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Truth be told, my friend Hayley Southwood used to intimidate me a little. Successful entrepreneur, mother and social butterfly, she seemed to have so many plates spinning that I didn’t know whether to be impressed or jealous of her multi tasking business skills (still don’t, actually ;)
Having got to know her over the last six months I’ve become in awe of just how kind, open and talented she is. Whether that’s welcoming members of her networking group, The Southwood Social Hub, into the Buckinghamshire-based HQ of her business with sandwiches and cups of tea, or giving advice to those keen on setting up their own creative businesses, she really is a gem of a friend.
Having recovered from our trip to Ascot a couple of weeks ago, I chatted to Hayley about the life-changing events that led to her setting up her own business, the biggest impulse eBay purchase she’s ever made and how she built her success using Social Media…
Can you tell me a bit about you and your work background?
My name is Hayley Southwood and I’m 41 years old. I wed really young at the age of 21 and quickly had 2 beautiful baby boys 20 months apart. I have loved every single second of marriage and motherhood.
I wanted to be a visual merchandiser when I was at school, applied for Art college and got accepted. But after my Mum convinced me I needed a ‘proper’ job, agreed that I would go into teaching or midwifery. My Mum was one of those parents who thought her children needed a trade: my brothers are both builders and my sister a hairdresser.
What was the ‘trigger’ that led to you starting your own business? Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
My husband and I were so young when we started our family, he continued his education and studied for a Masters degree whilst working full time. He was off a uni 3 nights a week while I had two babies under 2: it wasn’t easy but we made it work.
As a Nursery Nurse I soon felt disgruntled with the local child care on offer and refused to put my boys into Nursery to be looked after by someone else whilst I was looking after other people’s children. We really wanted to move to a nicer area for our boys so when my friend suggested opening our own Nursery school I jumped at the chance. We moved 30 miles away from our families (which felt more like 30,000): I was 25 when I opened my first business.
As my boys grew older my Mum, who was my best friend, was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and passed away… a life-changing event that led to me thinking it was time for a career change. My husband went to the pub one night and, feeling at my all-time lowest, on impulse I bought an ice cream van off eBay. It was an act of escapism; the van was a real project and had no idea how it would all turn out.
The ice cream van turned into my refuge from the sadness of losing my young Mum. It was known as Vintage Scoops and I became Mrs Scoops: the van was used in loads of amazing campaigns and TV work and it was all such an adventure!
With no budget for PR and Marketing I used Social Media to market the businesess and hit Twitter in a BIG way. We won Country Homes New business of the year and the prize was a total game changer. We won a shiny new website, PR and marketing advice and sessions with a business coach Jessica Rogers, with whom I’m still firm friends.
Having built up a wonderful network of business owners I started looking after people’s social media in the winter months. We all started helping each other, working on quite a few photo shoots with me as the person that coordinated all the suppliers, and I ended up being heavily involved in PR for a few dress designers.
Social Media had opened up my world, which had changed beyond recognition. I was fearless, I felt like I had NOTHING to lose. Watching my mum suffer at the hands of Cancer and die aged 53 I felt so privileged to be alive. I really wanted to leave behind a legacy for my boys.
I went onto to meet a fabulous photographer Shaneen Rosewarne Cox. We shared a similar story and a real passion to live our lives in honour of our loved ones we had lost way too early. We decided to start a blog called Breathe Happiness and we monetised it from word go as neither of us could afford to work for free. We blogged everyday for almost 2 years. During that time my social media following was growing and people kept asking about my home and my clothes. This was when I decide to open the online store – Southwood Stores – and share my passion for shopping, styling and interiors.
I’ve now expanded to a bricks and mortar store which is also the HQ of Southwood Social Hub, a supportive network for businesswomen and entrepreneurs looking to meet likeminded women. We’re a 180-strong group with members from the world of PR, retail, beauty, marketing and media.
How does one go about opening a retail space? How did you source suppliers/negotiate prices?
I had no experience in retail so I started really slowly. At trade shows I was frowned upon as I was online only and social media didn’t seem to hold much weight, certainly not like today.
The whole ethos behind the shop was to find products you couldn’t find on a local high street. The shop had a Scandinavian feel to it as that was my preferred interior style four years ago. I ran my shop from my kitchen table, then bought a garden office and finally moved into a proper grown up premises last year.
The new building allowed me to build on my networking passion. A space to offer workshops and hold my Social media 121 sessions that I had been teaching from my kitchen table. A lifestyle store that is an extension of the amazing online community that I love and adore. The retail space we lovingly call the hub is now a showroom, a place to network and teach.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I still do the school run as my son isn’t driving yet and we live in a little village with no bus. I then arrive at Southwood Stores & Social Hub HQ in Swanbourne. I usually get into the office about 9.30am; I work on the shop and the hub all day but also have the freedom to pop in and out to meetings. I am heavily involved in every aspect of the business but I do have an amazing lady that works for me. Claire helps with all the admin stuff for the shop and the hub, she is a total whizz with a spreadsheet!
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
I am inspired every single day by all the members of my SSH, the women who are juggling a million balls, trying to launch a business so they can provide their children with better lives and opportunities. These women are my inspiration!
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
Don’t be afraid of failure! Failure doesn’t actually exist: it’s just a learning experience. If things aren’t going the way you think they should be, get over it fast and move on.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of entrepreneurship?
I have enjoyed every single chapter in my story so far, though am still in shock at how fast time goes by. I’ve been self employed for over 15 years now and think myself so lucky to have been able to create a career that has always fitted around raising my family.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
I love the way nothing stays the same and get really excited at the prospect of my business ever changing and evolving.
And the least favourite?
Oh, it has always been paperwork and numbers for me! Good job I have the amazing Claire working with me.
What’s next in 2017 for Hayley and the Southwood empire?
2017 sees the HUB growing into a powerful networking community supporting other women who are on the same pathway as me.
The retail side of my business will continue to thrive allowing me to use all the skills that I have acquired over the years.