress them up with a belt or a scarf, but you don’t have to. Whether you’re a mum or a busy woman, these pieces help you look good. And when you look good, you feel good, and you have the confidence to tackle the day’s challenges.
Obviously, in this pandemic we’re spending a lot of time at home and want to be comfortable, but if you’re on a Zoom call you also have to be presentable. And this is what my business is all about, providing what women need in their new lifestyle, with high quality pieces you can keep for a long time, which are also comfortable.
I started my business last year before my daughter started school, but as she’s a child with a lot of energy, like most children that age, it was hard to concentrate on the business until she started in reception full time.
One of the reasons I started my own business was because I’ve always been a career-oriented person. I used to have five or six jobs at once, working in schools with children, and I loved it. When I became a mum, I felt like I’d lost that part of me, and I missed working, so I worked in retail for a while, but it didn’t have that problem-solving element which I enjoyed, so when a friend suggested I should start my own business, I started looking for suppliers, and it all went from there.
Obviously, I didn’t know how to run a business and I knew I needed support so that’s when I found out about The Growing Club. I had a chat with Jane Binnion and found out about all their courses and really liked the community feel of it. I also liked the fact that there are women at all stages in their business involved in The Growing Club, so whatever stage you’re at, people will relate to you and can help you.
My business is still fairly new, but I know a lot more than I did. For example, I didn’t know about getting the foundations of your business in place, and I went 10 steps ahead. But now thanks to The Growing Club, I know how important it is to do the right steps in order to be successful and to have a concrete business.
In 2021 I would like to continue to build up my customer base and grow my mailing list. When we’re allowed, I want to do pop-up shops as well, as they’re a great way to connect with people.
I’d recommend to other women that they get to know the ethos of The Growing Club, because they’re not like other organisations. It’s a community where women often go through the courses and then become involved in delivering them to others. I’m helping to facilitate the Sowing Club, for example, and I know other women have been through courses and gone on to volunteer and work with The Growing Club too, which is fantastic.
Overall, I’d say the main way that The Growing Club has helped me is with my confidence. I’m much more confident now than I was before I met Jane, and I’m really excited about the future of my business.
Hello and welcome to 2021! Yes, we are once again encased in COVID-19 impacts, with the UK currently in another lockdown situation.
Fortunately, we’re here for you with Wellbeing January (and beyond)! We’re delighted to have been awarded funding from the fabulous Smallwood Trust. As a result of this, we have a brand-new, sparkly Chief Wellbeing Officer, Sarah Ludford.
Sarah’s been super busy, devising a programme of wellbeing and self-care that’s designed to help you keep buoyant, healthy and present throughout lockdown living. Any of the workshops that are run as Facebook Lives will be available to access again whenever you need them, especially if you can’t tune in at the time they are live.
Have a look below to see what we have planned for you…
6th January 2021 – Facebook Live with Gabi Crossley. Gabi is a fully-qualified pre and post-natal exercise specialist. As The Mindful PT, Gabi works with women to balance all aspects of health and movement with everyday life. Link for the event can be accessed here.
6th January 2021, 10.00 – 11.00 am – Start 2021 feeling calm and positive, with a special mindfulness session with Hazel Hardie. This interactive workshop will include a guided meditation and mindfulness exercise about letting go of your worries and creating a positive vision for your year ahead. This is a Zoom class – link here.
Thursdays 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th of January, 12.30pm – 2.00pm – Weekly Drop-in Sessions. Every Thursday, join us for a relaxed session – grab a brew, talk about your business issues or just join us for connection. All women welcome! We offer good peer support and networking opportunities. Link to each week is here.
12th January 2021 – The Sowing Clubis returning this month. If you are unemployed or on benefits and looking for your “What next?”, please join us on this fully funded course. There are still places left. Here’s thelinkto book your place.
13th January 2021 – Facebook Live on abdominal massage with Nicola Garret. Nicola runs Exhale – a wellness studio – focussing on a variety of massages, pregnancy yoga and women’s wellness workshops
She will be giving a demo on abdominal self-care – a simple self-massage that is deeply relaxing and can help digestive, fertility issues and generally help to boost the immune system.
