Women Inspiring Women ~ Meet Jessica Barker

#IWD2021 - International Womens' Day March 8th 2021 - The campaign theme: #ChooseToChallenge

For this years campaign I have chosen to support and champion fellow Business Women, and have dedicated the month of March to promote and share their journey and challenges in business.

From challenge comes change.

I am delighted to share with you my inspiring interview with  Jessica Barker ~ Owner Thief Hall Wedding Venue, North Yorkshire.

Thank you Sarah for putting this together and working with women in business to collaborate together making magic happen!

As a mum, wife, daughter, sister, business owner and most of all as a woman, multitasking comes with life whether you like it or not.  I have found that once I learned to embrace this and enjoy the ride instead of fighting it I found myself half way there.  The rest comes from passion and never ending learning and I have definitely learnt from the spinning plates of life from health issues to many jobs starting with Show Jumping Internationally to property renovations, a holiday cottage business, working with Premier Cottages, then a network marketing company and now for the last six years a growing wedding venue now sleeping up to 60 guests on site.  Learning to bounce and not fall heavily is a must to stay on the ladder and so far I have bounced pretty well.  There are always highs with every low!

1. What inspired you to start your own business or choose your career path?

I didn’t get much of an education growing up as most of the time I was travelling around the country or Europe Show Jumping the ponies and then horses.  I really believe this kept me out of the box, out of the “what is expected of you box” and I also had zero qualifications, dyslexia and not a lot of options for job hunting.  I continued Show Jumping with a good sponsor behind me even after I met and married Phillip in 2006, having two children and continuing with the only life I knew.  I had now taken on the farm paperwork and started to learn about accounts and profit slowly over the years without pressure which was the first step in learning anything.  When we put in for planning for a farm house on Thief Hole Lane, we never expected it to fail, only allowing us to renovate into four holiday cottages instead of a family home.  This was what I thought a huge knock back and devastating, but we bounced on and put together the holiday cottages planning on submitting change of use, we then realised as the journey went on with four kitchens, utensils, bedding, sofa, cushions, ten bedrooms, ten bathrooms and more, not to mention the website and marketing that we now needed to make this business work.  Thief Hole Cottages opened in 2009 and yes we have stumbled a few times but definitely never looked back.

2. What have been the biggest challenges you have had to face as a Woman in Business and how have you overcome them?

I think the challenges are the multitasking in life and trying to be everything to everyone, always leaving yourself to last when you have to.  Especially as a wedding venue looking after our couples and making sure we are there for them 24/7, there really is no switch off time.  Often with dinner cooking, the children needing help with homework, the emails popping in, the phone going, all while the washing machine is whirling and the house upside down.  It can be relentless and exhausting but on the flip side when everything goes to plan and the tears flow as the couple you have been helping and supporting walk down the aisle to the music they chose with you or bring you a gift to thank you on leaving everything that is difficult about running a fast life vanishes and you know exactly why you are doing what you do!

3. Many women are feeling overwhelmed at juggling their professional and personal life, do you have any tips to share to restore the balance?

This isn’t always an easy problem to solve and there won’t be many women in business who haven’t at some stage faced this and truly felt overwhelmed with the juggling, with me wholeheartedly included.  My top five tips would be….

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, yes we build our ego up to be independent and act like we have it all, not showing any weakness and proving we have got hold of ourselves, the business and life but it takes a stronger woman to be honest, show vulnerability and ask for help.  From housework to family support, childcare or take an extra pair of hands on in your business.

2. Remember time for yourself!  A pamper, time alone, read a book, a meal with a friend or friends, go for a run or to the gym.  Anything at all you love but never forget yourself.  Remember if you burn out and it all has to continue without you, what would happen?  Put your own oxygen mask on first.  It took me a long time to realise this.

3. Take time out to declutter.  This is something I haven’t totally mastered yet and if things become hectic the first thing to unravel in my world is definitely the order around me.  I can literally sit at a desk, look up a few hours later and the chaos around me is evident.  There is no better feeling than a good clean out, declutter and re-organise your world.  Clean your car, the house, office and start again fresh and ready to go.

4. I love to journal; I do this most evenings and it helps me to prioritise the important issues streaming through my mind.  I am sure this helps me to sleep better and stay sane too.

5. Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself!  Like I said there isn’t a woman in business who hasn’t at some point felt overwhelm.  You are not alone and it is more than ok to “not be ok”.  If you need a cry, a walk or a phone call with someone to put the world to rights and bounce advice do it and allow yourself this space without feeling guilty or inferior.  Guilt is the biggest wasted energy, let it go.  Or work towards letting it go.

4. What has been your greatest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?

There has been so many….. I think the one single biggest mistake is my ever yearning magpie problem.  I am slowly controlling this now but over the years “The New shinny Exciting Business Idea” has always come along and taken my mind away from where it should be.  At one point I was doing the farm paperwork, show Jumping, running the holiday cottages, renovating the wedding barn, working for Premier Cottages and flying around Europe with the Network Marketing Company I had joined.  Not to mention our children, my suffering husband and our home.  No wonder I didn’t notice my body breaking down with blood clots that nearly killed me.  Learning to stay with one project and nailing it and then growing the one idea into something stronger without picking up new business opportunities on the way was one of the hardest parts of my journey.  I wanted to learn too much, wanted to grow and stand on my own feet yet I was flying away from the family I was doing it all for.  Sometimes everything you want and yearn for is right at home without trying too hard and the most difficult part is facing contentment.  You can be a busy fool, going around in circles making yourself dizzy but what is it really for?

5. What is the most valuable piece of business advice anyone has given you?

As a teenager watching my parents run an entertainment agency in London to keep our Show Jumping alive, I learnt something very special that has never left me and always seems to ring true……. My mother once said that beating any competition was easy because no one else really turned up!  No one else around her ever put in 100%, showing customer service and care.  Whatever business you are in, if you can do this and really listen to your customers taking on their advice no matter how harsh, swallow it and learn you really cannot go wrong.  We answer emails quickly 24/7, we are always on the end of the phone for the smallest piece of advice, we post on social media every day to show our couples we are always there offering content and support, and we always push to the extra mile without fail because our customers/couples are our EVERYTHING.  Without them we have no business.  I hear businesses moan about customers or practically in our industry “bridzillas” and it just makes me think of my mother’s comments.  If they don’t want them as a customer, we will happily look after them.  This is the same for our staff, without staff that feel appreciated and valued they will not rub off the same ethos onto your customers.  When you are not in your business does it run exactly as if you were?  Do you have a Mission Statement or vision statement for your team so there is no confusion on the morals running through the veins of your business?  Here is ours…

Our mission is to listen and support every couple who contacts us even if they do not book with us, we are here for everyone who needs us, including extended family and suppliers.  We strive to over deliver every wedding, making the couple feel like they are our only wedding and they have our full attention and backing no matter their choices.  We go the extra mile whenever we see the opportunity and push ourselves to stay two steps ahead seeing things materialise before they come to life, which in turn dots the “I’s” and crosses the “T’s”. There is no job too big or small and all of this becomes effortless and fun meaning our team dance together beautifully which in turn creates an infectious atmosphere.