Welcome to spotlight!
This is the second part of the exclusive interview with Carol Hanson who’s a second time entrepreneur. If you haven’t already, read part 1 where I introduce her and converse about her background, childhood and current business- Want Her Dress, which is a fashion and styling website.
In this second part, I’ll cover her work experience in different industries, quitting her first successful business and the balancing act of marriage and entrepreneurship.
S: You recount that being self employed put a strain on your marital relationship, what advice can you offer young entrepreneurs who may one day find themselves in such situations? Like how can future generations get the balance right, especially for women who have to juggle between building successful careers, immediate family life and extended family relations? (The triple shift as it’s called in Sociology)
C: It’s very difficult to get the balance right. My husband and I are both only children and without our own children were used to having a lot of freedom in our marriage to pursue our own ideas and interests. I became obsessed with the business growing and expanding and took my husband for granted. It took a breakdown in our marriage to make me see sense and then almost seven years of hard work to get our relationship back stronger and better than it had ever been.
This time round it’s been much easier as we’re both aware of the potential issues and we’re both more balanced about our wants and needs.
It’s important though to discuss it at the beginning and ensure that both partners are signed up to how hard it might be and what sacrifices might need to be made. If you don’t understand this from the beginning it’s much more difficult.
For women with a family, I seriously don’t know how they do it! I meet so many Mumpreneurs and they are just amazing. They are passionate about their business but their family generally comes first. There are women who put their business interests first and hire in help to cope with children and running a home, but I suspect they are in the minority.
S: Did you run your previous business with your husband? Do you think it’s ever a good idea for couples to go in business together?
C: No I didn’t. It depends on the couple as to whether they can work together. I love having Mark as a sounding board, but wouldn’t work with him, our approach to business and the way we work is different. We would drive each other crazy if we worked together!
S: In your previous role working for a video game accessories company, you mentioned having the opportunity to travel the world, what was the experience like? And has it helped in shaping your view on globalisation and business in other parts of the world? If so, how have you incorporated this into your current business given that the fashion industry is international due to online shopping?
C: Amazing! I loved the travel aspect even though it was no holiday – seldom seeing more than the airport, office, hotel and restaurants! What I loved most about it was experiencing the different cultures particularly China, with its boundless energy and enthusiasm. I loved the experience of meeting buyers in America and the way they do business. The process of going through a sales pitch with major US retailers is quite an experience in itself.
I’ve not yet incorporated it into my own business, but if I do bring my own products to market that’s when I will be drawing on this international experience.
S: Any advice for entrepreneurs who eventually want to grow their market worldwide?
C: While it will vary from industry to industry it’s still very important to learn and listen from people of other cultures and nationalities. My grandfather was very fond of the adage ‘you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion’ and it’s true. You need to employ listening skills and take time to understand don’t simply expect that what works in the UK will automatically translate in to other territories.
S: You’ve worked in several managerial and top positions, how will you describe the environment in business for women today? Has it got better since you started your career? Are we any closer to breaking that glass ceiling than we ever were or is the changing roles for women in business still a myth?
C: That’s a really great question and while I think a lot of industries and businesses are more ‘enlightened’ I still think that there’s a long way to go. It’s very much more to do with individual attitudes in my experience rather than generalising. The businesses I worked in were very male dominated – particularly the video games industry which basically grew up from a love of boys playing games. As the only female member of the Board it was sometimes very difficult to fight my corner and not be treated as the ‘girly’. My husband works in social housing for one of the biggest housing associations in the country and from what I understand it’s chalk and cheese, but again I put this down to individuals. The majority of women are not political in the workplace, many men seem to thrive on it and to me that’s one of the fundamental areas where in a sense women are at a disadvantage as they prefer to go in and do a fantastic job, prove themselves and demonstrate their abilities. Men will do this but it almost becomes secondary in many cases to playing the ‘corporate games’. A woman needs to be strong enough to be fantastic at what she does, be a great leader and play the games as necessary if she’s in a man’s world, or work in a much more PC orientated industry.
S: What in particular caught your interest that made you to buy Want Her Dress website?
C: Want Her Dress was a well-designed site and had started to establish a name and a brand. I looked at several businesses in very different areas –jewellery, pet supplies as well as fashion. Fashion was and still is my passion but I was keen to look at the pros and cons of each area I was interested in. Dogs as I have mentioned are another huge passion of mine and hence why I looked at Pet Supplies too.
S: What has been the most challenging, since owning Want Her Dress?
