Joanne Walton, director at Sophia-Jo Bridal in Guisborough, opened her boutique with a now-former business partner Sophie in 2019.
The women knew each other through the industry – they were both working in wedding and events management but only came up with the business idea after they started working at the same place.
“We started working together and quickly realised we’ve both made the mistake of going to this place to work,” Jo said. “After one of the meetings we’ve had with management we were stuck together and started talking. Sophie just turned around and said – I can’t do it. I don’t want to work here no more. We need to do something. And then we just brainstormed this idea. We were kind of like, should we just do it? It was like a lightbulb moment.”
From idea to starting business
When asked what was the scariest part about starting a business, Jo said that there wasn’t one.
“I didn’t have a lot to lose because I had recently split up with my husband and had nothing. I left with black bin bags and my two kids and I was going through EVA Women’s Aid and getting support for abuse,” Jo opened up. “I had no money. I started it with not a single penny of my own. We did it through start-up loans and retail grants.”
Even though Jo and Sophie didn’t put any money into their new business, it took a lot of work. However, Jo said that the most important thing was believing in what they do: “I think it’s that confidence and knowing that you can make it work”.
To bring their idea to life, Sophie was researching the whole mechanism behind starting a business in the bridal industry while Jo was looking at the ways to fund their business.
The Eureka course
Jo was recommended the Eureka course by the Redcar and Cleveland business team.
Even though Eureka covered a lot of things Jo had already known and done before, she still believes that it was a beneficial first step that helped her find out about further help and support available.
After the Eureka course, Jo worked with business advisor Nic Calvert as well as attended the Going For Growth course.
Further support and training
When asked what was the best bit of advice Nic has given her, Jo said “Always refer back to your business plan. If you use it as just a means to an end, it won’t serve your business. You need to keep using it for your business to grow.”
Going For Growth course has not only provided Jo with some new knowledge but also helped her to expand her network.
“We formed a good connection with Anna who has Thicket Priory – the big venue. We got the first access to it when it opened and did the first photoshoots there. We’ve done a lot crossing from there and I definitely got sales from her.”
Talking about courses in general, Jo believes that it’s very important to keep doing them and keep moving forward as times move and everything changes.
“You might go on a course and it might be exactly everything you know, but you can pick up one little piece that could generate so much business,” she said. “The courses make you see things that you wouldn’t normally see because you can get too consumed in your own business.”
Over the last few years, Jo faced some big challenges such as the global pandemic and her business partner leaving Sophia-Jo Bridal.
“We were impacted massively with Covid for weddings and proms. Proms were wiped out and weddings got put back. The only reason we survived is because of the funding from the government.”
Now that these challenges are in the past, the business is running successfully.
To serve more clients, Jo had extended her working hours (from 4 pm to 8 pm) on Tuesdays and Saturdays and is fully booked on those days until May. She now also has a contractor – Sidney. Sidney discovered the boutique when she came to buy her prom dress and now works as a model for Sophia-Jo Bridal.
Advice to those who are thinking of starting their business
To those who are dreaming of starting their own business, Jo would like to say that the most important things are self-belief and dedication: