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Inspirational Women Q&A: Nikki Hesford, The Small Business Academy

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Nikki Hesford is an award-winning entrepreneur, and featured on Dragons Den in 2011 to promote her fast fashion brand that she managed at the time.  She now operates The Small Business Academy based in Blackpool, which provides small and start-up businesses with the tools, knowledge and the skills they need to make their new business a success.

The Academy, which is a finalist in BIBAs 2023 Micro Business of the Year category, is also the delivery partner of Boost's Growth Mentoring Programme. Nikki shares her own inspirational Lancashire woman in business story.

What does your business do?

The Small Business Academy provides a raft of support services for start-ups and SME’s – affordable office space and training room hire, mentoring, training and coaching. Our services are designed to be accessible even for the smallest of micro business both in terms of price, and also delivery – offering in-person support, live support via Zoom and on-demand training that can be accessed 24/7 within our Learning Management System.

Why did you start your own business?

Although I first went into business many years ago, The Small Business Academy was launched in 2018 from a frustration that there was a lack of much needed support for the smallest of businesses.

This includes having an office space to go and being able work from, that doesn’t cost £300-400-500 a month, (ours is £55 a month for a hot desk), being able to find quality training, mentoring and coaching without needing to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

We have ensured that we have options for all budgets, so that even the micro business is not left out unable to find the support they need.

What has been your biggest business breakthrough?

Breaking through the pandemic, and still being here to tell the tale is certainly a breakthrough! With in-person training coming to a standstill, no requirement for hot desking, we had a large premises that was obsolete for a long time but costing a lot of money.

We had to adapt quickly – developing an online Learning Management System embedded into our own website and finding different ways to monetise our services. It was certainly tough but we managed to scrape through and have gone from strength to strength ever since!

What has been your proudest achievement in your business?

Our Academy was recognised as the right business to provide essential mentoring support for Lancashire businesses which is a reflection of the quality of business support that we deliver, and was a very proud achievement.

We have since been approved to deliver adult skills in the form of Skills Bootcamps in Lancashire.

What is the most effective support or guidance you have received?

My own mentor, John, helped to guide me towards this point providing invaluable support and guidance – being a sole director of a business can feel isolating at times, but having someone who you can call, discuss things with, thrash out a plan, sense check ideas, not only helps keep your business on the right path, but also stops you going insane!

What keeps you going when things are tough?

All business owners need to be resilient – it is never plain sailing in business, there are always hard times and challenges, and mindset is everything.
I’ve never been someone who says I can’t do something; my first thought is always ‘how can we do this?’ – listening to the counsel of others and being prepared to change course if that is what is needed.

What are your best three tips for maintaining your wellbeing?

1. Keeping a routine that works for you. For me, that means eating, exercising and sleeping at regular times with a regular routine.
2. Ensuring that you have some form of release where your brain gets a rest – for me this is weightlifting, where I have to think about what I’m doing and can’t think about work! It’s like an hour’s holiday for my brain!
3. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and ethics, they will lift you up, share your vision and cheer lead you to the finish line.

What advice would you give to a female entrepreneur starting a business?

Ignore the judgement of others and the status quo – you do ‘you’.  Whether that’s flexi-working, putting the kids into full-time day care, working at home, working away.
As women we are entitled to have our own goals and achievements outside of parenting and we should never feel guilty for that – don’t let the opinions of others get inside your head or cause you to second guess yourself.
Boost is helping Lancashire businesses. We have a range of funded support programmes and a team of business advisers you can talk to. To speak to someone from the Growth Hub about business support, contact Boost online or call 0800 488 0057.

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