Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was at college, when I started my first business to pay a few bills. My second business, in publishing, of which I was co-founder, went public in 1994. I then founded my lifestyle business Alison at Home www. alisonathome.com and have been growing and running it ever since.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
To be honest no. It was very organic and the only constant was knowing that I didn’t want to be anyone’s employee – I was always independently minded and probably a natural entrepreneur.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Oh many! Every single day throws up challenges, across all aspects of the business – from design to manufacturing, HR to recruitment, and of course, cash flow and competitors!
I think the first rule is to stay calm and try to analyze the situation. Few things happen as fast as you think they might, so take time to think through what is going on before reacting. Be fair but firm. I will always listen to reason, but people should never mistake my niceness for weakness.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
My workdays are very varied, some in the office, some traveling and more recently, working on my charity Make It Your Business (supporting and encouraging female entrepreneurs). But they always start with an expresso shot and a 6am blast in the gym – I catch up on politics and the news whilst on the treadmill and think through the day.
At the other end of the day, if I am in the UK, dinner with my family is a non negotiable. It’s a very important time of day to touch base with each other and catch up on everyone’s news. I have two teenage boys and these are crucial years for them, so we keep the lines of communication as open as possible. The absolute end of the day is my bed, which we had hand made when we got married and is the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. It’s just fabulous. I hit the deck and that’s it.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?
I feel very strongly about it. I suppose my first business partner was my mentor and I learned a lot from him. The company we co-founded went public so we went on a full business journey so to speak, from start up to exit. I also felt that Mrs Thatcher was a sort of mentor, although I didn’t know her. But her opinions around the merits of aspiration, hard work and self improvement really struck a chord with me, and formed the basis of how I approached my own goals.
More recently, I have started an initiative called Make It Your Business; not for profit and free to join, it is a nationwide series of seminars and an online chat forum on Mumsnet which exists to encourage and support women to start their own business.
Part of this initiative includes a mentoring app which helps aspiring female entrepreneurs get mentored by established female entrepreneurs. I always say, you can’t be it if you can’t see it.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
Well for self-employed women, which is my particular area of interest, it would be better maternity pay. For women working within organizations, it would be pay parity.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Definitely my two fantastic children, who are my life compass. But workwise, I’d say building a business which is now entering its 22nd year and growing all the time.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Well, we are about to launch our new and improved website www.alisonathome.com, which I am greatly looking forward to. But I am also very interested in the potential of you tube and Facebook for my audience demographic, and am looking closely at that area.
Do you have any advice for women in the workplace, that you wish someone had told you?
Just focus on being the very best you can be. Under promise and over deliver. Be prepared to fight for what you believe in and always work hard.