Tuesday 31 December 2013

2inspire Network Spotlight Interview: Ronke Lawal

Watch this inspirational interview with Ronke Lawal, Founder of RSL Management Services.

Friday 20 December 2013

2Inspire Network Business Profile: Michelle Henry, MD of HNS Signs

In this profile interview we meet the founder of HNS Signs, Michelle Henry, who used inspiration from her strong family ties to build a successful business in what has traditionally been seen as a male-driven industry. We were certainly inspired by her story and we're sure you will be too! 

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
I’m a big believer in ‘early bird catches the worm’ and I typically get in the office at 7am to catch up on my emails and other admin before the phones start ringing.
After a cup of coffee and light breakfast, I start planning sign installations for the next business week (this involves grouping all installation jobs into geographical locations and estimating time frames and distance between each.)
I then liaise with the team on the status of each project and organise dispatch dates, stock ordering and work force planning to ensure we meet targets.
From 10am onwards, I’m usually customer facing visiting clients and conducting site surveys. It’s not all coffee and biscuits, I’m usually making a note of dimensions, possible installation issues, DDA requirements etc. and then it’s lunch time.
Lunch is usually a networking opportunity to drive new business or at Property/Construction lunches but I always aim to be back in the office by 4pm to work on reporting my findings or work on quotes.
More coffee is needed as I scour through my emails and return calls and catch up with team before the leave.  I also get a little artistic time in before I leave as it’s a great time to get creative and put together artwork.
But as a hands on Managing Director, I always check with the team on the manufacturing side of the business and help them by rolling up my sleeves and fabricating signs myself. Who said it was a ‘man’s world?’
My world doesn’t end at 6pm though, at least once a week I will attend a business networking event usually National Association of Women in Construction, Women Working in Construction, Women in Business, or In the City Talks etc.). So home time is usually about 9pm.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?  It’s a mixture of fate and heritage! My grandfather was a signwriter and I’d make bedroom door signs as a child but still went to university to study Law. However after a brief spell of travelling and working for a sign company (which went into administration in 2010) and speaking to The Birmingham Children’s Hospital (one of their customers) convinced me to set up on my own.
I spent about £10,000 buying up the assets from my former employer (a fantastic bargain) and then did a Prince's Trust course to get a further £4,000 for cash flow. The Prince's Trust fast tracked my application and in August 2010, HNS Signs was up and running.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date? Tough question...I guess starting up in a recession and succeeding to grow the business in a typically man’s world. When I started, it was just me. I used to do all the site surveys and fit signs in the day, make the signs in the evening and type up the quotes and produce the artwork from home at night. I was working an average of 70 hours a week. Three years later and I have a team of 6 (includes 3 apprentices) and we expect to be hiring more staff in the New Year. I cannot begin to explain how good it feels to be able to offer people work in the current climate.

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Competing against the big boys! We are only a small company yet we manage to punch above our weight. We have secured contracts with much of the NHS throughout the Midlands, we work with large construction companies and local authorities. We are able to offer services that our competitors cannot (for example traditional signwriting) and so many sign companies have become our clients.

What are your future plans for the business?  To conquer the sign world. I love my job and the challenges that it poses and I will not be satisfied until we are the largest sign company out there. I would love to work with more interior design companies. With a high proportion of sign companies concentrating solely on digital print, I am confident that we can offer interior designers something truly unique.

I plan to take on a few more apprentices and employ those who believe they don’t have a future or haven’t excelled in school. For me sharing my success and giving people hope and a better future is what really makes me happy.

We are currently working with Wolverhampton Homes and the Timkins Centre. The Timkins Centre works with young adults who have no qualifications and works to provide them with the necessary skills to find employment. Currently, I’m offering training in sign writing so they have both a learned skill but also work with their social landlord Wolverhampton Homes and deliver the signage for their homes. I’m also looking to employ 1 or 2 of them in the New Year so fingers crossed they work hard and are eager to work!

In 2014, I’m also hoping to make the sector more female-friendly and be a career options for more girls who have a talent for signwriting and would like to do a little more traditional work. At the moment the signage industry is male dominated and customers believe only men are good at installing signs, but I’m working hard to change that viewpoint with my trusty toolbox and drill.  I love turning up to a building, hard hat on, high visibility vest on and getting my power tools out.  I have a female apprentice too who lives digging holes and installing signs! 

