‘PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CRAVING FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTION’: HOW ONE FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR HELPED BUSINESSES connect DURING lockdown

When women support women, wonderful things happen: a motto we truly believe in here at Sparkle Up North. That’s why our latest story features a female entrepreneur who has used her knowledge and contacts to help new businesses connect with others online while we have been in lockdown.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, nearly half a million new start-ups were registered with Companies House last year and in a survey of people’s career plans for the next year, 18% of respondents plan to launch their own business in 2021.

We spoke to Janine Friston, Founder of Promoting Trafford and The Accountability Lounge Facebook Group. We discussed the new business owners she has been supporting this year to find out why people are taking the plunge during these challenging times.

She told us: ‘I think Covid 19 has brought people, communities and business owners together in a way that will hopefully continue.’

Supporting local businesses

Twelve months ago, Janine was running Promoting Trafford, an online directory and mobile app that shares positive stories and helps raise awareness of businesses based in Trafford. She was looking to potentially franchise the business into other areas when the pandemic hit.

‘At that point, the focus became about promoting the community spirit, sharing what was going on in the community, positive stories, and just trying to keep people positive and let them know what help and support was available for them.’

It was a similar story in her popular ‘Local Women in Business’ group, which now has over 650 members all from the area in and around Trafford, to help them make local connections:

‘We were meeting every month, getting to know each other, supporting each other, doing spotlights and presentations… it has been a fantastic group to share good days and bad days, asking for advice and improving confidence.’

Janine says she feels business owners having to connect online has meant friendships have formed faster over the last year, with many feeling the benefits of these collaborations with people they might not otherwise have met:

‘We’re going to more meetings because networking on Zoom is easier for people in business generally. Normally, you’d have to spend time travelling to get somewhere, and it can be half a day gone sometimes by the time you get home.’

‘Networking online is quicker and more convenient for many people.’

What’s most important, is that Janine’s networking groups are allowing real, successful relationships to be formed:

‘I am often told how much the networking groups have built both friendships and businesses on the back of it. A number of the business owners’ original clients, who now go on to recommend them, came from being part of my business network.’

With government restrictions slowly being lifted next week, I asked Janine if she has any plans to return to face-to-face networking, or if she will continue to arrange for people to meet online?

‘I’m actually now in the process of planning our very first ‘Women in Business’ get together. I’m hopefully picking out a local restaurant for about 30 or 40 of us to get together, socially-distanced and within the restrictions of a restaurant.’

‘I think people are craving face-to-face interaction, I asked the group if anyone fancies a get together and the response was positive, even though it feels a little odd.’

But, she is very conscious that the relationships she has built for herself and helped others build online over the last year will continue, so the option to connect via Zoom will still be there for those who prefer to meet online.

The Accountability Lounge group

Whilst running her two groups, Janine has identified a group of business owners that need support and help when starting or running their businesses. As a result, she set up The Accountability Lounge group on Facebook.

‘When new business owners are starting out they need to grow their knowledge and confidence. For those already running a business, they may struggle to complete all their goals as they work IN their business or feel overwhelmed. ‘

‘The Accountability Lounge really came about because I like helping people. I’m not a coach, I’m not a trainer or anything like that, but I can give them my experience and my mentorship. I can give them my time and support, to listen, talk through their ideas or questions, make a plan with them and help them achieve their goals by being accountable for completing their to-do lists.’

The idea for the group is to provide courses, challenges, freebies, support and tips. Janine wants it to be a place where people could come and ask questions, where she, and members of the group can give them information to help, so  they can work through at their own pace.

‘I want to be able to help people by saying, ‘I’ve been where you are now, I’ve been through the questions you’re asking. Questions such as; Do I need to have branding? Do I need a website? What social media platforms do I need? How do you go about networking? All these questions and thoughts that people go through or worry about.’

‘I just like seeing people doing what they want to do. If you’ve got a passion to start a business, an idea or talent I can help you to go for it.’

