Running a business and looking after a family, all under the same roof, is no easy task, but Tracy Burleigh rose to the challenge in 2016 and hasn’t looked back since.
Tracy’s first-hand experience of this led to her launching Women Mean Business, a supportive online networking and coaching community for women running their own companies in York.
Tracy commented: “My job as a Business Consultant inspired me to start Women Mean Business. I coached numerous businesses in the area on a one-to-one basis and recognised that they would really benefit from being part of a wider community of women who could support each another. I already had a solid base of contacts to get the business started and with a bit of word of mouth, it soon went from strength to strength.”
Alongside offering face-to-face coaching, Tracy created an online community for women on Facebook and after two years she had built a network of around 1,500 women.
Developing digital skills was a priority for Tracy as she knew this would help her reach more women in York and beyond. Although she was confident in her coaching abilities, Tracy was struggling to grow her network further because of her limited social media skills.
She also wanted to build a stronger online presence as she felt that her website’s functionality did not reflect her range of services.
In order to do this, she knew she had to set aside time to learn new skills away from her busy day-to-day schedule, juggling both work and family life at the same time.
Tracy heard about the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme through a member of staff from Enterprise Made Simple, one of the registered training providers for Calderdale College in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding. Enterprise Made Simple delivers fully funded, industry related training courses to employees of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
The SSW programme supports businesses looking to grow and is available to SMEs seeking non-compulsory, work-based training. It is free to businesses through the European Union’s European Social Fund (ESF) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Tracy enrolled on a Level 2 certificate in Developing Enterprise Skills, which included the opportunity to work towards an additional Level 2 award in Digital Promotion. The course included a mandatory residential weekend to work through the qualification.
Reflecting on the residential weekend, which was attended by 50 business owners, Tracy said: “The opportunity to learn in a different environment outside of my home office really encouraged me to sign up for the training. It was the first time I was able to dedicate all my energy to developing my business plan.”
The weekend included practical activities and tasks, which allowed attendees to network and brainstorm new ideas. Everyone in attendance used their businesses as case studies and were able to receive ideas from one another.
As part of the Digital Promotion qualification, the group also received training in website management, identifying and using key words, creating social content and SEO skills. The course content linked directly to Tracy’s aim of gaining more confidence using social media to develop the Women Mean Business group on Facebook.
As a result of the training, Tracy was able to create engaging social content and utilise techniques to encourage communication and engagement on the Women Mean Business Facebook group. This has helped the number of members grow from 1,500 to 2,500 since the training.
Tracy’s increased confidence using social media also resulted in the introduction of live streaming sessions on the business Facebook page, which has allowed her to speak to members and engage with them in real-time. Through this personal touch, Tracy has been able to reach more women at a single time, with hundreds watching the live streams.
Not only is her Facebook page thriving, Tracy has also been able to expand her services as a result of her digital training by introducing online coaching. She now has a sleek new website and is utilising more online services, such as Skype.
The training from the SSW programme has taught Tracy the importance of dedicating time to training and incorporating business development into her daily work activities.
Tracy said: “The training came at a perfect time for me and the business. I knew after two years it was natural step for Women Mean Business to evolve and grow, but I was never able to find the time to fully dedicate myself to developing the business on top of my busy everyday life.
“My biggest takeaway from this experience is to ensure I utilise the range of online functions on offer. For example, I didn’t understand Facebook live streaming before the course, but this has been a fantastic way of communicating with members for instant interaction, an element my business was missing before.”
The training also gave Tracy the opportunity to venture out of York. She added: “Following the connections I made from the training, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Facebook offices to gain more skills in Facebook management and to learn about the rules of GDPR. The invite from Facebook cemented Women Mean Business’s position as a thriving community and online business model which I can hopefully expand to become a UK-wide network.”
Success from skills training
The SSW programme has helped over 4,900 employed people in the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding area, with over 1,400 businesses, including Women Mean Business, having taken advantage of the opportunity.
Ebrahim Dockrat MBE, Director of Commercial Services and Partnerships at Calderdale College, the main contractor for Skills Support for the Workforce, discusses the success of the project: “The SSW programme is available for businesses at different stages and also takes into account the challenges of running a business and balancing everyday life for owners.
“Our courses are designed to be flexible, accessible and to fit around existing commitments. It was great that we were able to accommodate Tracy and help her develop Women Mean Business around her schedule. We hope this will encourage other working parents to enrol on to our free courses.”
For more information on the Skills Support for the Workforce project, please visit http://ssw.fundingunit.org.uk/