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Muddy meets: 19 wonder(ful)women

On International Women's Day, meet 19 awesome female entrepreneurs close to home.

Ping Coombes, Ping Coombes, near Bath

MasterChef winner, chef, author, cookery teacher, supper clubber.

When I won MasterChef in 2014, my world changed. I was propelled into the food industry with little to no guidance and intense expectations from professional chefs to the public. It was terrifying and I had no idea where to start but thought I should have as much fun as possible. I am very lucky to have a job that I love but it wasn’t any easy path. Malaysian food isn’t as well known and there weren’t many opportunities for food writing or on TV for a Malaysian cook. I was seen as a product of a very successful TV show which can be detrimental. In the professional kitchen I have to prove I wasn’t just a cooking competition winner. I have to work harder to prove that I was a competent cook amongst my peers. Often I find myself questioning my ability.

One of my proudest moments was writing my book MALAYSIA but when it came out, it wasn’t included in any of the major printed publications. So I took it upon myself to promote it with free food demonstrations at food festivals, often lugging the books with me. In truth I was disappointed in the sales as I really believed in it and felt it wasn’t marketed well. That didn’t stop me from promoting it as often as I can and six years on, it is still selling.

During lockdown, my husband and I started Ping At Home, a chilled meal service focusing on Malaysian food. We started to cook Malaysian curries in our home kitchen and delivered them around our village and surroundings. We quickly learnt that cooking is the easy part. Starting a food business is hard work, from packaging, environmental impact to customer expectations. We are still learning along the way but we are really proud that we created something good during one of the most difficult times in human history.

‘I have a skill and I am really good at what I do’ is what I say to myself when I have doubts. Doubts are OK as long as you stand tall, persevere and know your worth; it’s better to be a candle that burns long and slow than a firework that only provides a quick spark. Happy International Women’s Day!

Kirsten Thompson, Allotment, near Taunton and in Topsham

Beautiful, wearable women’s clothes and accessories from a shop on a farm (and elsewhere).

Allotment started out as a pop-up in my kitchen in Somerset and has grown over the past seven years into two bricks and mortar boutiques and an online sales platform. I juggle running the business with running a busy household and family and still operate one boutique on part-time hours to accommodate school runs!

Launching the website in the 2020 probably saved the business and kept me engaged with it throughout the lockdowns and highs and lows of the pandemic. The closures over 2020/2021 made me realise what a loyal customer base we have and that the business was well-enough established and regarded to weather a bad storm. This has given me confidence for the future as we finally begin to be able to plan, forecast and look ahead to the next 5-10 years.

Be true to your own vision, don’t be put off by what others are doing around you and remember why you thought your business idea was worth pursuing in the first place.  Embrace the business bringing out a different side of you. Read, read, read and soak up all the advice others can offer. Invest in building good business relationships and stick with them. Get a good accountant from the start. Trust your instincts: if doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!

Maddie Beaumont, The Cotley Inn, Wambrook, near Chard

The co-owner of the village pub nestled in the Blackdown Hills that made it into this year’s prestigious Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs.

I never intended becoming a publican. In fact, I often shy away from that as a title, because there is such a stigma attached to working in hospitality. It’s often regarded as a stop gap job rather than a professional career. As a teenager I had ambition to join the Army as an officer but after a period away travelling, I developed an appetite for running my own business.

In 2019 my partner and I were presented with the opportunity to take over a rundown pub on the Blackdown Hills. I was 21 at the time, and although I understood the daily mechanics of running a restaurant, I was pretty clueless as to how to run a successful business. Four years on, we’re now a well-established, multi-award winning pub and have more than doubled the turnover. Plans for the year ahead involve launching four bed & breakfast rooms in the late spring.

We’ve picked up a few awards along the way including the Countryside Alliance National Pub Champion, Winner of Bristol, Bath & Somerset tourism awards, listed on Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs and Muddy Awards Finalist 2021. I’m most proud of overcoming insecurities about leading a team from such a young age and understanding how my business fits in with the local community. Recognition serves as my key motivator rather than financial gain. I’ve recently been a guest lecturer at Bournemouth University as I’m enthused by inspiring young people to follow their dreams and understand that anything is possible with the right mind set and work ethic.

Seek out and take opportunities, you can’t always see what your career path looks like but by embracing risk and remaining professional, things will become clearer. Be prepared to work long hours and make sure your opportunity is really something you want to invest your time, money and heart and soul into.

