Living in Maidenhead
I thought I’d start this blog post with a bit of a confession….
* takes deep breath *
When I first moved to Maidenhead in 2010, I was a little derogatory about the town.
There, I’ve said it!
Admittedly I’d just moved from Camden Lock in London, and before that I’d lived in New York, so of course it was going to feel a bit different.
But putting that aside, I couldn’t quite seem to see any character or individuality in Maidenhead. I couldn’t put my finger on ‘the vibe’. There was (a selection) of the same shops you would see on most high streets, albeit in smaller formats than I was used to, but I struggled to see what it was that made it ‘Maidenhead’. What could I tell friends and family about it that would really put it on the map?
Roll on four years to last summer and a quiet revolution had started to happen. I started to realize that although Crossrail and the proposed redevelopment of the Kings Quarter were going to help Maidenhead define itself, the real character was evident in the people themselves. The people I’ve met through writing this blog, the people I chat to on Facebook in Maidenhead Gossip Girls, and more recently, the people I’ve begun to link up with on Facebook in the Maidenhead Business Girls group.If you’ve not heard of Maidenhead Business Girls before, then its worth us taking a little side step here to understand a little bit more… Founded on a whim last February by local mum Amanda Ayres as a spin off from the existing Maidenhead Gossip Girls group, the group has snowballed into a community of over 1100 businesswomen in Maidenhead representing everything from cake bakers to vintage upholsterers.
I asked Amanda to tell us a little bit more about it:
How Maidenhead Business Girls started:
One crazy evening last February (20th) I was looking to outsource something to a PR person, so I put up a post on MGG. At that moment I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was a group just for business girls’ so I created a group and within a few hours the numbers climbed. It has taken a fair amount of work to curate it and put up content to make sure it hasn’t turned into just an advertising forum. I believe (based on the feedback I’ve had) that it’s become the central ‘go to’ place for business ladies in Maidenhead. What do people use it for?It’s a forum where ladies can gain advice, support, rant and promote their businesses. The great thing about it is the ladies have become very loyal and almost territorial about keeping it Maidenhead driven and they use other local ladies for their products and services. I know lots of ladies have gained an awful lot of new business from it.
Who is a member of the group?
I think it has become a great community and it demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit we all have. The other thing is that there is such a diverse mix of ladies from all walks of life, some professional business women and others just starting out with no clue how to move their businesses forward. I love that fact because it shows what women are capable of achieving with a bit of support and help. You don’t need to be an academic to set up a business. If you have a great idea and some passion it shows what women are capable of achieving.
Perhaps every town in the country has an underground current of passionate, talented and creative women that have a dream of building their own business. But my gut feeling is that the proximity to London means that in Maidenhead we have a higher percentage than your average town. When I get chatting to people I hear similar stories of how they used to commute to London and worked in Marketing or PR or other senior management roles and then started a family and realized that something needed to give.
Becoming a Maidenhead Business Girl myself
I could count myself in a similar situation. I’ve moved away from London and work as a Marketing Manager for Three, which thankfully means that I don’t have to face a daily battle on Platform 4 to get a seat on the fast trains into London. But I’ve always had a passion for photography, and having spent many years as a photographer in a studio, and then managing a photo studio, there’s always been a little voice in my head saying ‘what if?’. What if I set up on my own? Could it work? But it’s always seemed like such a big jump to go from reliable paid work into self-employment so the photography has always been something I’ve nurtured in the background.
Whilst I was on Maternity Leave in 2012 I found that I would Google lots of tips and questions about being a first time mum, or to find out where I could go with the little one and I started to read lots of blogs.
I’d done some copywriting as part of my Marketing job and I knew that I loved to write and to tell a story so I taught myself how to blog. Little did I know at the time that this would represent a real turning point in my life in Maidenhead! It’s through writing my Maidenhead Mum blog and networking with other Maidenhead ladies and mums that I’ve realized that anything is possible. Admittedly things are not necessarily easy or straightforward, but possible, very possible!
As Amanda says:
“You don’t need to be an academic to set up a business. If you have a great idea and some passion it shows what women are capable of achieving.”
First Birthday Meet Up
And it was this thought that made me decide to go along to the first birthday meet up of the Maidenhead Business Girls at Sanctum on The Green last week. Being honest, agreeing to go is one thing, but then actually leaving the house on a cold winters night to talk to lots of people that you haven’t met before is whole other thing. Like a giant first date, (most people’s worst nightmare!) I tried to over-rule the little voice in my head that said I must be mad to do this kind of thing ‘for fun’!
But I needn’t have worried. Everyone I met was friendly and easy to talk to, and with everyone at different stages with their business plans and with different skillsets it seemed like a really open forum to chat.
