This year’s International Women’s Day is on the 8th March, and I’ll be celebrating, along with 99 other amazing female-led business owners at The House of Lords with f:Entrepreneur. I am so chuffed to be one of the top 100 female-run business in the UK and it’s such an honour to be able to showcase The InDependent Spouse at this prestigious event. But, I haven’t always felt this confident in business, in fact for a little while there I was completely lost in this challenging military life that I now find myself in. Here’s my story…
Female entrepreneurship isn’t a new thing, but the amount of female-run businesses that are achieving amazing things is growing and I love it! After years of fighting for equality in the workforce and struggling for equal pay (spoiler alert, we aren’t there yet – check out this) women are making great progress and some of it has been fuelled by a recent explosion of female-led businesses.
I am one of this new generation of female entrepreneurs, but not the only one in my family. While my dad went out to work at his ‘real’ job in a ‘real’ company (you know the one with a canteen, Christmas party and a pension scheme?) my amazing mum was running her own design business and acing it!
Fast forward 30 years and I also find myself married and running my own creative business, Design Jessica. Yet, despite being in the 21st century I find myself feeling more than ever the housewife.
You see I didn’t marry an ordinary man who has a ‘real’ job in a ‘real’ company. My husband is a pilot in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force. Amazing you say! And yes, the uniform does have a certain appeal, but the reality of being a military spouse is very different from what you see in an Officer and a Gentleman.
The military spouse is a glorious thing. Urban dictionary (font of all knowledge) wonderfully describes us as ‘a hard-working spouse of a military member, who keeps things safe at the home front where civilian wives would normally fail’. Now, the world is made of many different people, life is tough to all of us and I still am a civilian despite what Urban Dictionary says. I know that my husband’s job doesn’t define me and my ‘home front’ is normally a shambles. I am a pretty rubbish housewife. But what I do know is that as a business owner and wife to my RAF husband, I relocate every couple of years as his job dictates. I have become what is known as ‘the trailing spouse’.
Choosing this life was hard. In all honesty, I never actually wanted to run my own business. You might find this hard to believe if you’ve ever met me at a networking event, or at a coffee morning. If you have met me then there’s no doubt that we’ve probably talked about my business. It is, after all, my specialist subject but it wasn’t always like this.
Back in 2012, having finished my degree 6 years earlier, I was an award-winning designer for Disney and was moving up the ladder in my company. I knew that in a couple of years’ time I would be the studio manager, with a whole team of designers under my wing. What I had was an amazing life. I lived in beautiful Bath, was working in my dream job and had found the man I was planning to marry. Life was great!
When RAF Lyneham closed and the C-130 Hercules fleet, along with my husband, were moved to RAF Brize Norton. For a whole year, my boyfriend (now husband) commuted from our home in Bath to Brize Norton, adding three hours to his already long day. By the time he’d become second in command of the squadron and had experienced one long snowy winter of dangerous travel on the M4, including three short notice med-evac flights from Germany and Afghanistan, he was at breaking point. This was the moment that one of us had to choose between our careers and our lives together.
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In August 2012 I resigned from my job, and a week later I left what was my home for 10 years and moved into a private rental near RAF Brize Norton. Initially, it went well, I spent my time exploring the local area and networking, but as we moved into winter and my boyfriend’s work became even more operational I spent more and more time alone.
Apart from doing the big shop, going to coffee mornings and the odd monthly networking group, I barely spoke to anyone. Joining a local hockey team and the Military Wives Choir certainly helped, and although the wives at Brize Norton were initially a bit hostile to me – one even said ‘you shouldn’t really be here, as you aren’t even a wife’ – I did manage to find a few who were and are still brilliant friends. I had interviews for two local and very well-known book publishers, but as soon as they’d worked out I was a military spouse I was told that my application was no longer needed. One reply was ‘Oh, my dad was in the Navy, you’ll be gone in a few years, so we can’t really employ you’. I was completely miserable. I had lost my place in the world and was no longer getting the consistent work that I had initially, as my clients in Bath started to forget me. In 2014 we were married and moved into SFA, but nothing really changed. I was thoroughly lost.