Mollie Mogidge & Hanna Sampson, Pamplemouse, Shaftesbury

The winners of the Best Florist in the Dorset & Somerset Muddy Awards 2021 have come up with a cunning combo: flowers, coffee and cake.

We met in 2015 when were were working in a florist. We instantly became good friends and knew that one day we’d have our own business together and that as coffee lovers and foodies, it would be a ‘florist cafe’. We opened our doors just days before the national lockdown (!).

We were always thinking outside the box on what we could do to keep our new business going so we started ‘Doorstep Deliveries’ of cakes, bakes and flowers and people loved it. We delivered hundreds of orders around the county ourselves and sent flowers nationally by courier; everyone wanted a pick-me-up and we were there to provide it. We outgrew our little shop and moved to bigger premises in June 2021.

It’s been a challenge managing time and jobs when the shop is so busy, running both sides of the business as well as all the bits that happen in the background, like marketing, bookkeeping, enquiries, ordering, weddings, shop displays, the list is endless…

We love doing something we enjoy the most, with people around us that make us so happy – it really is the best environment. Creating floral displays and having no limits on what we can create is such a good feeling.

If you’re as passionate about something as we were you should try and pursue it. Our customers always say our passion for the job shows in our work and we love that!  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from friends and family. If we’re unsure of something we would always go to them first – and if you have a really close friend or family member, why not go into business together?

Alison Dewey, Sugar Mango, Bournemouth

The gorgeous womenswear, jewellery and gift store that came about after a trip to India.

I’d always dreamed of having a little boutique store but the path to where I am now wasn’t planned at all. It started in 2005 when I went on a trip to India.  I loved it there, it was so different and changed my life. I visited a few more times and I slowly started to buy and sell gemstone jewellery, firstly on a website. In 2008 I took the plunge and opened Sugar Mango, originally selling jewellery and gifts but another twist of fate introduced me to clothing and now my shop is a mix of beautiful fashion, jewellery and lifestyle gifts. I knew very little when I started, I learnt fast though – what my customers liked and which price points would work best for me.

There have been many obstacles to overcome, the first was opening a new business in a recession!  It made for a few hard years but I worked hard to get through it and kept tweaking the business to the needs of my customers.  Then of course came Covid, wow, that was a massive test.  I spent most of the first lockdown working on my website and learning as many new skills for online working as I could. 

My proudest moment was when I got a call from Saatchi & Saatchi agency to be involved in the Visa Christmas shop local campaign. I had a billboard put up locally with a huge image of me outside my shop. The response from my local customers was phenomenal and gave me a huge boost to have the recognition for the business I’d built up.

Be really passionate about what you do and be prepared to put in the hours.  Learn everything you can about running a business from accounts, to SEO, merchandising and planning.  Do your research and make a business plan with achievable goals.  And always be ready to pivot!  Things can change quickly and you need the strength to keep coming up with new ideas.

Kelda Prescott, Nine Springs Natural Health Centre, Yeovil and Chard

The director of two complementary health centres in south Somerset.

I didn’t really have a clear idea of what career I was looking for.  After my second child I decided to study a Business and Management qualification, which led to the position of Practice Manager at Nine Springs Natural Health Centre in Yeovil. Six years later, when the owners put the business on the market, I decided to buy it and carry on doing what I love – in March 2020, yes just after the first lockdown was announced, which seems crazy but it felt like the right thing to do. The legal process had taken a year and it just felt right to push on.

Even with my prior experience it proved a steep learning curve, but no regrets. Taking on the second clinic in Chard felt like a natural progression. It really feels like more people are taking control of their health and wellbeing and actively seeking out our services. The teams continue to grow and our complementary health care services expand. Nine Springs has over 50 therapists, and at Chard we are approaching 30 in just six months.

I’m passionate about the clinic and grateful for our amazing teams of staff and practitioners and I’ll continue to be a very busy mum of three juggling work, life and finding that balance.

I think anyone running a business learns they can’t do everything. It is about having the right team around you, or outsourcing the things you are not great at, or that takes your focus away from where it should be building up the business. I think the key is finding something that plays to your strengths, its not ‘work’, it’s building something you are proud of every day.

Jane Bond, New Farm Restaurant, Over Stratton, near South Petherton

Chef Jane’s award-winning restaurant keeps it in the family.