*Postponed*13th January 2021, 10.00-11.30 – Wellbeing Walk: Enjoying the beauty of nature with Alex, who runs a walking tour business, offering guided nature and heritage walks.
We have an incredible natural wonder on our doorstep. Morecambe Bay is the largest intertidal bay in the UK, the second-largest bay in Britain, teeming with wildlife – over 200,000 birds visit over winter and hundreds of seals colonise here to give birth.
The Bay is also one of the most bio-diverse areas of the country supporting nationally and internationally important species of wildflowers, and woodlands which in turn provide habitats for rare butterflies and red deer.
Join Alex for a 90 min (socially-distanced) walk, taking in the beautiful scenery of Morecambe Bay, discover some of the amazing nature, connect with others and get some exercise and fresh air.
13th January 2021, 4pm – a Zoom Game Party with Fiona Frank
Fiona will facilitate three or four Zoom games to play. It will be a lighthearted session, designed to help you have fun and a giggle together. The session will finish with a dance party so wear comfy clothes and clear your floor! Fiona has worked for the last nine years, up till September, as Projects and Outreach Manager for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities which, since March, meant moving all the organisation’s events online. She’s learned lots about Zoom along the way, and has led and been part of zoom tech teams for national and international conferences and for a music festival over the summer. As part of her Zoom journey she’s learned a few fun games that you can do on Zoom with friends, family, work colleagues and across large groups of people – whether or not you share a language. They’re all light-hearted, don’t need much equipment, and will be handy to brighten up Zoom meetings that you might be running yourselves in the new year. Link for more information here.
20th January 2021, 12pm, – join Jennie for a session of HormonalHarmony!
Jennie Edmondson will run a short session of Hormonal Harmony. If you suffer with hot flushes or low energy, she will show you how to work alongside your body to manage hormonal issues. Jennie is ex-military personnel who now works as a coach, specialising in online nutrition, movement and mindset, dedicated to keeping things simple and achievable to guarantee results.
Tuesdays 18th, 25th Jan and February 1st, 10.00 – 11.15am – join Laura Sandham-Smith from The Laura Sandham School of Dance for a jazzy musical theatre workshop!
This fun musical theatre workshop will be based around All That Jazz from the West End musical, Chicago. This dance-style session will work your body without you even realising, because you will be enjoying yourself so much! The routine will be easy to follow and no dance experience is needed. The cost for this course is just £10. Link to follow.
20th January 2021, 3.30pm – 5pm – 6 Essential Ingredients of Emotional Well-being for Building Personal Boundaries with Elaine Remy, Certified Emotional Well-Being Coach.
In this workshop, you will discover 6 Essential Ingredients of Emotional Well-Being for Building Personal Boundaries to prepare you for potentially difficult conversations and one extra ingredient: the cherry on the cake.
20th January 2021, 10.00am – 12.30pm – our January skills workshop is LinkedIn Essentials with Alex Dickson. Find out how to get the best out of LinkedIn for your small business.
Whatever type of business you are starting, running or expanding, having an engaging and professional LinkedIn profile and using its network is invaluable, and it’s FREE!
In this interactive workshop, Alex will help you get your profile page and your business noticed, and show you how to connect with people, businesses and organisations to help your business grow. Alex Dickson spent four years in the Learning & Development Team at LinkedIn HQ in California and has over 20+ years working in the IT industry around the world. She is now happily back in Morecambe, setting up her own Tour Guide business. You can view her LinkedIn profile here.
Tickets for this workshop are just £10, and as always we have some free places for women in hardship. Contact email@example.com.
27th January 2021, 1pm – 2.30pm – Art For the Heart: A Nurturing Session on Self-Care with Julia Yates from Lancaster Creative Counselling
Join an online art workshop focused on self-care and relaxation. This session is an opportunity to explore simple creative techniques to self-soothe. This includes a guided visualisation to help you tap into your creativity. No talent is required! Please have some paper, felt tips, pencils or paints to hand. This will be a safe and confidential space to focus on you. Link to follow.
This page will be updated with more events and workshops as they are confirmed.
As always, we have some funded places for unwaged or struggling women for any courses that have a cost to them. Please send us a message and let us know if we can help.
