Nov 282014

A Celebration of Female Entrepreneurship at The Big House

Geoff Beaumont Written by Geoff Beaumont

Tonedale House, Wellington

A great time was had by all as around 40 people gathered at The Big House Co.'s Tonedale House, Wellington, Somerset for Wellington Business Association's Celebration of Female Entrepreneurship.

The evening kicked off with networking and refreshments, generously laid on for us by Ben and Victoria Fox of the Big House Co., and a chance to explore Tonedale House - a 16 bedroom grade two listed Georgian Palladian style mansion built by Thomas Fox in 1797 next to the families large - and also grade two and two star listed - Tonedale Mill textiles complex.

Tonedale House Drawing Room

This was both a fascinating insight into the history of Wellington - Tonedale house contains much fascinating memorabilia, most of it related to the activities of the Fox Family who were a major influence; Tonedale Mill, the largest integrated mill in the South West at it's peak employed around 4,500 people and it was joined by Coldharbour Mill in nearby Uffculme and Bliss Mill further afield in Chipping Norton. Thomas Fox also founded a bank, Fox, Fowler and Company, which was the last commercial bank in England to retain the right to print it's own bank notes - an original Fox five pound note is on display in Tonedale House - and the family, many of whom were quakers, were active in social reform.

Networking in the dining room of Tonedale House, Female Entrepreneurs 2014

Moving through to the Party Room, after a brief introduction from WBA Chairman Keith Wheatley, the panel of three speakers each talked about their experiences of running their own businesses, then took questions and comments from the floor.

Mandy Saunders started us off, telling us of her experiences of setting up her own Travel Counsellors travel agency over the last few months. She described how independence has allowed her to deliver a much more personal service than she was able to as an employee of a high street travel agent, giving her much greater job satisfaction. She described the fear of making the "jump" into self employment from a steady salary - but also that, having done it, she has no regrets. She found that the biggest down side for her was the isolation of working alone from home - but that even that has been turned to her advantage as she deals with it by getting out meeting people in Wellington Town centre - where she often bumps into existing contacts who become clients - and by going out to visit clients at every opportunity making her service highly personal.

Red Dining Room, Tonedale House

Karen Janas followed, describing her six years in business as a trainer and counsellor based in Wellington. Karen offers counselling, coaching and training, including in public speaking and presentation. She explained how, after leaving a civilian job in the military, she had established her business by subscribing to the philosophy of "start early, stay late, work hard and advertise", with the result that she now has a large client base keeping her constantly busy. Having both training and counselling arms to her business helps to even out her work, as when one area is quiet the other is usually busy. Her biggest challenge is avoiding overload in a business where clients very much want to deal with her personally, making expansion by taking on employees very difficult.

The participants at Female Entrepreneurs 2014

Judith Goss rounded the panel off, telling us of over forty years as a retail florist in Wellington and Taunton. She regaled us with tales of 4am starts in the days when she and her husband also ran a plant nursery, alongside which they founded the florist business, and getting up at 2am to phone Interflora orders through to the States in the days before computers made the whole process far more efficient (but, Judith regrets, also far less personal), to the joys of successful expansion and challenges such as having thirteen staff off on maternity leave at the same time, and getting up in the middle of the night to rescue foreign lorry drivers making deliveries from the attentions of drunken xenophobes. Judith described the changes she's seen over the years - from cash to cards, telephones to computers, and men openly buying flowers (at one time they had to disguise the flowers as men wouldn't be seen carrying them - now they are bought openly and men form a major part of their client base). She also explained how the business would not have been possible without the active involvement of her family - both her late husband who encouraged her to develop the floristry side of the business in the first place and her son and daughter and their wife and husband now.

Ben Fox of The Big House Co in discussion with participants at the Celebration of Female Entrepreneurship, 2014

After questions and comments which included a discussion of how to effectively advertise a new business without overspending and while tied to shop front or production work, and how to deal with growing workload in a small business, we moved back through to the dining room for further networking and refreshments and another chance to explore the house.

Favourable comments were heard from many (along with much friendly advice for those who wanted it!), and we hope to return to the Big House next year for another event or two.

About Wellington Business Association

The WBA exists to link together businesses, to maximise potential from town events, give members a chance to participate as a business community, keep all member businesses informed of local business schemes and to provide a voice for traders to speak to the local councils on issues that affect us. This enables us, as a business community, to work together for our own good and for the good of our town.

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