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Honestly – I wouldn't change a thing. As the saying goes “If it isn't broke don't fix it” and so far things are working well. Setting up HNS Signs happened so quickly, I didn't have time to think. Had I sat down and thought about it I probably would have talked myself out of it.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
Although attitudes are changing, women still get a hard deal. The business world fails to believe that women have ambitions outside of the family home. This really annoys me. Women have so many vital skills to offer – skills which differ to and complement those of our male colleagues. Combined it can offer a well-balanced business environment. Which is why it is so important for women to follow their dreams. How else are we going to show the world what we are made of and what we can achieve if we let our dreams get trampled.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
Know your industry and know it well. I come from a line of sign writers. Both my great grandfather and my grandfather were signwriters. I made my first sign when I was 4 years old and have worked in the industry in both the UK and Australia. When I established HNS Signs, I knew very little about running a business, but I did know my trade. This really helped. It gave me a competitive edge as I was able to offer a variety of different solutions, and it instilled confidence in my customers. By understanding the trade I was able to learn how to run my business. Too many people start a business on something they know very little about.

I would also advise you to look for funding. Cash is King and you need a decent cash flow if you have any chance of surviving. There are many grants available and funding out there for start-up businesses, so don’t be shy, ask for help.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Finally – if you say that you are going to do something, do it and do it at the time that you say you will. You are only as good as your word and if you let customers down they will go elsewhere.

What or who inspires you in business and why? 
My nan. She gave up teaching in the late 60's to run my granddad’s company for him. He was a fantastic signwriter but not so good at the admin and book keeping, clearly a woman was needed even then to manage a business! She had absolutely no idea about how to run a business – in her day that was something that women generally didn't do. With her natural organisation and numeracy skills, she mastered it. I once asked her how and she replied “by making mistakes and learning from them.”

I have many fond memories of her working and creating little jobs for me so that I could feel useful. She always seemed in control of everything and her staff loved her. The customers absolutely adored her and became her friends. She taught me the importance of building good relationships with your customers.

Both grandparents retired in 2000 and moved to Wales where they ran a Good Turn Scheme which helped the elderly and infirm. They never could relax!
When I phoned my nan to tell her that I was considering setting up on my own, she was fantastic. She gave me all of the motivation and encouragement that I needed. Whenever I had a particularly tough day (and there were many) I would phone her and within minutes I was reassured and feeling 100% better. She guided me through all sorts of problems and strategies. She has since passed on, but whenever I feel overwhelmed I just ask myself what she would have done.

What is your favourite inspirational quote? “Be the change that you want to see in the world” Mahatma Ghandi

Contact Michelle

Follow us on twitter @hnssigns

Wednesday 11 December 2013

2Inspire Business Profile: Caroline Wylie - Founder of The Society of Virtual Assistants

The 2inspire Network was inspired by Caroline Wylie recently who started her business because she "wanted to wear jeans to work"! With a fantastic business journey and superb network Carol is truly an inspiration.
Caroline Wylie
Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
Virtual Assistants or VAs complete administrative tasks remotely for their clients.  They are a remote secretary, a freelance worker and typically work with several different clients at a time, charging only for the time they work on that client's materials. 
My day usually starts with a cup of tea at 9am by checking work and sending it back to clients for our 10am deadline - that might be audio typing, social media updates or formatting PowerPoint presentations. For a VA, I'm quite old fashioned as I like to mark my day out on paper, noting who we have available, what projects we're working on and the day to day tasks I need to complete.  The day tends to quieten down after the deadline, with clients tending to send work in towards the end of the day as they work on their projects and realise they need some help.  I might do some of my own business admin in that time, pop out for a walk, check social media updates etc.  It's a good job to combine with other family commitments such as the nursery run or domestic tasks as it is usually done from home. 
And then as new work comes in, we allocate a virtual assistant to work on it, make sure we understand the task and what is required and then it's a race to hit our next working day deadline. 
I save Fridays for www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk admin - this is a free resource for UK based VAs to help them set up and stay in business.  I started it because so many aspiring virtual assistants got in touch with me every time I did any PR for the business - there just wasn't the information available for them back then. 

