Jane Baines is the Woo ‘B’ Woo Fairy; sprinkling her own unique brand of fairy dust through her self-starting company and bespoke service of vintage-style wedding décor and fresh floral arrangements. Jane worked in the fashion industry for almost three decades before she decided to follow her passion and ‘go it alone’. Through the IOEE, Jane was paired up with mentor Jonathan Wales, a Bank Manager for Lloyds Banking Group, and they spent a year working together to help Woo ‘B’ Woo blossom into the successful company it is today. As another wedding season is underway, we chatted to Jane and Jonathan about making difficult business decisions, developing confidence, and all things flower power.
Jane originally trained as a fashion designer, and worked in the fast-paced and high-powered fashion industry as a designer of womenswear for 26 years. She was based in Yorkshire, but her successful career took her all over the world. Jane says:
“It was a wonderful, amazing time, and some of it was just fabulous. I was often jetting off on garment and range development trips, and inspiration shopping trips. New York, Milan, Paris, LA, India, Istanbul, Hong Kong; I got to travel and work with some extraordinary people and see some incredible things.”
However, Jane says that it was when she became pregnant with her son, who is now nine years old, it was the beginning of readjusting what she wanted - and needed - from her working life:
“Basically, my job was dealing with the massive pressures of deadlines and moving goalposts, and it was impossible to plan any sort of ‘you’ time. You’d have a holiday booked and then an extra range would be added, and this often led to working weekends and late nights at short notice, so you couldn’t necessarily have the weekend off anymore… after my son was born I requested to go part-time, but it was a no. I knew that something needed to change, but I didn’t know what or how, and I was almost looking for something to show me the way.”
At this time, Jane was designing maternity clothes for a big High Street retail name, and there was a community of creative designers, like herself, who put charity craft fairs together. It wasn’t planned, but this is how Woo ‘B’ Woo all began:
“Most of the other designers at these craft fairs were young talented things, and I ended up becoming a bit of a ‘mother figure’ - and getting called The Baines Fairy! Others would call me Janey-Waney-Woo-Woo, so it was a merging of nicknames!”
At these craft events, Jane upcycled vintage china, making such things as beautiful floral cake stands and delicate teacup scented candles, and she began giving them to friends and family as presents for occasions like baby showers, hen parties and weddings. It wasn’t until the maternity department that she worked for announced its closing that Jane realised a redundancy could be her window of opportunity for a new professional venture:
“I was being advised that I could be relocated, but I held out for that redundancy! I knew it was my time to set up Woo ‘B’ Woo, to work for myself, to create something that made me happy, something that would mean I was able to spend proper time with my family.”
Jane was put in touch with Jonathan Wales through Paul Harper, the Mentoring Manager at the IOEE, and Jane and Jonathan spent 2016 working together to help in those early stages of Woo ‘B’ Woo, meeting up every couple of months to assess what had happened in the last few weeks, and set objectives for the next few. Jane says:
“When we first met, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I had an idea that I might be a bit like Interflora and operate as an online florist, but I opened it up and evolved past that. I knew what I was good at, I had a strong portfolio, and I’m pretty good at marketing myself - but I didn’t have a clue about business planning and strategies and finances. Jonathan helped take all of the information I was bombarding him with and put it into some sort of order! He helped me to cut through the fog, to focus, and to take a step back, set out bullet points of goals and make a plan of action. It was exactly what I needed.”
Jane says that as well as the practical business knowledge and advice that Jonathan was able to impart, having a mentor also helped her to grow her confidence in herself and her abilities, which was vital to the evolution of Woo ‘B’ Woo:
“You know, you need to tell somebody else what you’ve achieved for them to then tell you what you’ve achieved… because you just can’t tell yourself, as you don’t believe it! Setting up your own business is actually really scary, and a lot of the time you think you don’t know what you’re doing and keep asking yourself ‘will it even work?’ - Jonathan told me that I was too hard on myself, and he’s been so supportive. It’s been a shaky journey at times, but I have a confidence that I didn’t have at the beginning.”
