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Celebrating Surrey’s wonder women for IWD

It's been a tricky year so to mark International Women's Day 2021, we're bigging-up Surrey's lockdown heroines - the women in business who have adapted, thrived and survived. Here are the stories of 28 entrepreneurs, and their advice for women in business.

Surrey women in business

Laura Walford – Managing director at Belgravia Gallery

Laura joined Belgravia Gallery when in 2001 when it was still based in Belgravia, London. Her mother, Anna, had started the business 15 years earlier and Laura grew up surrounded by art. In the early 2000s the company was asked to help with the UK launch of artwork by Nelson Mandela, and Laura’s first business trip was to meet the man himself at his home in Johannesburg. Over the years Belgravia Art has hosted exhibitions of work as diverse as Charlie Mackesy, Rembrandt, Picasso, Warhol, Hirst, and Banksy. In 2017, the business relocated to Surrey and is now based in Cranleigh.

Laura Walford - Managing director at Belgravia Gallery

Laura says: I’ve been lucky to learn from the best – my mother, Anna, is a wonderful role model. At the heart of our business is kindness – our employees, artists and suppliers are the foundation and we always strive to treat them well and know that without them we’d be unable to function. We also try to give back. Over the years we have developed a strong charitable ethos – and through the sale of art by Prince Charles, Nelson Mandela, and others we have raised funds for numerous charities.

When starting a business or a new project take it day by day – set realistic goals that are achievable. And always have a good sense of humour.

Covid-19 has increased the challenges of running a business, especially if you’re homeschooling. But embracing it makes it easier – I tell clients on calls that I’ll probably be interrupted (I usually am!). I think they like the authenticity. But there are also positives to all this – it’s good for the children to see what Mummy is doing, and being a hard-working role model is hopefully beneficial for them. belgraviagallery.com

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Giovanna Sessi-Knott – Founder, direcor and designer of The Morphbag by GSK

 Giovanna was born in Italy but moved to Austria with her family when she was eight. She was raised and educated in Vienna, and went on to complete a Masters degree in business and economics. Her father worked in the fashion industry, and although Giovanna’s career started in finance, her interest in fashion and design was fixed at a young age. Her career in finance brought her to London – and here she met her husband with whom she has two children. After retraining in interior design, Giovanna set up her own company, and it was while juggling her roles as mum and business owner that she discovered a gap in the market for an every-day handbag that would serve the needs of busy multi-tasking women. And so the three-in-on Morphbag by GSK was born.

Giovanna Sessi-Knott - Founder, direcor and designer of The Morphbag by GSK

Giovanna says: Ambition is the path to success and persistence is the vehicle you arrive in. Passion is the fuel that keeps you going – it unleashes creativity and allows you to take risks. In order to start and run a business you need all three as your foundations.

Understand your weaknesses and your strengths, and be willing to learn but also happy to outsource where you need to. It’s also important to work as a team player in the industry, collaborate and build a network. If you can, give back to society and definitely to the environment. themorphbag.london

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Liz Trendle – Owner of The Gate Boutique in Guildford and Catwalk in Godalming

Liz opened her first women’s fashion boutique – Catwalk – in Godalming 20 years ago, driven by a personal desire to buy beautiful clothes but discovering a gap in the local market. Despite having no experience, and four young children, she built a successful business through hard work and determination – and by learning from her mistakes. In 2011, it was time to branch out, and she opened The Gate in Guildford. She quickly discovered that competition was tougher in a larger town, so focused her offering on luxury collections and niche designers. Two years ago, The Gate was a finalist in the prestigious Drapers’ Awards for Best Independent Store. Last March, when the country went into lockdown, Liz took both businesses online.

Liz Trendle - Owner of The Gate Boutique in Guildford and Catwalk in Godalming, Surrey

Liz says: I have learnt a lot of lessons in my business, but one of the most important lesses is to be more confident in myself and recognise my own strengths. I would stress to anyone who is starting out in business that you will make mistakes, but you learn by them. I also think it’s important to take time to switch off, so I now close on Sundays for valuable family time. thegateboutique.co.uk, catwalkgodalming.com

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Laura Hamilton – TV presenter, property expert and owner of Lord Roberts on the Green in Purley

Laura’s entrepreneurial spirit set in at a young age. When she was nine she set up a pot pourri business and a car washing business. By the time she was was 19, she’d discovered a love and passion for buying, renovating and selling houses. Now age 38, she’s bought and sold 16 properties including a commercial building. Four years ago, Laura set up a business, built a brand and created ‘Lord Roberts on The Green’ in Purley, an independent coffee shop and restaurant.  