What made you start the business and how did you get started?
The short answer: I wanted to wear jeans to the office.  (That first year in business, I wore my suit more frequently than in any other part of my working life as I networked, went for business planning sessions and found new clients.  I can now happily say the suit is consigned to the back of the wardrobe and rarely gets worn!)
The more complicated reasoning behind starting the business was that I wanted more control over my working environment - working for a company doesn't offer any of the protection that it once did, my job now is far more secure than being an employee who can be made redundant.  Not wearing a suit was symptomatic of the lack of control you have as an employee - I wanted to have a really fast computer, a nice desk, be able to turn down clients who I found morally questionable, and to work with fantastic people. 
The idea of being a virtual assistant first came to me when my dad was talking about an office building he owned and maybe turning it into an internet cafe.  At the time in 2003, most people had the internet but very few had the knowledge of how to get their computer to work to its full potential with email marketing, mail merges and remote working.  I went to a Business Gateway exhibition, met PSYBT and never really looked back as they guided me through the whole process.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
I am immensely proud when we do the UK Virtual Assistant survey each year and we get people telling us how helpful www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk has been in helping them set up their business.
I'm also fortunate to still be in business nearly 10 years after starting - so many people go back to having a job as it's an easier option than running your own business and the responsibility that incurs.  The perks are definitely that you can work flexibly and it's interesting and challenging. 
My favourite award was from "The Naughty Table of Virtual Assistants" and they gave me a little trophy which says "Caroline Wylie - Most Ethical and Respected VA of the Year 2011" - they sent me a small presentation video and I did shed a little tear at this thoughtful and sweet gift. 

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
In my own business, getting enough good virtual assistants - the good ones invariably get too busy with their own work to continue being subcontractors and it's very difficult to find good staff.  Our fail rate for our tests sits around 90%.  We need to keep the quality high in order to make sure we're delighting our clients.

Threats to the industry are that clients have a bad experience with rogue or inexperienced VAs - perhaps they don't have proper data back up or are working from an insecure email address or aren't suitably experienced to carry out the work. Clients having a bad experience with a VA reflects badly on the industry as a whole.

Surprisingly, the offshore assistants aren't a major threat, as they can't compete with what a UK VA will offer - it's a bit like comparing car buyers - someone who is in the market for a top of the range brand new Mercedes won't be looking in Exchange And Mart and expecting to pay £200!

What are your future plans for the business?
SVA will be continuing to do the UK VA Survey (a vital resource for new VAs writing their business plan), we'll be involved with the VA Conference next year, and there will be more hints and tips for VAs on the blog. 

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I don't think I would change much - the business has evolved as the technology has become available and we've kept up with it.  I would probably advise outsourcing earlier, but it was important to know how to do all the things I was asking the outsourcers to do so I could check them and ensure standards were consistent. 

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
I think women are less risk averse than men in general - starting your own business is seen as being risky and complicated but it needn't be. We need more people starting up on their own to boost the UK economy, small business is our backbone. Red tape puts so many people off hiring or expanding their business, using a VA is a way to circumvent that without risk.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
Most of the information you need is available for free, so be careful about spending a lot of money or courses or books without doing some thorough research first.  I know lots of virtual assistants who have worked with an old computer and with minimal start up costs bootstrapping until they have built their dream into a thriving business.
You need a fair chunk of time to set up properly, I always recommend having at least 20 hours a week to work on the business and some of that time should be within traditional office hours. 
Quite a lot of mums believe they can be a VA save money by taking their kids out of childcare - this is a myth, less than 4% of the industry has kids with no form of childcare.  You will need that nursery place!
Tell everyone you know what you are doing - mostly you'll find your first client in amongst your friends or family since they already know and trust you. 

What or who inspires you in business and why?
I love my job - each day brings new challenges and it's exciting to be involved with different industries and clients each day.

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
"Done is better than perfect" - which seems an odd one but I can be a bit of a perfectionist and invariably you will have to tweak systems or processes as you grow and therefore it's more important to get the ball rolling than attempt perfection on a first try.
Caroline Bio:
Caroline Wylie worked in marketing before escaping the rat race in 2004 to launch her VA business. The lack of resources for UK assistants prompted her to found the Society of Virtual Assistants in 2005 including a forum, Approved VA Scheme and various templates for UK VAs. She is the UK representative of the worldwide VA accreditation www.VACertified.com, has previously judged the Outstanding VA of the Year Awards and has organised Global VA Week and the UK VA Survey for the last few years. As a VA who runs a “real business which pays the mortgage” rather than a lifestyle business, she’s keen to promote the professionalism of virtual assistants and the value they add to their clients’ businesses. 