The Women and Enterprise Hub, 6-0-5 Alston House, White Cross, Lancaster, LA1 4XQ
In collaboration with the European Social Fund and Adult Learning Within Reach, we are pleased to be able to offer places at The Sowing Club – a fully-funded six-week skills training course for women in Lancashire. The course starts on the 12 January 2021 in Morecambe and will run for six Tuesdays.
The Sowing Club is aimed at benefitting women who fit into any of the following categories and are looking for a job, further education or self-employment:
in low-paid work
in receipt of benefits
suffer long-term ill-health
a lone parent
leaving a domestic violence situation
We run bespoke training sessions in a small and supportive peer group setting. This course covers:
how to maximise your existing skills
benefiting from support systems
how to plan for future opportunities
Here’s some quotes from previous attendees of The Sowing Club:
“A fun filled course that challenges you to think about yourself and focus on what you want to do. A great group of women. Sharing ideas and supporting one another. It has given me the boost I needed to sow my seeds and focus on my branches growing.”
“Life-affirming, exciting, encouraging, challenging personally and the best bit of training and focusing I’ve ever had – and I’ve done a lot of training!”
“Empowering, liberating, informative, friendly – the best decision you will make!”
“This has been an amazing course, I’ve loved it. I didn’t know how to use my ideas. Last week was the start of something for me. I have started business planning! Now I feel really motivated. This course has helped me feel confident, and I’ve discovered I can do anything I want/decide to do. This course is a big opportunity for any woman who needs to discover herself.”
From Tuesday 12th January, running for six Tuesdays.
Morecambe area – to be confirmed.
We are constantly monitoring the government COVID-19 guidelines and the safety of course participants and trainers takes priority at all time. Therefore, if the guidelines change, we may delay the start of this course and we will consult with you prior to any decisions on this.
The final month of the year and we’re sure most people are ready to wave bye-bye to 2020 and welcome 2021 in what will hopefully be a better, happier and healthier year for us all.
Here’s our round-up of what’s happening at The Growing Club in December and running into January in the New Year.
Dates for your diary
10th December2020 – join us online for a Christmas get-together? Let’s spread some seasonal cheer, celebrate friendship and close-off 2020 in style. The Growing Club’s Christmas Party will be on the 10th December. Come in a fancy-pants outfit or your Christmas cosy pyjamas. Bring your choice of festive food and drink, and join us for an afternoon of games, chat and cheer via Zoom. More information here and to book your free ticket, visit this link.
17th December 2020 – Women in Business in Lancashire and Cumbria. This Federation of Small Businesses event will be hosted by The Growing Club’s Jane Binnion, focusing on women in business and taking care of our wellbeing. This event will be festive and fun! You can registerfor a free ticket here (spaces are limited).
12th January 2021 – The Sowing Club returns with new sessions in Morecambe beginning in the New Year. If you are unemployed, unwaged, or on benefits and you’re considering setting up your own business or job seeking in new employment, why not join us on this fully-funded skills training course? Read more and apply here.
20th January 2021 – in conjunction with Lancaster City Council, Scaleability and The Growing Club, the second cohort of ourPeer-to-Peer-Mentoring course for women in the Lancaster district starts on the 20th January. If you’ve been in business for three years or more, you are eligible to apply. You can read more on this course and how to apply here.
Early next year, we will be running a second online cohort of Bloom and Grow, our business growth programme. You can read more about the programme here. Please subscribe to our newsletter for the announcement of new dates.
Funding grant: we’re delighted to announce that we have been awarded funding from the Francis C Scott Charitable Trust, to run a brand-new pilot programme for unwaged young women in early 2021.
Help us to help others – if you’re doing your Christmas shopping online, you can help to raise funds for The Growing Club by using the Fundraiser app. We’re now registered with easyfundraising, which means you can help us for free. Over 4,000 shops and sites will donate to us when you use easyfundraising to shop with them, with no extra cost to yourself. All you need to do is sign-up and remember to use easyfundraising whenever you shop online. You can find out more and sign-up via this link here.