Laura says: I am a strong believer that in any business (whatever you do) it is vital you realise that you can’t do everything. Find where your strengths lie and build the team you need around that. There is no ‘I’ in team and without every important cog in the wheel, it won’t turn. Everyone plays an essential role (at every level), and if you can, learn and appreciate what each person does.  You will gain more respect from your team.  Train your team to be the beat in the business and treat them so well they never want to leave. lordrobertsonthegreen.com

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Liana Wilson-Fricker – Founder of The Inspiration Space

Born and bred in California, Liana is a self-confessed optimist and a ‘champion for women in business.’ With more than 10 years of experience building communities and networks for global brands, she’s passionate about helping small businesses go beyond what they think is possible. Liana started the Inspiration Space in 2018 as an alternative to traditional networking groups, and this year launched a new app to help aid faster connections.

Liana Wilson-Fricker - Founder of The Inspiration Space
Photo credit: Eddie Judd Photography

Liana says: A small business can be the vehicle to get you where you want to be in the future. Be ambitious with regards to what you want to achieve and strategic about how you do it. That is to say, think about where you want your business and life to be in 2-3 years and work backward setting SMART (Specific Measurable Actionable Realistic and Timely) goals from there.

If you’re just starting out, think about the way the world has changed since the pandemic and what new problems need solving. For example, the knock-on effect of remote work opens the door for local businesses to provide products and services to an audience of people that were previously commuting. For those who have small businesses, make sure you still know the problem you’re trying to solve for your customer. People pay to alleviate ‘pain’ – not for features and benefits. theinspirationspace.co

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Claire Leigh – Founder and owner of Two Ducks, St John’s, Woking

Claire set up her lifestyle boutique, Two Ducks, in 2013 with a small loan which she used to buy stock from brands that she had loved for many years. She stated by holding private gift parties which let her test what was popular and also gained some important early sales. Two Ducks launched as a brand on Twitter, gaining a following, and later and on Facebook and Instagram. Claire then set up a pop-up shop in Woking town centre, moving to her current location in St John’s six months later, sharing the space with another business. She took over the entire space within a year. As well as running her own business, Claire is also on the board of the British Independent Retailers Association – the only woman on an otherwise all-male board.

Claire Leigh - owner at Two Ducks, St John's, Woking

Claire says: Prioritise your marketing and connections with customers, build your database, work on your social media accounts and explore which accounts are the most important. I launched my business on Twitter but now I rarely use it – Instagram and Facebook are more important. 

It’s not all about you. You are clearly crucial to your business, but when forming marketing strategies, campaigns and social media, your focus is the customer.

Make sure you have a good, understanding bank behind you. They will help you in times of crisis. My bank helped double my overdraft during the Covid pandemic – I haven’t needed to use it much but it made me feel more secure. 

Don’t be afraid to invest. If you want a brand that exudes quality, you must invest from the start. Spend money on a decent graphic designer to get your brand right, invest in technology and your space, invest in developing the business over time. It doesn’t have to cost you fortunes but to grow you need to invest. After the first lockdown I took a risk to invest in a new cafe and workshop space in my shop which has allowed me to stay open (for takeaways) and also gives me a new dimension for the future. two-ducks.co.uk

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Lizzie Liebenhals – founder of Halls and Halls; and Halls and Halls Privé

Lizzie set up Halls and Halls, a boutique agency that delivers events, sporting tournaments, celebrity endorsements and PR in the luxury marketplace, about 25 years ago. In that time the company has found its niche and become very successful. Meanwhile, though Lizzie was being asked by clients to organise private parties and functions – which didn’t quite fit within the branding of Halls and Halls. And So Halls and Halls Privé was born – a bespoke private party business delivery remarkable private events from pool parties and birthday celebrations to luxury weekend celebrations and sensational private dining experiences.

Lizzie Liebenhals - founder of Halls and Halls; and Halls and Halls Privé

Lizzie says: Remain flexible and don’t be afraid to change your plan or strategy and think outside of the box.  Chances are you started your business because you are either good at it or it is your passion – so don’t dismiss your knowledge or talent.  As a business owner you need to be able to evolve. The Covid pandemic is pushing us all to the limit, but ask any business owner and they’ll tell you that left-field things will always turn up. 

