SIMPLY INSPIRING WOMEN | LAURA TURNER, HERO STOCKBRIDGE
I’ve known Laura Turner, founder of Hero in Stockbridge for about six years now. We first met when she was a fellow blogger and then in October 2014, Laura opened the beautiful lifestyle boutique, Hero in Stockbridge, Hampshire. If you were a long time Online Stylist reader, you’ll remember that I frequently talked about Hero and the Creative Workshops that Laura runs… and with good reason!
I feel privileged to have known her along all the journeys she’s been on both in business and in life and she never fails to inspire me. Laura was one of the people who was pivotal in helping me find my way here to this new incarnation of the blog, so it felt right to kick off this Simply Inspiring Women series and share where she’s at now.
I last interviewed Laura for Online Stylist when she was setting up Big Small Business with another all round awesome friend of mine, Monica Welburn, but that was back in March 2017… and a lot has happened since then. So here, we bring things up to date and Laura shares what’s been happening lately, how she’s been shaping her approach to business and life in general and more on the day to day detail of running my favourite local business...
Laura… you’ve been on a number of momentous journeys since I last interviewed you for the blog, which was just before Big Small Business. So, starting with the work aspect, what has this latest chapter of being a small business owner taught you about yourself?
“I’ll be the first to admit that since 2017, being a small business owner has felt like an out of control roller coaster at times. A business that ran me, rather than the other way round. Having your own business, making decisions that affect other people and keeping a clear head, is hard work, really hard work. It’s not all coffees, pretty instagram vignettes and flowers. I’ve opened (and closed) another premises, made people redundant and made terrifying decisions.
Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned throughout this season, is that you can’t do it all. Or at least, not well. I’ve learned that space, clear thinking and clarity are everything. Giving yourself time to rest and reignite your creativity feels counter intuitive at first. I’ve been totally guilty of not want to stop or step off the treadmill for fear of losing everything, or worse, forgetting it all!
I would keep going, late into the night - planning, forecasting, going round and round in circles. Snatching as many moments at the weekend as possible to open the laptop and work on my business. If I wasn’t working on it, I was thinking about it. My mind was at bursting point. There were people to manage, rent and suppliers to pay, stock to order, not to mention keeping on top of social media. Being a wife, mother, friend, sister and daughter was pushed way down the list.
At the end of 2018, I went away for 3 nights (the first trip I’d had for a very long time). I focussed on how I could make changes. I decided I had to prioritise my family and my health. There didn’t seem much point living out my business ambitions if everything else was suffering. I made a list of what I wanted - specifically, I wanted to spend the school holidays with the children and adventure more, to have one day a week where I could look after my three year old son. I made a vision board of how this would look - basically lots of landscapes and healthy green food!
I also decided that weekends and evenings were a no work zone. At the beginning of this year, everything changed. I stuck to my new rules and what amazed me the most was that I was even more productive and creative.”
When it comes to your family life, (Laura is mum to three gorgeous children – two girls and a boy), what’s your idea of a healthy balance now compared to what it was a couple of years ago? Has your mindset about the whole balance thing changed and if so, what prompted it?
“Balance is such an odd thing, I think. I’ve been guilty in the past of spending as much time seeking it out as I have living it. My conclusion is that I’m not sure if it really exists. For me, there’s not really a clear distinction between work and life. They’re not two separate entities. Rather, they co-exist. I am one person and I blend my time between many different areas of my life. One thing I have learned though is that boundaries between the areas are really important.
After reaching breaking point in 2018 - working 5/6 days a week on the shop floor, living on a diet of caffeine and carbs, I was exhausted and feeling like I was dropping balls all over the place. I knew something had to change and I put some boundaries in place.
Although, as I rule, I don’t work on my business in the evenings or weekends, there are of course times when I do. I don’t beat myself up about this, because there are also times when I take time away from my business to have lunch with a friend or go to the girls’ school assembly. I’ve discovered that by giving my all and being more present to each thing means I am better at both. When I’m with my son, I don’t work. I don’t check my emails or take phone calls. It means I can be completely present with him. Then, when it’s time to work, I’m all in too. My productivity, creativity and all round happiness have gone through the roof!”
Over the years you’ve been involved in many aspects of business - co-founding the Big Small Business conference and numerous guest panel appearances to name a few! You also opened another Hero store and sometime later, had to take the difficult and painful decision to close it. When you look back at all you’ve done so far, what makes you proud and why and how do deal with the challenging periods?
“I feel proud of putting myself out there, taking risks and giving things a go. I’m always self-conscious, worried about what people will think of me and if something will succeed or fail. But I’m proud that I experiment and learn from my mistakes.
When times are challenging, communication is more important than anything. Talk to people. Be open with them and take each day and each decision one at a time. It’s so easy to get completely overwhelmed with your circumstances. Break it down into manageable chunks - and do just one thing a day that chips away at the bigger situation.”
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about running your own small business and how do you face them when they’re presented to you?
“I think everyone knows it’s harder than you think it’s going to be. But perhaps there is a misconception that once you get up and running it’ll all be plain sailing after that. That actually keeping things going, creating a sustainable and viable business is much harder than you think it’s going to be.
Keeping the momentum of my business going takes tenacity and a lot of creative thinking. For me, evolving and adapting has been crucial. Also, you are always accountable to someone! Even when you are your own boss, you still have clients or customers or suppliers to answer to.”
I think when it comes to the small business community you’ve been a pioneer for local workshops, creative gatherings and now the Hero workspace. What is it that repeatedly draws you to this element and what’s the best thing about these concepts? Also… when can I move in?
