What is happening?
Firstly, in March, I will be one of the author’s taking part in the Essex Book Festival. Then during April, I am going to be working and trading in Fenwick, East Anglia’s largest Department Store located on Colchester’s High Street. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring? But I will be working hard to make sure it is exciting for Josie Dom’s books!
On 18 October 2018, I became a winner. That was the evening of Colbea’s Annual General Party (AGP) when myself and other female entrepreneurs waited with bated breath to hear the results of an exciting competition.
Rewind to December 2016 when Colbea themselves won funding from the RBS Skills & Opportunities Fund to launch a business support package for aspiring female entrepreneurs. The programme was called In The Market For Success (known as IM4S) and saw 120 participants over five courses. Since the courses completed in January 2018, those involved are now part of a thriving and supportive online community, and I’m excited to continue this connection with other women going through similar experiences.
In early Summer 2018, the alumni of IM4S were invited to a celebration evening by Colbea. We all celebrated completing the courses and talked about our experiences and successes in business. We heard speeches from a couple of ladies who had attended the course, giving us all further insights and another perspective on running a business. Julie Hayward, Buying Manager of Fenwick then took centre-stage to announce details of the competition they were running jointly with Colbea. The prizes were definitely of the “money-can’t-buy” variety: the opportunity to trade in Fenwick for 1 week (4 prizes) plus an overall winner gaining 2 months’ trading time! You can imagine the buzz in the room after that. I wondered if the supportive community we had become would be damaged as we were all pitted against each other in the fight to win. Luckily, I needn’t have worried, despite many of us entering the competition, the support within the group remained as strong as ever.
Stage One involved submitting a written application. The submission deadline was 10 August. Unfortunately for me, I had a holiday booked, and needed to submit before I went away on 31 July. Colbea generously provided further support to anyone who wanted to participate. I jumped at the chance of some extra guidance despite having already prepared my application. The application required me to grab attention with my business concept; deepen interest with opportunities and challenges; inspire with how working with Fenwick would help me reach my goals; and provide a Strategy of Delivery.
The judges: Ashleigh Seymour-Rutherford (Chief Executive Colbea), Julie Hayward (Buying Manager Fenwick), Lisa Oldman (Sales Manager Fenwick) and Vicky Parnell (NatWest) read through all the applications. The day of the shortlist announcement came and went with no news except an email to tell us the decision was delayed. Four days later, I was overjoyed to receive an email advising I had been shortlisted.
The next and final stage was to give a 5-7 minute presentation to the judges after which they would question me further on my business plan and proposition. This stage really tested me. It took me so much further away from my comfort zone than anything I’d done before. Luckily I had support from members of my networking group, Pop Connect Colchester, who kindly listened to my first attempt and gave me invaluable feedback and ideas to improve.
On 21 September 2018, I arrived early to Colbea’s office but was too nervous so drove around Colchester for a while to calm my nerves. My presentation slot did not start well with IT problems. Strangely, I think it helped me. Whilst I was waiting for the laptop to get up to speed, I chatted with the judges which gave me some breathing space. My presentation and ability to answer questions must have done the trick, because, as I said at the top of this blog, come the night of the Colbea’s AGP, I was announced as the first winner!
Today, I am pleased to advise that I will be working and trading in Fenwick from Thursday 11th – Wednesday 17th April 2019. I will be running story-time sessions and mini storytelling workshops. Do pop in to meet me.
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