Next year is going to be THE YEAR!

Well, at least, I’ve decided that is the mentality with which I am going to approach the start of our fourth financial year, which starts in February 2015. Our fourth financial year!? I couldn’t have even imagined saying that when I started out with my second hand Transit van, during my days off from work, moving one rooms worth of boxes at a time and roping in friends whenever I needed a hand. OK, so I still rope in friends every now and then but 99% of the time it’s real employees going out in the vans, who admittedly, quickly become friends.

So why is next year going to be THE YEAR?

When I first started the business I immersed myself in research. I scoured HMRCs website for information on tax, employment and the like. I went to the Business and IP Centre at the British Library almost weekly, attending free or very cheap courses on everything from digital marketing, to finance for business, to trademarks and IP. I went to the business show and attended every free seminar going. I loved working on the website and social media and building the perfect brand identity. I did financial planning 5 years ahead that made me super rich by then. It was great. Only thing is I had loads of time to do it all because I had no work.

We've built up a bank of happy customers in our first three years!

We’ve built up a bank of happy customers in our first three years!

The two years since that time have been filled with crazy hours, the ebb and flow of manageable and totally unmanageable stress levels, and a slow realization that it takes a lot of hard work to build a sustainable lifestyle for yourself from your own business, not just a great brand and some research. I haven’t had time for financial projections, targets and checking our progress against them. It’s all been about building the brand, getting jobs under our belts and building a huge bank of previous customers willing to rave about us to anyone who asks. As long as we survived financially as a company that was enough.

Next year, this has to change.

I need to start focusing on profit. Sounds obvious to anyone in business but I have thus far been building a very robust springboard whilst keeping us afloat. I’ve amassed supporters of the business by doing a great job and making our customers happy, I’ve built a very recognizable brand and I’ve built a network of people around me, the sum of whose advice could rocket anyone to success. Most importantly I’ve got a staff of incredible people who are committed to the core values of the business and love the work and each other. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.

The girls and friends at the London Pride Parade promoting the brand!

The girls and friends at the London Pride Parade promoting the brand!

So, that’s the springboard, but now it’s time to jump.

We have three vans now, which are regularly busy doing our own work. We are in the process of white-labeling our concept, so that other removals companies can sell female crews, provided by us, to their customers to widen their offering. We are going to be able to offer full time work to more of our staff next year, and I will be planning projections and targets for us to strive for over the next year, as I should have been doing all along. I’m going to combine the enthusiasm over numbers and planning from the first few months with the hard work involved in delivering our service and hope that this ensures that next year is THE YEAR!!!

Wish me luck!


I’ve got an amazing body!

Don’t worry, this title doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I delivered a chair the other day, to a customer living in a basement flat. The chair was valuable and fragile and the entrance was too narrow for the chair to turn the corner. It was heavy. Between my colleague and I we got it in by lowering it over an iron bar, way over our heads, swinging it round underneath the bar and slowly maneuvering ourselves back in to a position where we could move it in to the flat. We were in some pretty odd positions but we’re strong and we know how to hold our bodies when we’re lifting and maneuvering so we don’t get hurt. It struck me as we drove away that it’s moments like that which make me love my body.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not immune to having been socialised for all of my teenage and adult life to a certain body image for women. Of course I get temporary, superficial satisfaction from looking in the mirror and realizing I’m having a ‘thin day’ rather than a ‘fat day’ and finding a mirror in a toilet somewhere with lighting that doesn’t show my multiplying wrinkles. But what makes me love my body in a long lasting, deep down, satisfying way is what it can do and what I can do with it.

My body is amazing because when a tackle in a rugby game ripped through the ligaments in my knee, doctors took a bit of my hamstring out and put it in to my knee, sewed me up and left me to get strong again. Within six months I was in full fire gear with an oxygen cylinder on my back crouch walking across a yard to prove I was fit for work. My body is amazing because people look at me and my colleague and think we can’t get that eight foot long sofa down the twelve winding flights of stairs of a tower block without smashing it to bits and we manage do it. I twist and turn and push and pull and lift and my body finds a way. My body is amazing because when I started training for London’s Fittest Firefighter competition I stood up a tower holding on to a rope, tied to a heavy barrel down below, and pulled, and nothing happened. A few months later, in the competition, after lots of hard work, I pulled it up hand over hand in seconds.

My body is not without it’s quirks. My ankles sometimes muffin-top over my socks when it’s hot and I didn’t know that was possible. For some reason my fat goes to my knees. I am partial to a bit of deodorant on my inner thighs because they touch and the chafing is just too much in the summer. I get prickly heat and am prone to unattractive rashes. The women in the beauty salon, where I got wrapped in a sari in Mumbai, asked if I wanted my arms waxed and laughed when I said no. I also have hairy toes.

But, when I look at my body I see callouses on my hands that remind me that I rowed in Henley Regatta, I see a scar on my knee that reminds me that my leg healed itself up as good as new after my injury, I see a laugh line on one side of my mouth that reminds me how often my wonky smile is plastered across my face and I see muscles and bruises, the badges of what I do now, helping people to move house. I feel strong and my body is useful and that is what makes it amazing and why I love it.

