Inspirational Woman: Nicola Elliott, Co-Founder & Creative Director, NEOM Organics

Nicola Elliott

Nicola Elliott is Co-Founder and Creative Director of luxury wellbeing brand NEOM Organics.

A former magazine editor, Nicola left journalism to train as an aromatherapist and nutritionist, and soon began creating her own aromatherapy blends.

In 2005, Nicola teamed up with friend Oliver Mennell to launch NEOM, with a focus on improving people’s wellbeing through home fragrances and skincare.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I come from a very entrepreneurial background; my father sold cars and always inspired me to work for myself one day. I started my career working a busy job in journalism that I loved. It was glamorous and exciting, but exhausting! On the brink of burnout, I turned to essential oils as a way to find a bit more calm and improve my wellbeing. I started by experimenting at home, creating small blends of essential oils for friends and family, before formally training as an aromatherapist.

In 2005 I took the plunge by going into business with my friend Oliver Mennell, and I never looked back. Today, I am Co-Founder and Creative Director of NEOM Organics, a global wellbeing brand and market leader that offers a unique range of products to help customers sleep better, stress less, boost mood and improve energy. Sustainability and doing things in the right way is also a huge part of our focus at NEOM – we’re now in the final stages of our B Corp application and working towards becoming ‘climate positive’ (one step beyond carbon neutral) by 2030.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely! I have always been a big planner, and my career was no exception. During my university years I took on nine placements in journalism to build my career there.

I do think that, as women, we face career challenges that mean we have to plan a bit more. Witnessing the career paths of other women was a huge driver in spurring me on to plan my own career, including when I decided to make my career change.

When it came to founding NEOM, I knew there was no way I could give up a career I loved for something I didn’t know I could have equal success in. So when I made the decision to leave, I planned the move really carefully. We always planned for NEOM to be a really successful, global brand. I knew it would be challenging to switch careers, but I also knew we would work extremely hard to make sure our venture was a success.

You stand at the helm of the beauty and wellbeing brand, NEOM Organics – have you faced any challenges along the way and what have you learnt from them?

We face challenges on a daily basis. When we started out in particular, everything was a challenge, and we have definitely encountered challenges that might have stopped others. But it’s all about building a mindset that will help you to approach big challenges. My philosophy is to see them as items on my “To do” list, rather than fully-fledged problems.

Building a business is a huge journey, and it’s a road we’ve chosen to go down, but I’ve learnt so much about how to conquer challenges. We might have to turn over 99 stones before we find the way forward, but in each try we have learnt something. It’s all about the journey that gets us there.

 What does an average working week look like for you?

It’s a tale of two cities – I split my time 50/50 between London and Harrogate, where NEOM is based. I represent the brand as well as building it, so half my work is in that representation and the other half is what I do from the inside.

When I’m in London it’s much more about face-to-face meetings, external talks, PR events and the like. When I’m in Harrogate I focus on the work I do within the business, the more creative side, brainstorming and catching up with the team at NEOM HQ.

How have you navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic?

On the business side, NEOM really came through to support our wider community through COVID – we’ve all needed a bit more wellbeing in our lives and people have been turning to us more than ever.

The pandemic at work has been very much like the pandemic at home – it’s been all about working together as a team, supporting and trusting one another and making sure to add a bit more kindness into the pot every day. At work we’ve focused on making sure all of our colleagues have felt supported, and that work can be as much a source of fun and community as it is about work.

We’ve always been about wellbeing at work, but our socials team really brought out their creative sides to make sure we could continue to do this remotely. Whether virtual wellbeing events, sending gifts to each other, or days where the whole business took a wellbeing day, it’s been a real opportunity for us as a business to show our true colours and come through for the wonderful community that we have built.

What tips to you have for any budding female entrepreneurs?

For me a huge part of building a successful business is about who you work with, and a major element of this comes from knowing yourself. I find women can bring a very empathetic, 360 degree approach to the workplace, and many of the female entrepreneurs I’ve worked with are more open about showing their flaws or insecurities. This means they know more about what they need to work on and who to work with to complement their skills.

My advice to others is to really harness those powers of self-knowledge and awareness to move past your weaknesses, and work with a team who will be able to complement your skills and fill in in areas that you might lack. My business partner Oliver and I are the opposite of two peas in a pod – but that is what has always made it work!

What would be the one thing that would help to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, in your opinion?

Unfortunately, still one of the greatest hurdles facing many women in their careers is managing a full-time, successful career and having a family. I think in particular there is a lot that could be improved with our childcare system and challenging social norms around motherhood. It’s part of what drove me to co-found NEOM – I was looking for a better way to do both .

Businesses should play their part too, by encouraging initiatives like shared parental leave and making sure the experience for returners is the best it can possibly be. But there is a wider societal element and our own attitudes that need to keep evolving – we need to see more entrepreneurial and ambitious women coming to the fore, who have so much to offer to the business world.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Keep going and never stop! You are on a big journey, and one that will at times be more challenging than you had hoped, but do not let yourself get too disheartened by bumps in the road and keep moving forward.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

NEOM is at a really exciting point just now. We’re growing rapidly, with demand for our products only accelerated by COVID-19, and are making real headway and making the most of new opportunities.

International expansion has been a real focus over the last year, as we launched in the US at the height of the pandemic and have continued to develop the business on the other side of the pond. Most recently we launched through Anthropologie in the US, building on our standing partnerships with Amazon Prestige and Nordstrom among others, helping us to reach a bigger audience and supercharge more people’s wellbeing across the world. In the meantime, we’re maintaining our focus on consolidating growth in our core market, the UK, and we have more big plans still for building our global profile in the coming months and years.

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