I grew up on the family farm, New Farm, studied catering at Yeovil College and worked at a local pub before moving to London to head up directors’ dining for corporate businesses in St Katherine’s Dock but my dream was always to run my own restaurant. We’ve turned the old family home into a restaurant, keeping a family business going on the same site for over 100 years (all generations are, or have been, involved), winning numerous Taste of the West Awards, and championing local produce long before it was fashionable. Diversifying into takeaways and frozen food during the pandemic has been successful although it was like starting a new business with no business plan and one week’s notice but it kept us afloat and we came out the other end.

Follow your dream, believe in yourself and persevere. If you make mistakes, learn from them and go out and do it better!

Susie Thomas and Jeanette Bird, Rocket and Bird, Taunton

Two creatives came together to set up a gift shop promoting and selling the work of Somerset designers, artists and makers.

We love being a part of a thriving community of independent businesses within Taunton. It’s fantastic to work together to help promote not only our shop but the area and Taunton in general. Spreading the ‘shop small-shop local’ message has become an integral part of our business.  We’ve worked hard renovating the shop and studio space, won awards (including a Muddy Stilettos award!), had some amazing press coverage, built up a really strong following and have a great customer base. The business continues to grow and we’ve stayed firm in our USP of only selling the work of Somerset makers and artists.

Covid meant we had to think fast, adapt, work harder and grow as a business and also as a partnership. Without lockdown we wouldn’t have set up our online shop which now plays an incredibly important part of Rocket and Bird, allowing us to reach a much wider customer base. 

Only regret the things you don’t do! We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always be thinking ‘what if?’ Work with, not against the businesses in your community: businesses who work together stay together.  Above all, have fun, keep smiling and stay positive!

Claire Wrixton-Smyth,Wrixton-Smyth Creations, near Bridport

The winner of Best Jeweller in the Dorset & Somerset Muddy Awards 2021 gets her inspiration from the Jurassic Coast and the Dorset countryside.

Photo Katherine Newman Photography

I’ve been making jewellery since 2009 and had my own proper jewellery business since 2017. Initially fitting things around my last baby taking her naps, I gradually built up the business and when the opportunity arose to have my own little shop, I was ready to take it. My family roots go back hundreds of years in the parish of Symondsbury and it feels very special to have the shop on the Symondsbury estate. Running your own business isn’t easy. You go from making and selling to marketing, photography, editing, social media, web designing, accounting …. there’s a lot of learning to do! And when you’re also bringing up young children, it can be hard to get the right balance. I’m lucky to have my sister-in-law working in the shop week days so I can do the school runs and spend time in the workshop. Even through the pandemic brought some obvious challenges, I’ve never thought of giving up. In fact, it made me push harder to make it work. I still have many ideas of how I want my business to grow, which is important to keep you moving forward; there are always areas to improve.

Remember to take days off and reset your brain. Stay focused. It’s easy to want to do it all at once and do it all now but that’s not reality. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. There’s no race, no competition – just you doing what you love. People will see the love in your work and that’s what will matter. Stay true to your brand and passion and it will all fit naturally. 

Tori Jordan & Hannah Smith, Still Sisters, Frome

Two women making it in a male-dominated industry.

We are two sisters producing small batch gin in our bespoke copper still named Storm. So called because ‘after every storm comes a rainbow’. We’ve found that women running a business in the alcohol manufacture industry is something of a rarity, and we’ve had to overcome many challenges along the way, just to be taken seriously! But with a lot of hard work, dedication and love for what we do, we have shown we can proudly hold our own; our most notable achievement, receiving Great Taste Awards for our Signature Watercress gin

We believe that the best collaborations happen when two ‘sisters’ come together to support each other, preferably with a G&T in hand! Whether it’s a family member, friend or colleague, women can accomplish great things together.

Just go for it! There will of course be ups and downs but, once that storm has settled, you can enjoy that beautiful rainbow.

Jen Jukes, Perfectly Lovely Interiors, Watchet

The winner of the Best Interiors Shop in Dorset & Somerset Muddy Awards 2021 started her business on social media and now has a large following and a fabulous store in Watchet.

In 2013, I was unexpectedly made redundant from my job as a fashion boutique manager and buyer. We’d just bought our first house and I needed to have income – and quickly. I bought a couple of hundred pounds worth of stock – gifts and home wares – and sold through a Facebook page. I ran home parties, selling my goodies in people’s homes, alongside with free fizz and cupcakes, which was great fun. Perfectly Lovely Interiors was born.

