We are the change

Why I closed the WU Business Clubs

For the last few years I have believed whole heartedly in the premise that if you risk nothing you gain nothing. Putting stuff out there and asking other people to buy it can be hard. Very hard.  It’s exposing. It’s challenging. It’s scary as hell sometimes. But without taking that chance, without taking that step… you will never know whether something is going to work or even be worthwhile.  I’m sharing this part of our journey with you because I think it’s important to share the lessons as well as the successes.

I’m not afraid of failure. I realised early on in business, that not everything is going to be an awesome success and while I wasn’t thrilled about it, I knew it was part of the journey. But that doesn’t mean that dealing with failure is easy. And honestly, I don’t feel that the business clubs were a failure, because I know that there were loads of women who made amazing shifts in their businesses by coming along to the meetings. Connections were made that will last a lifetime. And great things have come about from applying the strategies and techniques that we shared in the members area and at the meetings.

St. Albans club
St. Albans Club

I think we did a lot of things right but I definitely made some mistakes along the way. I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful support that I had along the way and the fantastic women who helped to create the clubs in their local area. I personally have built connections and relationships that I will cherish for a long time.

I want to share the story and the journey of the business clubs with you, as I know there will be some of you that are very curious about what happened, but also I think there are lots of lessons that might be of use to you; particularly for anyone that is struggling with the idea of closing something down or removing a product, you know that you are not alone.

So, here is my story and I hope you find the lessons useful –

The Women’s Business Clubs, a national networking group with over 70 clubs around the UK went into receivership in April 2013 and I was offered the opportunity to bid for the members list and email list for the network. And I had 18 hours to make the decision as the offers were going to closed bids at 12:00 noon the following day.

I had been running our business club meetings very successfully at the British Library for the previous 2 years and we regularly had 36-40 women attending every month.  But it was a big leap of faith to go from running one meeting by myself to taking on a group that had the potential to be a ready made network.

When I was first considering the idea, the thought of taking it on made me feel sick. I was practically hyperventilating every time I thought about it. But the thought of not doing it felt crazy. How could I possibly pass up such an incredible opportunity? Talk about taking me out of my comfort zone! Over the next 12 hours I fought with myself back and forth and eventually decided to put in the bid. The opportunity was too good to miss.

So I swallowed my fear and put in my bid. I knew there were others in the mix and it was a best and final offers scenario. So I just had to wait another 24 hours to hear the answer.

It was a no.

Another organisation had put in a higher bid and bought the members list and the email list. What surprised me was that rather than feeling relief; I felt deflated. I had made the mental leap to think much bigger, pushed through my fear, decided I wanted it and now I couldn’t put it back in the box. I couldn’t let go of this desire to build and create a national network of meetings for business women.

I felt the fear and swallowed it

So where to next? I quickly made the decision that we should create the Women Unlimited Business Clubs and launch around the country.

But there were challenges.

The meetings that I had been running at the library were very ‘how to’ focused. I did an hours training on a business topic like content marketing, twitter, how to use linked in and that was then followed by a mini-mastermind session, where we split the participants into groups of 4 and each person at the table would share a challenge and get feedback on their business or an idea.

It was an incredibly empowering format and the buzz in the room was fantastic.

I realise now, that part of the power of the model was that people showed up because they wanted to be there and to learn about the topic and they left feeling energised and wanting to come back because of the brainstorming. We had no problem filling the room, because the women who came along knew they would get great value in the training, but they also felt part of a community and connected with the other women in the room. Our repeat visitor levels were extremely high.

Translating the model from one to many

But the big question was, how do I translate that into a model that can be rolled out across the country where other people would be leading and facilitating the group… particularly when some of the training required specialist knowledge.

An organised meeting desk
An organised meeting desk from Claire Portis in Hampstead

So I decided to create an online training at the beginning of every month, which would provide the focus for each month’s session and create a worksheet and facilitation guide for our club leaders to use with their clubs. And rather than creating ‘how to trainings’ we would do marketing and strategy sessions.

I had a meeting with some fantastic friends and supporters and shared my vision and my plan. We ran a Discovery Day to recruit our club leaders, shared the vision with them and managed to attract over 20 fabulous women – we ended up launching 9 new clubs in September.

It was an incredible accomplishment.

Right from the beginning we had mixed results. Our pricing strategy was to be slightly premium to recognise the value of the training that was being offered but we would have a low entry point to membership as we wanted to encourage people to commit to the programme, as this is the way they are most likely to see results.

In some areas we were able to launch with pretty full clubs of 16-18 people, but in others we only saw 2 -4 people join as members.

While we are pretty well known in the London area, we weren’t so well known further afield. So we were reliant on our new club leaders to promote the clubs in their areas. Our club leaders were fantastic and they all put in an incredible amount of effort to attract people but it was difficult for them if they didn’t have a large network in place already.