We’re delighted to announce that our founding director, Jane Binnion, has been nominated for the Women of Inspiration list: The WISE List 2020, where 100 leading women have been nationally recognised for their contribution to UK social enterprise and impact investing during the COVID-19 pandemic, in partnership with social enterprise publication Pioneers Post and NatWest.
Jane has worked throughout the pandemic, supporting women in business and those who were just starting enterprises when the first UK lockdown occurred. She has prioritised mental and physical wellbeing in the network of women within The Growing Club, formulating a strategy around support and techniques to stay focussed and motivated with peer sessions and one-to-one coaching.
Face-to-face courses were quickly transformed to online experiences and offered wider than the Lancashire venues as previously existed. Weekly virtual drop-in Zoom sessions were used as goal-setting and check-in opportunities.
“I am delighted to have been nominated for the WISE List, and thrilled to see so many women making an impact in social enterprise settings.
“COVID has been the most challenging situations we have found ourselves in, with the follow-on effects being devastating on so many people’s business and working situations, let alone the health impacts.
“The Growing Club CIC made it a priority to support and assist our network of women however we possibly could, and from the early days of the pandemic sweeping across the country, we discovered that women would be the worst hit on a business level. Our ethos has and always will be, that women need a level playing field in business, more than ever in a COVID and post-COVID economy. The UN3said that the lack of equality between men and women was still imbalanced before the pandemic, but when COVID hit, it was “layered on top of existing inequalities”.
“Our work at The Growing Club helps us to strive to correct inequality through providing skills and entrepreneurial training, bespoke for women, so that they can thrive and progress sustainably.”
Tim West, founding editor of social enterprise publication, Pioneers Post, said:
“Social entrepreneurs are by no means the only people who have had to face big pressures and make hard decisions during these unprecedented times – but what stands out in so many of these stories from our WISE network is that while battling to keep their own social enterprises from the jaws of the pandemic, their focus has remained on the mission, and their first thoughts have always been for the people and communities they were set up to serve.
“This year’s WISE Women are clearly showing Covid who’s boss. We’re so pleased that our partners at NatWest Social & Community Capital were keen to highlight these stories through our WISE programme this year, and are overwhelmed by the number of exceptional women who have been nominated.”
As the autumn creeps in with its beautiful colours and cooler temperatures, we are now in the second lockdown in the UK, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, our work at The Growing Club continues, albeit mostly virtually! You can find all of the workshops and courses that are on offer during November in our quick and handy round-up below.
4th, 11th, 18th & 25th November – The Sowing Club new cohort starts (and runs into December). This is a fully-funded, six-week skills training course for women who are unwaged or deemed to be socially disadvantaged. Read more about the course here.
9th November – Bloom and Grow – the second session of our 12-month business growth and sustainability programme. Find out more about this course, specifically designed for women already running their own business, at this link.
16th & 23th November – The Gratitude Gallery (with dates running into December) with photographer, Ginny Koppenhol. Ginny will facilitate a month-long phone photography gratitude practice, designed as a mood-boosting creative group activity, during these challenging times.
The course will be weekly online workshops spread over four weeks, where you’ll learn phone photography and editing skills and use these to notice and record the aspects of your daily life that you feel grateful for.
At the end of the course, Ginny will also create an online gallery of your images to share more widely representing your moments of appreciation, experienced and captured. There are 10 spaces available Sessions are as follows (participants are asked to commit to all four): 1-2.30pm via Zoom. Click this link for more information and booking details.
20th November – Lancashire Women’s Peer Network begins. A funded programme from November to February is designed to provide a safe learning environment with trained facilitators. Women entrepreneurs and senior managers will be able to share the difficult issues their businesses are facing in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Find more information here.
26th November – Federation of Small Businesses, Mindful Management, with Dr Hazel Hardie. This session on Mindful Management will cover the 5 stages of mindful management. You will discover how to support the wellbeing of the people you work with, as well as creating an effective mindfulness practice for yourself. You will also learn about how to use mindfulness to improve your communication and relationships with others. Spaces are limited – to book online, click here.