Surround yourself with people who love your ideas, products or business.  Networking and building relationships is massively important.  And don’t just stick to the industry you are in. You can learn a lot from other business sectors. 

It is hard right now but I’ve taken comfort in the knowledge that we’re all in this together. And even on my darkest days – and we all have them – I know that what both of my companies deliver is exceptional and I’m proud of that. I try to remind myself of that every day. hallsandhalls.com

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Carole Wildman – Co-founder and director of Tandem Catering, Godalming

A former classical ballet teacher, Carole traded her tutu for whisks and wooden spoons and after gaining experience cooking for private clients in London and the Home Counties set up Tandem Catering. The original business was established with a friend, Sara Hester, when the two were living in the same Kentish village. They wanted to offer food that was home-made and generous, yet creative, contemporary and elegant. Two years later, Carole and family moved to Godalming and Tandem Catering Godalming was established. That was 25 years ago – and the business has grown and developed, producing creative food for weddings, parties and events. Five years ago, Carole’s son Tom Wildman joined the business as head chef and co-director.

Carole Wildman - Owner of Tandem Catering, Godalming

Carole says: The creation of any business is hard work and the world of catering is certainly no exception with long and often antisocial hours and arduous work. And yet, when you build your own business you have the opportunity and creative freedom to do things your way and to develop the business in whichever direction you choose. In my case it made sense to start small, whilst having my young children at home and to accept many and varied small jobs before discovering which catering field best suited me. Those early years in business meant that when the time was right and family commitments allowed Tandem was ready to flourish and grow. 

Last year was extremely challenging for us, and like so many others in the events industry we have had little choice but to remain positive, inventive and to focus on diversification. Dine at home boxes, postponement and anniversary dinners, and micro weddings for 15 guests have all been popular, and soon we will be ready to launch a major and exciting new offshoot – Tandem’s coffee shop and kitchen in our lovely new home at Whipley Manor Farm, near Bramley. tandemgodalming.com

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Jess Sawyer and Lucie Thornton – Co-founders Queens of Green

Jess Sawyer and Lucie Thornton launched their new business, Queens of Green in October 2020 – right in the midst of the Covid pandemic. The pair have been friends since childhood, and had been planning to launch a business for some time. With backgrounds in TV production and event management, and a mutual passion for bringing more green into homes and office spaces, they figured there would never be an ideal time and so – pandemic or no pandemic – they decided to just go for it. Queens of Green source and sell vintage plant pots, vases and furniture, as well as help clients style their homes, offices and commercial premises.

Jess and Lucie say: Be brave! We have three children between us and one of our motivations for starting Queens of Green was to give our girls confidence in life. We want them to believe anything is possible – so much of success is just being brave enough to start.

Love what you do (and who you’re doing it with) – you’ll spend a lot of time and energy on it – so it’s important you enjoy it. But be flexible when things don’t go to plan (and they won’t!). Starting QofG in the middle of a pandemic was a baptism by fire, but it has forced us to think cleverly about how to do business. Finding new ways of doing things has kept us on our toes and sharpened up our problem solving skills.

Be kind to yourself (especially in a pandemic!) It can be a bit of a rollercoaster so it’s important to be resilient when things go wrong – don’t be afraid to reach out to other people for help and advice.

But ultimately, believe in yourself and your business and others will too. Trust yourself – you have skills you don’t even know about and besides running a business is nothing compared to negotiating with a three year old or homeschooling. @queensofgreendesign

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Cléa Rosenfeld – Owner of the Little Gym in Godalming

As a child, Cléa’s world revolved around ice skating, dance and gymnastics – balancing school and study with leaps and spins until she won the French national ice skating champion title. As an adult, Cléa was just as focussed, building a career as a global investor relations executives. For 10 years she worked with paediatric specialist company, Shire Pharmaceuticals, working with researchers, doctors and pharmacists who were developing drugs to help children breathe for themselves, to walk again, to start growing – simply to have better childhoods. When her own son was 18 months old, she discovered The Little Gym in Hampton, and fell in love with the concept. It stuck with her, and as someone who has always been passionate about children and making a difference in people’s lives, when she decided to become a business owner she knew she must combine those passions. The Little Gym was the perfect fit and in 2017 The Little Gym opened its doors in Chiddingfold after a two and a half year search for the right premises.

