Claire Mitchell is the founder of The Girls Mean Business™, an online school for women, serious about growing their own ventures and making more money. She is an internationally recognised online marketing and social media expert with more than 15 years of corporate marketing experience and has been cited by Sheryl Sandberg as ‘one to watch’. Claire has been a successful entrepreneur, author and speaker for the last 13 years, providing training for women in business, associations, companies and conferences internationally. But to get to where she is now, Claire Mitchell has experienced a real-life rollercoaster ride. Here is Claire’s entrepreneurial journey showing how she has been able to create such a successful business and how she continues to impact so many women’s lives:
Growing up, I always thought of myself as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I was the first person in my family to go to university and having grown up in a small village in County Durham, it’s fair to say I wasn’t the most-worldly wise. On graduation, having studied German and Russian, my first job was selling advertising space for a newspaper. I’m a self-confessed introvert, so this was a baptism of fire to say the least. I struggled with selling, but continued, nonetheless.
The next few years were spent in a series of dead-end jobs that neither inspired me nor used any of my skills. At one point I even cleaned caravan toilets to make ends meet. I’d split with my boyfriend at the time and returned back home. I was in my mid-twenties and felt that life was passing me by while I was stuck in an office, bored and making money for other people! I decided enough was enough. I had a hankering to set up my own business, but I wasn’t ready just yet – life had a little more in store for me in the meantime.
In an unexpected career move I became the Northern representative for the Institute of Electrical Engineers, and it turned out to be a job I really enjoyed. I experienced a bit of freedom for the first time as I was always on the road and I loved it. It was while I was in this job that I met my now husband Mitch and we married.
Things were changing at the IEE and my bosses wanted me to spend more time in Stevenage, 300 miles from home so sadly, I had to look for something else.
My final job turned out to be a game-changer and not in the way you might expect. I was recruited by a company in the North East where I was tasked with growing their membership numbers – in reality it meant cold-calling businesses and pitching to them, something they didn’t mention in the interview and as an introvert, my worst nightmare. The boss and I had daily ‘differences of opinion’ and after a particularly bad day at work one Friday after I’d been bawled-out in a public café, I quit and decided then and there I would start working for myself.
It was 2006 and the start of the next phase of my life.
My first weekend after leaving was so exciting, I spent the time designing business cards and making my home office look lovely. Then reality hit on Monday morning. I had no clients (and no money) and had to get some fast. We needed my salary to be able to survive so I had no choice.
I began reaching out to everyone I knew and eventually I started to get some contracts and clients coming on board. Gradually I built my little business and I was doing pretty well, although I made a lot of mistakes, and it felt like a continuous learning curve.
Then, at 38 I had a baby, Chloe. I had to go back to work after four weeks as we couldn’t afford for me to take any more time off. Chloe was being breastfed (and would be for the next year, little did I know) and was on a two-hour feeding pattern. It meant I had to go to meetings, before rushing back to her as soon as possible. It was a juggle to say the least! Somehow, we made it work, with the help of my lovely Mum and understanding clients and things got easier as Chloe got a little older.
As if I didn’t have enough to do, my friend Kate (who also had her own business) and I decided to begin a men’s make-up business called Aston Mitchell, where we sourced products from around the world and retailed them. This business was totally different to anything Kate and I had ever done before and we saw it as a challenge to see what we could make of it. It was a lot of fun!
We were featured on The Apprentice. We even completed a man makeover of Scott Mills, whilst he was presenting his BBC Radio 1 radio show! This business gave us a snapshot into the world of media that we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced and it was fabulous but we realised it wasn’t going to go anywhere, we both had other businesses and we had to focus on them as they were our passion, so we closed it down.
By the time Chloe was two, I was starting to make a name for myself and ended up being a consultant for a food company, earning good money. But juggling work with a little one at such a high level, proved too much and so I decided I was going to start my own Marketing Agency instead, so I could call the shots. I hired four members of staff and set up premises in Darlington, where I also became the Head of the Business Club there.
For a couple of years, the marketing agency flourished. Everything was going well and then we landed a big contract with a company based in South Yorkshire, who put us on a retainer. Instead of focusing on having other clients, we ended up almost solely focusing on them. It was all going brilliantly, until one day they started paying late, and then not at all. And it started to eat into the money I had set aside to pay for everything else. Lots of lessons learned there and those lessons cost me a lot of money.
I always remember I was filming with The Hairy Bikers for one of their TV series when I received a phone call that would change everything. After two years hard work, my marketing agency had gone into voluntary liquidation. I found myself owing £20-thousand to the taxman and needing to find a way out. I quit as head of the Business Club and found myself alone and ashamed, with nobody to talk to.
After licking my wounds for a few days, I decided I had to do something, fast. Determined to make it work this time, I used the last amount I had on my credit card to invest in a business coach who helped me navigate the world of online training and marketing. At the same time for my own sanity more than anything else and having lost my entire network in one fell swoop, I set up a Facebook page to share my marketing and business knowledge with other women, so none of them would go through what I’d just experienced.
The Girls Mean Business was born and within three months, and hardly any effort on my part there were 3,000 women on board. It seemed I was onto something. Within a few months, and after a steep ‘online’ learning curve, I sold my first 12-week online marketing course.
The business began to grow and it was then that Facebook approached me to become a founding member of their European Small Business Client Council.
Now I have more than 100-thousand fans across my social channels and in the last three years have sold more than 10-thousand marketing planners, whilst helping to transform the lives of thousands of women entrepreneurs around the world.
Many of them say the reason they are drawn to me is because I’m straight-talking and have an easy to understand approach to both marketing and business.
I think it also helps that my journey to become a multi-six figure business owner hasn’t been straight-forward.
For the last 18-months I’ve also faced personal difficulties; my daughter Chloe is now home-schooled after a bout of bullying and my dad recently died after a long illness.
But through all of this, my business is continuing to grow. I’ve learnt the hard way how to future proof everything, and want to show other female entrepreneurs how they too can do the same. I always say anything is possible, and if it’s possible for me, it’s definitely possible for you too.
Claire Mitchell works with female entrepreneurs globally to provide them with the marketing knowledge and skills they need to begin, grow and scale their businesses. The Girls Mean Business is an internationally recognised company and the membership site has a three-tier approach to help women no matter what stage of their business they’re at. Claire Mitchell works with clients from the UK to as far afield as Australia and the US.
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