So, what one piece of advice would Janine give to anyone just starting out a new business?

‘Do something you really love. You are going to work long hours, particularly in the early stages of starting out… You need to make sure you do something that you’re passionate about, and you know about, because you are going to be living and breathing this every day.’

Celebrating local business successes

While talking to Janine it’s clear that she, like us here at Sparkle Up North, is keen to celebrate the many success stories of some amazing, innovative business women in the north. There have been some positive tales from the past 12 months and she wants to share those.

That’s why, in June, she set up a ‘Local Hero’ award: her followers were invited to nominate someone who was making a difference in their community during the pandemic, and she would send them a virtual certificate for them to print out and display at home.

Earlier in 2021, she followed that up with another awards ceremony, The Trafford Business and Community Awards, which gained a lot of interest. It celebrated local businesses, community groups and individuals, and what they’ve achieved in the last 12 months:

‘In my head it was a small way to say thank you, but it just grew and grew into an amazing online event.  It’s a mixture of ‘Businesses of the Year’ in different categories and also community information as well – so superheroes of the community that have gone above and beyond.’

‘We had an online event, I had over 5 ½ thousand five votes within a week and myself and my two sponsors did a live Facebook stream to announce the winners. I couldn’t believe the amount of nominations I had, but since then 1000s of people have downloaded and watched the awards.’

‘That was what people needed at the start of 2021, as we were in lockdown again… Even at the end of the night everyone was asking when the next event will be! ’

For Janine, these are proof that anyone who has an idea for a business or campaign must do what they can to make it become a reality:

‘You never know what’s going to come from your idea, think big and be positive.’

Since then Janine has  won the local ‘Business Leader in the Community’ award for International Women’s Day, as well as been a finalist in the Altrincham and Sale Chamber of Commerce Business Awards for Micro Business of the Year. 

Things are on the up for this female entrepreneur, with more initiatives in the pipeline – including a local online business magazine and a ‘Women in Business networking group and podcast!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Janine for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021.

If you’d like to be considered to be included in our online magazine, drop us a line on sparkleupnorth@gmail.com or follow us www.twitter.com/sparkleupnorth www.instagram.com/sparkleupnorth and www.facebook.com/sparkleupnorth

‘If 2020 hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have taken the online route’: FROM NAIL TECH TO BUSINESS COACH DURING THE PANDEMIC

Here at Sparkle Up North, we want to showcase the amazing work northern female entrepreneurs have been doing, despite the effects of Covid on their businesses and their own health. In the third of our featured stories, we spoke to Michelle Mills.

When Michelle first started her business, she had no idea it would lead to her coaching other female entrepreneurs and creating an award-winning podcast.

A stay-at-home mum of three, whose partner often worked away from home, she knew she needed a career to progress in and a business to grow to take her away from being ‘just’ a mum.

‘It wasn’t even about the money, it was more for me,’ she told Sparkle Up North. ‘I knew that I needed something for myself to be productive. I knew that I needed something to focus on to get me through it. Otherwise, my mental health was just going to go into a big decline.’

She began a crafting business, crocheting items for children and making cloth nappies, before moving into slime and then press on nails. As a qualified nail technician of 10 years it was something she really enjoyed and she ended up setting up a YouTube channel to go alongside the business:

‘They were kind of like craft channels. My income was selling the craft items and the content I was creating and putting out was all secondary.’

But, as many of us know, being a mum and running your own company takes up a lot of time and so editing her videos soon became too time-consuming, she decided, instead, to focus on making her product.

But she soon discovered a passion for helping other business owners and found her passion for creating content reignited, deciding to revamp her YouTube channel in the form of a podcast.

‘There’s a limit to how many sets of nails I can make in a day, whereas there’s not a limit to how many people I can help in a day. That was a ‘pivot’ moment for me there and I have engagement on my podcast that I would never get in a group.’

