Through Iridescent Ideas we have been running the SHE -Plymouth project since May. And what an adventure we’ve had, providing tailored and bespoke business support to the women of Plymouth. We have ploughed straight through our yearly target to support 60 women, with almost 80 members signed up to our programme already.
As a dedicated Business Advisor for the SHE project, I’ve loved seeing the project grow and blossom.
So what have I been doing for the last six months?
If I’m honest and tell you what I’ve been up to, you may think I’ve spent the last six months living the Life of Riley. Drinking coffee and having a chat with a host of remarkable, interesting, and determined women. And you would be right. It has been an utter joy getting to grips with the SHE project and finding the best way to deliver our support, experience, and knowledge to our SHE-las. Sometimes I have to pinch myself after a meeting, where I have been left so uplifted by the sheer grit and commitment of our women. They are a genuine, kind, and delightful bunch.
I have had over 30 in person 1-1 support sessions, and even more than that online. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mel, our Iridescent Ideas superhuman and facilitator, we have hosted a successful social event, and presented our first workshop ‘The ‘M’ Word – an Introduction to Marketing’. We arranged an exclusive workshop with Laura Walker to address the dangers of burn out to small business owners and have offered access to a host of external learning opportunities. Not to mention the resources available to the project through Iridescent Ideas.
I have also attended a number of networking events within the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network to spread the good work of SHE and our women. For example, Chelsea Batt, our Marketing Lead, and I had a successful and positive time attending the Plymouth University’s ‘Showcasing the Solutions to Social Isolation & Loneliness.’
How is the SHE project developing?
In my 1-1 sessions I learn all about the hopes and dreams of each entrepreneur, what challenges they face; where they would like to see their business get to in the short, medium and long term; and what their vision is to make the world a better place through their work. Together, we go through how best to achieve those next steps.
The most satisfying part of the job so far has been seeing how every one of our clients has flourished. In a short period of time we have witnessed the mere glimmers of ideas turn into a fully fledged concepts delivering products and services. We have had funding granted, licenses approved, and premises secured. What were just whispers in the wind at the beginning of May are now concrete plans put in to place. Everyone is moving at their own pace, but each journey is developing into something truly beneficial to Plymouth, and our community.
By tailoring the SHE project to respond to the needs of our members, rather than presenting them with a pre-prepared structure, we have been able to offer bespoke advice. Each SHE-la is individual, and our guidance has reflected that by taking into consideration specific needs. The flexibility within the programme is one of its greatest strengths.
But beyond the individual successes (check out some of our women: S.O.S., Pets and Picasso, Well Image CIC…) we’re seeing our concept bloom. SHE is becoming its own entity, with its own identity. Our women are interacting, sharing content, and using the collective pool of knowledge and experience within the group. SHE is developing into a support network, a hub of information, and a sounding board for creativity and progress.
What challenges have you faced while trying to deliver comprehensive support to the businesswomen of SHE?
Time! Due to the nature of our services, we allocate a lot of time to individuals rather than groups. It’s essential, as it’s where we make the most progress. But I’m definitely coming around to the idea of cloning the team so that we can roll out more opportunities within the project!
What are the most common challenges facing your SHE-las?
Over the course of the last few months, it has become clear that the greatest challenges facing our SHE-las are gender specific. The societal pressures on women are so ingrained in our society that it affects us in more ways than we realise, until we start to explore it in our 1-1 sessions. One of the greatest indicators of this is confidence. Every woman on our programme is capable of greatness. The desire to make the world a better place for their community, families, and society is their motivation. But when I ask them why, when they have all the tools in place already, they haven’t just done it yet? It comes down to confidence. Not wanting to be judged. Letting down their family if it fails. Feeling that they have to have everything perfectly planned before they start. Having to devote time to their passion that could mean changes to the lives of their loved ones. We need to give women permission to fail. We must raise a generation of young women who are less risk-averse and who feel empowered to just give it a go! It is a remarkable thing, to begin the journey of enterprise. That alone should be enough to spark admiration and pride within oneself, and from others.
And those that have been brave and just taken the leap? They are exceling! And it is a joy to witness.
Along the same vein, a lot of our SHE-las struggle with assessing their financial value. Talking about money is a difficult thing. Especially when the premise of social enterprise is to better the community, not just to make heaps of personal profit. Encouraging them that in order to facilitate the good, they must recompense themselves for their worth first and foremost, is a challenge. Paying themselves can almost seem like a betrayal to their cause, which is a hard barrier to overcome. But if you do not feel valued, or if your quality of life cannot be maintained, the good that you want to achieve will not happen. The more profit you make, the more good things you can do. And social enterprise or not, this country is built on the backs of small business. It is not an evil thing to want to earn a living. Whatever enterprise you are running you are doing so with a benefit to the economy and to the country – so pride should be a natural feeling when setting up your own business.!
What does the next six months have in store for SHE?
We will continue to offer support for our clients and strive to improve our services, while hopefully welcoming new women onto the project. The fact that we can guide our members through the business process over a period of time, means that they have uninterrupted support for a big chunk of their journey.
We will provide more workshops and hope to collaborate with local social enterprises to reach a wider audience.
But as a team we have already started talking about legacy. What will become of the SHE Project? We are funded for up to two years (dependent on outcomes) by The Rank Foundation and Livewell Southwest. And we are beyond grateful to them for this opportunity. But it would be a travesty for the SHE-beast to dwindle if and when the funding runs out. So, we are looking at our possibilities to keep the momentum of SHE running for as long as possible. I am whole-heartedly invested in every one of our members and want to support them through their entire enterprise adventure.
Our team at Iridescent Ideas are already wondering – could we facilitate a SHE-Exeter? A SHE-Bristol? Personally…I’m happy to take the lead on SHE-Bali if the opportunity arises….