Nikki Hesford: Award Winning Entrepreneur
We caught up with Miss Fit UK's Nikki Hesford, the 2010 NatWest everywoman Artemis Award winner recently, to have a chat about her experiences as an entrepreneur and how she got to where she is today.
I'm 25, and I own Miss Fit UK which is a group of brands that we manufacture for big busted women. I was born in Blackpool but grew up in Rochdale, and I have a little boy called Oliver who is seven.
My route to starting my own business
I’ve been working since I was 14 and I’ve had a lot of jobs – I started in my Dad’s pub, then when I moved out at 16 and back to Blackpool I would tell fibs about my age and work in the bars for a temping agency – I would have to run to the toilets at school and get changed out of my uniform and then get the bus into town for 5pm for my job!
Other jobs included waitressing, training as a chef, being a secretary at KPMG, a PA to the Chief Executive of UVAC, being a glamour model, working in a pizza shop and many office-based temp jobs before finding my talent in business in April 2008 – since then I've never looked back!
About my business - Miss Fit UK
Miss Fit UK started as an online store; we would manufacture blouses and dresses and sell to the consumer online. As the company has expanded we have evolved into a wholesaler to the high street, manufacturing products for BeCheeky and Jane Norman amongst others. We are one of only a handful of big busted brands in the UK (and worldwide!) but we differ from our competition because we offer our products at high street prices, and aim our styles at the 16-35 age demographic, whereas our competition tends to be aimed at 35-55 ladies.
The idea for my business came from my personal issue of finding a blouse to fit for job interviews. I could only find one company in the UK that specialised in this niche, but as a fashion-conscious 21 year old without much money their products were both undesirable and unaffordable. After much research worldwide, I found that this was a market with huge demand but very little supply which excited me and made it difficult to ignore. At that point I decided I had to at least give it a try and see if I could make a go of it.
I have always been inspired by Michelle Mone, she always finds a solution when the situation seems impossible and I remember that when I think I’ve hit a problem that can’t be solved. Her story of parading into a department store whilst 8 months pregnant with her third child and with her house being repossessed after borrowing against it to start Ultimo, and insisting they give her bra a try reminds me that there is always a way, that you don’t always have to follow protocol – in fact the most inspirational and successful people ignore all the “rules”!
Business finance has always been the biggest challenge for me; manufacturing is notoriously hard as you need to pay your factory several months before the client pays you, which means cashflow is crucial. When you’re just starting up and you don’t have any cashflow, and nobody will lend to you either, it means you can barely get off the starting blocks. In the end I financed everything using credit cards, personal loans and equity in my house.
Taking risks in business
Business does involve risk, and unfortunately women in particular are known for borrowing much less than men in business; the flip side of this is that women rarely end up bankrupt, but at the same time they rarely reach the heights of high-growth success that many men enjoy. Sometimes you just have to take a risk, but make it a calculated one; ask objective people such as mentors, advisors and business people (not family and friends!) whether they genuinely believe you have mileage in your product/service. If after your research you’re sure you have customers and that you can secure the sales you need then you need to take a risk and put your all into it.
Staying one step ahead
Miss Fit UK is very innovative, in that we are ahead of the game in social media, we actively use Twitter to monitor our competitors, our market and our customers; but the reason we are successful is because we are not greedy. We could charge designer prices for our products and make a much bigger mark-up as demand outstrips supply, but we won’t do that. Arguably I am not as ruthless in business as my peers, which will probably always be my ultimate limitation!
What winning a business award means to me
I received a lot of positive PR when I won the 2010 NatWest everywoman Artemis Award, particularly in the local press off the back of the awards ceremony. More than anything though, it validated my place in the business world. Until then I only had my own opinion of how I was quite good at business, and of course there are no shortage of self-professed business experts; so to have my claims validated from an objective democratic source made me feel as though I was qualified to call myself an expert. As an ex-glamour model, whenever I have received award nominations or positive press I have been accused of only getting there because the organisers are men, so to win an award that is by women, for women meant so much more to me than any other award out there.
I'd definitely recommend other women in business nominating or entering for an everywoman Award; winning one of these awards will provide you with confidence in your own ability. When you have confidence you come across like a more successful person. Being able to call yourself an ‘Award-Winning Businesswoman’ adds incredible impetus to your value in business networks, and gives your clients faith in your ability to deliver. Also, an award that has the Natwest name associated with it, which implies prestige and corporate excellence.