St Helen and St Katharine Old Girl entrepreneurs share wisdom

St Helen and St Katharine Old Girl entrepreneurs share wisdom

17 November 2020

In our ‘running your own business’ online talk we heard a range of practical, candid and inspirational advice from three of our Old Girls.

Mary Bateman runs artisan gin distillery, Twisting Spirits, based in Gloucestershire. She previously set up an IT company even though, in her words, she had ‘zero knowledge and was incredibly shy’. During this time, Mary and her business partner gained many new skills – marketing, presenting, sales, accounting and recruitment – but she found IT to be an aggressive and highly competitive industry. This prompted Mary to choose something new, and the idea for creating a gin distillery was born. Mary has created a brand she is proud of, from the initial beginnings of working out of her garage to using a small commercial unit. Luckily for Mary, sales of gin have gone up in lockdown!

Mary noted that the alcohol industry is a very tightly regulated (VAT, duty rules etc) so she wanted to use her business skills and the spare space in her unit to diversify. Her new venture Plush Life, homewares has just gone live and Mary will run this alongside Twisting Spirits.

Mary’s top tips for running your own business:

  • Work in an industry you really want to be in
  • Recruit to the culture of the company rather than the skills someone has
  • Be bold (especially with your branding)
  • Don’t cut corners when you’re starting up by using cheap suppliers. Even though you might not have money, sometimes spending as little as possible isn’t always the best thing for your brand
  • Ask for help. Ask people you know, use networking events, ask family and friends. In time people will then ask you for help
  • Being your own boss is cool! Consider a ‘side hustle’ to start with and run a little money-making venture alongside your day job to test the water

Alison Hargreaves is Founder and Managing Director of Guides for Brides and associated wedding portals. Alison talked about what makes a successful business, especially in the context of the pandemic. So far 2020 has been a completely different year for Guides for Brides. Alison explained how they have diversified and worked hard to pivot their way through the pandemic by offering more online services and working with suppliers to satisfy demands in other areas of the sector.

Alison’s top tips for finding a market and growing a profitable business:

  • Have a good idea so you can fulfil a need or solution to a problem
  • Charge for that solution and charge appropriately – this is often where people can go wrong
  • Then grow your business, by repeating this process
  • Adapt your offering as you go. Alison pointed out that some people think that a business is successful when it has grown large enough to sell at a healthy profit. Alison chose not take this route, instead looking at how she could adapt the business to grow it further
  • Balance and rebalance your team – fine tune as you go along
  • Have the ability to be realistic – especially in 2020!
  • Make sure you’re supported. By family, friends, colleagues and employees

Naomi Ryland, Co-Founder and Mangaing Director of digital careers hub tbd*, is currently based in Berlin, but joined us online from South Africa. She explained that she was the only girl in her year at St Helen’s to study German A Level which she had to take with the boys at Abingdon!

After working in Germany in the charitable sector, Naomi wanted to follow a more meaningful path and pursued a start-up social impact venture by first starting a WordPress site, creating Facebook groups and creating an online presence.

Naomi’s top tips for success:

  • Find people to help point you in right direction
  • Look out for incubator and accelerator programs
  • Think very carefully about working with investors – they can have a huge say in everything your company does
  • Don’t follow the crowd just to get noticed. If something doesn’t sit right with you when you’re pitching your company, don’t do it
  • Look for female role models – Naomi has written a book about female role models in business after realising how few were written by or for them. ‘Starting a Revolution’ is a business book for revolutionaries!
  • Consider building a more sustainable company – not everyone wants or needs to build a multinational empire

We look forward to welcoming members of our community to our first talk of 2021 on Thursday 28 January when we will be hearing from broadcaster and Old Girl, Natalie Jamieson who will talking to us about her career in journalism and sharing some of her best red carpet moments!

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