When I was five I started my first business, selling conkers to my classmates at primary school. My pitch was that they were the best conkers the world had ever seen, and would win any conker competition. All I remember is getting into trouble with my teacher Mrs Jackson, and having my earnings confiscated, but I did discover I had a talent for selling.
Fast forward to University and I also discovered I couldn’t tell my left from my right (still can’t), which meant I kept failing my driving test. Too embarrassed to ask my dad for more grant money to cover my endless driving lessons, I remembered I could sell, and started a restaurant guide, optimistically called Good Food In Cambridge, which I funded through advertising sales. This started me on the road of self-employment, and as we graduated and my friends went off to be lawyers and accountants, I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
My first lightbulb moment was deciding that Britain didn’t have a lifestyle guru, a home grown Martha Stewart inspiring others with her love of home and homemaking. So that’s what I did, through TV, radio, books and my Alison at Home range which I sell online and through QVC.
Thirty years later, I can say hand on heart that I have never worked for anyone but myself, and it is a decision I have never regretted. Being self-employed gave me a sense of freedom, empowerment, self determination and joy. Of course there are scary moments, and I could make your hair stand on end with some of my stories, but the decision to work for myself is one I have never doubted.
Which is why I was very surprised to discover a few years ago that only one in four businesses was owned or run by a woman. When I looked into the reasons why – lack of confidence, lack of female role models and networking opportunities, I had another light bulb moment. Why not start a nationwide networking group to support and encourage other women to start their own business. Make it Your Business www.makeityourbusiness.co.uk was born.
Three years later we have a national network that has welcomed more than 5000 women through its doors. We run face to face and more recently, online events, to inspire and encourage women to take that first step. We’ve welcomed two prime ministers through our doors, been featured on TV, Radio and even mentioned in Parliament. It’s a win win for our members and for the economy. That in turn led me to become politically active for women in the economy, and more recently, to champion small businesses by becoming Ambassador for the British Library Business & IP Centres.
These two light bulb moments have defined my life and along with a large dollop of curiosity delivered variety, satisfaction, excitement and new horizons in equal measure.
I have no regrets.