Cléa Rosenfeld - Owner of the Little Gym in Godalming

Cléa says: Building a business is like having a baby – it’s daunting and taking the plunge can be scary. Planning is essential but it’s also important to have a strong business model and marketing campaign to start with a bang!

Understand your market and your customer – if your business is community based, immerse yourself in that community.

Be a courageous leader – your team is the absolute key to your success and you can’t do it alone. Recognise their potential, develop them and use their talent in the recipe of all your successes.

Have enough cash in your bank account to last you 18 months for you personally and for your business – it will cut down on stress and help you to never make hasty decisions.

This pandemic has been tough on everyone, and keeping the momentum going when your business is closed requires huge passion and drive. Don’t get stuck on a hamster wheel, figuratively speaking you want to jog up a steady hill where there are places to pause and where you can look back on your journey. Surround yourself with positivity and make friends in your industry. For me, keeping in touch with my peers and working with them to exchange ideas has kept me going. godalming.thelittlegym.co.uk

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Julia Jaconelli – Founder and owner of Courtyard Boutique in Guildford

Julia opened Courtyard 25 years ago shortly after moving to the Guildford area. As someone who had always had a huge love of fashion, and was particularly interested in new and emerging designers, her desire was to open a store that would inspire customers. It worked, and Courtyard attracts clients from the local area as well as much further afield including internationally. Four years ago, Courtyard won the Drapers Award for Best Independent Womenswear store in the UK.

Julia Jaconelli - Founder and owner of Courtyard Boutique in Guildford

Julia says: Surround yourself with great people. I have a wonderful team working with me who are knowledgeable and very approachable. My manageress Susie Smith has been with me throughout the whole journey as well as Pam Hutchins who works with us part time – so we really are like a family.

Keep things fresh. Each season I search for new designers, while also keeping to our most popular brands. I am particularly interested in seeking out ethical and sustainable collections and these are becoming more and more available. The website has become more important over the years – especially during Covid – it’s a great place to see what we have before coming into the store or alternatively gives people the option of buying from the comfort of home. courtyarduk.co.uk

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Nicole Janssen – Headteacher at Parkside School in Cobham

Nicole Janssen is the head teacher at Parkside School – an independent prep school for boys in Cobham. She’s the first female head teacher at the school, having originally joined the school as a specialist maths and English teacher in 2016 (and still teaches math to years 5 and 6). Before the move to Parkside, Nicole was the deputy head at Longacre School in Bramley – her first role in the independent sector. Nicole was previously the deputy head at Calverton Primary School in Newham when it was named the most improved school in the country, and has also worked with the former Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Nicole Janssen - Headteacher at Parkside School in Cobham

Nicole says: This has been an extraordinary year for business and no matter what business you’re in. But it’s not enough to simply, survive because that’s just for the here and now. It’s so important to understand where you want to be, who you want to take there with you and what resources and time scale you need to achieve it. Think big and you’re likely to surprise yourself and outperform your targets.

Adapt to change and be flexible – don’t let uncertainty paralyse decision-making. Some of our decisions this this year have led to improvements on what we had done previously. Be nimble and positively reactive and move with the momentum, as twists and turns along the way can’t derail you. Be prepared to recalibrate and rewrite plans or strategy. This is not wasted time, it’s time invested in progress.

I read, do my research and ask advice. Good ideas can come from colleagues, family, friends and other schools. Even the best leaders reinvent and research – it’s a key part of my flexible and progressive strategy. parkside-school.co.uk

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Claire O’Flinn – Family law specialist and partner at Keystone Law

Claire O’Flinn is one of the country’s top divorce lawyers. She is a partner at Keystone Law, one of the UK’s leading law firm, and at Keystone has set up her own team which she runs out of Surrey. Claire has earned industry accolades each year from top legal publications and legal directories (for which she’s incredibly honoured).

Claire O'Flinn - Family law specialist and partner at Keystone Law

Claire says: I would credit my success to one simple central premise; in the children’s book “The Water Babies” there is a character called “Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By” and that is how I run my practice.  I treat people – employees, clients, solicitors on the other side – as I would want to be treated myself.  Honesty and respect get you a long way! 

