“When women support women incredible things happen.”
I’ve always been a girl’s girl. Maybe it’s because I went to two girls only schools, which incidentally were both convent schools. Being run by the nuns meant that there were very few male teachers at both schools but lots of strong female role models. My favourite of whom was my Maths teacher from first year right up to A Level. She was the first person I really remember pushing me to do better. She wasn’t an authoritarian in the way that many of the other teachers at that time were, but she certainly commanded respect in her quiet manner. Maths was the subject that I excelled in at school and without doubt she was the reason. But, when I look back, she was also the first person who really showed me what I could achieve when I put my mind to it. I don’t think there were many teachers at that time who did that for their students and so I am ever grateful to her.
I never had any sisters, just one brother. I was, and still am very close to my mum, aunts and cousins. But I also have a number of circles of very close female friends. Those from school, who I have known for over 30 years now and, although we don’t get together often, it’s like we were never apart when we do. There are those that I met at university who have become some of my closest confidants. And there are the WAGS of my husband’s school mates, we are lucky that as a group we hit it off straight away and are now firm friends.
But even though I have always had these positive female role models and friends in my life, nothing could have prepared me for the support that I received from other women when I became self-employed.
What really happens when women support women?
I started my Virtual Assistant (VA) business after four periods of maternity leave within 5 years. I was back to work for periods of time between each baby, but thinking about entering the world of self-employment with four children under the age of 5 seemed a little daunting to say the least.
Around that time, I heard of a networking group called Mums at Work (MAW). They are “a female business community for women who understand the importance of lifting up one another for success.” Their mission statement immediately resonated with me and I was delighted to see that they had an event coming up so went along. It was a whole world that I never knew existed! There were 4 different women who got up and told their story about their journey into self-employment that night. Each one different, but each one totally inspiring. After spending only a couple of hours around these ladies I was hooked! As soon as Sinead Norton, the founder of MAW opened her VIP group a few months later I joined.
I can honestly credit the MAW group with the majority of growth within my business. It is an enormously supportive group, where members collaborate, refer and buy from one another. I also know that through the group there have been some fantastic friendships formed. It has been my honour to be able to host a couple of MAW coffee mornings here at The Hive and I look forward to each and every one.
Competition or Collaboration?
If the support from MAW blew me away, nothing could have prepared me for the collaboration between VAs (who although not exclusively female, are predominantly so). I met another more experienced VA, who lives nearby through MAW. We had coffee together and she shared her experienced with me. It became apparent pretty much straight away that although certain aspects of our work overlapped the services we offered differed slightly. I was therefore able to refer her to certain clients and vice versa.
I’ve since met other VAs both online and in person and the same has applied. I have received referrals from them and been able to send some work their direction. The support between this group has been so immense that I am delighted to be hosting a VA Heroes event at The Hive later this month, where the Heroes are bringing together small business owners and VAs alike.
Inspire to Innovate
Around this time last year I started on a new journey with a group of ladies on a course through Dungannon Enterprise Centre, that was funded by Ulster Bank. It was called Inspire to Innovate. It brought together around 20 ladies at various stages of their business to educate us in different areas, support one another and be inspired. And inspired we were! Each week we would hear from guest speakers, who would share their story about starting their own business.
I loved going to these sessions every week and always took home knowledge in a new area. But not only that I drove home so motivated because of all the stories that I was hearing about women who had built their businesses.
I happened to drop a comment into a conversation one day that although I loved being self-employed I hated being so isolated working from home. I wished someone would open a coworking space in Magherafelt. The girl I was chatting to said, ‘why don’t you do it?’ Incidentally my husband had also been saying this to me for quite a while, but it took another woman to say it to me for me to believe it was something achieveable.
After this session I spoke to two of the facilitators of the course and quite literally the rest is history! They made me an appointment to speak to their CEO, who had been researching doing something similar. After chatting to him it suddenly didn’t seem like such a distant dream and things started to happen. I looked at premises, I researched what other places in the country were doing and within weeks (yes, weeks) I was signing a lease on a premises in Magherafelt, had a branding team on board and a website in development… this was actually happening!!
I am now seven months into The Hive and am starting to see that this wasn’t such a crazy move. There is a definite demand for coworking and professional space hire in the area. We have a great community (of males and females!) and I am very excited about the future.
But The Hive would not be here were it not for all the amazing women who I have met along the way.
This week I attended my first Women in Business conference. It was their annual Female Entrepreneurs Conference, where the theme was Be Bold and it was a wonderful day out. They had three keynote speakers, each of whose story was so inspiring in different ways. We also heard from a panel of local businesswomen who all have their own successful businesses and stories to tell about how they got there.
The other delegates that I met were equally as amazing as I realised that every single one of us has been forced out of our comfort zone to achieve what we have. But there is no doubt that the support that we’ve received from the other women around us has helped elevate each of us to where we are now.
I have now made a commitment that I will attend a female only event at least once every month. Because yes, when women support women incredible things really do happen.