“You are so welcome any time! Workshops give you the opportunity that is impossible to do in a digital world. You get real life, face to face dialogue with people. I love listening to other people’s business journeys and chatting through someone’s goals and aspirations to work out how I can help them take action to transform an idea they have into a reality. See this transformation is such a great feeling.”
You sometimes tell me that you’re “geeking out” over discovering something new on the technical front - (Laura and I have a bit of an obsession with the Mailchimp monkey!) Are there one or two things that you’ve found to be really helpful in extending the reach or improving productivity for a small business such as hero?
“I do love a spreadsheet, productivity tool or scheduling app! Really, I just love clarity and to have everything laid out clearly makes me feel organised and gets it out my head and creates order. I use Asana for managing my projects and processes of the business. It’s such a great tool for seeing everything really clearly and setting out the steps I need to go through. I use it for blog post ideas and separate them into categories as well as keeping on track with the different stages of a project.”
And speaking of geeking out, I know Laura to be one of the biggest advocates of decluttering that there is! Each time we meet up we compare notes on our random “editing episodes”! Tell us your top three decluttering tips or tricks… and what (or where) is next on your Declutter List?
“Yes I do! Again, I find my clarity and sense of well-being and control comes from how organised my life is. It starts at home, my paperwork and the shop. My top three tips would be:
Start small, in manageable chunks. Tackle one drawer - whether it’s your socks, the random drawer in the kitchen or your bathroom cabinet.
Take it all out, clean the drawer and separate everything into piles according to categories. Hand creams, toothpaste, shampoo, bubble bath etc.
Focus on keeping things you love, and really love. Not because it was expensive or because someone gave it to you as a gift but because you absolutely could not live without it. Get rid/donate everything else. This way, the focus is not what you need to throw away, but what you want to keep. Much more positive!”
Hero is about curating a calm and joyful lifestyle, satisfying the need for creativity and ensuring your wardrobe contains those “hero pieces” that when you wear them, make you feel like the real you. (If I could fit all that on a T-shirt I would!). Can you think back to what it was that sparked off these concepts and words to live by - has it been an evolving journey or did you foresee it the way it is now right from the get-go?
“Hero has been about finding my identity. Having pivoted from corporate career, to stay at home mum, I had an inner creative that was bursting to be released. I spent so much time trying to fit in and ignoring how I truly felt or wanted to dress. Being too easily influenced by others and not having a sense of my own identity, it was getting me down.
Since the business and my family has grown, I have felt a deeper desire to simplify and find calm in my life. I think most of us feel that, don’t we? Your wardrobe and things you own form part of that for me. I think it’s evolved over the past five years, since it was just a concept in my head. But it’s come full circle. Why wouldn’t you wear/use something that makes you feel like you, at your best? Whether it’s a plain and simple tee, to an irresistible piece of jewellery or a notebook so good you want to stroke it, I believe everything should make you feel incredible.”
Both you and I have taken all sorts of approaches when it comes to social media and in particular, Instagram. And as we know, it’s as easy to fall out of love with it as it is to fall head over heels back in. What would you say is your healthiest approach to the App from both a personal and business perspective and how do you deal with those slumps that we sometimes find ourselves in?
“It’s one of those things that is so hugely important and deeply embedded in our lives now. You can run a business just from the app. You can talk to people around the world and share your creativity with them. It also means nothing.
And that’s how I stay healthy with it. When it’s good, it’s good and I’m all in. If I’m busy and fall out of sync with it (mostly because I’m dealing with real life), I don’t worry about it. It’s up to you what relationship you have with Instagram. Don’t apologise for “taking a break”, sometimes other areas of our lives take priority and that’s ok. It can be hard to come back when you’re in a funk though and my biggest advice would be to then take a proper break. Stop lurking and scrolling and obsessing - delete the app for a few days. Brain dump three ideas that you could talk about and write down a caption and post one.”
Are you able to share have any recent Instagram account discoveries that you feel are a really healthy mix of the things you want to get from the App and why do you love the account?
“Every time I see a post from @charcompany I stop and stare for a while. Beautifully, calming aesthetic, combined with brilliant branding tips and stories.”
Could you share the most fun and exciting parts of your job as hero’s owner and curator and on the flip side, the least glamorous parts that you wish some people could see as a behind the scenes reality moment… or maybe not?!
“I love working on the creative side of Hero. Creating content, sharing ideas and chatting to customers. That is where my heart is. Behind the scenes, my least favourite job is making sure all the packaging is always in stock, that the light bulbs are working and calling the electrician when the sockets blow!”
As someone who gets to select and buy in beautiful stock, which lines or pieces in hero are you really loving at the moment? If we buy one thing from the store, what would it be?
“That is such a hard question! If you were buying one thing, I would say it would have to be these beautiful double hoop earrings by Anna Beck - which, if someone doesn’t buy them soon, I’ll be treating myself! ”
What are you most looking forward to about the next season at Hero?
“Is it ok to say, I’m most looking forward to just ‘being’? Continuing to be the best we can. Discovering new brands and hosting workshops that are really, really helpful for creative entrepreneurs. If we can keep doing this, I’ll be really happy.”
As ever, reading back through Laura’s take on running a business and her approach to life in general reads like balm for the creative soul. Especially that last point - “Is it okay to say I’m most looking forward to just being?” YES - it absolutely is and for me that’s what it’s all about. Be in the moment, be where you are in your life stage and make the most of it. You don’t always have to be onto the next thing and hustling to get ahead.
I hope Laura’s answers have inspired you in some way. If you want more and you’re not already following her on her Hero journey, you can find her in all the places below!
Photography: SarahLou Francis