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 Natalie Montgomery and I am the founder of Almara Consulting and a senior Business Support professional. I believe my purpose is to instil and nurture confidence, assertiveness and focus into other women, all of which lead to personal and financial achievement and stability.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Almara Consulting is a unique female run consultancy, providing professional and sound consultancy services and accredited training to enhance the career development, financial planning and prospects for ambitious women who want to excel to their full potential within their professional lives and personal finances.
The idea for Almara developed gradually when I realised I was progressing with significant pace after a bold career change as well as from three passions; my unwavering supporting and uplifting of other women, sharing helpful career and personal finance advice, and always knowing deep down that I had a strong entrepreneurial spirit (regardless of how “ideal” my corporate jobs were perceived to be by society’s standards).
Over the years before I started Almara, I would get a lot of messages/questions from friends, their friends and acquaintances regarding my successful career progression and ‘financial betterment’ journey as I like to call it. I had a successful career within the fashion industry (spanning across marketing, events management and photography) before deciding to spread my wings into the realm of financial services. You see, fashion is a rather peculiar industry. On your CV, you can appear to be doing very well though financially, for many creatives (myself included at the time) it’s another story… Once I transitioned into financial services in 2015, I didn’t look back and remained focused on my ambitions.
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.
For me, it was at the beginning of 2019 that I decided I wanted to develop Almara from being my side hustle to a scalable business that I would be fully invested in.
Relative to my age, between 2015-2018, the remuneration I was receiving from corporate employment was desirable but I was miserable – so miserable and emotionally deflated that I’d occasionally sob in the office toilets as sad as that is to admit. It dawned on me that regardless of how accomplished I became within corporate environments, I knew that I would never feel fully fulfilled until I found the courage to begin my own venture rooted in my passions (as stated above). Building Almara Consulting from the ground up while starting out with few connections has been considerably challenging to say the least. Though the mental and professional growth I’ve experienced through doing so far outweigh all of the obstacles a budding entrepreneur like myself must overcome in order to succeed.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Believing in myself
Ironically, I have always been very confident in my corporate career though fully believing in myself as an entrepreneur and the value my business held within were challenges I admittedly had to overcome in Almara’s early days. I had to consistently remind myself that I had something very valuable to share through Almara Consulting and that my presence within the vast landscape of entrepreneurship was valid and deserving. Basically, I had to get out of my own head. Making a conscious effort to connect and network with other founders has helped me to overcome this by hearing their personal journeys and stories.
Balancing my business responsibilities with a full-time, reactive corporate career
This is something I still do daily though can proudly say that I can now manage my time between the two effectively. Strict time management, actively focusing on my mental wellbeing and setting boundaries over my time within my corporate career are all ways in which I’ve been able to take full control of my schedules so that they no longer conflict; but instead now work harmoniously with one another. I look forward to expanding upon this in a blog for Found and Flourish centred around this challenge that I know affects many budding entrepreneurs who are (usually but not always) temporarily juggling both hats until transitioning into full time self-employment.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
When I was able to climb the career ladder in my new employment sector as fast as I did. I became the Executive Assistant to a Chief Executive within 2 years of working within financial services. I recall sitting in meetings with other EAs twice my age (I was in my mid-20’s at the time) and the sense of accomplishment that gave me. In 2017, I completed writing the training course material for the now CPD accredited Executive Assistant Masterclass. This is an interactive, intensive training course designed to prepare those occupying junior Business Administration Support (BAS) roles and those new to BAS careers on how to become and excel within a career as an Executive Assistant; the most highly sought after and rewarding career path within the BAS sector.
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?
Almara Consulting is self-funded. I’m currently operating as a solopreneur (hiring temporary support at busy periods as and when needed). My decision not to seek out external funding for my business was a no-brainer for me simply due to the nature of my business while it is in its early years. A long term business goal of mine is to eventually hire passionate female training professionals, financial advisors, career coaches and a social media admin to run Almara’s service offering and social platforms. This will allow me to take more of a back seat in my business; enabling me to focus more on staff training, partnerships, keynote speaking and securing investment, which Almara will more than likely benefit from in the future.
What has been your best investment?
Getting The Executive Assistant Masterclass CPD accredited by CPD UK, the most recognised accreditation service in the United Kingdom. Since Almara Consulting is self-funded; obtaining this accreditation was definitely a substantial investment though worth the expense due to the formal recognition and certification it has given to The Executive Assistant Masterclass.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Of course, and I have tried my best to learn from them! The most prominent mistake I have made so far in my business was blurring the lines between business and friendship. I fell out with a former friend due to a business related incident some time ago. Our friendship did not recover and I’ve definitely learnt a lot from that situation and how to prevent it from ever happening again in the future.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
My experience so far has been satisfactory as a woman in the start-up ecosystem. 5+ years ago, I most likely would have mentioned that there needs to be more spaces for entrepreneurial women to come together and grow together though thanks to much needed female focused communities like Found and Flourish, the start-up ecosystem has evolved for the better.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Not to be so hard on myself and that comparing myself to others that I believe are presently doing a lot better than I am, will not help me but instead hinder me. Therefore I try my best to stay in my own lane and not to see others as my competition but instead as my inspiration.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Coincidently, after years of mentoring adolescents and young adults, I am currently on the hunt for a professional mentor! My biggest role model is my grandfather. His name is honoured in the name of my consultancy. My grandfather arrived in England from the West Indies in the early 1950’s during the Windrush era. Despite starting out with next to nothing to his name, he became a successful property investor over here and in the West Indies. Carrying on his legacy of building generational wealth is of utmost importance to me.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next 5 years I would like Almara to expand to a small dedicated team who are passionate about the career and financial growth of other women. Furthermore, I would like to be an accomplished keynote speaker and published contributor within media outlets.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown me that it is crucial that I develop my digital entrepreneurial skills. Therefore, one of my goals for 2020 is to develop online training courses.
What can our readers do to support your business?
Please spread the word about Almara’s upcoming entrepreneurship and personal finance workshops coming in August! I want to help as many women as possible with their personal finances and business growth.
I’m running out of characters so I’ll keep this brief! Along with the brilliance that is Found and Flourish, I’d also highly recommend:
Books – ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’ by Emma Gannon.
Podcasts – ‘The Strategy Hour’ hosted by Abagail Pumphrey and Emylee Williams.
‘So Money’ hosted by Farnoosh Torabi.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Always focus on and stay true to your “why”. Trust me; this will keep you going during the difficult times when you’re contemplating giving up.
If it is possible (and for many it usually is), be very mindful before mixing business with friendship. Particularly under the circumstance of having no plans to work with the friend on a long term basis (which can be safer for the business due to you both setting terms and “ground rules” in place before embarking on a long term venture). I lost a friend in this way. Bygones are bygones and I’ve moved on for the better with my business though in hindsight, the demise of the friendship was preventable.
NETWORK, NETWORK and NETWORK! As the saying goes, the quality of your network becomes the quantity of your net worth. Building and maintaining strong business relationships is crucial when going into business for oneself.
Where can we find you?
About your 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.
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
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