30th November – Public Speaking Workshop: Find Your Voice, with theatre practitioner and facilitator, Emma Rucastle. The workshop will tackle the public speaking, which can be a worry for many small business owners, especially women, who have to present themselves and their businesses at a range of events – both formal and informal. In this interactive workshop, Emma will guide participants through a range of fun practical exercises, focusing on building confidence and finding your own voice. 10.00 – 12.30pm. Tickets are £10 and you can book online here.
Looking forward to December,there is a workshop is on creating and running effective Facebook adverts. Love it or hate it, people are using Facebook during this pandemic, because it is convenient for many businesses. If you have products or services to sell you might want to join in. Sarah Tinsley from Tech and Toast is recording a tutorial for you to view and keep. This will be available in the last week of November, with a live Q&A via Zoom on December 2nd. For more information and to book this workshop, please click here.
Something for every woman-in-business in Lancaster, Lancashire and beyond. Affordable and funded support for you, and your business
We know this is the hardest of times and so many of us are weary, but if you have started to turn your attention towards your business or employment possibilities again, then we have a huge selection of courses and opportunities coming up this term for you. And while we don’t normally blog about what’s on, we feel that right now, it would be really helpful to bring it all together in one place for a nice, easy read.
So here goes, in date order…
We have very carefully started face-to-face delivery again this week, as we ran the first session of the new cohort of our start-up programme. It was equally odd and wonderful to meet together after seven long months of delivering courses via Zoom.
Growth & Sustainability
While we adapted our work and course to online delivery via Zoom, we saw that women joined us from all over the UK and beyond, so we are still offering online courses. In fact, we are very excited to be offering our popular growth and sustainability programme as an online course for the first time, starting this month. So if you are interested in this course but don’t want to travel to Lancaster, this might be the perfect solution for you. It’s incredibly affordable*, convenient and we have condensed the curriculum into a six-month programme. You can find all of the details and how to book, here.
Our Peer Mentoring programme for women running businesses in Lancaster is going so well, we are opening a second cohort on October 14th. This is a fabulous initiative where you train as a mentor – a great life skill – and you also get your own trained mentor for 12-months. Working in partnership with Lancaster City Council on the COVID-19 Recovery & Resilience Initiative, this comprehensive training programme is fully funded for women who have been in business for at least three years. If this interests you, you can apply here.
Employment & Enterprise Skills Training
With high rates of unemployment right now, we are pleased to be able to restart our Employment and Enterprise Skills Training courses for women who are unwaged and looking for their ‘What next?’ opportunity.
Working in collaboration with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), we can offer this fully-funded, small group course to you if you are in Lancashire, deemed to be economically inactive and want support to help you take the next steps.
The next course is face-to-face, starting on 4th November and is based in Lancaster. You can book your place via this link here.
We have also been awarded a contract to deliver a brand-new UK government initiative of peer-to-peer action learning for women running businesses or not-for-profits in Lancashire, who, up to the pandemic, had £100k+ turnover.
This programme consists of 18-hours of action learning plus four-hours of one-to-one coaching. The training is fully-funded and it will run every two weeks, on a Friday morning, starting mid-November. Please note this course is limited to just 10 places. If you would like to apply for a place, please email Jane@thegrowingclub.co.uk for an application form.
If you have questions about any of the above, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
*If you are a woman running a business in Lancashire who wants to join this programme but have a cash-flow problem right now, Boost Lancashire has agreed to pay your fees as a Pay-It Forward grant. That means that you get the support you need now, and when you’re back on your feet, you pay for other women to do the same.
Are you a woman running a small business which has been impacted by the pandemic?
Then we have some good news!
We don’t need to tell you that the pandemic has been hard on all of us who run small businesses and not-for-profit organisations.
Many of us had a crash-course in online tools and those who were able to, adapted to working online. Whilst it was not perfect, it had its positives and we learnt some good lessons.
One of the learning points for us was, by delivering our work via Zoom, we reached a much wider audience. We were delighted that women were able to join us from far and wide. In fact, many women have asked us to continue delivering some of our work online, as it saves travel time, and is just very convenient for some.
So, that got us thinking. Our inclusive, female-focussed, peer-based employment and enterprise training is pretty unusual. We are often asked to run our courses elsewhere in the country, but we simply have not had the resources to do it. By adapting our work the way we did during the lockdown, it helped us to realise that we could, in fact, deliver our programmes on a global basis. All without any of us leaving the comfort of our home or office.