C: For Want Her Dress it’s about spending your marketing budget wisely. The world of internet marketing was new to me and it reminds me a bit of when we holidayed in Turkey a few times and you’d wander round open air market with all the stallholders heckling you for business telling you that their product is the best! It’s very difficult as a ‘rookie’ not to get caught with all the hype of people and businesses who claim to be able to drive enormous amounts of traffic to your website. It takes a long time to build a web-based business and fashion is a highly competitive market in which to run a business.
I read somewhere that setting up a website is like putting up a billboard in the middle of the forest! So the knock on challenges that this presents are if I’m on a limited budget how do I grow the business around this and what else can I do to differentiate myself. Then it comes down to how do I make best use of my time.
S: What has been your highlight since starting Want Her Dress?
C: The highlights for me have been very much about the amazing people I’ve met. I mentioned networking above, and that’s been such an eye opener for me. Working on your own can get lonely and frustrating at times. I simply googled networking and started to explore what was out there and it opened up a whole new world. It was terrifying at first to walk into a room full of strangers and start talking about yourself but then you realise you’re not alone and there are so many others in the same or similar situations. There are many different groups and forms of networking and it’s important to explore as much as possible, go to as many events as you can manage, but don’t expect to get a lot of business from it, at least in the short term, but find the groups that work for you and keep working at them, the idea is that you become much more well-known and the go to person for what you do. It’s a great confidence builder and expands your social circle enormously.
S: You mentioned initially struggling to balance your role as the Director at the Video Games company and running Want Her Dress. During this time, what helped you to continue sailing both ships? It’s quite usual that most new entrepreneurs keep their ‘day job’ while trying to build their business at the initial stage, but when would a new entrepreneur know it’s time to leave full time employment and dive into their own business?
C: Initially I persuaded the MD of the Video Games business to let me work part-time, thinking that this would enable me to balance my working week. I still found it very difficult to get traction with Want Her Dress. I was lucky enough that we were able to manage on one income providing we cut back our spending and so when I got the opportunity to leave the video games business it was an easy decision to make. Again it’s a difficult question and depends on the individual. Any entrepreneur needs to plan and to work out if they can survive on their own financially and how long they can do this, what they will do if it doesn’t work, can they get part-time work or do some contracting for their employer if necessary. It really is a numbers game and depends on an individual’s resources, financial commitments and their appetite for risk. It also depends on their personal circumstances and as mentioned before speaking to their partners and family before taking the plunge.
Many entrepreneurs also run more than one business, maybe signing up to a Multi-Level Marketing company and trying to use this to generate an income stream while they build up their own entrepreneurial business. This can work but be warned in most cases this is not a quick fix and it can still take many hours of work.
There isn’t a magic formula unfortunately but it does require a lot of careful thought. I’d also recommend getting involved in some networking and meeting other entrepreneurs to understand how they’ve done it before taking the plunge to go ahead and give up your job. Don’t feel you’re alone, there’s a lot of advice and help out there among the entrepreneurial community – online and offline. There are many networking groups to choose from and even if you’re working full time there are plenty that meet in the evenings.
S: You gave up your first business due to its pressure on your marriage, what makes running a business a second time different?
C: It may sound cliché but I’m not the same person and neither is my husband. We both learnt from the experience and ultimately our relationship has strengthened. I also feel I have less to prove and maybe that’s an ‘age thing’. I have a better perspective on life – a more balanced approach.
S: If you could do it all over again, will you change anything?
C: Yes, lots! The learning curve from this has been enormous. It would have been fantastic to have met and discussed what I was planning to do with a number of the people I’ve met through networking – marketers, coaches for example. I would have done a styling course much sooner as this would have helped me to add the extra dimensions that I’m starting to include into the website to help attract and build the following.
S: With the current social media frenzy, will you say this has helped your online presence or has made it even harder to reach your target audience and match your competitors?
C: Again it’s been an amazing learning curve. Frenzy is a fabulous description!
It’s helped me reach a larger audience, extended my networking and helped me to reach a number of industry influencers I would not have been able to reach as effectively through platforms such as Twitter. Has it resulted in more sales? I see it as an investment in building my audience such as the Women are B.E.ST awards that we’ll come on to shortly.
There are a lot of companies out there doing social media, some much more effectively than others. Some have a whole team of in-house social media experts, there’s a whole industry in social media marketing and many entrepreneurs are setting up.
What’s important is to understand where your audience hangout, as there’s enormous potential to be gained from social media. I do watch what my competitors are doing, but I also keep focused on my own approach too.
Brilliant huh? Watch out for the final part soon!
Mobile: 07971 638896
Pinterest: Want Her Dress
Linked in: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/carolahanson