Coaching fellow women in business

Michelle says that it was always her goal to become a business coach while her children were young, she has found her calling in helping people launch and scale their businesses – something they often can’t or don’t want to, do on their own:

‘All the tedious things that other people don’t like doing, that’s what I like to do! I’ve built so many successful businesses myself, I realised I couldn’t keep changing what I was doing, so I decided to change what other people do instead.’

As a coach, Michelle has worked with lots of women and men who have an amazing idea for a business, or something that they are really passionate to create, and she’s also seen that often they don’t know the steps they need to take to make it a success.

‘I come off a call with a client and I’m so vamped. It’s like my little addiction: starting everything up and going through the launch process, taking things back to the drawing board. And that’s what people need help with.’

Following her own good advice, she has decided to niche down to helping small business owners to grow their CEO mindset enabling them to scale up and think bigger:

‘If I’d known eight years ago, what I knew today, God, I’d be retiring now. Yeah, I really would be able to retire because I would just be able to put everything in to practice.’
Moving her business online when the pandemic began.’

Just as many women in business have had to move their sales and services online over the last year, Michelle looked to do the same with her products. It was a huge success and she is certainly positive about the affect Covid 19 has had on her:

‘I think if 2020 hadn’t gone on, I would definitely still be working as a nail tech, I don’t think I would have taken the online route as quickly as I did.’

It’s clear that running her business heavily through social media has helped Michelle on her road to success. She explains it has allowed her to reach out in a completely different way:

‘I’ve always been an introverted extrovert. I find that by connecting to people online, I get my message across better than if you meet me in real person. I’m not as bolshie as what I seem online.’

And that’s clearly resonated with a lot of female entrepreneurs. Since moving online, Michelle has found her voice and is helping women through her Facebook group and now, her podcast.

Award-winning podcast, She Makes Biz Talk

At the beginning of this year, Michelle’s podcast “She Makes Biz Talk” was named “Best Entertainment Podcast” in the Podcasting for Business Indie awards, even though the podcast was only 6 weeks old at the time of entry.

Michelle was, and remains still, massively proud of her accomplishment – rightly so we think!

You can find out more about Michelle here, with her fab podcast here and the episode which features our very own Amy Downes: The Content Planning Wizard here.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Michelle for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021.

If you’d like to be considered to be included in our online magazine, drop us a line on sparkleupnorth@gmail.com or follow us www.twitter.com/sparkleupnorth www.instagram.com/sparkleupnorth and www.facebook.com/sparkleupnorth

LONG COVID – THE IMPACT: How one Yorkshire woman started a new business while battling the illness

Here at Sparkle Up North, we want to showcase the amazing work northern female entrepreneurs have been doing, despite the effects of Covid on their businesses and their own health.

As Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, ‘The Truth About Long Covid’ looks at the impact of the illness on our society, our own feature article looks at the affect on one of our members, Carol Barwick, in a little more detail.

Carol Barwick, the Founder of Raise: Raising Confidence, Inspiring Creativity first suffered with Covid early on in 2020.

It’s been a difficult year for us all, balancing home-schooling with working from home, adapting to remote working and being prevented from seeing our loved ones.

Of course, amongst all that there have been millions of people suffering with Covid themselves and there is some evidence to suggest that here in the north we were hit the hardest by its affects.

But, as a business owner, how does having the illness affect your work? Carol Barwick, the Founder of Raise: Raising Confidence, Inspiring Creativity has kindly shared her story with Sparkle Up North.

‘I got the COVID symptoms in March, but at the time there were no tests because it was completely brand new. I’ve never had a sense of smell, but my taste was definitely different, and I had a cough. For about eight weeks it was pretty much just a cough and feeling a little bit tired.’

Because of how early Carol caught the illness, there wasn’t much support available to her. Doctors were, at that point, unsure of the best ways for her to be treated and simply advised her to ‘rest’.

Carol was even invited to take part in a feature by the BBC, which highlighted the lack of help she had been given compared to those who were being treated by the specialist units that were popping up around the country.

She is now part of the Leeds Covid rehab clinic where she has been having physio and occupational therapy for the last four months, in the hope of getting back to full fitness – which she still has not reached one year later.