Contact Caroline at:
Email: info@societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk 
Twitter: @socityofvas

Tuesday 3 December 2013

2Inspire Network Profile Interview: Sharron Richards of Shea Decadence/Kinks

Sharron Richards of Shea Decadence/Kinks is a Supplier of Natural handmade Bath & Body Treats, free from Parabens, SLSs & Additives.

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
There is never a ‘typical’ day where my schedule is concerned. As a freelance Police Station Advisor, I can literally be called out at any moment to attend a police station to represent a client on a Criminal charge. Because of this, I don’t plan my day I just ‘do’. It’s rare that I have a free day where I’m not filling orders from either the Shea Decadence Bath & Body Range, or the Kinks Hair Range. I always endeavour to get my orders put together first thing in the morning so if I do get called out to work; I just need to drop orders off at the post office. Many times I’ll be undertaking the delicate task of emulsifying a product when I’ll receive a call to attend a police station! Very annoying I tell you!

What made you start the business and what steps did you take to start operating as a business?

I didn’t consciously think ‘let me start a business’….. I had stopped weaving my hair due to traction alopecia, and was forced to deal with my hair in its natural state. This led me to look at natural products and realising whatever you put onto your scalp/skin to a certain extent, was absorbed into your body. That’s when I learned about harsh unnecessary ingredients in everyday products and decided to make my own bath & body products. That was over 4 years ago but the hair products didn’t materialise until 2012, hence the Kinks Range. I saw the change in my hair's health once I started using my own handmade natural products and so decided to make it available to all and sundry.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date? There’s nothing better than receiving great feedback from happy customers that use my products! My Cocoa Frappuccino leave in conditioner is definitely one of my greatest accomplishments to date!What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Being a one man band is very trying at times as you’re responsible for every aspect of the business while still holding down a career. I can’t rely on anyone else to make the products, label the products etc. This is really noticeable when I have an Event on and have to make a large quantity of products as well as filling regular everyday online orders.

What are your future plans for the business?

Shea Decadence/Kinks is moving in the right direction in terms of securing stockists for the Range. At the moment I have a stockist in Sydenham, The Calabash of Culture, 21Sydenham Road, SE26, and also have a few online stockist in the pipeline. I’d like to make the Range available wherever possible, specifically the Kinks Hair Range. There are now so many ladies wearing their hair in its natural texture, and I think it’s great that there are numerous different brands available in the UK to choose from. I’m glad to be a part of that.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Possibly having a partner from the get go? Possibly……….

What’s the best compliment you could receive in business?

That what I’ve created, accomplishes that which I set out to do; create natural organic products that work effectively and people enjoy using. I like nothing better than getting feedback from my lovely customers.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams? Many people are in jobs they really don’t enjoy doing and as you spend most of your adult life working, it makes sense to do something you don’t find quite so laborious. So if you have dream, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do it, strive to do what your heart is in.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry? With all the new EU regs, it isn’t quite as straightforward as it use to be. Therefore you need to thoroughly research what is required of you and whether you have the funds needed for all the safety assessments etc.

What or who inspires you in business and why? Anyone who takes the initiative (with a big leap of faith) to start a business, especially young people thinking outside the box.

What is your favourite inspirational quote? ‘Live your truth’ don’t watch what others are doing to gauge where you are……especially on social network sites. ‘Likes’ on FB, do not necessarily translate to customers etc so don’t think because someone has thousands of likes and you have 10, that you are somewhat lacking. Just concentrate on what you are doing and set yourselves goals and targets to reach.

Contact Details



Tuesday 19 November 2013

2Inspire Profile Interview: Rachel Holland

In this profile interview we meet the amazing Rachel Holland, a highly successful fashion stylist, consultant and art director who has worked with designers and publications from across the world. 
Rachel Holland
Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
It depends on what sort of project that I've got on, but if it's a non-photoshoot day then I usually start the day with plenty of tea and checking through my emails, then replying to any of the urgent ones. I then go through my calender and look through my days to-do list, what's scheduled in and if I have meetings, appointments or events that I need to go to.
On a photoshoot day, the day usually involves me being picked up early in the morning with all of my rails, samples and styling kit and am taken to the set, where I meet the team and setup with my assistant.
So, if it's a non photoshoot day then I work through my list of requirements such as, having informal meetings via phone or skype with my creative team, designing moodboards for styling and art direction visuals, sourcing specific clothing items or pouring through various lookbooks or coming up with ideas for future work. Then there's the admin side of things, the finances and invoicing, the usual sort of business work that everyone has to do! Then I may go to a few press agencies to pull some pieces for an upcoming shoot, it really depends on what projects I have on and what's been asked of me in the brief. I always try to make sure that at the very least I go for a walk or try to get to the gym on days like these and I also keep up to date with what's happening in the world of art, news, politics, science and fashion.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?
It really started by accident, though I've worked for myself in some capacity since I graduated from university. My business started when I was made redundant from a job that I really loved, so I decided to venture out on my own, as I really enjoy to be creatively free with my own work. I started off not really knowing what I was doing and then as time went on my role as a 'prop designer', 'set stylist', 'designer', 'consultant' and 'writer' and all of the other things that I was doing narrowed down to 'stylist' as this was what was the most in demand skill from me and also what I was being hired to do. Gradually the other work faded away, though it still comes in handy now as I still draw on the these other skills when needed.

Once I got into the swing of things as a regular stylist, I set myself up as a business and  I've worked onwards from there. I like the idea of going back into my previous skills now that I'm more established to really evolve my work deeper as a creative and also to develop some new projects.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
It's hard to pinpoint what is my greatest accomplishment when I view all of my achievements as good in their own way. I feel that my greatest moment has been producing work that I'm really proud of personally, rather than following the crowd of what's on trend or popular right now. Everytime that I achieve something that I know is completely original, then I feel fulfilled. For me that's more important than anything else.
What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
This has been without a doubt getting myself established and being taken seriously as a creative within the industry. Fashion is a notoriously difficult industry to get involved in and the boundaries and rules of normal business change within it. Lots of people give up because it's so hard to infiltrate, but I've weathered the storm and been very determined and ultimately I've tried to work progressively towards my goals, making my work speak for itself rather than trying to gain instant recognition from my peers.

What are your future plans for the business?
At the moment I'm looking at that intensely...asking myself what is the next step and where do I want to be in a few years time. I still haven't 100% answered that for myself so I couldn't commit to an answer right now. All I know is that it will be developing my work further in the areas that interest me and being less of a people pleaser. Plus I'm toying with the idea writing a book amongst other things!

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would go and get more industry experience before officially starting my work by shadowing other people in the industry and gaining confidence that way. I entered the industry blind with only my creative skills in place. I had no idea how things worked and I underestimated the difficulty of establishing myself, I had to figure it all out on the job, as I went along. It was intense!

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
Because women have a history of being pushed back or for being scared to ask for more, at least in my experience it happened many times to me when I was in employment. That's behind a lot of the reasons that I started wanting to work for myself, because even though you can work with lovely, modern people, ideas of sexism are still rife. In my employment history I would often land very good jobs with lots of responsibilty, managing teams of people in a mostly male enviroment and yet I'd still be expected to do the washing up, empty the recycling bins and make everyone tea as part of my job. That sort of treatment led me away from wanting to work for another business as it continued to happen over and over again even when I was promoted! That and being spoken over in meetings or not getting sufficient credit for my work, it became tiring.
I believe that the future lies in women being able to start profitable businesses from the kitchen table, with almost nothing and leading the way for a new generation of girls to create their own pathway and dream job rather than looking for approval elsewhere. Businesses created on our own terms that have a positive impact on each other and society, I wish that I had started working full-time for myself much sooner!

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
Realise that you're not going to get where you want to be overnight and you will have to work harder than you've ever worked for the first few years to become established. Get some experience shadowing someone who's career you aspire to and learn everything that you possibly can from them. Also, build up your own visual language, define what makes you excited creatively and start working towards creating your own visual identity. Then take baby steps towards your goals, allowing room to make mistakes and experiment. Also realise that the fashion industry is a very small world, so be mindful of your actions, don't step on another person to get where you want to be quickly, take your time and created a trusted name for yourself. In the long run you'll be glad that you did this. Also, trust yourself, your gut instinct will tell you the right path for you.

What or who inspires you in business and why?
The people who inspire me in business are the people doing things differently, on their own terms, with kindness, integrity and who are making the world better in their own unique way. A few people or companies that are inspiring me personally at the moment are Danielle La Porte, The World Land Trust, Greenpeace, Satya, Kirsty Mitchell, Cereal Magazine, Marianne Williamson, and fashion-wise All Walks Beyond the Catwalk.
Check them out, you won't regret it!

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
Be the change that you want to see in the world.

Rachel Holland