What we found was that in the beginning, all the members were very excited about the clubs and really enjoyed the learning and the brainstorming. Even the small ones. The members were getting great value and the club leaders were really happy with their groups. But over time, things started to change for some of the members.

So much learning

Here are some of the biggest learnings that I’ve taken away from the process and and I hope you find them insightful:

1. Our funnel wasn’t regular enough and consistent enough, so we weren’t getting regular growth. We didn’t have a clear plan, or the financial or people resources to build a network in each of our target areas. And we were spread too thinly to give each region the focus that it needed. Our sales team were our Club Leaders, but they all had their own businesses and it was difficult for them to market both at the same time.

2. Our target market wasn’t clear.  Our members were at very different stages of business. We had some extremely experienced business owners and some who were in the very early stages of business. Some of our members hadn’t made their first sale, where others were turning over £400,000. Obviously their needs were very different and it was difficult to cater to all of them. Also, in the brainstorming groups, some members were doing most of the giving but didn’t have the expertise in the room to get what they needed for their business.

3. The product we created wasn’t quite fit for purpose. Many of members didn’t watch the training beforehand, so didn’t come fully prepared to the meetings. This then built resentment in some of the other members. Also, it meant that some people weren’t seeing results. We realised very late into the process that actually lots of people don’t like to do training like this on a monthly basis. It felt like a drag. And, if they didn’t do the training, they also often felt a sense of guilt which meant that they didn’t want to come to the meeting. So, the meetings went from being a really positive experience (and for many did stay that way) to becoming something that was a chore and didn’t lift the members in the way that we had envisaged. We started to see big drop outs at our meetings. We would have a core group of people that attended every month, but lots of people that dropped in an out.

4. We didn’t do enough planning. Hands up, it is probably one of my weakest areas – and I genuinely believe that planning is one of the skills that will most increase your chances of success. A big personal lesson was learned here. Lack of planning meant that I was often struggling to get the content up in time, was making some decisions very last minute and it felt like we were chasing our tails a bit.

5. We were massively under-resourced. Financially, people wise, time wise. I hadn’t for-seen how much time it would take to manage the groups, the team, the technology. As a team we were stretched to capacity but the business model didn’t support additional people at that time.

6. We expanded too soon. In February we launched 5 more clubs before we had really sorted out our problems. Also the launches of those clubs were much less successful than the first round. It was getting harder to attract new people. Again, we had a team of absolutely fantastic club leaders but there was a smaller pool of people to choose from. Attracting the right club leaders was starting to be difficult.

7. We couldn’t get our audience to understand our point of difference.  We were a training and masterminding group and yet no matter how often we said it, people thought we were a networking group.  I’m not sure why our message wasn’t being heard but I think it was about people’s expectations and they didn’t hear what we were saying.  In the whole time we were running the meetings we never cracked this one.  Trying to build a market for a new service is tough.  Much easier to work with people’s existing memes.

8. Our business model wasn’t robust enough. It appeared financially sound and had a lot going for it but it required growth to be successful. The financial plans looked very positive and we were regularly attracting between 7 and 10 new members a month – but we were also starting to lose members.

Some of the members that weren’t getting the results or were still struggling with their businesses were starting to dropout. In an online club / membership the average length that people stay a member for is 3-4 months. We started to see people requesting to leave at about the 7-8 month mark. This obviously had an effect on the individual groups themselves and I started to worry about the long term future of the groups.

Over the last couple of years a few of the women’s business networks went under because they didn’t know when to quit. I didn’t want to be a part of that group.

9. I was stretched too thinly. Even with all of those challenges and problems, if the business club had been my only focus, we might have been able to turn it around, to pivot, to make adjustments. But I noticed the issues too late because I was focused on other things. As a typical creator, I was looking to the next project. At the point that we should have fixed the problem trying to launch a third round of clubs.

I was focused on recruitment and growth, when I should have been focused on retention.

10. Lastly, I realised that I had created a business that I didn’t want to run. This is probably the biggest learning of all. A lot of the joy and pleasure that I get out of running Women Unlimited had disappeared for me. It had turned into a chore rather than a pleasure. I’ve always felt so privileged to be able to do what I do and serve this amazing community. I love the interaction, I love running the workshops and events that we do, I love teaching and sharing best practice, I love bringing wonderful experts to you who can help you build and grow your business.

But the business that I had created put a layer between me and my community. I had built a business that was more about managing people and resources, meeting deadlines, chasing payments, being tech support and talking to a computer rather than doing the stuff that I love. And the stuff that I am good at!