‘Finally, one doctor said, ‘this sounds absolutely dreadful, I can’t believe what’s happening to you’. The fact that he listened to me was a bit like a cure in itself, just to hear someone say, ‘ I believe you, let’s try and do something about it’.’

Working through the illness

Like many people who run their own business, Carol continued working as best she could and ‘did what everyone else did’ by taking her services online. She was carrying out weekly interactive story sessions, as well as Facebook Lives for her choir.

‘I genuinely didn’t think I needed to stop, because it didn’t feel that bad. As a choir lady, I always get coughs and even chest infections, I’m just used to them. So, I didn’t realise what was coming at all.’

‘Then all I remember was I did a Zoom with my choir and the day afterwards I was completely out of it. For the next two weeks, I was just in and out of bed. And, then the other symptoms started follow on from that.’

I asked Carol how long Covid had kept her out of action and she replied: ‘I don’t know if I’m in again yet, Amy.’

12 months since her symptoms first occurred, Carol is still battling constant pain, nausea and fatigue: ‘My goal is to be able to take and pick up my son from school every day’. She adds, ‘it has been totally life changing.’

Of course, not all of this story is about the negative effects the illness has had, there have been some positives to take from this situation.

‘I’m a Christian and my faith is really important to me. I felt for a long time that God was saying that I needed to rest, but I really wasn’t doing that.’

‘So, suddenly this enforced time of rest meant that I did really have to look at my business. I needed to rethink everything I needed to make it manageable because I never know how I’m going to be feeling.’

‘Although it’s so hard, long COVID has given me a bit of a platform to do the next bit of what I want to do, it’s very bizarre.’

Singing lessons have been shown to help Covid sufferers

Interestingly, Carol’s singing lessons became something that helped her recovery rather than hinder it, she tells me that her doctors actually encouraged her to continue with them:

‘I was really worried, from a COVID point of view, that it might affect my lungs. But I’ve heard several people from different sources say that singing is really, really good. I actually have a couple of COVID sufferers that I do lessons with now and it’s helping them, which is really cool.’

Carol is hoping to one day seek official endorsement for her singing lessons as a good way of recovering and rehabilitating after suffering from Covid. She also discusses the impact the singing lessons have had on her mental health, as well as those who she teaches:

‘When I do singing lessons, I’m giving myself a bit of therapy at the same time. It’s the same in the Raise group as well, in that it raises self-esteem and confidence as much for me as it does for everybody else.’

Online community provides mental health support at a time when it is most needed

Prior to Covid, Carol was running Raise, a community and youth choir in Pudsey, an intergenerational choir in Batley and two or three interactive story sessions a week.

When she was hit by Covid, she wanted to carry on because she was missing the community feel and human interaction – and she knew her members would be missing that too. So, she continued offering her services but moved them online.

‘I’m quite used to doing Facebook Lives, so I decided to do that for the choir. At the beginning it was all singing or dancing, then I introduced pom poms and puppets, followed by other props.’

In October, Carol arranged for the group to record a song which she had written herself to help others with their mental health. And she later released another song, a parody of Alanis Morisette’s ‘Hand in my pocket’, about the how it felt to have Covid.

She also began and grew a Facebook group, as a way of keeping in touch with everyone during lockdown.

‘The group came about from wanting to keep contacting all the people that I normally saw physically. Then I’ve got a lot of my friends in there, old school friends and people that I might not have had so much of a relationship with.’

Carol says that running the group has helped her develop strong relationships that she might not otherwise have had, it provides a large mix of people with a community to come for help with their confidence, creativity and general wellbeing.

Carol is on the long road to recovery, with support from her husband and son.

Launching a podcast

In fact, the group has been such a success that Carol has decided to now develop the content into the Raise Podcast – helping her reach even more people whilst still battling the effects of Covid.

‘The idea of a podcast, as crazy as it seems, just seemed really manageable. It meant that I’d be able to carry on sharing my songs, the choir could access it and other people that used to come to Raise could access it.’