The evening started with a Marketing Strategy workshop which 20 of the Maidenhead Business Girls had signed up to. This hour-long session was put together by Sophie from Rimu Marketing. Sophie is a freelance Marketing consultant, based in Windsor and she set up Rimu Marketing in 2014.
After a 15 year career in Marketing in the leisure and travel industries, Sophie was presented with an opportunity for change when redundancies were made at her company. She left with an idea that she wanted to tap into her talents and do something a bit different, but not knowing what to go for. After some advice from a friend she realised that lots of small businesses were looking for marketing support, and she’s not looked back since! She has been on a similar journey to lots of us in the group (and has a 3 year old and 5 year old to keep her busy too!). Her own experience of setting up a business, together with her marketing knowledge means that she’s become a specialist in working with small/ medium size businesses… especially if they have a drive and passion to make their business succeed!
I asked her about her experience so far:
“I have met and had the pleasure of working with some truly amazing businesses owners, plus I have learnt a lot along the way. I love my job and watching my clients businesses blossom as a result of our work together, plus I also get to be around for my boys, pick them up from school and watch them grow up.”
Together with Amanda, they have been creating a series of half-day workshops available to the Maidenhead Business Girls on subjects such as Marketing Strategy and Social Media for small businesses.
This mini session was a chance for the MBG members to get a good overview on how to create and sustain a successful marketing strategy. Sophie used the analogy of a good strategy being like a good Gin & Tonic (now you’re talking my language!).
The session started with the chance for us all to introduce ourselves and to chat about where we were all up to with our individual businesses and it was interesting to see how varied we all were. And I loved that there were some ‘confessions’…
“I had a plan, but it’s deviated!”
“I have a rough plan in my head, but nothing formalised”
“I’m not as busy as I’d like to be”
“I need to better organised and plan more effectively!”
I found that hearing everyone’s experiences meant that I didn’t feel intimidated to ask questions or contribute to discussions.
Time to network and eat cake.
After the hour long ‘taster’ workshop on Marketing Strategy (which flew by!) the bar at Sanctum on the Green had quite a buzz around it as more and more ladies had arrived and were catching up with each other.
There were some rather fabulous cakes and a growing pile of presents building – each MBG member had been given the challenge to bring a small gift representing their business to give to another member. A sort of birthday/networking/Secret Santa kind of thing that added a bit of fun as everyone chose their mystery gift!
So what was my verdict on the workshop and the evening?
I’ll talk about the workshop first…
I thought the workshop was the perfect size as it didn’t feel intimidating to ask questions and offer suggestions as part of the debate. Hearing everyone introduce themselves and chat about their business it was also clear to see that we were all at different stages and different levels of expertise, but I found this really encouraging. It was really reassuring to hear that everyone is always trying to strike the perfect balance of home and work life, and that being self employed you will always feel the guilt that you should be working on more things for the business, but that really it’s best to figure out your limits and work within them. Sophie made the valid point that there was no point doing a huge advertising campaign if you didn’t have the capacity to handle the volume of work – it makes more sense to take a measured approach. The hour went really quickly though and it would have been easy to spend more time discussing some of the topics. I would feel confident in recommending the longer three hour sessions that Amanda and Sophie are co-ordinating.
Talking to Sophie after the event it was great to hear that she’d had some great feedback from the MBG ladies after the workshop:
“A super overview!”
“Thank you Sophie. Good to know I’m doing the right things. Great prompt to do more/ focus on results, etc.”
“Whistle stop tour of Marketing Strategy. Very interesting and well delivered by Sophie. Good to meet like minded women.”
And as for my thoughts on the evening…
Cake, drinks, presents and lots of friendly people willing to chip in chat. What’s not to like?!
I chatted to some people who had a familiar ‘virtual’ face as I’d seen them in the Facebook groups, so it was great to meet them in real life, and I chatted to others that I’d not met before and whose path I would have been unlikely to cross without the help of the group.
The beauty of having a social media group like Maidenhead Business Girls is that it allows all us to talk to each other, and, regardless of where we are along that adventure we can offer support, share ideas and help each other build the business. I offer a big thank you to Amanda for her dedicated management of the group to make it a useful (and politics-free!) place to network.
Since the evening I’ve already had two ladies get in touch with ideas on collaborating for a blog post here on Maidenhead Mum so its already showing me how useful the group can be!
Want to find out more?
To hear more about Maidenhead Business girls you can request to join the group on Facebook or email Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you like the sound of the workshops that Sophie and Amanda are running for Maidenhead Business Girl members, you can find out more by clicking the ‘Event’ tab within the group.
The next workshops are on Social Media for Businesses on the 12th March at 9.30 and the 19th March at 6.30pm. There is a small fee of £55 which covers the 3 hours session, venue hire and all refreshments. To book, click here.
As a final note, I’ve not been paid to write this post and all opinions and recommendations are genuine and from the heart!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website www.maidenheadmum.co.uk or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.
You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog, www.photojodie.com