Enfield Club
Enfield Club

The final stages

The one great sadness I have, is that we had to close down some of the clubs that had a really strong bond and community with each other. We had tried reducing the number of clubs that we were running to focus only on the successful ones, but when one of the larger clubs decided to close, the model became unviable. It would have cost us too much to continue, especially with no clear plan of action on how to recover to our former size without a lot more investment than I was able to give. Particularly given point 9 above.

Thankfully some of our Club Leaders are continuing to bring their members together in a more informal way and I’m happy that those little Women Unlimited communities are still continuing.

The decision to close the clubs was slow to come, because it was very difficult to make, the decision to finally let go. I was worried about letting people down, I was worried about the brand perception, but in the end the economic argument won.

Thankfully I have an absolutely incredible support network of women who were happy to be a sounding board as I went through the process. They helped me to understand what the next steps should be and gave me the support when I had to make some difficult decisions. So if you are reading this, you know who you are and I am truly grateful.

What happened next was a bit of a surprise to me. Closing the clubs has really made me re-evaluate myself, Women Unlimited, how I spend my time and what I am looking for out of my business. And I ended up grinding to a complete halt.

So I took a much needed sabbatical from everything. For 2 months I took a break from everything to do with the business and the clubs. I was completely burnt out. I had reached the end of my energetic tether and had absolutely nothing left. A very strange feeling indeed! It was a time to lick my wounds and heal, but also a time to refresh and figure out what’s next.

In business we get so caught up in the day to day running of the business we rarely stop and think about whether we are still on the right path. I am an A type personality that finds it difficult to slow down, but I had moved from productive to manic and it wasn’t healthy for me or my business.

Going into hibernation was deliberate and absolutely what I needed. When I decided to take the time out, I trusted that it wouldn’t be forever. And I’m really pleased to say that I am back now, and feel amazing. But there are changes.

1. I am more focused and clearer than I have ever been before. Lack of clarity is a business killer.

2. I have built in downtime into my week. I had completely lost touch with who I was outside of being a business woman and seemed to have lost the ability to do things just for fun, as my mind was always turning over the latest problem, idea, piece of work.

3. I am finally writing my book MicroEntrepreneur to go alongside our podcast that is relaunching next week. Writing the book is an incredible and amazing endeavour that I am loving – watch out for more news on that soon.

4. I am back to creating the business that I want to create rather than falling into the trap of building a business that I think I should create.

5. I have brought in focused resource to deal with very specific tasks in the business which has included bringing back Jayne Ryan into the fold as Women Unlimited Editor (yay!) And we will be starting up our newsletter and regular webinars again.

I am glad that we launched the business clubs and thrilled that we has such a great impact for those that had breakthroughs while they were members. There were lots of highs as well as lows and it was a fantastic experience.  I heard Catherine Watkin, the creator of the Selling from the Heart sales programme once say that becoming a business owner is the greatest personal development programme we will ever go on and this experience has certainly been that.

I am grateful for the lessons that I have learned as I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

I’m excited about what the future holds and look forward to sharing some wonderful things with you over the next few months.  So watch this space 🙂

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  1. Clare Yarwood-White says

    Hi Julie – Thanks for this, I did indeed find it helpful, and your honesty refreshing. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is sailing through while we all struggle alone with our own challenges and mistakes… it’s always good to know that a rocky road is normal, and it’s how you prepare and respond that makes the difference. Evolution and reinvention is inevitable! Thanks again and best of luck! Clare

    1. Julie Hall - Editor says

      Thanks Clare 🙂 I appreciate the support. It is so easy to think that everything is rosy for other people. I would get people saying to me “It’s great to see Women Unlimited going from strength to strength”, when it felt like anything but and it can be very difficult sometimes to know how to respond to that.

  2. Alison says

    Hi Julie, it is refreshing to read an honest self-appraisal, its often so hard to find when publicly everyone is pressured to self-promote and convey only success in every venture. Here’s to the power of reinvention! I’ve been to one of your events early on in my business venture and it was the right dose of inspiration I needed. See you at the another gig, whatever that might be. Alison

    1. Julie Hall - Editor says

      Thanks Alison! I definitely hope that we will see you at another event. Re-invention is a wonderful thing…

  3. Suzanne Dibble says

    Thanks for posting such an honest and insightful post Julie. As an entrepreneur I have so many ideas and it is hard letting up what we think are great opportunities. I have toyed with franchising my legal brand, taking on a big team of lawyers and more but ultimately realised that this would make me something I didn’t want to be – a manager of lawyers. You were so right to take the time out and re-group and to take time just for you going forwards. This is something that I know is so important but I haven’t quite mastered it myself yet… Wishing you all the contined success with Women Unlimited and your new ventures and I will look forward to being on your podcast…!

    1. Julie Hall - Editor says

      Thanks Suzanne! Can’t wait to talk to you on the podcast too. And you were so right about not wanting to become a manager of lawyers. You certainly wouldn’t be using the best of yourself doing that!