This is what body image should be based on. If your goals are to make your body look the way you think it should look rather than to make it able to do the things that will make you feel fulfilled you will only ever superficially love your body and that’s just not as good.

One of the things I love about Van Girls is that it lets men and women see how strong, practical and useful women’s bodies can be and that might go some way towards changing what people think women’s bodies should be.

Vile to viral: an update

Since publishing my last blog post about Jason and his charming email the response has been amazing.

From tweeting the initial horrible depressing email to @EverydaySexism, Van Girls’ received 145 retweets and 104 favourites and our twitter following went up by 152 which is a 25% increase for us.

Brand Amplifier have also received some well deserved publicity for their part in teaching me how to navigate the worlds of press and social media as a female entrepreneur.

My last blog post Vile to Viral received over 1500 views in one day and today we were featured in an In Focus article on the Everyday Sexism project and the amazing work of Laura Bates in The Metro:

Read the article here

It just goes to show that no one can get away with venting their nasty thoughts at innocent people or businesses anymore, make them public and the positivity you will receive will hopefully outweigh the initial negative.

Now to get on with moving people’s stuff!

Winning Brand Amplifier

Winning Brand Amplifier


From Vile to Viral!

Yesterday an email enquiry from the Van Girls website popped in to the admin inbox. Even two years on I can’t help a little flutter of excitement with every new enquiry and I quickly opened it up, only to be greeted by a charming suggestion from a lovely chap called Jason. I have added some stars for your viewing pleasure.

I had to read it again. Had someone really taken the time to seek out our website and was so put out by our concept of an all female removals team that he felt the need to fill out our enquiry form like this!? Apparently so.

So, I thought about what I should do. Should I email him back? Well, that email address probably isn’t real and even if it was he doesn’t sound up for intelligent debate. Should I just feel a bit saddened and forget it? That didn’t quite cut it either. Then I remembered the twitter feed @EverydaySexism where people are encouraged to share stories of sexism encountered on a daily basis to build a picture of how rife it still is. So I tweeted Jason’s email and tagged @Everyday Sexism to see what other people would think of his advice.

The tweet

At the very least, I thought I would feel better sharing what felt like quite a personal attack and at best it might gain some traction and would gain our business some exposure and allow Jason to humiliate himself a little more publicly.

Never having had a tweet retweeted more than say 3 times before, you can imagine my surprise when the interactions started to build. More and more retweets and favourites, some thoughtful replies, some just as vicious as Jason had been leveled right back at him. I watched them grow through yesterday evening until I thought wow, I’ve turned a vile communication in to a viral one. Maybe I should email Jason back now to say thanks.

The twitter storm!

The whole experience was topped off as a positive one today when I received this lovely email from one of our new followers on twitter:

Love your site and company which I discovered after the email from that pathetic misogynist was sent to Everyday Sexism on Twitter. He’s not only made himself a laughing stock but raised awareness of your company – I’ll definitely be using you should I need your services and recommending you to all friends and family. It’s great to see women excelling and thriving in every field, especially ones still thought to be the preserves of men. All the best!”

This is an approach I would not have thought to take before my involvement in a great programme called Brand Amplifier which mentors female entrepreneurs in brand, PR and marketing. I might have just sighed and shrugged him off as an aggressive loser but this time I feel like we’ve owned the interaction.

So, just shows you can make a positive out of pretty much anything!

Since writing this blog this story has appeared as part of a Metro ‘In Focus’ piece on Everyday Sexism. You can read it here:

Metro article

She is anticipating our future vile to viral success

One of the Van Girls anticipating our future vile to viral success!


The Lonely Legends

Having the guts to strike out on your own makes you a legend in many people’s eyes but it’s lonely at the top! So, here is my advice on how to be more legend and less lonely.


I recently started a private group on facebook called the Lonely Legends. I set it up because several of my friends have taken the leap in to trying to create a job for themselves, and a service or product to sell, at around the same time. Just as I went around all my friends when I started up, trying to glean as much knowledge from them as I could about their area of expertise, my friends have come to me for advice and solidarity.

As well as offering nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered along the way and trying to be positive and encourage them, I thought it was important to acknowledge that I have found it quite a lonely process and to give them, and myself, some support by creating a forum where we can all ask silly questions and share knowledge, achievements and failures.  What I didn’t realize is that even with a safe forum it’s still hard to share the difficult, lonely moments of entrepreneurship and much easier to be encouraging and inspirational to others even if your struggling. I wonder why.

I have always struggled with the praise that gets heaped on me by friends, family and supporters for starting my own business. I know they are just saying well done for taking the risk and being brave, not expecting that I’m already sitting back on my deckchair with a cocktail watching the 0s roll in to my bank account. But risk taking is just in my nature, this is just one in a long line of decisions I’ve made to do the unexpected and take risks other people see as too great. So I’ve just done what I always do, which surely doesn’t deserve praise in and of itself.

