Juggling work with family life? Thinking of starting a business? In this interview, I ask Liz for her words of wisdom on being a female entrepreneur.
Rebecca: Many of us know that one of the main reasons you created a natural skincare range was because you suffered with eczema, but how did you start out in the beauty industry?
Liz: It was a coming together of various early experiences. My father was a very keen plantsman and I spent many happy hours as a child in the garden with him. I was then given a Vogue beauty book by my Grandma when I was fifteen, which opened my eyes to the wonderful world of health and beauty, and I was especially intrigued to read about how botanicals can boost wellbeing and influence how we look and feel. I got my very first job at Molton Brown, the hairdressing and beauty company, so worked in the industry very early on. This quickly led to writing for women’s beauty magazines, and my love of research and writing took off from there. I moved from magazines to books, which allowed more time and space for researching what I was passionate about, and was later invited to be part of Richard and Judy’s team on This Morning, which is how I became involved in broadcasting.
Rebecca: What do you feel are the benefits of running your own business?
Liz: An entrepreneur starts with a passion, and running your own business is an opportunity to focus your time and your talent on what you care passionately about and what really interests you. I once heard a successful entrepreneur say that if you work in a field you absolutely love, you never do a day’s work in your life and that every day is a joy. I don’t know if that’s 100% true but it certainly helps! It goes a long way to make work really rewarding, as well as being fun.
Rebecca: The hardest thing I’ve had to overcome is juggling my son Harry and managing my workload, which pulls on my heartstrings. In the early days, did you feel the strain of being a working mum?
Liz: Women tend to be multi-taskers, and there is inevitably a juggling of family, relationships, work and running a household that, in my experience, does seem so often to be picked up by women. In some ways, running your own business can be a real benefit, as you can choose working hours that suit your home life. When Kim and I first started working together, we had young children, so we would work during school hours, take a break between 3 and 7pm to do school pick up, tea, bath, homework and bed, then start again at 7pm and work until early hours of the morning. It can work very well but you have to be aware that you end up doing the equivalent of two or three full-time jobs, so you have to have a lot of stamina and staying power, and be truly motivated and believe in what you are doing because it’s extremely time-consuming.
Rebecca: What is your advice for young entrepreneurs just starting out?
Liz: Know your subject inside-out, back-to-front and then some more. Many people have a good idea, but you really need to know your subject and I cannot emphasize that enough. It’s not enough just to read what’s online as there is so much poorly researched information on the web. You need to be really sure of your sources, particularly if you’re going to base a business on it, so reading reputable peer-reviewed factual journals is a good starting point, otherwise you may be building something on the wrong premise. I would also recommend not chasing profit, but chasing happy customers instead. If you produce something people love and provide it to them with good service, they will buy more and tell others, and that‘s how a healthy business grows. Our motto ‘crawl, walk, run’ is very important. Don’t do feel pressurised into doing something just because someone’s saying it has to be now. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and say “well if it has to be now, it has to be no.” Going too quickly is not always the strongest way to build a business.
Rebecca: I believe the key to having a successful business is to take a notebook to bed. How do you manage to be organised running a business and having a family?
Liz: I’m a compulsive list-maker and also keep a series of small notebooks in which I try and write everything down so I don’t forget. There’s so many different things going round in my head, whether its notes for the boardroom, or checking the contents of the fridge to see if there’s enough milk, or did somebody feed the dog. For me, writing everything down on paper helps enormously. I also try and delegate as much as possible. I used to try to do everything myself, but I’ve now realised that I simply can’t do that. At Liz Earle Beauty Co. we’re very fortunate that, as we’ve grown, we’ve gathered a big team of specialists and that has hugely helped us to share the load. For any early business, it’s important to accept all offers of help wherever they come from, whether it’s a neighbour offering to do the school run, or walk the dog or pick up some shopping. Grab every offer with both hands from friends and family who are around. I try to get the children to help with simple things like tidying their rooms or emptying the dishwasher as much as possible, and we keep star charts to keep the smaller children motivated!
Rebecca: Why do you and Kim support The Prince’s Trust?
Liz: From day one, we’ve had a charity programme running, as we’ve always wanted to put back. As women with children, our focus was always to help young people, and women and young children in particular. The Prince’s Trust is very much about enabling young people to get on in life and to have the opportunity to start their own business, so it was a natural fit for us. As a business, we’ve seen the benefit of mentoring. It’s very common for someone to join our team and go on training programmes, and work their way through the company in various departments, and it’s been enormously rewarding to see people come in, learn, develop and grow. We were delighted to take that opportunity further outside our own company with The Trust. We’ve seen first-hand the work they do and the lives that have changed, and I think if you care about the society that we live in, you really want to see an improvement and a chance for change, particularly for the next generation, building strong businesses for the future just as we’ve had the opportunity to build ours.