  4. Andie Devlin Ball says

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It really helps to hear of other business owner’s ups and downs and it sounds like you are back on the right track! Best of luck. Andie

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Andie

  5. Alison Kerr says

    Tough decision but hopefully one that has brought you closer to understanding who you are and what you want out of life not just work. Very courageous to share. Best of luck with everything, Alison

  6. Heather Stewart says

    Hi Julie – delighted you’re back! What a fantastic article – although I appreciate it was a painful lesson, it is reassuring to hear that even someone with your experience can hit a brick wall at times (as we all do). I’m a fundraising consultant and point 9 really resonates – I constantly tell clients they should focus on donor retention ahead of donor recruitment (as the latter costs far more for a start) but there is something very appealing in constantly reaching out to new audiences, so my advice is often not taken up. In other words, you are far from being alone 🙂

    Welcome back and here’s to a fantastic future for Women Unlimited!

  7. Juliet Landau-Pope says

    Thank you so much, Julie, for sharing this bold and honest account. Your article should be required reading for anyone starting or growing a business. I’m particularly struck by what you have learned about the importance of planning – it’s so easy to get distracted and caught up in the here and now and also to lose focus. I also commend you for being so blunt about spreading yourself too thin and the risk of burn-out. So many valuable lessons! I wish you well with all your future ventures and thank you again for sharing these insights.

  8. Rachael says

    Hi Julie

    What a brave article. I can’t imagine how tough things have been but it’s great to see you’re back on top of the world – doing what you love. Scheduled down-time sounds like a very very good idea – make sure you stick to it!

    Rachael x

  9. steffy says

    Julie, many many thanks for putting this whole thing up. I am starting a women’s group specific to my field and I can see the things here I am doing well and the things where I need to take a lesson from you and not get into. You’ve done entrepreneurs everywhere a great service by sharing your experience so honestly. It was NOT a failure – I really believe people should take the word out of their vocabularies. You did it, some parts world and some parts did not, and your next thing will improve because of it.

  10. Robyn Hatley says

    I am SO proud of you. I’ve watched your journey, shared in it at times, and always marvelled at your vision, your go-getter attitude, and your courage (can I say “ballsy”?). Looking forward to seeing you succeed at your next adventure…. Robyn x

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Robyn – you were such a fantastic part of the clubs and I’m really grateful for everything that you contributed. I appreciate all the support x

  11. Claudia Crawley says

    Hi Julie, I so admire your honesty and you’ve shared your learning generously so that we can learn too. I left my WU group quite early on but I’m glad you’re back. As a 4 year old business it wasn’t meeting my needs, which is a point that you’ve identified in your learning i.e. unclear target market. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next and I’m still an avid fan of yours. Keep going!

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Claudia – I hope everything is going well for you now!

  12. Marian Forkin says

    Honest and insighful Julie. Running a business is often very very hard, but it is about picking ourselves up when we feel ready to do so and looking for new opportunities with renewed energy. If we’re not prepared to try new things, then I guess we’ll never have anything new! Big respect to you Julie. 🙂

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Marian 🙂 Not easy lessons to learn, but necessary…

  13. Hazel Edmunds says

    Well done and thank you.
    I’m now semi-retired (make that three-quarters retired) but maintain an active interest in business matters.

  14. Karen Hardie says

    A brutally honest assessment Julie – must have been hard to write. Respect to you for that.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Karen

  15. Nicole McCarthy says

    Thanks Julie for telling your story. Wow what a ride it’s been for you. doing. That really takes courage to share all the detail. Good for you. There are many, many who gain more from your insights, than keeping it to yourself. The list alone proves you know what you’re doing. p.s. I’ve missed your lovely laugh on your podcasts!

    1. Julie Hall says

      Aw, thanks Nicole. I’m really looking forward to doing the podcasts as well! I had really missed them. Lots to come…

  16. Patty Cruz-Fouchard says

    Dear Julie.
    What a brave and honest account if your situation. Showing vulnerability is a sign of strength .
    All my best for the next phase!

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Patty!

  17. Andrea Osborne says

    What a great post – so refreshingly honest and at times striking a real chord with me too. A connection I made at one of your conferences changed my business so I will forever be grateful to you for that! All good luck wishes to you going forward, I look forward to hearing more.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Andrea. That’s great about the connection changing your business – that sounds very intriguing…

  18. Carol says

    Thank you for sharing such an open and honest account of your journey. There are some very valuable lessons for us all to take away from your story.

    You are so right, the business clubs were not a failure. They were a learning experience. The experience has taught you many valuable lessons and having gone through that experience, you will be able to take what you’ve learnt to reach out and support many, many women (probably even more than you could have done through the business clubs).