Things took off quite quickly so we decided to move the business from home to a lovely barn conversion in the village we were living in at the time and opened as a ‘proper shop’ and traded successfully for a couple of years with my first born in tow.

Over the last seven years we’ve moved premises a few times, scaling the business down when I had my daughter (now 3 years old). While the children were little we focused on the online side of the business which gave me the flexibility of working while being a new mum. As they’ve gotten older I’ve been able to focus on the business more but being a working mum is certainly challenging, the business feels like a third baby at times.

Last September we took our biggest leap yet, moving into a large high street store in our harbour town of Watchet which is probably my proudest moment, opening the doors to such a prominent store. This coincided with my husband being able to leave his job in management to join the perfectly lovely team to make it a real family business.

There’s nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than having your own business. Be prepared for a lot of hard work but if you are thinking of going it alone – do it!

Miranda Rose Shearer, The Kitchen Garden Somerset, near Langport

The lawyer turned private chef and cookery teacher whose love and passion for food started at home

Photo Tom Waller, Food Envy

I grew up around food. My food-writer mother Tamasin Day-Lewis made sure that I was her chief taster when she realised that I had rather good taste buds. I was the youngest Sainsbury’s Future Cook aged 9, cooked my way through my A Levels and around South and Central America before studying at Bristol University and later retraining to be a lawyer (even then I worked for a couple of restaurants). When my boyfriend dumped me mid my final law exams, I took a job as a private chef in the South of France, cooking for Sir James Dyson: baptism of fire, a wonderful family to cook for, with ingredients galore. Fifteen years and two children later, I now have my own private dining business, a little cookery school and have just opened a chef agency.

The Kitchen Garden Somerset was born out of lots of things. Firstly, not getting a pupillage to finish my training to be a barrister. I’m not one to dwell on these kind of things. If I slide down a snake, I dust myself off and climb up the next ladder. My mama taught us that rejection is inevitable, and it should only make one more determined. 

Helping my husband’s family set up the kitchen at a local pub was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but eventually, and through a lot of hard work, everything slowly fell into place. People started to like our concept and the food, we won some awards; the lifestyle was fast-paced, fun, addictive and completely unsustainable. It taught me resilience and how fickle and tough the hospitality industry is. I carried on cooking for private clients on the side and knew I wanted to go back to private dining in some guise, but not working alone, and in a totally different way. 

When Carol, a chef I’d worked with previously, told me she had been made redundant, I invited her to come and help me run a cookery school. We built a website, invented a name that went with our core ethos, designed a logo, and then couldn’t open because of lockdown. We set up a shop online, baked bread and kept each other going. Every idea bubbling under the surface slowly came to fruition.

There’s nothing quite like turning one’s passion into a business and reaping the reward. I believe in promoting other young entrepreneurs, and my business allows me to champion so many young and wonderfully passionate growers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemakers and smokers. I’m proud of the money that we put back into the West Country through using local suppliers to cater for holiday makers across Somerset, Dorset and Devon. We’re reminded weekly why we have come out from behind the kitchen doors to showcase our hard earned years’ of experience in cooking, and our passion for seasonal, locally grown food.

Don’t buy unnecessary stock or equipment at the outset of your business. Sell yourself and your talent first, test your market, improve your product with customer feedback. Let your business organically grow, walk before you can run. If you can’t make ends meet fast, and pay yourself a salary at the end of each month, don’t go bankrupt trying.

Gail McLeod, antiques expert, near Bath

The organiser of the Bath Decorative Antiques Fair (and much more)

From running a trail blazing export business, a decorative antiques collective in Bath during the 90s  – pre social media and in the early founding days of digital cameras and websites – to acquiring my own digital business and organising the Bath Decorative Antiques Fair (on at the Bath Pavilion from March 31 to April 2022) in my spare time, I somehow found time to also become the VP of Antiques Diva & Co, Europe’s largest antiques buying tour company.  At Antiques Diva we shuttle eager US trade buyers around the UK and EU,  either in real life or by 1:1 video link, to meet my little black address book of vendors who help us to fill containers bound for the hot spots of the US antiques landscape.

