Enthusiasm for business was the key driver of the annual Women in Business Conference on International Women’s Day.
Indian cookery school and ready meal entrepreneur Bini Ludlow squealed with delight when recounting her business successes - winning awards, becoming Thatcher’s cider and curry consultant, the regional winner of ITV’s Food Glorious Food, cooking for royals.
"I love a quarry" said Molly Fisher, owner of Landford Stone, the vast age of stone and the fossils within them "puts everything into perspective, yes?" Working in stone brought together her loves of art and geology.
As well as the advice and experience learned from successful business owners, equally interesting are the journeys of these entrepreneurial women.
Bini came to set up her own company after being made redundant from teaching and wanted to be in control of her own life.
She was born and raised in Bradford where the traditional role of the Indian woman is to run the kitchen - which she did from the age of thirteen.
Finding good Indian food unavailable in her adult home of Somerset, she was encouraged to set up a cookery school.
But then: could she run a business? “All those decisions are very hard,” she said. How much should she charge? How do you network? How do you do accounts? How do you pay for stuff when you’ve spent all your savings on IVF treatment (sadly unsuccessful)? What is social media?
It was the last that gave her the big break, applying to Food Glorious Food through Twitter, and selected as judge Lloyd Grossman’s choice.
Her advice to budding business women are: never take no for an answer, switch off your phone (nine-to-six is a long enough day), remember to eat, take risks, ask questions and court PR. Her next ambition? To sell curry to India.
Molly Fisher is a veteran business owner in a male-dominated industry. Starting at age twenty-one with babies in tow, she’s clocked up 55 years in stone fabrication.
Molly is excited by the diversity of the work, the people and challenging projects. As a woman she’s ‘had to be tough. You had to be good.’ But she says it’s become more equal - it’s hard for both men and women.
Both the recession and Brexit have offered challenges. When the recession hit a large client did not settle their account for nine months and the bank called in its overdraft. When the client finally paid it was too late to save the business, so Landford Stone was born from the ashes.
That taught her not to rely on credit and debt so now she invests in a ‘war chest’ of reserves. Brexit is currently making the consumer nervous, so they are concentrating on sales, pricing and planning.
And she knows on a daily basis how much money is coming into the business - and if income is down, she calls her customers to check she hasn’t annoyed them.
In addition to advice about drinking black building site tea or coffee (the milk is always off) she said good businesses are built on teams (and you should regularly meet with those teams, anyway you can - standing up or via Skype), learn to keep a set of books, plan for growth, but actually a lot of enthusiastic naivety goes a long way, ‘You’ve got to be a glass half full person.’
How the world of crowdfunding has come on in the last few years, said expert Anthony De Souza in one of the morning seminars. "It’s like the Wild West."
There’s a crowdfunding platform for everything - from personal loans to creative projects to student grants to archeological digs. Start up ideas can become reality. Multinationals test new products.
"It’s a crash course in business," said Anthony. And stats show that women are more successful than men at it.
In an afternoon seminar, Alison Thorne of atconnect told us that Women on Boards UK want to be out of business in five years, achieving gender equality of board members in this country and transparency in recruitment.
There are two main roles of board members - conformance (making sure the organisation shows due diligence) and performance (making sure the organisation fulfils its strategic aims).
There may not be much pay - charities, for instance, are only allowed to pay expenses - and it’s ‘leadership without authority’ but there are many benefits.
Giving back to the community seems the obvious one, but others include gaining top level skills in governance and influencing, and broadening networks and experience. Women on Boards match women to the right organisation, and organisations can post their board requirements for free.
The Swindon & Wiltshire Women in Business Conference took place on International Women’s Day, Thursday, March 8 at Bowood Golf & Country Club, Calne, and was organised by The Enterprise Network.