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.
Sally Lovett on…
- Setting up the business while juggling a multi-hyphen career
- Making some difficult but pivotal decisions for the future of the business
- The importance of listening to your gut
Hello Sally! Tell us a bit about you.
Hi! I’m Sally Lovett, founder of corporate wellbeing company, Stretching the City. I set up Stretching the City back in 2010 whilst juggling yoga teaching with freelance marketing and writing work and today have a team of over 100 wellness experts delivering workplace wellbeing services to our 300+ clients. I’ve been self-employed since the wise old age of 25 , so am no stranger to the perks and perils of being your own boss – be it tax returns or a ‘work wardrobe’ that’s 90% lycra and loungewear.
I live just outside London with my husband, my 1 year old son Max and 11 year old stepson, Seb.
Tell us about your business, Stretching The City.
Stretching the City is your go-to, one-stop-shop for all your workplace wellness needs. Our team of hand-picked wellness teachers and experts deliver everything from meditation to massage, yoga to nutrition and ‘Sleep school’ to mental health workshops. To date we’ve worked with over 300 clients including the likes of John Lewis, Deloitte and Lonely Planet. Some of our clients might just have a weekly yoga class, whilst others may book a year-long employee wellbeing programme with us. We’re predominantly based in London, but have a team in Manchester and are looking to branch out in to more UK cities soon.
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.
A key, pivotal moment for Stretching the City was in 2017 when we closed down the retreat and public yoga class side of the business to become a solely corporate wellbeing company. We’d run yoga retreats for years and they accounted for about 30% of our turnover, so it was daunting to stop them. However, they took up a huge amount of time and resource and didn’t always generate a significant profit if all places weren’t filled. Stopping the retreats also coincided with the birth of my son, so I stopped my weekly yoga classes I’d taught in Islington for 6 years around the same time.
We were now 100% a corporate wellbeing company and it felt good to have a clear, concise offering targeted at B2B corporate clients.
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
There are logistical challenges to running workplace wellbeing initiatives, namely lack of space, so we’ve developed our offering to include sessions such as Chair Yoga, Office Run club or office massage, which require very little, or no space.
One of my personal challenges is to keep the vision and the offering focused on wellbeing. I’ll often attend an event, hear an amazing speaker or meet someone new and can be inclined to hastily add a new workshop to our portfolio without considering ‘Is this applicable to workplace wellbeing?’, ‘Is this of value to my clients?’ I try to reign myself in a bit more these days, keeping our offering concise and relevant, yet fresh and reflective of trends and developments in the wellbeing space.
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?
Stretching the City is entirely self-funded. I recently attended a talk by Kikki K founder, Kristina Karlsson who said that you can either take investment and grow big, or stay self-funded and stay small. I’m trying to stay self-funded, but still go big! That’s not to say I’ll never take investment, but right now I’m investing in the expertise and experience of people who know more than I do and can help me drive the business forward.
What has been your best investment?
Taking someone on to look after the day-to-day admin and operations. I was getting bogged down in the daily minutiae and kidding myself how productive and busy I was being.
As the business leader, this wasn’t time spent wisely and I had little brain-space to look ahead to business development and strategy – so I took on an Operations Manager 3 years ago to run all day to day operations and have never looked back. (*Having someone looking after the day to day running of the business also enabled me to have some maternity leave).
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Absolutely, plenty along the way! I’ve stumbled over pricing and under-charged clients, I’ve lost my way a few times and offered workshops that aren’t relevant, I’ve been let-down by some bad hires… and I’ve gone against everything my business stands for by sometimes sacrificing my own wellbeing for the sake of servicing my clients! It’s a constant learning process.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
To celebrate your successes and be clear on what your version of success is. It’s all too easy to get bogged down by what hasn’t gone your way, I try and make a point at the end of each week to look back and celebrate what’s worked and gone right. I also try and remind myself of my version of success and not give too much thought to what other entrepreneurs are doing (Instagram doesn’t always help there!).
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
The late Paul Walker, founder of Yogamatters.com who was my boss for 5 years taught me a lot about running a successful business with heart. He had many sayings such as ‘Never miss an opportunity to train someone’ or ‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king!’ – which incurred the odd eye-roll at the time, but ring true in my ears today.
I also invested in some personal development coaching this year and have found my monthly sessions really motivating and thought-provoking. It can become lonely at times, running a business without a co-founder or investors to advise and help guide the way. Without a boss to learn from and look up to, I need to go out and find people who can give me the tools to take my business to the next level.
What can we do to support your businesses?
Spread the word to head over to stretchingthecity.com for all your workplace wellbeing needs.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- For keeping up to speed on work & some entrepreneurial inspiration: How I Built this, Eat Sleep Work Repeat, Monocle: The Entrepreneurs, your good selves – Found & Flourish & Work It.
- Motherkind for navigating life as a working Mum.
- Fortunately with Fi & Jane, the High Low & How to Fail for lols and musings.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Don’t be afraid to:
- Just give it a go.
- Base decisions on your gut feel.
- Evolve and adapt your business as it’s grows. Chances are it won’t look how you envisaged it at conception.
- Fill your knowledge gaps. As a business owner in the early days you have to be every single department, from marketing to accounts and IT. Luckily, we live in an age where there is SO much free advice and expertise at your fingertips, so devour podcasts, books and blogs to fill your knowledge gaps and boost your confidence.
How can readers get in touch with you? (website, social etc.)
Thank you Sally! – Lara
About the Author
Lara Sheldrake is an entrepreneur and co-founder at Found & Flourish. Lara writes and speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, motherhood and social media for business. She also hosts the Bossing It podcast, aimed at empowering the next generation of female founders in the UK. Send Lara an email.
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