Alongside that, I think the skills you organically develop as a wife and mother help too. Running a home is not dissimilar to running a business, so harness those skill sets.  If you can already make sure that your family get up, are fed, dressed in whatever they need for that particular day and get out the door with everything the need for the day then that is an achievement in  itself.  Those logistics are often harder than a day in the office and so if you can be a captain of industry at home, then you deserve to show the world what you can do in business. keystonelaw.com/lawyers/claire-oflinn

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Joanna Read – Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford

Joanna Reid was the Principle at LAMDA – in fact, the first female principle – for eight years before coming to Guildford in January 2019, and before that she headed up Salisbury Playhouse for eight years. She has a string of high-profile productions under her belt including the UK premiere of Arthur Miller’s Playing For Time with Joanna Riding, Shadowlands with Julian Glover and The Hired Man by Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg.

Joanna Read - Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford

Joanna says: Covid has been challenging. And like most, we’ve been working from home and keeping our team together using Zoom and Microsoft Teams. But occasionally I go into the theatre to refocus and remind myself what the job is.

It’s important to be flexible, don’t look for closure when you can’t control the situation. After the first 12 weeks of cancelling and rescheduling shows with no end in sight I told myself that I should see this as a marathon, not a sprint.

Get out of your head. A walk, some exercise, seeing the trees, anything that’s not screen-based and gets me active is good.

Encourage staff to be flexible in their working patterns to take the strain off home working. During Covid, I’ve adjusted my working pattern to suit when I function best and around the family. I take a break around 3pm or 4pm as that’s when my teenager wants food and chats, and the dog starts kicking off for a walk.  I pick up again later in the evening as, being a theatre bod, I am used to working nights.

Celebrate the small wins of everyone. However tiny, it’s a good piece of work done, that you didn’t have to do, that someone in your team did with energy and commitment and has helped the organisation succeed.  yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

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Laura Scott – Private chef, supper club host and cookery tutor at How to Cook Good Food in Epsom

Laura Scott is a private chef and caterer perhaps most well known for her popular weekly supper club events (pre-Covid) The Epsom Supper Club which she launched in 2015 with a friend. At the same time she was also taking on private catering and cheffing job in both London and Surrey. Two years after The Epsom Supper Club began, she started hosting in her own kitchen and dining room, and this is where she also teaches kids pop-up bake clubs and cooking classes including the popular sourdough demos. When Covid forced the temporary closure of the supper clubs and classes, Laura adapted and launched a meal delivery service offering restaurant-quality meals for special occasions.

Laura Scott - Private chef, supper club host and cookery tutor at How to Cook Good Food in Epsom

Laura says: To survive in business you have to be adaptable, quick thinking, flexible and reactive to feedback and customer needs and tastes. If I had stuck with my supper club and waited to Covid to pass I wouldn’t’ be employed or have any business at all but I like a challenge and I’m not afraid to fail or make mistakes until I get it right! I would advise a new business to research what’s on offer in their local area, work out your costs and what you want to charge for your products and send out samples to friends and family to get feedback. Be active on social media – this is where a lot of my business comes from. howtocookgoodfood.co.uk

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Amanda Pink – Funeral director at Evelyn’s Funerals in Camberley

Amanda took over Evelyn’s Funerals in 2016, at the age of 45. She decided on a massive career change after what felt like a lifetime in administration and accounting, working long hours and never moving through the glass ceiling of middle management. Following the death of her father, and being heavily involved in his funeral (even driving the hearse herself!) she decided to train to become a Funeral Director. Amanda completed a Diploma in Funeral Services in 2017 through the British Institute of Funeral Directors. And in September last year she opened her own funeral business in Camberley, at the heart of the community in which she had lived for many years.

Amanda Pink - Funeral director at Evelyn's Funerals in Camberley, Surrey

Amanda says: If you’re just starting out in business, go for it. Be confident in your ideas and your vision. Take advice from family and friends and make sure your maths are double checked and the figures add up. Don’t risk putting you and your family in debt if it’s not financially viable in the current climate.

Working through Covid has been stressful at times, having to change the way we arrange and conduct services with our families has been a learning curve, but as with everything in life you learn and adapt to the situation and get on with it. 