    Not only that, you are back to creating the kind of business you want to create and not what you think you should create. It is far to easy for us to lose sight of who we truly are and do what we think we should do as opposed to what we really want to do.

    It takes humility to do what you’ve done and humility is a very admirable leadership trait.

    Here’s to your continued success and thanks again for sharing.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks so much Carol. I’m really looking forward to the next stage in our growth. I really appreciate the lovely words.

  19. Jean Radigan says

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with such refreshing and helpful honesty Julie. Taking a step back was exactly the right thing to do – and such a difficult decision to make. I’m glad your batteries are now recharged and you’ve been able to refocus. Here’s to a successful future! Jean

  20. Christine says

    Thanks for the open and honest sharing of your journey. Nothing in life is wasted….if we allow it to grow us ‘upwards’. Your article is timely for me and has helped me clarify some of my own thoughts about my journey.
    We need to give ourselves permission to celebrate and be all we were created for. We amazing people have a responsibility to ourselves and the people entrusted/placed in our world to share the authentic gifts God deposited in us.
    Bless you Julie for the journey ahead.

  21. Heather Waghorn says

    Great article, thanks for sharing your story so honestly. It’s one thing knowing how a business should be set up. And quite another actually doing it in real life with time and financial pressures to juggle. So hard to get everything right. If it was easy, everyone would do it!

    Good luck for the next stage of your journey.


    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Heather. Great to hear from you!

  22. Gillian says

    Hi Julie,

    I concur with the comments above – such a valuable report you have shared here. In this ‘macho business environment’ the successful facade people think they need to maintain can be such a hindrance and an obstacle to growth and learning. We are all fallible and simply do our best. Getting people in the door is a challenge for all businesses (and something I haven’t yet mastered) and, as a teacher, I know that even in college environments retention is a huge issue, as people have so many personal challenges (internal and external) to contend, with that it’d difficult for students in any arena to maintain commitment and focus – even when what they are looking for is being delivered! I congratulate you on your honesty, passion, ability to review and evaluate, and wish you well with this reincarnated venture!
    PS Taking time out to refresh is essential also and an invaluable insight to share.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks so much Gillian. It’s interesting that you have similar challenges in college environments too.

  23. claire says

    A gutsy, thorough article. Thank you. There are so many great lessons in there. Good luck in your new ventures.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Claire

  24. Zarayna Pradyer says


    Oh, I had no idea you were going through such a tough time – well done for trudging through and emerging into the sunlight again.

    I can’t better the comments that have already been expressed and, as I am still on the starting-line, have little of practical use to say (but that never stops me!). Nevertheless, it interests me that so many of your clients actually seemed to want a networking forum – wouldn’t that be an easier model to arrange and manage for you apart from your high tech training which maybe you could charge your premium rate for? Just a thought – you know, give people what they want – networking – particularly from someone like you who they would trust. Please bear with me here, but it reminds me of a TV programme I saw many years ago concerning an organization like Weightwatchers. Women would come week after week with very little difference in their weight management – the majority didn’t care that much about their weight – it was the companionship and camaraderie of the group that was more important and which they appreciated and paid for.

    I also receive a lot of stuff from the USA and some of it is so appalling – mainly around the “Laws of Attraction” and other simplistic stuff – that it makes you wonder as to the desperate nature of the audience. I imagine they need inspiring. It is just a pity it seems to be such a lucrative rip off. Why I mention this is that you are so warm as well as being talented and technically gifted that it would be nice for you to also create a simpler and more trustworthy networking business model which gives us confidence to sally forth based on reality and not fluff.

    Do hope I haven’t confused you. It just hurts to see someone so skilled having had to struggle when others less worthy beings seem to flourish.

    However, you are back now better than ever and I am sure 2015 will bring rewards.

    Thank you for sharing. Please accept my warm regards.

  25. Sarah Quinlan says

    Hi Julie
    GREAT to have you back! You’ve been missed. Thank you for for your honesty, you’re very brave, and for sharing your story so that the rest of us can learn from your experience. Look forward to catching up with you at a WU meeting soon I hope

  26. Ashling Cullen says

    Thank you Julie for such an honest post, not many would say why they felt a venture hadn’t worked out and would try to gloss over the facts.

    I love our Stratford group (Bash Street Kids of the Business Clubs as I called us), with us there was never any pressure if you hadn’t done the training, it was lovely to be able to turn up and say I’ve had a really crap month, I don’t know where I’m headed and you received support.

    I say, love our group because we are continuing to meet up, with the knowledge we have in our group, we have talks planned for the next year and a half at least. :-). So thank you for starting the Women Unlimited Business Clubs and thanks to Jo Behari for running ours.