Jane says that the mentoring scheme was also a positive and uplifting experience in showing her the free support available to new start-ups, after being approached with so many costly ‘opportunities’:
“You know, I can’t believe this wonderful mentoring experience is free! When you’re starting up a business, you’ll go to these networking events and people will say, ‘come along to this conference that will help you!’, and you’ll pay £10 for entry with coffee and people approach you and say, ‘for a set fee per month, I can help you and your business to develop’, and you simply don’t have that money when you’re starting out! I think you’re quite vulnerable as a new start-up, so to have this mentoring resource at no cost is amazing.”
Jane is now in the throes of Woo ‘B’ Woo’s second summer wedding season, and her business is busier than ever:
“I have worked so, so hard, I cannot tell you! However, I might work long hours, but I get to do it from home - I can sit with my little boy when he gets home and tells me all about school, and that’s invaluable. And another one of the privileges of working for yourself is that I get to choose who I work with, so I can surround myself with nice people, and that makes for a happy life! There’s still pressure, but it’s completely different, because it’s my pressures on my own terms. Woo ‘B’ Woo is a million percent ‘me’.
“I get so much more personal satisfaction from this. In the fashion industry, you complete a collection and then move straight onto the next one, whereas now I get to actually see how happy my work makes my clients, so it’s extremely rewarding. I work at really beautiful old buildings and I often find myself walking through the grounds at, say, Cannon Hall or Oakwell Hall, and I can almost feel the people who used to walk there in their gowns. I look around at these gorgeous places I get to work at, and I feel so incredibly lucky.”
Jonathan works for Lloyds Banking Group as a branch manager in Halifax. Three years ago, he was seconded by the bank to work as a business contractor for BITC (Business in the Community) in Huddersfield, where he helped charities, social enterprises and community groups; primarily by linking them up to businesses that would be able to offer them the support and guidance that they needed to grow and develop.
It was through this that Jonathan discovered the opportunity of becoming a one-on-one business mentor through Lloyds’ relationship with the IOEE. Jonathan says:
“My work with BITC was similar in lots of ways, so I was very interested in becoming a mentor, and I went through the mentor training that was arranged by Paul Harper, and was paired with Jane at the end of 2015. Initially, you ask yourself what right you have to be advising someone with a vintage-style floral wedding company, when you’ve worked in a bank all your life! But that’s the first thing you learn about being a mentor - you’re not an advisor; it’s not up to you to dive in and tell her what she should be doing, giving her ideas and answers. It’s your job to listen, to ask sufficient questions to draw out from her potential solutions, to make sure that she’s looking at everything and hasn’t missed anything, and to help guide her into a position where she can reach her own conclusions and make balanced decisions for herself.”
The shape of the mentoring was to meet every couple of months and look at any problems that had arisen for Jane, and Jonathan would then help her to look at various solutions and courses of action. Jonathan says that one of the recurring considerations was Woo ‘B’ Woo’s price point, and that they spent a lot of time talking about the financial side of the business, such as turnover and profit:
“I thought that Jane was undercharging, but she was frightened that she’d price herself out of the market. We talked about abandoning her online sales and focusing completely on the events side of things, so that she was doing fewer but more profitable jobs, but Jane was concerned about letting anything go that could mean possibly losing some income at first, and didn’t want to turn anything away.
“And there wasn’t really a right or wrong here - doing fewer more profitable jobs was a solution, but not necessarily the solution. When you set a business up, all these things are potentially an issue all at the same time, which means there are so many decisions to make. But that’s what being a mentor is all about - being someone to bounce ideas off, not making the decisions for them.”
Jonathan and Jane spent 2016 working together as mentor and mentee, and after the busy 2017 summer wedding season is over, they are planning to restart their mentoring relationship again in September of this year:
“I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Jane - and although the mentee is, of course, the focus of the relationship and I get great satisfaction from helping, I get plenty out of the experience on a personal level too. Mentoring is challenging, it makes you think in a way that you don’t have to in your day-to-day job, and it broadens your experience and knowledge of the communities we live and work in, which is invaluable.
“Jane and I have kept in touch and I know that this year Woo ‘B’ Woo has been busier than ever before. She’s incredibly talented at what she does and she is an exceptionally hard-working individual with a drive to succeed. She absolutely knows she wants to make this happen, so it will be exciting to meet up again and find out everything that’s happened, and what the future holds for Woo ‘B’ Woo.”