She’s hoping to launch podcast in April and the goal is that it will follow the same format as the Raise Group: They have a word of the week which they have discussions around and posts getting them to think more about their wellbeing, their life and their work in relation to that word.

‘I remember ages ago the word was restoration. So, for that episode I might invite a guest who restores furniture to talk about how and why they restore it, but also link that to what it means to be restored as a human being kind.’

‘And then, at the end, I’m going to write a little poem for every guest that comes on! It’s a bit scary, but the creativity really gives me energy, the singing lessons give me energy, anything that feels like I’m giving to somebody or creating something gives me energy.’

You can find out more about Carol’s business, group and upcoming podcast by signing up to her mailing list, here

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Carol for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021.

If you’d like to be considered to be included in our online magazine, drop us a line on sparkleupnorth@gmail.com or follow us www.twitter.com/sparkleupnorth www.instagram.com/sparkleupnorth and www.facebook.com/sparkleupnorth

How one Leeds business BOOMED during lockdown: ‘WE WERE SET TO HAVE OUR BEST YEAR YET, THEN COVID HIT BUT WE TURNED IT AROUND’

In our first featured article of Sparkle Up North we showcase how a Northern based fused-glass-studio transformed during the pandemic to take on huge new clients such as John Lewis and will now also be featured on TV…

Twelve months ago, Kate Park was set to have her most successful year ever as owner of her business Twice Fired. But, like many others, she had to put her work on hold when the country was put into Lockdown.

She told Sparkle Up North: “Some of the opportunities that we had lined up, we had already bought all the materials for. We’d been approached by a Michelin star restaurant in London, and we were redesigning their dinnerware service.

“I’d worked with them for about six months, narrowed it down to what they wanted and we were just about to move forward with that when lockdown happened. That was quite catastrophic, as we’d bought all the raw materials and it was a project I was excited about, something I’d never done before.”

Kate had also just taken a huge trade order from The National Trust, but with their shops closed to customers, the stock was sat in their shops unable to be sold. It was a similar story with the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield.

“We’d made things for them and, obviously, Sheffield went into tier three before we did and there was no way of retrieving anything before Christmas. So, all those things we were a massive financial loss.”

Like many small businesses across the north and the whole of the UK, Kate found herself facing pressure financially. She had recently taken on a member of staff:

“Jenny works full-time on a self-employed basis, but you still feel that pressure, because she’s got a family as well.”

“Financially, it was really quite scary. My husband’s company, as well, they had to stop paying themselves so that they could pay their employees. So, thank goodness for mortgage breaks!”

“We’d gone from all that in the pipeline, massive expansion plans, I was just about to buy two more kilns and then it was… nothing. So I thought, ‘Let’s put the brakes on that one.’”

Kate Park, owner of Twice Fired

Crafting our way out of the hit of Covid…

Here’s how we adapted our business through the Pandemic

Kate couldn’t let the pandemic destroy the business she is so passionate about, so she looked at what she could offer as an alternative to their usual offerings of sales through shops and face-to-face workshops.

“There was no point just thinking, ‘Oh, well, that’s rubbish’. There had to be something we could still do.”

She looked at increasing their online sales and quickly set to work improving their website. But she also opened an Etsy site, something she hadn’t considered before. Amazingly, they quickly hit 1,000 sales and found their business was growing fast.

“That was brilliant as it meant I could involve Jenny, keep that side of the retail going and reach new customers. We’ve had loads of repeat customers from that, so that’s been really good.”

But it was the workshops that were most important to Kate; as a former teacher, teaching was where her true passion could be found. And it was her loyal collection of customers that directed her to an idea for a new product that would allow her to keep a version of the workshops going.

“We had lots of lovely regulars who lived locally, asking me to put some bits in a box and leave it at the gate for them to pick up. I realised this was something I could do a bit more of, but obviously the works got to come back to me to be fired in the kiln.”