    The business club definitely helped me come to the decision to change the way I promote what I do. I will be removing details of most of the therapies and just concentrate on MLD massage and Dorn with reference to back pain, stress etc.
    I don’t think I would have come to that way of thinking without the Club. Thank you.

    Finally, I’m really glad that you took a good break away from everything, as someone who’s gone through work burnout, without any support, it isn’t easy to deal with.

  27. Inge says

    Thanks for making such a great analysis and sharing it. It’s heart breaking just to read it. I really recognised the point of building a business you don’t want to run. My portal could have been so successful if I had turned it into a platform for advertisers and sellers, but I am not a marketer at all. It’s tough to change direction, but I am finding now that I am using lots of the lessons learned in working towards my new focus. It’s the ‘University of Life’ I so agree. Keep up all the good work you in supporting women.

  28. Ashling Cullen says

    Muppetry, pressed send too soon.

    I also meant to add that I’m looking forward to the webinars and podcasts coming back.

  29. Helen Lindop says

    When I met you at Britmums 2013 I really admired your energy and confidence, as well as what you’d built at Women Unlimited. It’s very brave of you to be so honest about what happened with the Business Clubs but it’s so valuable because we can learn from your experience and understand that we all have big challenges and stuff that doesn’t got to plan every now and than.

    I also love to teach and I agree it’s so easy to be drawn away from that into the other tasks that you mention in the article.

    Onwards and upwards and I’m looking forward to seeing what you create next.

  30. Marta says

    “I was focused on recruitment and growth, when I should have been focused on retention.”

    All my clients come to me saying that they want more clients. My first question is their retention strategy and they very often drew blank.

    Keeping clients is so important, and yet so often overlooked and something we often put in the ‘I’ll figure it out later’ category.

    Thank you for sharing your story, because I think we can learn much more from failures than successes – mainly because we look harder into the reasons we failed.

    But it’s all about attitude – and as you said, clubs weren’t failures, but stepping stones and valuable lesson.

    I’m sure your book is going to be great!

    1. Andrea Graham says

      I fell as though you are speaking about my life. Thanks , I have no need to be shame of falling into the lack of planning rut. I will take my sabbatical so I can re-energize my mind, body and spirit. I live in Jamaica
      and I am happy you share your heart. Can we have one of your clubs here?

  31. Tracey Carr says

    Being true to yourself Julie ..brave and very powerful. Well done. I am going through a smilar process. Fancy a Skype ?
    Hugs xx

  32. Michele Duke says

    Well said Julie. I’m delighted to say we had our first “Post Women Unlimited” Meeting last night to kick off our new Business Club here in Hastings. We are aiming to take the best of the WU learnings, add in the extra social and networking elements we all wanted and we’re launching in January. We’ll let you know how we get on and I’ve no doubt that many of the members will keep in touch through your podcasts too.
    Glad to have you back online and look forward to catching up again soon.
    Michele x

  33. Zozi Goodman says

    That was really interesting to read, and I learned a lot from you, thank you. They say in America that you have to have failed in at least one business in order to succeed in another, and I’m sure that you will find something that you will be able to do really brilliantly having learned the lessons the hard way. Good luck! Zozi

  34. Shreya Parekh says

    Welcome back Julie! Your journey is very insightful. I’m glad you have taken the courage & determination to move forward, it certainly encourages me! Good luck with everything, and I hope to see or hear from you soon. Shreya

  35. Michelle Offord says

    Julie, thank you for sharing. Really interesting, and inspiring to hear how you are taking things forward. Some really valuable lessons and reminders for anyone running their own business. Looking forward to hearing more from you and Women Unlimited going forward 🙂

  36. Bridget Fitzpatrick says

    Really refreshing and honest account. I’m sure it resonated with lots of us.

  37. Laurence Lowne says

    Hello Julie,

    I bet that felt good to share your story, and it also took guts – well done.

    With sixteen years of networking and training experience, I can directly identify with your thoughts, since for 18 months I was part of NABO Networking, and the premise was training, plus networking.

    The fact that just a small number of the attenders would watch the video beforehand, always amazed me.

    The fact that the ones who did also had the most successful businesses was never a surprise.

    So you are not alone, Julie, in discovering this fact.

    Wishing you continued success.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks Lawrence! I wasn’t aware that NABO had similar problems, or even how similar our models were. Very interesting. I guess you can lead a horse to water…

  38. Sonya Welch-Moring says

    Hi Julie,

    When i saw your email I immeadiately wanted to read what had happened and thank-you for sharing your story. I came to the club about 5 years ago as it was starting and you told me I had ‘lost my mojo’ and how right you, I never forgot that comment. It’s important to know when to let go, I stopped focusing on business, retrained as a mental health nurse and health visitor and only now am I starting to think about a life-style business with what I feel passionate about, family constellations and inter-generational healing. Where can I go for help with that I thought? I’m glad you’re back.