So then, how can I accept praise when I’m still struggling to figure out how on earth to do this and to make it work. I’m not ready for praise yet. But, when people say “Wow, you’re doing so well, I’m so impressed, well done!” I just end up smiling and talking about what is going well and where I want to go with it, rather than just being honest and saying, “Well thanks but actually, at the moment, it’s hell but I’m hoping in a few months I will have sorted some things out.”

I never truly understood the phrase ‘It’s lonely at the top’ until I started my own business and took on employees.  My management style has always been about being myself, being humble, accommodating and, for want of a better word, nice. Turns out that when I’m not within the framework of a large company or organisation and a wider management structure, that isn’t so effective on it’s own. A business needs structures and discipline and there is no one to enforce those things except me. For someone who likes to be liked, that’s tough to do.

I have had to reflect a lot on myself over the last two years and how my behaviours have led to certain cultures and patterns of behaviour in the rest of my team that I didn’t expect. I have an incredible team around me and some of the most committed, passionate people I’ve ever worked with, working for me. But they need me to be a manager, not just an entrepreneur. It’s an important journey to go on, and I have a long way still to go, but it can be a lonely one. There is no getting around that.

The truth is that in the last two weeks I have posted in our group, The Lonely Legends, about winning the award we won (HUGE POSITIVE) and have not posted about the rest of the time which has been spent rubbing my eyes in exhaustion, crying a bit, having chest pains I can only attribute to moments of extreme stress, and thinking about selling the business to the nearest bidder over £100 or curling up in bed for a week and eating a lot of chocolate (HUGE NEGATIVES!).

So, now I’ve finally realised what I think will be important about The Lonely Legends as a group and that is that loneliness is not alleviated by only talking about good stuff but actually it is lessened by sharing the hardest stuff.

So here are my …

Top five tips for being less lonely and more legend:

  • Risk taking is a necessary ingredient of success but it has side effects. Short-term feelings of failure are a side effect that you can’t avoid. Don’t let them distract you from feeling proud of your overall progress.
  • Seek out the people in your life who can be honest with you and insightful about you. They are the people you should go to when you need to figure out where you’re going wrong, not the people who are only able to tell you you’re doing great.
  • Be the most honest person at the business networking event. You may find that other people will open up about struggles they are having and you will feel better than if you all only concentrate on inspiring success stories.
  • Give yourself a break! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the treadmill-like non-stop nature of running a start-up. Sometimes you just have to turn your phone off and do something fun with the people you love. You’ll come back fresh and raring to go.
  • Lower your expectations. That sounds very counter-intuitive and of course I don’t mean lower your expectations of where you can take your business; I just mean that you can’t expect to be stress free and cruising for a long time yet (if ever) – allow yourself a pat on the back for small milestones, whilst staying focused on the big future.

Two flights up and two to go

There I am, standing at the front of an excited crowd, amongst the women I’ve spent the last six weeks with refining our brand vision as part of a programme called Brand Amplifier. I’ve just delivered the pitch of my life, during which my hands shook and I suffered involuntary breath gulps. I have heartily clapped and whooped my fellow Brand Amplifiees for third and second place and have accepted that, with that, my chances are done. I wait with baited breath to see who has nabbed top spot. And then, they call my name! In shock I bound on to the stage and deliver the most unprepared acceptance speech including the phrases “I’m a really creative person” and “I’m so proud of myself!”.

It’s at this moment that the question “How did I end up here?” floated in to my head. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always like this. There are also moments when I’m pausing for breath two flights up, with two to go, for the fortieth time that day with a giant box in my arms, or delivering hugely expensive artworks to eccentrically extravagant mansions in the country, which encourage the same question.

I did my fair share of marching up and down stairs carrying heavy weights in the Fire Brigade and it is here that the idea for my company, Van Girls, was born. I reached a point in my fire brigade career when I didn’t want to progress any further up the ranks and I was happy and comfortable at my station and on my watch, so my mind started to search for the next challenge. What could I do with my days off during the week that would earn me a bit of extra pocket money and occupy my mind. Not having a trade to speak of and full of the warmth I received from the general public when they realised a female firefighter had turned up, I slowly came to the realization that a woman and van service could be really popular. I was strong, I liked pushing myself to my limits physically and firefighting had given me great practical problem solving skills – it was perfect.

So, here I am, two years later, an ex-firefighter, CEO and Founding Director of the now ‘award-winning’ Van Girls, employer of two full time staff and fifteen casual staff and with a ‘fleet’ of two beautiful vans, soon to be three. I’m going to use this blog to tell you the story of how I got here, where I‘m heading and some of the moments I feel are worth sharing along the way. I’m only two flights up, with at least two to go until I will really feel like I’ve made it somewhere, but I have a feeling when I get up the next two, I’ll turn the corner and two more will appear.

Brand Amplifier Platinum Award Winner 2014

Brand Amplifier Platinum Award Winner 2014