In November of 2015, I finally broke. My husband and I were taking a well needed holiday to get to know each other again, and one day, after a few too many cocktails I finally told him how very miserable I was and how lost I felt. Together we realised that it was my business, Design Jessica that could pull me out of the slump. I’d spotted an advert for a business course online and together we decided that I should go for it. I spent all of the money I had made in my business on the £1,000 course, and it was completely life-changing. I now had monthly business building challenges to complete. It encouraged me to go networking, to build my email list and to start finding new clients in a virtual way, rather than relying on clients who needed me ‘in-house’. Although the first few months were financially challenging, by the summer of 2016 and our new posting to Northwood HQ I finally had a business and a client base that I could take with me anywhere.
What I realised at this point is that I couldn’t be the only one who felt this way. I couldn’t be the only spouse who was lonely and longing to create a new and transient business. And so, with the support of the owners of FEN CIC, I launched the Forces Enterprise Network Business Community, a community that you could access anywhere in the world you are posted. A place where we wouldn’t just sell but a place that we could support each other and build our businesses into something amazing. There are now over 330 members in the community, all achieving some amazing things and it is a real privilege to have connected them. I love that community and I love the fact that whenever we are posted I’ll still have a group of people I can turn to, to help me with my business. Although I have now stepped away from running it to focus on The InDependent Spouse I know that community will always be there when I need them.
It was time to tell the world how amazing military spouses in business can be. The InDependent Spouse started because since launching my business I met so many inspirational spouse business owners who had created amazing businesses from the ‘magnolia walled life’ and I knew that their voices needed to be heard. I wanted to showcase the wins that these fantastic business leaders had made despite the pressures of modern military life. I felt that we have a valid voice and it was time it was heard. We no longer needed to be in the shaddows of our serving partners.
The podcast is now on Series 2, has over 1,800 listeners and there are plans afoot for a 3rd series at the end of the year thanks to the generous grant from the Aviva Community Fund. You can subscribe here.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March I have been invited to The House of Lords as one of the f: Entrepreneur, top 100 female-run businesses in the UK to tell everyone all about The InDepenedent Spouse.
The aim of f:Entrepreneur is to showcase multi-achieving women like me in the #ialso Top 100, to provide lessons of challenge and success for all small business founders – both men and women. The campaign is built around a programme of content, stories, and events including roundtables, Q&A sessions, and panels as well as larger all-day events throughout the year. I am so proud to be one of the 100 women being celebrated in 2019, but as one of the hundreds of military spouses achieving in business, I am also humbled to be included. I’ll be spending every moment of my time in the House of Lords telling anyone who’ll listen just how wonderful military spouses are. We are achieving some phenomenal things in business whilst living this challenging military life and it should be and I am so proud to be one of many in this inspiring military spouse community.
Jess is the owner and lead designer at Design Jessica and host of The InDependent Spouse.
After graduating with a Graphic Design degree and six years of designing for some amazing companies such as Transport for London, Disney, and Tesco, Jess launched the agency to create bespoke branding and marketing material in 2012.
With a love for all things branded, Jess specialises in styling companies from start to finish, whether they are a new business looking for their first designs or more established companies hoping for a fresh take on their brand and literature.
Married to her RAF pilot husband and currently living in the Chilterns with two cheeky cats, Jess is well known in the military community as the go-to designer. She’s the host of The InDependent Spouse, a podcast series born from a need to hear something new. A need to hear from the inspirational men and women who experience service life from the ‘home-front’ while creating successful businesses. A need to give a voice to those who are already achieving amazing things, and to inspire those who dream of doing the same.
Jess is dedicated to achieving the optimum finished product for her clients With a problem-solving can-do attitude, she will work with you to create something to really be proud of. Design Jessica became one of Small Business Saturday #SmallBiz100 in 2018 and is one of the 100 Top UK entrepreneurs in this years f:Entrepreneur.
Visit the website – www.designjessica.co.uk