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Wonder women

On International Women's Day, 22 inspirational female entrepreneurs from Somerset and Dorset share their tips for setting up on your own

Fancy going freelance? Or setting up your own business? On International Women’s Day, 22 inspirational female entrepreneurs around Somerset and Dorset share their tips and advice for going it alone (Tip 1: you’re not alone).


Lynne Franks, Wincanton

At 21 she set up a PR agency which became the most famous in London in the 80s and 90s, launched London Fashion Week (amongst other events) and wrote global best-seller The SEED Handbook, the first book to teach the feminine way to do business. Now in Wincanton, she’s started a wellbeing destination The Hub at No 3, and The Shop at No 4.

Only start a business based on something you really love. Research, research, research. Make sure you always have the money to pay your rent or mortgage, food and all essentials – I know too many women who have lost their home to a dream. Create or join a local support group to share experiences and contacts. Network in your community with like-minded women as well as on-line. Finally, always stick to your values and principles.


Anabel Sexton, Boudavida, Bath

The CEO and founder of women’s sports and active wear brand Boudavida has a vision for a world where all women and girls feel like sport is a natural pathway for them and 5% of all sales, online and at the shop in Milsom Place in Bath, goes to support women and girls in sport.

Constantly question what you are doing, and don’t be afraid to change direction if something is not working. Get to grips with your numbers – this is really important! Keep visualising the end result and just put one foot in front of the other ’til you get there. Keep some balance in your life – exercise or meditate. Finally, if it was easy, everyone would do it!


Sue Macey, Lodestone Property, Bruton and Wells

After a career in TV, Sue (right) returned to her roots to set up a different kind of estate agency with friend Cathy Morris-Adams (left). In 2018 Lodestone won an ESTAS Gold Award (the biggest awards in the UK property industry) for the best agency in Dorset, Somerset & Avon.

If you’re setting up with a partner, make sure you share the same vision and aims, and that you remain totally honest with one another.  We spent 15 months researching the market, the challenges and the competition. The more time you invest ahead of launching, the more successful your business is likely to be. Never think you’ve got it right, otherwise you become complacent. Always think about how you can improve the way you work – your competitors will always be nipping at your heels. Don’t take on offices until you have to:  the kitchen table and modern technology can work very well. You’re never too old to set up a business and it can be fun!


Sally Billington, The Litton, nr Wells

Sally Billington turned a rundown village pub into a multi-award-winning pub and boutique hotel The Litton, near Wells. The Sunday Times Top 100 Hotels, Best Destination Pub in the Somerset Muddy Stilettos Awards 2018, Sawday’s Best Newcomer 2018 and a 5 star AA Gold Award.

Focus on the rewards not the fear, it is a journey and ‘failure’ is not an option. Learn with your team, and inspire them. Listen to them, clarify what they have said and then respond to motivate them.


Kelly Hooper,  The Barn, Loxton

Kelly’s a Dermalogica UK ambassador, represents small and medium businesses in the UK on the SMB council for Facebook & Instagram, is an influencer for Professional Beauty (the industry’s largest trade show and magazine in the UK) – and still finds time to give treatments.  Salon of the Year National 2014 Professional Beauty Awards and Best Beauty Salon in the Muddy Awards 2017.

Plan your budget to plan what you need daily/weekly to at least break even. Don’t get excited too soon. The hard work comes when you need to keep it coming.  Never ever sit still, even when you’re super busy, keep connected with your clients/customers/businesses and keep thinking of new ideas!  Don’t waste time stressing, put the energy into something else. And don’t hold back, if you truly believe in what you are doing, then go for it.


Zara d’Abo, Settlers Stores, Frome

Zara d’Abo (left) and Nathalie Sergent (right) travelled the world and lived and worked in East Africa as TV producer and fashion designer respectively, before setting up their clothing store selling their own design contemporary tweeds. Winner of Best Women’s Store in the Muddy Awards 2018.

Talk to everyone. People are so helpful and happy to share their knowledge and experiences, so don’t shy away from picking up the phone and go to networking events. The local chambers of commerce and councils are a great resource for training and development too.