These roles forged my career path across UK and USA and I can say that the antiques trade is a truly absorbing and sometimes crazy ride with many ups and downs underpinned by the wide variety of interesting and wonderfully talented oddball characters who are in part business people, part artists and part troubadours travelling around the country at different fairs to entertain new audiences.

More recently I added a very grown up job to my roster and became the Director of Business Development EU for a fast growing US tech company Ronati who design products to enhance the lives of the above group of people – antique dealers.

I am proud of working solidly through the pandemic with my expert team of two to keep Antiques News & Fairs afloat and to provide extra support for the dealers and fair organisers, who were badly hit during the grisly two years. 

The antiques trade can open doors for women socially and professionally on many levels and there is plenty of advice offered by the professional bodies in the trade, LAPADA and BADA both headed up by female CEOs!

Sarah McWilliams, Sarah MAC Photography, Weymouth

The winner of the Best Photographer in Dorset & Somerset Muddy Awards 2021 focuses her camera on mums (amongst other things).

I describe myself as ‘mama to two wild boys, all-round adventure seeker, sunrise chaser and photographer based on the Dorset coast’, I’ve always loved photography but it was only after I became a mother that I made it my mission to capture the unique connection between mama, bump and child, with a huge passion to get mamas in the frame. Most of the time, mothers are the person capturing moments of their children’s lives but they’re nowhere to be seen in the images. 

I poured everything into learning as much as possible and launching my business. Everything I’ve done has come from the heart. I practiced on anyone who would let me, taking photos galore, and four months later I left my job of 13 years to pursue my dream. It was scary and, of course, a huge risk but the thought of not doing it was even more scary. What if I never tried? Being nominated and voted for by my clients and others and eventually winning the Best Photographer Muddy Stilettos award was the biggest honour. The hardest thing for me, and something I’m not sure I will ever overcome, is imposter syndrome. I work hard to manage it but I still doubt my work sometimes and wonder if I’m good enough. I think a lot of creatives will be able to relate to this, but know you are not alone. 

Press publish on your dream and think ahead to a year’s time and where you might be then. Stay true to your self but have fun with it too. There are no rules and no-one but you knows how you want something to turn out.

Caroline Banham, Morrish & Banham in Bridport and Dorchester

The co-owner of one of Dorset’s most exciting wine merchants.

Sat around the table with my husband one evening it seemed like a perfect idea, the answer to ‘what do we want to achieve?’ and probably ‘how can we be happier at work?’. With most certainly a glass of wine in hand and after several more months of the talks we decided to take the plunge and set up our own business: a wine merchant. I’d never worked in wine, only consumed it. But I had worked in customer service and run an office, managing a team in the tourism industry in Dorset. In contrast, my husband had spent his whole working life in the wine industry.

I’d long held a desire to be my own boss and run a company but until that point I hadn’t worked out what I could do! The benefit of starting with a business partner was huge, not just the sharing of skill sets but also having a person to always bounce ideas with and find a solution that worked. Starting was much harder than either of us imagined, mentally draining and the longest hours we had ever worked. We ended up either end of the dining table emailing one another well into the evening most nights, taking a toll on family life. The balance of family life and running a business remains hard but the children have learnt a lot, my son now has his own business aged 14!

We opened in 2015 and have gradually grown the business. Despite the hard work it turned out to be a great decision, we are free to make our own choices and action ideas as we wish, we can be creative and responsive to customers and I love working with other local businesses in the area. The biggest challenge has been Covid, no question.

After over five years I can say it probably hasn’t become any easier but I do love it. I feel very proud of what we have achieved, being able to grow to employ a small team and more recently another business believing in us to the point they wished to partner with us, allowing us to open shop number two. For me, imposter syndrome has started to become less!

If you’ve done the research, thought about how it will change your life then I would also ask what’s the worst that can happen?

Annie Webb, Annie Webb Interiors, Frome

The interior designer who uses virtual 3D design to help clients visualise their new homes.

I started by combining house renovation with family life and a successful career in HR and talent management but in 2017 I decided it was time to break free and fulfil a long-held ambition to retrain as an interior designer. Whilst training I realised there must be a better alternative to traditional mood boards stuck with bits of fabric, paint charts and the odd sample. I wanted my clients to see an accurate representation of their actual space, complete with colour, furniture, lighting, décor, accessories, so I set up a digital design service which offered just that. It’s the best thing I ever did, I love the creativity!

Believe in yourself 100%, others will judge you anyway.

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