To celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day – and other similar initiatives this month – Kara Bennett interviewed Traci Lewis, co-founder & director of Catalyse Change.

As November marks National Career Development Month 2021, it feels fitting that we focus on the subject of Female Entrepreneurship. A career path that is becoming more and more appealing in a post pandemic world.

The global pandemic has exposed the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of career choices which we once felt offered security and guarantees. Perhaps we are also feeling bolder, wiser or maybe we are just more “woke” to our own mortality and as a result are reminded to seize the day?

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt there has been a shift and our ways of working are changing in order to have greater flexibility and control over our working lives.

Couple this with a seemingly global “green awakening” that appears to be taking place at the moment, new and innovative solutions are required for a green recovery and the stage is set for a new wave of sustainable female entrepreneurship like never before.

With this in mind, there could not be a better time to learn from those who are already building social, sustainable businesses. So who better to ask about this journey than our very own Traci Lewis, co-founder of Catalyse Change and director of Sustain-Live Consulting, which helps purpose-led women to start and grow successful social businesses.

What has Traci’s journey looked like?

Traci Lewis, BristolDuring a 5 year extended gap year, in which Traci travelled and worked through Australia, New Zealand and Asia. She was fortunate to take part in a Permaculture Design course in North Queensland with Bill Morrison, widely known as the “father” of permaculture design, the design of agricultural eco- systems to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Through her travels she then worked on organic and biodynamic farms through the WWOOF scheme. She also worked on many commercial farms, where she saw first hand the destruction unsustainable agriculture has on the soil and environment. She became passionate about organic food and farming as it offers a sustainable solution to something which causes over a quarter of GHG emissions worldwide.

Traci had firmly caught the sustainability bug at this point and when she returned to the UK she made her home in the green, liberal city of Bristol. Traci soon landed an entry level role at the Soil Association – just before the organic market started booming – progressing quickly within this fast-growing organisation.

Traci worked with them for 18 years – across the south west – through an exciting period when the organic movement was expanding and organic certification was becoming big business. During this time, Traci managed their office in Cornwall – a £2 million EU funded market development programme – which involved supporting a lot of small businesses. This is where Traci really became interested in entrepreneurship, through helping small farmers & food producers, as well as social & community enterprises to start-up and grow.

At what point did she feel ready to branch out on her own?

Traci LewisThere is no manual that tells you how to be an entrepreneur and confidence is an important aspect. Some people feel confident or secure enough in their circumstances to start out in their careers as entrepreneurs. Whereas most make the transition further down the line when they already have experience and skills from working for other businesses.

Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, was a huge inspiration for Traci. It was the first time she had seen how a profitable business could also achieve social and environmental aims and objectives. It was an approach Traci felt that she would like to emulate one day.

In addition to this, Traci’s father had always wanted to work for himself but never did and so she didn’t want to miss her opportunity. She also realised that through all her years working remotely in Cornwall and Devon for the Soil Association – although having the security of a monthly salary – she had already been bringing in her own clients and funding and had developed good business skills in digital marketing and business development. She had also been a project manager and advisor in a number of social and community business development programmes, so knew what was involved.

So when she returned to live in Bristol in 2015 and was expected to return to work in the office, she realised it was now the time to make a move. As fate would have it, she was made redundant at this time, which gave her the necessary financial buffer to make the transition.

Traci then created her business Sustain Live Consulting – a sustainable development agency – supporting social enterprises to develop and grow. However her main focus now is on supporting other purpose-led women to work for themselves. Around this time she was becoming more aware of issues linked to gender equality & female empowerment and the obstacles young women are experiencing. Traci felt compelled to take action and Catalyse Change was soon born.

Traci shares a few tips on growing your own business..

Traci Lewis

  • Get Networking – Traci had only just moved back to Bristol when she launched Sustain-Live – after being away for 10 years – so didn’t have a strong professional network already in place. So she had to focus quickly on networking in order to grow this. Networking is essential when you work for yourself in order to create new work and opportunities.
  • Get Clear on your Target Audience – The initial focus of her business was too broad and Traci now advocates the importance of identifying your niche market early on.
  • Keep Having Conversations – Traci advises you to have ongoing conversations with potential clients as you are building your business. So they become part of your journey and the business you are creating. She has had many experiences where these initial conversations have produced future projects and contracts.
  • Make use of the Tech – There is now such an extensive range of software and digital marketing tools available to you – either free or very cheaply – never has it been a better time to be an entrepreneur!
  • Don’t Quit your Day Job too soon – It’s best not to abandon your day job, until you are confident in what you have to offer and that it’s been tested. A good practice, Traci explains, is to secure at least one or two contracts before branching out on your own. Also to reach out to your closest +/- 30 contacts who could support or advocate for you. Capitalise on the already established relationships and ask where they think your strongest skill sets lie. Identifying where you can bring real value to potential clients and to help you identify your niche.
  • Keep Testing Ideas – Traci “learned the hard way” that a business cannot be built in isolation, and one of the most important realisations was that you are in a constant stage of testing out ideas, gathering feedback and reiterating your offer to better serve your clients. Try to have a ‘minimum viable product’ first, test this out and build upon it once you have some momentum.

Key tips for a young woman who wants to become an entrepreneur

  • Take the time to understand your values, purpose and vision for your business.
  • Have conversations with your close network and begin to involve stakeholders in the development of your business.
  • Talk to your potential customers – understand their problems – get feedback and listen out for opportunities.
  • Get a coach or mentor to support you to develop your business. There are lots of great free start-up programmes available.
  • Run a pilot project & start testing out your ideas, it’s all about iteration! Running a crowdfunder is a great place to start.

Would you like to hear about more inspiring role models for working in sustainability?  Join our mailing list to also learn about our Green Career and mentoring programmes. @TraciLewis79