Katherine Spreadbury, LittleLAB, Bath

She studied at the prestigious Make-Up Designory in LA and Temptu in New York and trained with Madonna and Britney Spear’s own make up artist before opening her award-winning beauty salon.

I think visualisation really works when pitching for business finance. I found it so scary when I did my first loan pitch to investors. But you just need to believe it will work so that you convince them too. Passion is key!  Also be honest with yourself on what you like doing and what pressure you can take – make the business model work for you. I made mistakes over the past seven years but learnt to change; don’t be precious about your business.


Emma Warren, Dimpsey Glamping, Blackdown Hills nr Chard

Not much room left on the shelf for all the awards Emma has collected for her luxury shepherd’s hut: Best Theo Paphitis Small Business Award 2015, a clutch of Gold tourism awards and Best Glamping in the Muddy Stilettos Awards 2017.  She’s also the woman behind the Hi Ho Silver jewellery stores.

Remember that you’re developing things for your customer.  That sounds really obvious doesn’t it, but people often forget to go back and check in with customers as the years go by.  Keeping that communication line open can help make sure that your developments and customer expectations stay in tune.


Sassi Holford, Taunton

British Bridalwear Designer of the Year in the The Bridal Buyer Awards 2018, and wedding and occasion dress designer to the Royals and celebs, Sassi Holford has her workshops here in Somerset.

It’s vital to do your research and know everything you possibly can about your product and your industry so you can determine the viability of your business. Every mistake you learn from and get stronger.


Ellie Swinhoe, Eleanor Christine Jewellery, Frome

Jewellery designer-maker Ellie was a freelance live-event producer before setting up her award-winning jewellery business – two-time winner of Best Jewellery Store in the Muddy Awards 2016 & 2018.

Be careful to always put away one quarter of your earnings so that you are never surprised by a tax bill – hopefully you will have over-saved – always better! As a jewellery designer I rely on myself completely and there can be good and bad days.  It’s sometimes difficult to stand back and get perspective on your work – try to get feedback (from a partner, friends, and even social media).  Take time out of your studio/workspace to get inspired and reinvigorated.


Denise Spragg,  The Sangha House,  Taunton

Former lawyer Denise Spragg set up Taunton’s mindfulness-based holistic therapy centre with husband Andy in 2017 and won Best New Business in the Somerset Business Awards a year later.

Find out what good looks like to you.  Write down what a good day in your new biz would be like. Go into as much detail as you can, emotionally and physically, for your clients and you, and don’t just make it about the finances; if that’s all you’re worried about, you should stay in that job you dislike already!  Once you’ve got your vision, totally commit to it, and don’t let anyone sidetrack you into doing what they want. This is the greatest adventure of your life; take it with both hands and be unapologetically YOU!


Dawn Davis, Apples and Oranges, nr Axbridge

Founder of a business support services company, Dawn Davis is also the brains behind The Somerset Business Show a networking event with speakers, seminars and stands at the Brean Country Club on Weds 27 March.

Build a good support network around you. Go to networking meetings, a good way of building your contact base and getting advice from people who have been where you are now. Consider using a telephone answering service to handle your calls – they should also be able to manage your diary, take bookings, take payments and undertake any PA requirements, freeing you up to focus on building your business. If you’re working from home, consider getting a correspondence address!


Catherine Heard, Middlestone Farm, Brompton Ralph, nr Taunton

From Sotheby’s to a Somerset farm with chickens, geese, pigs, rare sheep and alpacas – and a luxury glamping business, winning Gold tourism awards.

Head over to Instagram and Pinterest for masses of inspiration, glamping has become seriously competitive and with so many stunning new sites opening you’ve got to stay ahead of the game and offer something different.  Choose a beautiful structure that’s easy to photograph.  When we opened our site there wasn’t the choice of structures which there is now.  The Glamping Show is brilliant for gathering ideas and costs.


Jenny Dudfield, Spark Serenity, Bristol

Professional declutterer and officially certified Marie Kondo consultant has always been organised, but what else do you need to succceed ?

Be open to everything, no matter how scary. Be patient, you are constantly sowing seeds. Show your passion and tell everyone you meet about your business.