As a grandmother, often I can be called upon for emergencies with child care, so I always try to remain flexible around my work and personal life, luckily we are a true family run business and there’s always someone willing to jump in to help when needed. evelynsfunerals.co.uk

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Julie Phillips and Cherry Morgan – Founders of Clutterflies, a home decluttering service

Julie and Cherry launched their brand new business The Clutterflies in November last year, and within a week of launching were booked for their first home clearance. Both busy working mums – Julie is a life and business coach, and Cherry is a virtual PA – they’re firmly committed to the motto: Tidy house, tidy mind. Since launching, they have completed many projects for clients including a full house move, an Airbnb staging, wardrobe updates and individual room decluttering.

Julie Phillips and Cherry Morgan - Founders of Clutterflies, a home decluttering service

Julie and Cherry say: If we had waited for the confidence to start our own business it may never have happened, we realised we had to step out of our comfort zone and to further enhance our individual careers when the time felt right.  With supporting each other and drawing on our individual skill sets, ‘The Clutterflies’ has surpassed our expectations.  Us women, all have intuition, our advice would be go with your gut, if you feel something would work, seize that opportunity. clutterflies.net

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Laura Drake – Co-founder of Sorrel restaurant in Dorking and Director at Fetcham Park near Leatherhead

Laura began her career in luxury brands working in the global marketing teams at Burberry and Alfred Dunhill.  Returning to Surrey to join her family business, she launched Fetcham Park as an award-winning wedding venue.  Most recently Laura has been working alongside her husband, the chef Steve Drake, at their restaurant, Sorrel, in Dorking.  Within its first year the restaurant gained a Michelin star, was awarded AA Restaurant of the Year and was shortlisted for GQ Restaurant of the Year. Sorrel is listed in World’s 50 Best Discovery and was awarded a fourth AA Rosette last year.

Laura Drake - Co-founder of Sorrel restaurant in Dorking and Director at Fetcham Park near Leatherhead

Laura says: Lockdown has shown us the importance of our database at Sorrel.  Whilst it’s tempting to get distracted by social media – whether that’s ‘Likes’ or what others are doing – the most valuable thing we’ve done is focus on communicating directly with our customers by email.  During this Lockdown we’ve grown our mailing list, had greater engagement than ever, and launched a new website to support Sorrel Suppers, our fortnightly finish-at-home meals.  

We have worked really hard at staying in touch with people however we can: using professional photography, behind-the-scenes stories, videos, social media engagement and, most importantly, our newsletter, which allows us to tell our story in greater detail to people that love what we do.  Whilst we can be distracted by the noise online, it’s important to remember that you don’t always need the most followers to have a successful business.  Keep focused on what works for you as it’s different for everyone! sorrelrestaurant.co.uk

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Sarah Williams – Founder of Sarah Olivia Photography

Sarah’s family owned a photography business when she was growing up – and photography has always been a passion. She started her own business after leaving her City job in 2016 to have her first child. She was winner of the Best Photographer in Surrey in the most recent Muddy Stilettos Awards.

Sarah Williams - Founder of Sarah Olivia Photography

Sarah says: The last year has been challenging for my business – having two young children at home pretty much full time plus the limitations on photography have been tough. I realised it was important not to put too much pressure on myself – so I focused on doing social media posts when I could, keeping in contact with clients, shooting what I was allowed to and doing some training where possible. 

For any budding photographers; start as you mean to go on, price based on what you need to earn, have your business plan but also be flexible and open to opportunities – businesses grow and evolve. Have faith in your ability and don’t be daunted by how many photographers there are or what they are doing, you will find you own path and the right clients for your business along the way. Above all, enjoy it. saraholiviaphotography.com

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Amanda Pugh – Founder and Managing Director of Wellies and Windbreaks

Amanda set up Wellies & Windbreaks, a bespoke holiday rentals company, in 2015, managing a portfolio of holiday properties in the Witterings area of Sussex. She stared with just one holiday home and almost six years on her portfolio has grown to about 36 properties and growing. Before setting up Wellies & Windbreaks, Amanda worked in PR, with specialist expertise in consumer communications. She worked with leading UK PR agencies for brands including Dermalogica, adidas, Electrolux, Nestle and McCain Foods. She has also spent time living and working abroad – spending three years in Singapore working for a consumer brand and lifestyle PR agency.

Amanda says: The holy grail for many women these days is to be able to work and be a good parent. Balancing the needs of a job with the needs of your family is easier if work is based at home and you are answerable only to yourself.

But working from home has its challenges – the school day is relatively short and the holidays long. And what makes my job more challenging is that my busiest times are when the children are on holiday. Although my experiences of this have helped during Covid school closures.

