1. Tell me a bit about your business – when it started and the main driver …
Prue Leith, a friend, was helping the Hoxton Apprentice, a training restaurant for long-term unemployed in Hoxton Square. She asked me to dinner there and explained they trained NEETS (no education, employment or training) and I asked if I could help. Her finger nails came across the table, stuck on my arm and I was caught. I worked for the HA for seven years. And witnessed miracles. I saw people with no self-esteem literally change over 6 months into socially acceptable employees willing to come off benefits and stick at their jobs. We had a 70% success rate based on them being still in a job six months after graduating from the restaurant. I became a Director and my brief was to publicise the place, so I started the Hoxton Apprentice Women’s Network. It was successful and the chef – an ex-offender – gorgeous, 6 ft 5” and a role model for all in the restaurant was a particular favourite when he told his story and how the Hoxton Apprentice changed his life (not a dry eye in the room). Alas the Conservative government cut funding in 2010 so the restaurant had to close and is still sadly lamented. (Memo: never rely on government funding) But I was begged to keep the network going so renamed it Lady Val’s Professional Women’s Network and relocated to Browns Courtrooms in St Martin’s Lane where we have been since. It used to be a real court room and we meet in the Judge’s Chamber which has cells (now the wine cellars) and the judges’ bench on high. It used to have the red Judge’s gown and gavel but they both got nicked!
2. What are your main services?
The Network will be 13 years old in November 2018 and during this time I’ve made it my mission to connect business women in diverse professions. some of whom have increased their businesses through the contacts made. “The business I’ve made through your network has paid for all my lunches for a year” wrote one. Another comment I treasure: “It was a real joy to connect with so many like-spirited women and so synchronously, I managed to ‘accidentally’ sit next to someone with whom, from their description, I might not have thought there was any commonality, When we talked, however, it became clear we were totally on the same wavelength and she has asked me to support her – informally – as a sounding board as her exciting innovative business expands. Many grateful thanks for the opportunity of meeting you and all the other inspirational ladies yesterday. Together it is our role to influence positive change in our world.”
Many comments from Networkers are on our website www.ladyvalnetwork.biz Networkers are either executives, senior partners, entrepreneurs or business owners from a wide spectrum including women from banking, finance, HR, the law, IT, PR, communication and presentation industries etc.
I organise five lunches a year with a speaker who is always top of the trees plus a free after-lunch workshop. The network motto is: “There’s a special place in hell for any woman who doesn’t help another woman” It goes without saying that I will never disparage a woman (unless or until I know for certain she is a back-stabbing witch). I have worked with women throughout my career and can safely say have never had a bad experience except once – with the women’s editor on a national daily and I’m happy to tell you she got fat.
Photo: With Her Highness Princess Basma Al-Said, Founder of the 1st mental health clinic in Oman
3. What gets me up in the mornings
In my own small way I like to network and help people at the same time. As I dislike the concept of ‘ladies who lunch’ because my networkers are women who work, so my lunches are always charity fund raisers. We raised nearly £60,000 at the Hoxton Apprentice to help the long-term unemployed. A donation from each booking currently goes towards our charity, the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-integration. I started it six years ago to honour my husband’s legacy. For 10 years until his death in 2012 he was Chair of the All-Party Penal Reform Group in Parliament. The Award gives financial help to charities who do the most to rehabilitate people with convictions. Here’s the lecture: We taxpayers pay £40,000 per prisoner every year (Eton costs £35,000 so it would be cheaper to send them there!) In the 18-24 year old group reoffending rates are around 60% within two years. That figure reduces to 19% when they have a job, so it makes sense both economically and morally to support them after release. As my husband Robin Corbett said: “Prison isn’t full of bad people, it’s full of people who’ve done bad things and everyone deserves a second chance”. The Award has now expanded to include the Corbett Network which links 36 CEO’s of major rehabilitation projects all working together. See what we do on the Corbett Network Page on www.robincorbettaward.co.uk
4. If you could change one thing about your first year (or first few years) in business, what would it be?
When I started the Network, there were only a few women’s networks around (now there are dozens) and social networking wasn’t the major force it is now. I think what I would do better would be to realise the importance of doing far more PR, publicity and promotion to give the network a head start. Unfortunately I’m not clairvoyant so didn’t foresee the advent of twitter etc nor that others would create their own networks (and probably do it better!)
5. What is your biggest achievement to date?
To keep up the standard of speakers – we’ve had Cherie Blair, Gina Miller, Jeffrey Archer and many others and all giving their time free. And to know that so many networkers have benefitted from these events by meeting women who know the business life they lead. This often leads to increased business or making friends and frequently both: “Last year I attended your network workshop hosted by Lauren Ahluwalia about LinkedIn and Twitter. We got in touch before the day through the guest list you send out in advance of the lunch and stayed in contact afterwards. You may recall that Lauren was one of only 8 accredited ‘She Means Business’ Facebook Trainers in the UK in association with Enterprise Nation. When Enterprise Nation were looking to increase the number of trainers for 2018 in order to get a wider reach – Lauren kindly recommended me! So thanks to her (& you) I’m now one of 25 accredited Facebook ‘She Means Business’ Trainers. This opportunity has increased my confidence and brand awareness and no doubt it will lead to clients in the future. A HUGE thank you to Lady Val’s Professional Women’s Network for creating this inclusive and supportive network.”
Photo: with keynote speaker Gina Miller
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
Realising that it’s tough out there in UK PLC and top business women need to get value from network lunches. Keeping these facts in mind and knowing that for many the time out of the day might be time lost, means I can’t rest on my laurels. It is quite relentless and luckily I have a great team of volunteers who help – Annick does social networking, Sorcha is the lunch co-ordinator, Rosemary welcomes everyone, Marianne designs the emails I send out and Patricia is our photographer. Without their help my face would have far more wrinkles!
Photo: Left to Right: Annick Devillard (French), Lady Val (South African), Sorcha Rogers (Irish) and Rosemary Smith (token Brit)
7. What would be your number one tip for other entrepreneurs who want to develop their personal brand (related to their industry / specialism)?
First you need start-up finance as I am a firm believer in hiring professionals. Establishing a brand right at the start is a no brainer but it needs adequate, long-term funding.. I cannot stress enough the value of effective PR and promotion. Editorials in newspapers or magazines are far more valuable than any advertisement so you need a good story behind the brand.
8. What advice would you give to other women thinking of starting their own business?
Well, if they want to start a network or club of their own to do three things: research, research and research. If there is a gap in the market, go for it. If not, try something else.
9. Lastly, which social media platform has helped you get the most customers to date and why?
I think twitter and Linked in but most of Network bookings come from personal recommendations.
LinkedIn Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2048069
Lady Val, Media background in national newspapers and TV plus co-wrote three non-fiction books & six novels Also worked for BBC as scriptwriter and co-wrote a sitcom “Life Without George”, was a founding Director of independent TV Production company Goldhawk. Formerly organiser of the Spouse in the House network for spouses in Parliament; am now an international mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation and a Trustee of Beating Time for prison choirs. Organiser of the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-integration which is administered by the Prison Reform Trust. [email protected]
This interview was conducted by Jennifer Corcoran, LinkedIn Consultant & Trainer, Founder and CEO of My Super Connector and Host of LinkedIn Local Croydon. Jennifer regularly writes and speaks on the topics of social media, personal branding, networking and being an introverted entrepreneur. If you need help with any of your profiles mail [email protected] You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @SuperConnector.