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.
My name is Stephanie, I run startup marketing agency Bloom, and I host founder podcast, Time to Bloom. I live in London with my partner (because I’m too old to call him my boyfriend now!) and I’m an avid feminist, of course.
I’m also ENFP personality type, Capricorn star sign, and a serious night owl!
Tell us about your business, Bloom.
Bloom is a fully-integrated marketing agency specifically for ambitious entrepreneurs and exciting startups. With our 360-marketing approach and totally agile team, here’s the problem we solve:
Recruiting the right people and building a team for a new business take time. And it’s crucial to get this right, as people really can make or break a company – especially if it’s still in its infancy.
The time it takes from deciding what sort of role you need to fill in the first place, fleshing out the job description, placing an ad, talking to recruiters, asking around your network, to conducting interviews and then waiting for your successful candidate to serve their notice, can easily take at least six months.
This is a long time in startup world, and time is money!
You need to take action and get sh*t done in the meantime. Bloom’s fully-integrated marketing solution offers a ready-made, plug-and-play, outsourced marketing team that can be instantly deployed and take action right away.
Not only does this mean that you’ve not lost out on all that time until you’ve found your new hires, but we’ve also been laying solid foundations for when they come in. We can help in interviews and of course handover for smooth transitions, so your business can continue to bloom.
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.
As disappointing as it may be to not tell a story around a single, dramatic, lightbulb moment, the truth is that it was a gradual process (yawn!) There are certainly specific points along my career that I clearly remember, that led me closer to where I am today – like going to interviews (for amazing jobs at amazing companies!) but quickly feeling demotivated at the idea of getting another office job.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
I truuullyyyy believe in the power of your network, and I certainly attribute a lot of where I am today to the incredible people around me.
I was extremely fortunate in that I got a fantastic accountant recommendation very early on, for example – which I know is a common pain point for new business owners or freelancers. My partner is so supportive and quite tech-y, too, so he helped with things I just couldn’t have done myself.
I guess the challenges that were left for me to solve on my own was the development of my own business – i.e. clearly communicating the proposition (to the right people at the right time!), identifying time wasters, generating quality leads, getting deals on the right sort of work I wanted to be doing, with the right sort of clients, etc. I overcame most of this with time, to be honest – there’s no better lesson than first hand experience!
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Landing my first client shortly after setting up the business is probably the most obvious first win, but actually the first time someone contacted me as an inbound lead was a big moment!
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?
This is a really interesting one; I could talk about business investment all day long. The short answer is that the business is totally self-funded and I only even thought about considering external investment when we were going through a really rough patch just before our two-year anniversary.
The honest reason for this – and this is partly why I find this to be such an interesting topic of discussion amongst female founders, in particular – is because: by default of rubbing shoulders with so many entrepreneurs and startups over the past couple of years, the whole concept of business investment was so much more familiar to me. Before Bloom, it just wasn’t even on my radar – let alone a viable route to take my business in order to grow it.
The reason this is so important, and what I want to emphasise here, is that awareness is such a crucial first step for anything related to business, ambition, self-development, or otherwise. (All previously male-dominated areas).
I had (unintentionally) gained so much awareness of investment that over time I understood it more and more until it grew into an actual consideration in my mind. I didn’t pursue the idea and stuck out the rough patch (I like to think I’m pretty good at managing the finances anyway, so there was enough of a buffer to see us through – thankfully!)
(FYI if your business is less than two years’ old, you qualify for the government-backed SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme), an attractive venture capital scheme for young businesses. Find out more here.
What has been your best investment?
Can I pick three? My laptop, my people, and my holidays (because #selfcare).
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Of course! Billions! Mistakes mean that you’re trying something new, that you’re stretching yourself, that you’re being bold and taking risks! Mistakes need to be celebrated and talked about far more.
I’ve made so many… Working with the wrong people, accepting the wrong clients when I should have paid more attention to my gut instead of my bank account, burning the candle at both ends and experiencing real burnout twice in the last year, expending far too much time and energy on people who simply aren’t worth it… Even to little things like typos on the website (although that for me is absolutely HUGE and mortifying!!)
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Whilst nuanced and very complicated, I think we have two huge issues when it comes to equality (be it ingender, race, disabilities, or otherwise). These are: (a) unconscious bias, and (b) social conditioning.
Unconscious bias is how we are perceived and therefore how we are treated by others. When it comes to career development, senior executives will inherently see themselves in the younger talent and have an unconscious bias in mentoring, supporting, and raising those individuals. Most professionals at the top are male and white, so you have a vicious cycle here.
Social conditioning is on us. We need to do so much more in actively breaking away from how we’ve been conditioned to be “good girls” (quiet, polite, delicate, and demure) and to hate ourselves (particularly our bodies). Society profits off women’s insecurities, so the best rebel you can be is to truly love yourself.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
The whole experience of being in business has been one huge learning curve. Every single day I learn something new, whether it’s in managing people, how taxes work (ugh), more skills directly related to my trade, or even about myself.
The greatest lesson though may well have to be about myself. When I started the business over two years ago, I promise it did not even cross my mind that my own energies would not be a limitless resource. Boy, how wrong I was! Because I had never got anywhere near my limits before, there was still so much I could push myself – and I’m my biggest whipcracker! It wasn’t until I found myself getting ill and experiencing real burnout that I realised how important it is to take care of myself. SUCH A CLICHE. But I had to learn the hard way.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
GARY VEE! (Lara laughs)
On a more serious note, I find inspiration and mentorship in so many different forms from so many truly wonderful people around me. And not just my seniors; colleagues and the youth today!
But do follow @garyvee for some serious motivation 😉
With the future in mind, where would you see yourselves in five years time?
I would love to see Bloom grow, with a bigger team and our own offices, along with a healthy enough client base that enables us to get involved in more social impact projects, as well as supporting female founders and women in general (most of the team is currently female!)
I also do hosting and presenting, so I would love to have a higher personal profile on that side of things (listen to my podcast, Time to Bloom, here.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
Don’t burn out again! Haha
What can our readers do to support your business?
Please think of us for any new entrepreneurs or early-stage startups you know who could use a really efficient, practical, no-BS and affordable marketing solution to help grow their business. I know it’s so typical to say this, but, with the types of clients we work with, we really are on a business journey together. We only do well if you do well, so it’s in our interest to support you as much as we can!
(I can also support the F+F community by featuring founders on my podcast series, Time to Bloom, and by providing our International Women’s Day event on 5th March as a free marketing opportunity for partners).
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
If, like me, you’re full-speed, gung-ho, with tonnes of ambition and ideas, and actually the main thing you struggle with is to slow down and take a breather from time to time (it’s important), then I recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. (Heads up: there are some eyebrow-raising moments in it and I don’t fully prescribe to the whole thing, but I found it to be one of the most calming influences while I read it!)
The best podcast which will blow your mind and change your life (I do not use those words lightly), is Unf*ck Your Brain by Kara Loewentheil – a Found + Flourish recommendation from me too!
In terms of other resources, there are so many fantastic support networks to take advantage of – whether it’s WhatsApp chats, Facebook groups, or fantastic organisations like Found + Flourish!
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Don’t procrastinate! Just do it.
About the Author
Leah Williams 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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