It’s important to give yourself a break and have realistic and honest expectations. Give yourself a pat on the back for just keeping the balls in the air, and everyone smiling. Try to be adaptable and flexible. There will always be setbacks but learning from them and moving forward makes you more resilient.

Being small and independent also has huge advantages. This year in particular, it has enabled me to implement significant changes quickly.  And while the outlook for self-catering holidays looks good in theory, nothing is guaranteed – and continuing to be adaptable is what will see me through.  welliesandwindbreaks.co.uk

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Sarah Dean – Founder of StudentSpringboard

Sarah Dean set up StudentSpringboard, a student career coaching consultancy, in 2016 after a long corporate career in recruitment. She worked largely in student and early careers roles, and after having her second son and having decided she wanted more flexibility in her working life, identified a gap in the market for independent student career and skills coaching. She was right, and over the past four hears has worked with hundreds of students – some deciding their next steps beyond Sixth form, others looking at Degree or Apprenticeship options, and some university graduates trying to get onto the career ladder.  

Sarah Dean - Founder of StudentSpringboard

Sarah says: You need to believe in yourself!  I was nervous about launching StudentSpringboard as I worried that no-one would use my services and suffered a bit from the classic ‘imposter syndrome’. Leaving the safety and structure of a corporate job was also daunting – I realised I had to do everything myself. But, as I started to get clients I quickly realised I had a good business. And then those clients recommended me to their friends. Now about 80% of my clients come from recommendations.

The pandemic hasn’t affected my business too much, although I was previously running a few workshops in local schools and those have stopped for now.  As I’d always used Skype as a way to coach students who weren’t physically able to get to me – some of them are away at Uni for example,  I was well prepared to adapt and see all of my students over video calls. student-springboard.co.uk

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Helen Barcellona – Co-founder of Surrey Hills Physiotherapy, Health and Wellbeing in Dorking

A qualified physio and Pilates instructor, Helen opened SHP’s bespoke physio clinic and Pilates and yoga studio in The Barn at Denbies Wine Estate, with husband and co-founder Massimo, last year. It was a natural next step for dynamic duo, who each had their own practices in and around Dorking. As well as their own expertise, they’ve brought together a team of health experts including a women’s health specialist physiotherapist, physio-led Pilates instructors, massage and reflexology therapists and tai chi and yoga instructors. Helen is a physio, as well as teaching Pilates, and in combining the two has created her own signature Pilates class which is a fusion of dance, Pilates and classic aerobics. She’s also an APPI-trained and accredited Pilates instructor. 

Helen Barcellona - Co-founder of Surrey Hills Physiotherapy, Health and Wellbeing in Dorking

Helen says: For me there are some key things to not just surviving in business but thriving in business too. Firstly, remember that wealth is not just measured in pounds! For me, going into business simply to make money would not be fulfilling. I love what I do and I feel passionate that it is worthwhile.

You can’t do it entirely alone, I have needed the strength and support of my husband and his complimentary skill set and my Dad and his advice. I have also needed my kids, my friends and my clients – they are all part of my support community. There will be times when you need people you can trust to help and advise you and perhaps to give you a hug and encourage you. surreyhillsphysiotherapy.co.uk

•••

Rosie Orr – Founder of Flowers by Rosie Orr

Rosie started her business 26 years ago after working in the flower industry for 10 years working. During that time she worked with big floral decorators in London doing installations for companies like Vogue, Hardie Amies and Le Gavroche, was a designer and buyer for a flower shop in Berkeley Square and Knightsbridge, ran flower courses while living abroad and has designed flower arrangements for the TV and film industry including Downton Abbey and The Crown. Her greatest pleasure is decorating for weddings and events – and she’s worked on thousands over the year including weddings for the Royal Family.

Rosie Orr - Founder of Flowers by Rosie

Rosie says: My advice to any woman starting up on her own is to try and keep your overheads as low as possible. I am lucky that I’ve never needed to take out a loan – and working from home keeps outgoings low – so when we get into a quiet period like this past year, I have no worries.

If you work in the flower trade, you do it because you love it – not to become wealthy! So I could never afford childcare when my girls were young. They learnt from an early age the importance of a good work ethic and how to keep themselves entertained when on location.

I have been lucky in having wonderful friends to help me out. And it also helps to have the support of your partner – mine is great at the Sunday morning clear up.