Accessible business training
And so, our business growth and sustainability programme, Bloom and Grow, is launching as an online course in October.
Making courses like this available digitally is so important right now. It will help to support the recovery and resilience of female-led businesses, particularly because during lock-down, so many women took on the roles of homeschooling and caring duties. This meant that there was little time or energy left for their own business.
We’re very happy that running our Bloom and Grow course online makes it accessible to female business owners who are:
* unable to travel/reach Lancashire & Cumbria * living outside of North West England and the UK * looking to create sustainable growth post-COVID19 * looking to gain all the benefits without the travel * enjoy the business benefits of a highly-subsidised business education programme!
While life is still so unpredictable it means we can provide:
* Sustainable post-COVID19 business education * Peer support for business development and growth * Accountability
All while working from where you are. And even better still, as part of our commitment to support economic recovery, we have significantly reduced the price.
This course helps you to focus on your business growth and sustainability as we navigate our way through this strange new time.
For full details and to apply for a place today on the online Bloom and Grow course, just click this link.
If you would like to read about the impact that our business growth course has had on other women running small businesses, please take a look at our blogs.
In September 2019, The Growing Club became a regional business support delivery partner for the NatWest Back Her Business Initiative.
It has been a big concern for us that women starting a business can’t get seed funding, and if someone is starting a business from being on state benefits, which quite a few Growing Club start-ups are, finding money for simple items such as business cards is a big deal, let alone a website, laptop or other essential equipment.
For us, Back her Business is a great initiative for women start-ups because crowdfunding brings in much-needed support and NatWest match the fund – up to 50% of the target. In addition, it’s a fantastic marketing exercise.
But it isn’t easy. It takes time and energy and it can be scary. After all, it involves asking for help and money: two things that don’t always come easily.
In this video, Jane Binnion interviews two women – Helen Dixon and Elaine Remy – who ran successful crowdfunder campaigns during the COVID-19 lockdown. The interview shows what it’s really like to crowdfund, answering questions posed by women interested in running their own crowdfunding campaign, as well as Helen and Elaine’s top tips for success.
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.
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.
We are really excited to be offering once again, a fully-funded six-week skills training course for women in the Morecambe area, starting on the 15 January 2020.
‘The Sowing Club’ course has been funded by the European Union’s Social Fund. The course will benefit women who are currently searching for a job, in further education or self-employment and who fit into any of the following categories:
in low-paid work
in receipt of benefits
suffer long-term ill-health
a lone parent
leaving a domestic violence situation
Our training sessions are provided in small and supportive group settings – we know this method gets the best results for you. We will be covering confidence building, how to maximise your existing skills, benefiting from support systems, problem-solving and how to plan for future opportunities.
The founding Director of The Growing Club, Jane Binnion, says:
“We have just finished the first course which ran at the Women and Enterprise Hub in Lancaster, and the results amazed even us. Women have said their experience was life-changing and everyone felt much more confident and focused on their future. It is fantastic what just 15 hours of good attention in small groups can achieve.”
A previous attendee of The Sowing Club said:
“The Sowing Club has been useful to meet women with a tremendous passion for life, brilliant creative ideas and an attitude that will shape a great future for every one of us. Gaining support, being positive and overcoming adversity has been the main themes, and I have benefited from the collective knowledge and input.
“I have particularly benefited from the moral support, and challenges to think and speak positively about the future; to be creative; to get on with it. To believe I can do it. I have benefited from being encouraged about my own ideas and from the positivity in the room.
“I think the continued surrounding support of The Sowing Club women will be vital to encourage and build my confidence.”
You can find the link to register for the upcoming course here.
From Wednesday 15 January (The Spring course begins on Tuesday 18 February 2020 at the Women and Enterprise Hub, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster.)
Stanley’s Community Centre, 78-83 Stanley Road, Heysham, Morecambe, LA3 1UT
Any other questions?
Contact us! Jane or Lisa at The Growing Club would love to help. Call 01524 383846, text 07892 712417 or email admin @thegrowingclub.co.uk
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