Girls mean business

Girls Mean Business is an organisation for women business owners set up by someone who's been there and done it. Next month it goes on tour.

Claire Mitchell started Girls Mean Business as a Facebook page because it was something she was passionate about, but she never meant it to become a business itself. A year on and 12,000 subscribers later the network, which brings together women starting up and running their own businesses, is embarking on a roadshow which will visit Manchester and Milton Keynes next month.

Claire, who is a business coach, says it was the right time to take the organisation from a virtual get together to a real one and adds that members were asking for it. “They and I are keen to meet the ladies we have got to know well on Facebook. It’s so lovely to put faces to names.”

Claire’s background is in marketing. She had worked in the corporate world for around 15 years before she set up her own marketing consultancy to escape a two-hour commute and a difficult work situation.

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At that time, she says, there was little support available for people setting up their own businesses. “Businesslink were great, but I felt it was a one size fits all approach and it wasn’t necessarily run by people who had owned their own businesses,” she says. She wanted a forum for meeting other women business owners, but none existed at the time.

She found working on her own lonely so set up a marketing agency and built it up quickly to a £100,000 a year turnover. However, she was hit by the recession shortly after her daughter was born and had to go into liquidation. Claire says clients were missing payments as they were struggling or going into liquidation themselves, but she also blames her own management style. “I treated people like friends and was a bad man manager. I spent a lot of time managing staff instead of bringing in money,” she states. "It's one of those things you can see in hindsight."

The liquidation process was painful, she says, but she felt she wanted to pass on her experience about her own mistakes to other women in business so she set up Girls Mean Business. The Facebook page got 3,000 fans in the first six weeks through word of mouth. “I didn’t want people to go through what I had gone through,” she said.

Mentor

Shortly afterwards she spoke to business coach Karen Rutter with whom she shared a virtual assistant. She asked her how she was developing Girls Mean Business and what she was selling. “I said I wasn’t selling anything and she said we needed to talk,” says Claire. “I could not afford any more mistakes. I wanted to do something I loved. I needed Karen’s help to monetise the business. I was down to emergency money on my credit card. I was stony broke and up to my eyeballs in debt, but I decided to spend my last money on coaching sessions from Karen.” Karen had helped other women build up their businesses.  Claire, who had coached business owners before through her marketing work, says “I thought the best way to get out of the hole I was in was to invest. I worked with Karen for 12 weeks and we built my coaching programme and business plan and I started marketing it through Facebook.”

She earned the money she invested back within a few weeks. “I worked every hour God sends,” she admits. “I did a service swap on the Facebook page to get a website built. I taught myself how to do webinars.”

She says she feels her success is partly due to the fact that she “tells it like it is”. “I’m a working mum from Darlington and I understand what a lot of women business owners are going through because I’ve been there myself and I know the mistakes you can make,” she adds.

Claire, who works from home and around her famliy life, tells her clients to pick a business that resonates with them, not to undervalue themselves and how to target their marketing to get the most out of it. She shows them how to use the time they have available to make the most impact. It’s a step by step guide, she says, because she doesn’t want to overwhelm people with too much information.

The idea for the roadshow, which visits Milton Keynes on 12 June and Manchester on 13th, came from an invitation to a US coach to do a webinar and conference. The demand for events seemed clear so Claire decided to strike out with the roadshow. It will include information sessions and panels of expert speakers including leading coach and Workingmums.co.uk blogger Amanda Alexander. There will also be pamper sessions, stands for business support services such as PR or virtual assistants.

“It’s designed to give support and encouragement to women starting and running a business,” says Claire. “It’s aimed at women who are running their business while juggling childcare, dealing with not having enough hours in the day and still being a wife and mother."

*Tickets are available at an earlybird price of £65 until 29th May, and will cost £95 thereafter.  For more information or to book, visit www.thegirlsmeanbiztour.com

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