Sowing the seed of an idea

NEW figures show half of all Britain's new businesses are set up by women, and new networks called Seed Circles where women help each other to succeed, are blossoming.

By Tracey Sparling

NEW figures show half of all Britain's new businesses are set up by women, and new networks called Seed Circles where women help each other to succeed, are blossoming. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets the Ipswich entrepreneurs.

THERE must be many women across Suffolk who have the kernel of a business idea, and want to know how to plant and nurture it.

At this moment they may be unhappy in their current job, or striving for a challenge to juggle alongside the responsibilities of home and family. Just like seeds, the ideas they harbour just need a sprinkling of advice to bear fruit. Today, the visions of 20 women in Ipswich are thriving, partly thanks to the advice that has come from a 'seed circle.'


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Women traditionally struggle to compete in a male-dominated business world, where men still get paid more and promoted to the top jobs. But PR guru Lynne Franks- who started her own PR agency from her kitchen table when she was 21 - suggests women should use their feminine traits as strengths.

She has adapted her book The SEED Handbook in to a training programme, promoting a feminine way to build business based on principles like a sense of community, connection and collaboration.

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Networks called 'seed circles' are now being set up across the country, for women aged 35 to 55 who want to make a success of their own businesses.

Suffolk businesswomen Melanie Blaikie and Sue Glenton were inspired by Lynne's work, to start a group in Ipswich.

Melanie, who runs Silver Clay Jewellery, said: “Lynne Franks' book is so different from any other business manual I have ever come across. I was immediately inspired to find likeminded women who want to do business in a more satisfying way.”

The Ipswich group which came together in February this year, has now won a £1,000 grant to train women to start and grow their businesses, and promote the group's interests.

It covers a range of businesses including a delicatessen, commercial kitchen fabrications, international trade research, wedding decorations, fashion design and textile manufacture.

Career coach Sue said: “Many of us are sole traders and it is easy to become isolated and lose touch with other business people. The group is an opportunity to get together to help share and solve problems, learn and celebrate success.

“Everyone in the group has found business opportunities, through meeting people here. There's lots of business out there to go round.

“Our meetings are not about who can talk the loudest or who's made the most money this month. We are here to support each other and see how we can help. Obviously we all want to do well in business, but not at the expense of anybody else.”

Medical herbalist Desiree Shelley runs the Wellspring Centre of Health and Healing in Lower Brook Street where the group meets monthly. She said: “It's a pleasure to have the group. We've had an amazing response from these dynamic and enterprising ladies.”

At the informal meetings members introduce themselves, then one volunteer does a concise presentation about her business, which others can then offer feedback on.

The links continue outside the meeting with emails flying back and forth, and extra events. The women took part in World Peace Day last month, by planting a tree outside Wellspring, and decorating it with ribbons and wishing for peace and harmony.

The Ipswich & Sudbury Enterprise Agency has also helped advise members over the past year.

The seed circle idea has also won the backing of government. Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary, and women's minister said: “Women have all the right skills to grow their own businesses but often lack the confidence to go for it or simply don't know how to start.

“That's why Lynne Franks' work with Seed is so important. Seed offers vital information, plus the tools and network to empower women both personally and economically”.

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The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month. It is free to join, and donations are taken for refreshments. You can attend even if you haven't started your business idea yet. For more details contact Sue at sueglenton@yahoo.co.uk or call 01473 225942.

Weblinks:

www.seednetwork.com

www.businesswomenslink.co.uk

For more job opportunities see www.eveningstar.co.uk.

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Do you think men would benefit from a similar approach to business? Or do you think the women should adopt a tougher approach? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

50pc of new and small business start-ups are led by women, according to Business Link the government service that provides advice and information for new and small businesses.

Name: Margaret Stanway

Business: Metanoia coaching, based in Saxmundham. Metanoia is a greek word which means to change your mindset and Margaret offers coaching, mainly over the phone, to help people cope with change in their lives and see it as an opportunity rather than something to fear.

She said: “The Seed Circle gives me a chance to meet other women, in a non-aggressive and supportive environment. People help each other and pool skills.

“Because of the non competitiveness, we can discuss different issues without feeling we are being judged, so we can grow and build our businesses. I think customers too are looking for more inner integrity in businesses.”

Name: Louise Wilson

Business: Wilson Concepts, in Ipswich specialises in stainless steel refurbishments of restaurants and hotels mainly in London, and would like to work more with Ipswich clients.

She said: “I think there is a new paradigm movement going on, where people care about their environment and each other, and want to help each other. It seems to be working.”

She told how her sister, who works in IT in New York, arrived one day to find a colleague had taken over her office, and had to fight her corner to get it back, and added: “The Seed Circle is the complete opposite of that cut-throat side of business. There is a new way to do business and people haven't got to do it the nasty way any more.”

Name: Diane Malone

Business: Malone International Properties Ltd is based in Ipswich. This new husband-and-wife team start business on Monday, selling overseas property.

Diane, who previously worked as a driving instructor, said: “We wanted to do something different and have more quality of life with the family. There are plenty of property opportunities abroad if you find them before they are built, and an increasing number of people are looking to invest their pensions in property. I don't believe in the hard sell approach to business, and I think customers are looking for more ethical, caring companies today.”

Do you think women have it harder in the business world than men?

Traditionally, women have had to work harder to prove themselves and if they have children, they have to juggle work and life but now, we are learning that we can't be perfect. The world is slow to recognise that women have different needs. This is one of the reasons why so many women start their own businesses.

What qualities do you think women bring to business?

Intuition, an open way to communicate, and a lack of need for power in the traditional male sense.

When you have a great idea for a business, what's the next step?

Research. Make sure you are grounded in the potential market. You must see if there are similar ideas out there, read more articles in trade magazines, Internet, newspapers and media to see what is already in your area, see how they are doing, what the competition is like, etc

How do you get the banks to take you seriously as a businesswoman?

Firstly you must believe in yourself and describe your business very carefully, take a detailed business plan, get good advice from friends, lawyers and accountants and be aware that the bank may need some sort of guarantee.

What's the best way to build up confidence to go it alone?

Acknowledge how courageous you are in your daily life. You do need a support team of friends and family. It all comes down to believing in yourself. You can plan and plan, but without courage, it will never get off the ground.

Is it possible to start a business without any capital?

Yes it is. I did, but it depends on the business. As long as you keep your job to keep a salary coming in, have a computer at home and can get some business cards printed up, you can do it.

What are the biggest benefits and pitfalls of starting your own business?

You are working for yourself, you have creative freedom, and I think it is much more satisfying but the downsides are that it's a big risk and you feel isolated. It's important to be part of a network. Networking is important and women are very good at that.

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