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Entrepreneurs quick to strike their first deal

Sonya PUBS july 2018

Would-be entrepreneurs put their new-found negotiating skills to good use at the end of a two-week pop up business event in The Mall, Maidstone.

Sonya Okubule led a small group of course members who knocked on the door of the management suite at The Mall and successfully asked the team to support their efforts to kickstart their fledgling businesses.

Sonya put their new-found confidence down to the inspirational advice delivered by the PopUp Business School (PUBS) event held in an empty unit in the Mall and sponsored by Golding Homes and West Kent Housing Association.

The PUBS philosophy is to inspire people to follow their dreams and make a living out of what they enjoy, rather than following the more traditional business advice route of talking about legislation and business plans.

Co-founder and lead trainer Alan Donegan and his team also provide plenty of practical advice and tips, though, and it was after a particularly inspirational talk on negotiating skills that the group set off to talk to The Mall’s general manager Andy Davy.

“The course had really boosted our confidence and made us feel that our ambitions were achievable,” said Sonya, whose fledgling healthy meals business is called B.Well Nutrition.

“We decided we would like some retail space where we could try selling and promoting our products and so we just went downstairs and asked. The Mall team was really encouraging and supportive and we are really excited about the chance to get to work.”

Sonya had demonstrated her entrepreneurial credentials earlier in the week by taking orders for healthy lunchtime food from fellow course members so that she could gauge the reaction to her recipes.

Andy Davy, who had already supported the PUBS event by giving it a home in a vacant unit for free during the two weeks, offered Sonya free promotional space on a Saturday and offered course members two weeks’ free trading from a merchandising unit at The Mall.

Alan Donegan said the way the entrepreneurs had taken the initiative “makes my heart sing.” He added: “They’ve taken the tools, they’ve taken the techniques and they have actually done it. Before the workshop has even ended, they have put the theory into practice and done something that will really help establish their new businesses.”

Golding Homes’ Head of Community Development Caroline McBride said she was delighted that the course had had such a positive effect. “We shared the sponsorship of the two Maidstone PUBS events because we believed it would help some of our residents set up in business, and it’s great to hear about results like this,” she commented.

The event in The Mall was the second to have been sponsored in Maidstone by the two housing associations, both of which are keen to encourage residents who don’t fit the normal ‘9-to-5’ mould to think about working for themselves.

The first, in Tovil, resulted in a number of people going away determined to set up their own business, and the event in The Mall proved even more successful, not least because its central location raised the profile and attracted the interest of passers-by.

Almost 70 people attended the various sessions, with participants free to drop in on odd days or attend the whole two-week course, and they included a number of Golding Homes residents.

As Alan Donegan explained: “The PUBS vision is to empower people to make money by doing something they enjoy.

“Too many people think they need money and a business plan before they can even think about setting up on their own, but that simply isn’t true. What they need is an idea and the drive to put it into practice.”

Swanley resident Kelly Stedman was one of those who came away from the course inspired to do just that. 

Kelly set up outdoor clothing company Stedman Equestrian a while back, but after having some samples made she found herself “lost in the jargon”, and the business had been on the back burner before she attended the PUBS event.

“It's been completely inspirational,” she said. “I now know I can do this and I have a clear way ahead. I’ve picked up a huge amount of information, set up a website and made some great contacts. I’m now looking for a UK manufacturer and I’m determined that Stedman Equestrian will succeed.”