Ros Nelmes, Fordington Gin, Dorchester

Ros lives, breathes, talks, walks, drinks, thinks – and makes – gin. Nice job!

If you truly want to do it – do it. Be grounded, work hard and keep your eyes on the goal. Stay very focused and you will succeed.


Carly Douris, Another Little World, Corton Denham

Her love for results driven treatments with an experience rather than ‘a quick fix and out you go’ inspired Carly to set up her gorgeous beauty and wellbeing business. Her biggest tip?

Make your admin as straight forward and accessible as possible. My accountant introduced me to Xero and Receipt Bank which all links in with my iZettle payment system. Payments entered in through iZetttle automatically update my Xero accounts package at the end of each day.  Receipt Bank lets you take a snap of your receipt which then uploads into Xero. It saves so many hours, pieces of paper and stress!


Saskia Marjoram, Saskia’s Flower Essences, Wincanton

Former gardener (and florist to the Prince of Wales) Saskia distils flower essences using a copper still and fresh countryside flowers to create essences and sprays rather like Bach Flower Remedies. Awards to date: My Personal Space spray won Gold in the Green Parent Natural Beauty Awards 2018; Sexy and Gorgeous is Editor’s Choice in the international The Beauty Shortlist Wellbeing Awards 2019.

Don’t panic, especially in between jobs or in quiet periods. If you’re just starting out/testing your market begin by working part time alongside your ‘proper job’ if you have a mortgage to pay or children to feed. Enjoy the flexibility that being your own boss gives you.


Jo Menneer, Spirit Photographic, Bath

Jo Menneer doesn’t take photos but she knows a good image when she sees one. The ex-Norland nanny is now Marketing Director and make-up artist at the photographic studio she runs with husband photographer Neill Menneer in a converted chapel in Bath.

Photo Neill Menneer, Spirit Photographic

Dream Big and don’t listen to people who try to dismiss your dreams as impossible – they just don’t have the capacity to dream big. Align yourself with people you want to be like even if they’re not in the same industry. The more you network with people you want to be like, the more likely it is to become your norm. Establishing a mastermind group is a great way of tapping into the minds of these people. Get systems in place. The sooner you have a database established, a routine for doing social media, a time for doing emails and phone calls and any other parts to running your business the easier your workflow will be. Something I try (and often fail) to do is ‘time chunking’, have short bursts of time when you do things. 20 minutes to deal with your emails, 15 minutes to write a blog etc. Outsource things you’re not good at or don’t enjoy and focus on the things that will generate income.


Janine Biss, Argento Hairdressing, Barton St David

L’Oreal Colour Specialist and part of the models’ hairdressing team at London Fashion Week, Janine ran salons in Bristol before moving out of the city and into a barn.

Know your brand before you set up and stand by this throughout. Know how much per week it will cost you to run the business. Review your plan for the business each year (not easy when you’re busy) but it’s good to stay focused rather than drift.

Argento Hairdressing


Natasha Howells, NV Health & Fitness, Langport

Winner of Best Fitness Instructor in the Muddy Awards 2018 – and finalist in the previous two years.

Make sure it’s something you want to invest your time in, your money in and your heart and soul  – you have to care.  Be prepared to work long hours. Believe in what you can achieve, plan, and make sure you network. Don’t try and take it all on by yourself, ask for advice.


Tanya Levy, Levant, Castle Cary

The woman behind Middle Eastern inspired dining and rooms in an Arts & Crafts house.

If you have a small budget to work with, do it yourself where possible, staff costs are often the biggest cost. Research local grants and initiatives and keep asking questions. There’s nothing more satisfying than making your business work.


Georgie Hopkins, Myakka, Wincanton

Founder and director of the fair trade furniture company celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

One of our guiding principles has been to deal with people – craftsmen, suppliers, employees as well as customers – as we would like to be dealt with ourselves. Mutually beneficial partnerships are always better, especially given you never know when you may need to call in a favour. It’s easy to feel pressure to be very serious in business, but ultimately it’s about being yourself and demonstrating honesty and integrity that really makes the difference.




Find more ideas here


1 comment on “Wonder women”

  • Louise Tilden March 9, 2019

    Fabulous achievers each and every one. Go Sister.


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