And so, her ‘make-at-home’ kits were born.

“To start with, it was just a collection, local people when they were out for their daily walk would come and get a box, then bring it back to me and I finish it in the kiln. But I was sure I could do this in a bigger way.”

Kate experimented with different boxes to post the kits in, different ways of packaging the glass, and sealing the glass so it was protected. She then road tested it with family and friends, before making some tweaks and ensuring it was perfect to offer the public.

Twice Fired’s make-at-home kits

The right idea at the right time

It was then that retailer John Lewis picked up on Kate’s kits and, having been accepted onto their Creative Makers programme, Twice Fired products began appearing in their stores.

“We were really excited because it just gives you that little bit of credibility. I’d gone from a takeaway box that I was leaving at the bottom of my drive, to quite quickly a product that’s being sold in places like Germany.”

Within just 4 weeks, she had made £3,000 of sales, a figure that would undoubtedly have been even higher had the shops been open for longer. Modestly unaware of what an innovative and brave business-woman she is, Kate insists the were really lucky to find this success:

“We hit a product at the right time and it took off, massively. As quickly as I could get new designs out there, people buying them and we were giving us lovely feedback and reviews.”

“Because of the medium that it is, you don’t have to have any experience in the field and we had so many families doing it together. Not just in one place, but also them being able to do it with another part of the family in another place.”

“Sharing experiences like that was great, we had knockdown Zoom birthday parties, Prosecco nights, all sorts. I was sent photos of groups of ladies making Robins all over the country, all together and at the same time.”

Financially, of course, it was a great relief for Kate that they had found a way to grow her business through such a difficult time.

“When I first started doing it, it was just to keep in contact with our lovely shoppers, I just wanted to keep that relationship alive. Then it started to take off and I felt very lucky that things were going so well, this kept our heads above water.”

Twice Fired’s brand new ‘Seed Head’ range

Inspiring the next generation through working from home

The benefits of this incredible business growth have not been limited to the financial income, her family have enjoyed working on the products together – especially her eldest daughter, Freya. At just 16, she has been inspired to start her own business too:

“My eldest works in the workshops with me when we’re open normally. It’s been really good for her confidence and experience and that’s lovely. She’s just set up an Etsy shop too!”

“She’s been working alongside me all through lockdown and she’s off to Beauty College in September. She’s really artistic, but she’s been really into nail art and so that’s her lockdown project. It’s been amazing, she’s actually got a desk next to me in the office now!”

“It’s something she absolutely loves doing. That’s what I’ve always said to the kids: it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ve just got to enjoy it.”

Kate says this side of lockdown has had a massive impact on them as a family. Her husband runs his own business, too, and has been working from home – so Freya has clearly learned a lot from seeing both her parents working and watching them do very different things.

Of course, it’s not just in her family that she’s seen some positive changes over the last 12 months. She believes her business would be in a very different place if it weren’t for the pandemic:

“I think the pandemic helped my business. I always try to spin many, many, many, plates, and I would never have ‘paused’ one part of my business to build another. So that forced stop meant I could just focus on one part, get it running to a point where I can also then on to another part that I can continue to develop.”

“A lot of the projects, like the restaurant, have been in touch and said they still want to work together. I’m seeing all these things as ‘paused’.”

“Sky TV have even got in contact to go on a craft channel. I’m down at Peterborough filming live workshops!”

“We would love to welcome people back to the workshops and we have another new project that we just did a delivery to yesterday. But I think the kit side of it has legs and we’re looking to extend on that.”

Kate ended the interview by saying thank you to all her customers who have supported her through the pandemic, saying she owes all her success to them. It’s testament to her lovely character that this is such an important thing for her to include.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Kate for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021. You can follow Kate on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’d like to be considered to be included in our online magazine, drop us a line on sparkleupnorth@gmail.com or follow us www.twitter.com/sparkleupnorth www.instagram.com/sparkleupnorth and www.facebook.com/sparkleupnorth

Article written by Amy Downes