Our Businesswoman of the Month for May is Elena Edwards, who arrived in the UK as an immigrant from Romania, hardly able to speak English and, with no access to public funding or credit facilities, built a successful multi-million pound business with a start-up budget of just £200.
Would you mind giving us a brief explanation of what your business is and when you launched it?
I am currently running 3 businesses:
- A contract cleaning business called HESEFA Ltd which I started with a £200 budget 16 years ago and that sold £1.5 million during the credit crunch era alone
- I am an Independent Consultant with Arbonne International – I joined Arbonne a couple of years ago as a consumer and, this year, decided to grow it into a global business
- I run my own not for profit charity called Africa Angels. It was all set up last year to build 100 schools in Africa. The first school was built last year – 99 to go!
Why did you start these particular businesses?
I started my cleaning business 16 years ago when I immigrated to the UK from Romania. I didn’t have the right to work in the UK (due to the immigration laws at that time) but The Home Office said I could stay if I could earn my own living without asking for public funds. So I set up the cleaning business to survive!
I was working so hard on my cleaning business that I was burning out. One day I fell down on a staircase and was paralysed for many hours and bed bound for about 2 months. That was the wake-up call for me – that life is for living, not just working! I also suffer with under-active thyroid which means that my metabolism is slow, so I started researching how to alleviate the tiredness. I discovered that eliminating toxins from the body increases energy and two years ago I became vegan and starting using Arbonne products – and the quality of my life changed dramatically for the better. So this year I decided to promote this lifestyle and build a global business with the help of the Arbonne products. I plan to use my Arbonne business as the exit strategy from my cleaning business in 2 years’ time.
The humanitarian work started last year out of the blue. I had this feeling in my heart that I wanted to do something for the world. I wanted to leave a legacy. Last year I was one of the drivers in the Dakar Rally in Africa and the finishing line was in Banjul – the capital of The Gambia. The people who looked after us in Banjul took us to visit the local villages and the level of poverty hit me hard. I returned to the UK but every day I was thinking about the school I had seen that was almost collapsing on the children because the walls were so infested with termites. I had to go back to save those children and I raised the money to build my first school out there. Now I want to continue my humanitarian work and build a total of 100 schools!
What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
The difference between a successful person and others isn’t a lack of strength, or a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.
- Amazing customer service.
You must WOW the customer every single time.
- Great team work.
You cannot do it alone. Build a great team of people around you who are excited about the journey you are taking them on.
Never lose sight of your health. If you are poorly not much gets done.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?
If you don’t like something park it and leave it there. Go re-visit it if you wish, but do go and visit other ‘car parks’!
What do you think it is about you that enabled you to turn an idea into a business?
If I want something I just go for it and I never stop until it is achieved. I don’t care about the length of time or the hoops that I need to go through. All I am thinking about all the way is my dream and not much else.
If you were starting all over again tomorrow, what are the top 3 rules you would follow?
- Plant as many seeds as you can as far and wide as you can. You can never anticipate where the ‘best crop will be grown’.
- Look after your health.
- Do not lose sight of your friends and family. Once you have lost them, you will be on your own!
What difficulties did you experience setting up your business and what has got you through the tough times ?
Many difficulties, mainly because I was an immigrant, I didn’t know anyone when I came to the UK, I didn’t speak the language well and, although I had a Diploma in International Business, I didn’t know anything about starting a business (never mind starting one in a foreign country). But I just got on with learning what I needed to know.
I went to college to study English, I joined the Open University to study the Accounting System in the UK and I became a member of the Sussex Chamber of Commerce to get access to their training and resources on legislation and tax affairs when setting up in business.
Another obstacle was the fact that I also had no access to credit facilities for the first 5 years, due to the immigration laws, so I could only invest and spend (in cash!) what I was making!
Looking back now, would you have done anything differently?
No. I did everything that I could possible do with the knowledge that I had access to at that time.
Starting a business can be all-consuming. What are your tips for getting the right work/life balance?
You need to make some sacrifices in your life/balance equation while you are laying the foundation for your new business. You also need to create momentum and keep the ball rolling every day for months, and maybe years – but once the foundation is solid you can lift your foot off the accelerator and breath a bit. I didn’t want to work like my parents and then retire in my early 70’s to start enjoying life. I wanted to work really hard for 10 years, sacrificing holidays and luxuries, to create a life that I would love living – and that’s exactly what I did.
Do you have a mentor and when you need advice, who do you talk to?
No, I’ve never had a mentor but I do read successful peoples’ biographies, I listen to TED talks, watch video webinars and attend Arbonne business events. Nowadays there is so much information available online about pretty much anything. If you want to start a business just search online and find people that have been on that same journey – and read about what they did. Then make your mind up how do you want to run your business.
What are your plans for the future?
To make my Arbonne business a global business and inspire people to live a healthy lifestyle. I also want to inspire people to start their own business and chase their dreams. I want to help build 100 schools in Africa before I die and to start a movement to help Africans develop themselves and get out of poverty with their own resources. I want to help make Africa a thriving continent in the very near future.
Do you have any specific tips for anyone wanting to start their own business?
Whatever the business, have dreams, big dreams. Know your ‘why’ – why do you want to start that business. Enhance people’s lives with your business. Move forwards, innovate, be better than your competition. Wow your customers, be resilient, never give up, even if you are in a minority of one. Do that and you will be successful.