It is also important to be disciplined with your time – otherwise you can be working all day and night. Also try to have at least one day off. I try to keep a Sunday free for family time, although weddings can be any day of the week now so it doesn’t always work in the summer.

So many businesses have been badly hit by Covid, and mine disappeared almost completely overnight with the cancellation of weddings. But I diversified, and customers have found me through Google for flowers to be delivered locally. My lovely local independent funeral directors have also recommended me for funeral flowers, and some couples have chosen to go ahead with a small wedding. rosieorr.co.uk

•••

Tamsin Williams – Co-founder of Wigwam Public Relations in Guildford

Tamsin Williams co-founded award-winning Wigwam Public Relations 10 years ago, with business partner Vanessa Green. Both met in Guildford, having lived and worked previously in London, where they had senior roles in leading PR agencies representing global brands. Wigwam combines this experience with sector expertise, and for Tamsin that’s culture and charities.  Museums, galleries, literary festivals, heritage sites, music festivals, arts, education and healthcare charities feature in her portfolio of clients, a number based here in Surrey.

Tamsin Williams - Co-founder of Wigwam Public Relations in Guildford

Tamsin says: What an extraordinary year this has been. For many of our clients who depend upon visitors and events for their income, this disappeared overnight. Never has there been such an urgent need to be nimble. It’s a lesson we have all learned – flexibility is key.

But this also extends to working practices. Working from home and helping children with home schooling, or living in a house where the broadband can’t cope with everyone on Zoom at the same time, mean that the ‘working from home’ day is not the same as the ‘working day’. We must acknowledge and accommodate this.

A recent headline int he press said: “People have become kinder during the coronavirus pandemic.” This has followed through in our working lives too, and I hope this will be an enduring legacy of this unprecedented time. wigwampr.com

•••

Emily Watson – Founder of Whoop! Fitness and Wellbeing

Emily launched Whoop! Fitness and Wellbeing three years ago. She’s worked in the dance fitness industry for over 10 years, having fallen into it (and in love with it) when she bullied while she was training to be a psychologist. After eight years working for another company, she decided to go it alone when that company folded – fusing her fitness and psychology backgrounds to create a business that sets about to empower women. She’s gained a huge following, won awards (including the Muddy Award for Best Fitness Instructor), and presented at conferences, charity days and exhibitions.

Emily Watson - Founder of Whoop! Fitness and Wellbeing

Emily says: Running a business can be the most rewarding and exciting but also the most stressful thing you can do. And the Covid pandemic has flipped so many businesses around. It’s been a crazy time, but it has taught me so much.

When starting out, it’s important to know your mission. Know your priorities, know your limits and set boundaries. There are always things we think we ‘should’ or ‘must’ do. But making sure you have time for your family, will make a big difference to you and to them. One of the things I find hardest is juggling my business and my family. Whoop! is my baby and my customers are important to me, so I sometimes let it take over. I have to set boundaries.

Make time for yourself. This is one of the hardest but most important things! You can’t pour from an empty cup! And you physically can’t do everything for everyone else all the time. whoopfitness.co.uk

•••

Jayne Redmond – Founder of Jayne Redmond Handmade, a ceramics design company

Jayne studied art and design in Dublin and set up her first business, Rainbow Ceramics, a paint-your-own-pottery studio in the south Dublin town of Blackrock in 2005. In 2013, she came to live in Surrey with her family, and set up Jayne Redmond Handmade – a ceramics design company. She’s collaborated with some impressive clients over the years, designing an exclusive range of ceramic baubles for Harrods and bespoke gifts for clients including Skibo Castle, Soho House, Adare Manor and Lacoste.

Jayne Redmond - Founder of Jayne Redmond Handmade, a ceramics design company

Jayne says: For a young business to survive and grow it is essential to develop a robust business plan and research your intended market. It always costs more than first envisaged, so it is important to have a financial plan that will allow you the time to build your business until you see the returns. Consistency is key! It is worth spending money on a great photographer and someone to help develop a social media presence and solidify your brand’s identity.

It is useful to get help and advice from people who have been successful, regardless of their type of business There are many agencies out there that will encourage and mentor entrepreneurs, provided they can see the long-term value in your business.

Reaching out to other small businesses and collaborating with them has also been hugely helpful. You can learn all kinds of tips and tricks, and it is a great way to help spread awareness of your brand. jayneredmond.co.uk

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