    All the best,


    All the best

  39. Kate says

    Hi Julie,
    Nice to see your email today in my inbox. Sometimes, I wonder if I had mis-unsubscribed with you somehow and havent heard from WU. When I read through your article, I realize I am not alone in this journey. I was also liked you hibernated for few months in the summer!!! Yes sometimes this is what we need to take time to recoup and come back with more focus and energy. I enjoy the atmosphere being in women’s group as so much rapport and moral support you can make and take. We all experience similar journeys.
    Go for it girls and hope we all reap the rewards we worked hard for in the end!
    Kate x

  40. Liz Jansen says

    Thank you Julie for your courage, candour, and wisdom. I’ve learned a lot from your programs.
    “Lesson” has replaced “Failure” in my vocabulary. I’ve had lots of them and I’m still in school. Thank you for sharing yours. Perhaps it will help me skip a grade. All the best!

  41. Diana Soltmann says

    Hi Julie,
    Glad to see Women Unlimited back up and running again. I missed the daily inspiration and energy of your updates. Hope to see you very soon.

  42. Liz Jeffries says

    Hi Julie
    Thank you for sharing this. I did get a lot out of the meetings I attended and I really appreciated your contribution when you came down to Hastings. Best of luck with everything in future

  43. Bronwyn Durand says

    Oh Julie you are so lovely.
    As always, your authenticity and experiences are going to spill out and take others forward.
    Can’t wait to see what you do next, and the book sounds spot on.
    You are the perennial woman unlimited. Thanks for walking the talk.

  44. Linda Anderson says

    Hi Julie

    Love the honesty of your post and all the wonderful nuggets of learning you’re sharing here.

    Setting up and growing a business is indeed like personal development on steroids. Or a trip through the Himalayas – and the downward slides are every bit as valuable as the view from the mountaintops 🙂

    Good to see you back – and wishing you every success for the future

    Linda x

  45. nicky smetham says

    I too concur with all the comments above, it’s a brave and courageous account to read and I’m sure the frank tone belies all the heart searching that has gone on over the year. In the success driven work culture we are all suppose to thrive in, it comes as something of a bolt from the blue to read such openness. What also surprised and encouraged me was the range of supportive comments that followed. You have touched and inspired a wonderful group of business women who display genuine empathy – not a smug wise crack amongst them. Isn’t it terrific to know women in ‘real life’ business operate this way – move over ‘The Apprentice’ I know which world I’d rather be a part of. Good luck for the future and thank you for this.

  46. Christine Williams says

    Hello Julie
    Have only recently ‘found’ you but your story is very apposite. 18 months ago I started a business women’s club in my (new) home town here in Shropshire, UK. Like your own experience, it’s been a roller coaster ride in exactly the way you describe. I’ve years of experience in networking, with women and in mixed gender groups, and always wanted to set up a group of my own. We have attendances of between 8 and 15 each month out of a membership of 25, (it’s a very small town, so the club fishes in a small pool) and the feedback is always good. So why won’t the membership grow? It’s so frustrating! But I’ll persevere because it’s my passion. The women I work with are so inspiring and many have already seen their businesses grow beyond what they imagined. They’re all wonderful and it’s what keeps me going.

  47. Sally E Thompson says

    Thank you. Such honesty. I have after three years full time as self employed running my own 3 businesses, finally accepted that I cannot support myself financially on my income, and have got a JOB. Shock horror. However I am loving it, yes it is a bit tough moulding into the hours, and not being able to take a day to do other things and oh how I miss networking, but even at 53 years young i have walked into the most challenging, impossible, fun ever changing role ever, and i am getting paid! The turn around and some comments from people has been amazing from huge support to real negativity, so painful.

    However like you I realised I was doing something I did not want to do, and as painful as that was for others to accept, I have to be me. I will always be unique, slightly off the wall and trying to be 100% positive, so thank you for sharing, i has really made me feel so so positive and determined to live my life my way, and not follow the herd or stay where I am not happy and fulfilled!

    You will do well what ever you do, so go girl!

  48. Keith Grover says

    Great article Julie – thanks! It resonates with me as I run a free twice-monthly networking group where we have a business topic and I’m looking at ways to add a Mastermind Membership paid level.
    I like Zarayna’s suggestion of running simple networking if that’s what people want – although I appreciate you may not find that as rewarding. I have a theory, developed over many years as a serial networker, that over 80% of networkers do it for social reasons first and foremost, and business second.
    Training-focused groups like NABO (which I looked at when it launched, along with Laurence) and Entrepreneurs Circle (driven by the manic force of Nigel Botterill) require an amount of application and time that most small business owners are not ready to invest.

