This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.

Firstly, tell us a bit about you.

I am originally from a small rural village in Cheshire but moved to Newcastle 8 years ago for university, after falling in love with the city I decided I wasn’t ready to leave so landed myself a full time job in advertising soon after graduating. After 3 intense, exciting, challenging and stressful years I finally learnt what the work-life balance was NOT. Having always had a passion for entrepreneurship, I used my ‘I’m over this sh*t’ as the inspiration to follow my dream and make a start on building my business at the age of 24.

When I am not working on making The Fempire an empowering place for women to hang out (more on that if you keep reading) I like to spend my time eating food, thinking about food, watching food, cooking food and dreaming about food either alone or with loved ones, the latter being the preferred. Oh and some yoga flow sessions every once in a while.  

Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?

My business journey has been a bit of a whirlwind the last few years but in the most simplest terms, I knew I wanted to create something for women that improved their self-worth, boosted their confidence, helped them self-actualise their inner power and encourage them to understand what incredible and capable humans they are. Something for me basically.

The actual tangible business idea changed a few times but in February 2019 I settled on a subscription service designed to inspire, motivate and empower women through discovery, content and community.

In November 2018 I had launched an online publication (We are Auburn) to feature content purely focussed on female confidence, we were constantly sharing stories of female entrepreneurs and recommending kick-ass products that why not package these up (products and story) and physically send it to our audience. Fempowerment Box was born and every 4 months, our members receive a physical box that contains 6 – 8 full-size lifestyle products from women-led businesses as well as a magazine featuring engaging content. In addition, our members also receive access to our online community, content and exclusive offers.

I had also read an article that stated only 2% of 18-34 year olds could name a woman as a role model in business. This really pissed me off because I know for a fact it isn’t due to lack of them, it is due to lack of representation. That is why I feel so passionately about only partnering with women-led businesses so we can champion those inspirational females defying the odds.

What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.

I was 100% dead-set on handing in my notice in at the agency that regardless of my options, after the weekend I had 4 weeks to figure out my next move. Luckily, that same weekend I found out that I had been accepted on to a full-time accelerator programme which came with a little investment – that was the sign I was looking for.

What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?

Being a young, solo entrepreneur I found it hard to know what I was doing (at all!) but I made sure to fill the holes in my experience by surrounding myself with experts in the right areas.

I also struggled working from home for a few months, I thought it would be a great idea to save on cash but it seriously wasn’t. I found myself getting more and more unproductive and unmotivated every day but worse of all, I was incredibly lonely. And it is hard to be creative and positive when you are lonely. Since January 2020 I have made short-term plans to co-work from different spaces and so far it has been revolutionary!

What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?

After launch, I started to see all the reviews, posts, stories and shares coming through on social media from people I didn’t even know (this is always a win). The feedback was so genuine and positive that it filled me with the confidence that Fempowerment Box was something special.

Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?

I was accepted on to an accelerator programme initially which came with a little bit of investment to help me explore my idea and validate the concept. Once I had done that, I then secured a small amount through an angel investor but since then I have self-funded myself. 2020 is all about experimenting with as many different growth strategies so we can go big for 2021 and hopefully secure more funding because we have done our homework. And have the stats to prove it.

What has been your best investment?

Realising that I don’t have to do everything and there are experts for a reason. Outsourcing particularly difficult and time-consuming skills has been a life changer for me, I am particularly giving a shout out to my accountant. Thank you Debbie. I don’t want to end up in jail because of something financial that I genuinely had no clue about!

Also spending the money to travel and attend events where your audience might be hanging out. Real life exchanges with your people are so so much more valuable than anything online.

Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?

In the early days I feel like I might have blown a bit of money on unnecessary things because I felt the pressure from the accelerator programme to spend it but I wish I had been more methodical about it.

I have also ordered the wrong thing in high quantity countless times which has taught me to pay a lot more attention but also buy a sample before purchasing in the hundreds.

What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?

I have experienced firsthand the struggles of putting myself out there, cultivating confidence, and making the sale. When a friend wrote a book, I bought it. When another started a podcast, I shared it on my social media feed and continue to do that. When I find a woman doing something great, I make sure I share her message online and offline.

However, there is still a lot of women that do not. Either by choosing to ignore a fellow female’s business, refusing to give their page a like (I mean how hard is that) or even verbally putting it down. It has to come from jealousy which is an understandable by-product because we have been made to compare ourselves to each other for far too long. It doesn’t have to be that way. Trust me. We can make a real difference. Together.

What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?

Passion is your most valuable asset. Especially at the start when you can’t really trade on money others will see your passion as currency. You can’t fake it but when it genuinely presents itself you will find that others will be willing to help and feel excited about you and your business.

I also went to an event where Anne Boden, founder of Starling Bank said that “If you have an idea so audacious, you can never be accused of failing, you can only be congratulated for trying”. It has stuck with me ever since.

With the future in mind, where would you see yourselves in five years time?

I would love to extend our membership from the physical box and content to more of an exclusive media platform with access to podcasts, video and partnerships with kick-ass women.

Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?

Being brave. In business and in life. I am using one word to guide me through 2020 and if I am ever at a crosswords I will ask myself, “Is this giving me an opportunity to be brave?”

What can our readers do to support your business?

A cheeky follow on social media.

Share your incredible businesses or female friends’ businesses with us so we can collaborate.

What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?

She can, She did, Mary Portas, Work like a woman, Girlboss radio

What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?

Take the steps today (or tomorrow)! Even if it’s just spending the time to formulate a plan or get your ideas down on paper, make the start and when you are ready JUMP. Just do it, please. I can promise you that if you feel so passionately about your idea you will spend your whole life thinking about it so you need to do yourself justice and at least explore every single one.

Once you are pretty certain it might work then try. There are so many resources, funding, support options set-up to help you regardless of your current lifestyle. Take it one step at a time and see how far you get. And if you ever just need a push or a hand-hold, drop me a message.

About the Author

Zoe Smith is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.

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