WE’RE not ladies who lunch, we get s*** done! So says Sian Horn, Cork-based founder of The Club, a network that’s designed to support female founders and teach them what they need to know to stay in business.
Born during Covid, and about to mark its second anniversary, The Club has recently gone national and has over 100 members, a figure that’s set to swell to 200 by Christmas.
It’s also set to launch its first Female Founder awards taking place in November, as well as announce details of an exciting scholarship scheme to cover the cost of membership.
Although, with Sian at the helm, none of this success was ever even in question.
Describing herself as a ‘solution strategist,’ (if she can’t do it, she knows someone who can), she’s proven her resilience and agility in both her professional and personal life.
Originally from Swansea, she came to Ireland in 2000 to take over a high-end health club in Donnybrook.
In 2008, having retrained, she purchased the spa element of that business, while at the same time starting to work with women as a business mentor.
Then the recession hit and in 2010, the business where her second salon was based closed down.
“I lost a lot of money overnight. I didn’t know what to do,” she admits honestly.
But as someone who always helped others, karma came home to roost, and a friend came ‘out of the woodwork’ and introduced Sian to fish pedicures.
“No-one had seen them in Ireland before. I had people travelling from all over the country to stick their feet in this bowl!
“We sold 8,500 tickets the first morning for a tenner a head. I increased my bottom right hand corner by about €90,000 in six months and sold my business in the middle of the recession; which was unheard of for that industry,” said Sian.
In 2013, she walked away debt-free to start her new life in Cork, where her now husband Lee lived.
At the time, she had no idea what she was going to do: “But it didn’t matter. The minute I set foot here, it felt like home,” she said.
In 2014, she retrained as a pilates instructor and herself and Lee opened Elites reformer studios at various locations in Cork.
The business was a resounding success, but on a personal level the couple were struggling to start a family.
Sian has been very honest in sharing her heartbreaking story previously with The Echo. She had seven miscarriages, after which they went down the egg donor route, travelling to Spain. Cruelly, after getting pregnant on their first attempt, she was told at a 13.5 week scan that their baby had fatal foetal abnormalities. They chose to travel to the UK to terminate, but she had to wait until she was 17 weeks pregnant. Sadly, Sian didn’t get pregnant from further attempts using donor eggs.
She says: “2017 was an amazing year for Elite Pilates but that was the same year we decided to give up on a family. Although people looked on me as a successful business woman, I wasn’t. I was just trying to earn a load of money to give to fertility clinics. That was my mission at the time, and that year I had to change my mission.”
Sian vowed to start giving herself as much attention as she gave her clients. The couple got married and vowed to indulge their love of travel – until Covid hit.
“We were in Spain in early March, 2020, for a friend’s birthday and there was some talk about what was going on but no-one really believed it,” she remembers.
But, erring on the side of caution, the couple decided to close their three studios ahead of the government’s official announcement. Like everyone else, they thought, it would be for a few days or weeks at most. Quickly the picture became clearer, and in typical Sian fashion, she sprang into action.
Unable to sit around and do nothing, and well ahead of the curve, she went ‘live’ on Facebook daily at 11am, chatting to different businesses to brainstorm various problems and offer support.
“What I noticed in the feed, was the same people, mainly women, were coming on, and they were having conversations with each other and this community was forming,” she said.
When restrictions allowed, the ‘community’ met up casually and from that, in November, 2020, The Club was born.
Sian feels that when you start your own business, there’s an element of ‘oh, you’ll learn along the way,’ which she doesn’t think is acceptable.
For an annual membership of €350, The Club offers peer-to-peer support sessions, 24 meet-ups annually online, 12 workshops, 12 deep dives – and an awful lot more.
“We help with everything, from financial forecasting to LinkedIn, to how to make a reel, to becoming a graphic designer,” said Sian, who points out that it’s different to any other networks she’s been involved in.
“A lot of the traditional networks are about referral and bringing business to people, and as someone who has always worked for themselves by themselves, it’s really lonely. I don’t need someone to bring me business, but I do need someone to understand what I’m going through, to teach me something I don’t know, to be ahead of the game, so when things change so quickly in that business landscape, I need to be the first person to know about it,” she said.
“I want to get people to understand there’s a huge difference between someone supporting women in business, and supporting women who work for themselves.”
Starting out, she admits she thought it would be ‘me and 12 of my mates’.
“But very quickly, you could see the interest. By Christmas we had 40 members, primarily Cork. We held that for about eight months, then things re-opened, but still the need hadn’t changed. We got to 85 members by Christmas, 2021, and then I knew if I wanted to scale at some point I’d need help. So in February I formed a board to drive the business forward and now I have 10 members, who help with marketing, events and membership to make sure that everyone is well looked after.
“Now we’ve 106 members, buddies for everyone who joins, and the aim is to have 200 members by Christmas.”
With three sponsors already on board – Keary’s Motors, Republic of Work and the Met Hotel – Sian is set to launch their first Female Founders awards, which will be a black-tie event in November.
In the same way The Club is unique, the awards will be too, stresses Sian.
“When you’re a female founder in business, most of the time you’ve decided to work for yourself not because you want to be the next Kylie Jenner, but because you need the flexibility, and to bring up children, and you’re not looking to scale.
“You have a business that looks after you and your family, however, when you go for any grant, or apply for any kind of recognition, any award, the third question on any application is usually how much does your business take this year, how much will it take next year, and in three years’ time?
“It’s all about scaling the business to where someone else, not you, wants it to be. Our ethos is about support and learning, which doesn’t always mean financial growth.”
The seven Female Founder awards, chosen by members themselves, are: best newcomer, best solopreneur, business of the year, most inspiring member, contribution to the club, most positive impact, and most creative marketing.
“Our members are the backbone of this country and I don’t think they’re getting the respect they deserve. But I am just the facilitator, the driver of the bus. It doesn’t go anywhere without fuel, and they are the fuel.”
For more see theclubwomensnetwork.com
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