    Thanks again for the business lessons you’ve shared here…

  49. Fatima Wesson says

    Thank you for this article Julie, and for your honesty. It’s very refreshing to hear someone talking about not everything being 100% perfect, and how you have taken time to re-evaluate, and now you’re moving forwards stronger than ever. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Women Unlimited. I’m sure it will be fab!

  50. Karen Knott says

    Dear Julie,
    Your legacy lives on in Enfield! I was so pleased to be part of the Business Clubs and will continue running monthly meetings, albeit it a different format, with a small group of amazing & committed business women. I wholeheartedly believed in the concept (& still do!) and was convinced there was a gaping hole in the market that the traditional networking groups just weren’t willing or able to fill – solid business training combined with the all-important support required to help translate knowledge into specific action. I know how painful it was to let go of something in which you invested so much…. and not just time or money but enormous amounts of personal energy. Thank you for being so open and honest – there are so many lessons that I will take away from this not least of which is that taking risks is a necessary part of both business and personal growth.
    With thanks and respect.
    Karen x

  51. Jeda Lewis says

    Fascinating read Julie – really appreciate your honesty. As I am at a point of reinvention, it’s reassuring to read that it’s okay to let go and a great reminder to every businesswoman to seek some balance in their life. How many of us hit overwhelm and ignore it?

  52. Tamsen says

    Wow, what a courageous post, respect to you!

    I can relate to much of what you say having built a national business network as one of 4 Directors between 2008 and 2001 which at its peak reached 358 groups across the country.

    From the outside we appeared to be running our business, whereas the truth was that we literally ran AFTER our business for about two years – it grew way too fast. My role was to create the infrastructure, including the processes, systems and training to both enable the business to scale sustainably and to plug the holes created as a result of uncontrolled growth. It was exhausting and we faced almost every challenge you cite here.

    Scaling is challenging and the greatest lesson from my experience was to take the time to prove the model before even attempting to scale it. Without that experience I wouldn’t have that learning now and wouldn’t have been able to pass that learning onto numerous clients in the last few years.

    Your post here provides important lessons for many, so it’s done its job, well done!

    Thank you and here’s to your next business providing all that you want!


  53. Caroline Ferguson says

    Julie, this is such a brave share, thank you. I’m sure a lot of us can relate to your pain and the courage involved in pulling out of something that isn’t working. I hope you’ll take heart from the fact that allowing others to witness your vulnerability is the most effective way we humans have of connecting. Take care.

  54. Jo Blackwell says

    A brave and honest post that I can certainly relate to. Particularly point 10 – “I realised that I had created a business that I didn’t want to run.”
    I’ve spent the past year aligning my photography, blogging and writing into businesses that I do enjoy running! The photography isn’t quite there yet – I’ve given up weddings and cut back on families but still need to work out how to do more of what I love, which is photographing and interviewing interesting women.
    It takes guts to let something go, especially something that you’ve put your heart and soul into 24/7 over years. I’m not quite there yet. What I do know is that no experience is ever wasted and we take what we learn into the next venture.
    My husband once told me I have two speeds – full speed and stop! No one can keep going at full tilt forever. I shall try to keep up with the new developments at Women Unlimited and wish you the very best with your book. Get in touch if you’d be interested in an interview and review on my blog – the Inspiration Station. Jo

  55. Felicity Lerouge says

    Thank you for your honesty, Julie. It is so helpful to be able to learn from your process. You are an amazing role model to female entrepreneurs.

    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks so much Felicity x

  56. Cherryl says

    I live in Jamaica and hadn’t heard of Womens Unlimited until a friend emailed me your post. I really appreciate you taking the time to outline the challenges you faced and lessons learned. I know exactly what you mean about running the business you WANT to run, instead of following a path that you (or others) think you OUGHT to take. Always, to your own self be true. I look forward to reading more from you in the future. Best wishes

  57. Eloise Ansell says

    Hi Julie

    Congratulations on taking such a big step! Thanks for the honest post and sharing all your lessons. Knowing and following you for years I know what a brave, creative, heart-lead lady you are. Really proud of you as a leader and role model of women in business and I am sure many women will learn from your experience through this post.

    Good luck with the next stage!

    Love & hugs

  58. Mae Keary says

    Hi Julie

    You have managed to turn a negative into a positive with you very probing and analytic report of what went wrong, as well as demonstrating how one could face up to difficulties and turn them into learning experiences. You are also quite brave in sharing your problems, and i thank you for that.

    Good Luck with all your new endeavours.


    1. Julie Hall says

      Thanks so much Mae 🙂

  59. Tina Bradley says

    Thank you for that honest and enlightening account Julie. I have never had the chance to get along to one of your training sessions but have been exposed to what you are doing via various news and business items over many years. I’m very sorry to hear that the clubs didn’t work out but you often hear that these things are the catalyst for something greater. Best of luck.