Why networking over lunch with small businesses is my happiness booster

Natalie Sullivan of The Simply Small Co in the Grainger Market, Newcastle, with her two young children, Samuel seven and three-year-old Sally.

What did you do on your lunch break today? Did you even take one? It’s not easy to take a break at times, but I’ve found the way I spend my lunch hour certainly affects how productive I am for the rest of the day.

Now I used to be one of the worst offenders for not breaking away from my computer over lunch and it’s fair to say I had a desk covered in crumbs and sometimes suffered writer’s block as a result. That was until I realised the value of using my lunch-time hour to network.

It all started when I became a new mum over 40 – a time when having some ‘me-time’ at work as well as at home suddenly became really important.

I knew I had to plan ahead with some short-term, achievable daily goals. So far, these have included:

  • To learn one new digital skill on the bus to work each day
  • Comment on at least one blog each day
  • Have lunch/coffee with at least one different person in business per week.

My daily routine means I now learn something new every day and often make new friends in the process. You could say that lunchtime networking has become my happiness booster. It’s certainly been a great way to keep up the momentum for the afternoon at work.

This week I was invited as a blogger to a ‘lunch-time’ sneak preview at children’s clothing and giftware company, www.thesimplysmallco.com, which is located in the historic indoor Grainger Market, Newcastle.

Mumpreneur Natalie Sullivan

It was a chance to network with South Tyneside mumpreneur, Natalie Sullivan, who had worked in the PR team at Gardiner Richardson in the agency’s early days, before going on to become marketing manager for English Heritage.

Going along to support her in this new ‘bricks and mortar’ business venture was the least I could do as a micro-influencer and someone who also used to write the ‘Small Business’ page among my other duties at NCJMedia.

Now anyone who knows me will know that nothing gives me more pleasure than writing about and supporting small businesses that surround me in my everyday life. I’m also a big believer in helping mumpreneurs, such as Natalie, who are in pursuit of their passion and realising a dream at the same time.

Natalie’s personal commitment to her business venture is clear to see. She came up with her business idea after struggling to find unique clothing and gifts for her two young children, Samuel now seven, and three-year-old Sally.

She said: “When I had my son, my love of shopping for myself was transferred to shopping for baby and toddler things. I soon found that if I wanted something a little bit different or extra special, I really struggled to find things that didn’t have a designer price tag to match.

“When my daughter came along, my passion for shopping was amplified! I like to buy things that are classically designed, but also practical and affordable. It was then that I started to think seriously about developing my own children’s brand.

“I like my children to look nice, but also not having to worry that they might wreck expensive clothing. The motto of the business is ‘let them be little’ and I’ve worked hard to source a range of clothing, toys, nursery furnishings and gifts that are classic, affordable and fun!”

Natalie took time to understand her audience by setting up an online shop in 2016 with help from Transmit Start Ups, who mentored her through a business plan and start up loan.

While she initially ran her business from home while still working, she also regularly traded at markets and pop-up shops around the North East, including at the famous Newcastle Quayside Market.

It was on the Quayside where she received great feedback from customers, many saying that she should open her own shop. When the opportunity came up to apply for a unit in the Grainger Market, Natalie grabbed the chance. She left her job and decided to take the plunge into full-time mumpreneurship.

So why the Grainer Market?

“We’ve shopped in the Grainger Market for years,” Natalie said.

“It’s such an interesting, diverse and historic place.  My shop is right next door to the weigh house, and while I’ve been working to get it ready to open, I’ve been surprised by the amount of guided tours and visitors who come into the Grainger Market specifically to learn all about the history of the place. I’ve learned a thing or two while I’ve been cleaning and painting!

“In recent years the market has developed with lots of new and exciting food and retail businesses opening up to compliment the traditional market traders. I’ve been welcomed by the other businesses with open arms. There’s a real sense of community in the market and with the investment from Newcastle City Council to conserve and repair the fabric of the building it’s an exciting place to be right now.”

Newcastle City Council has embarked upon a £2.6m capital investment programme within the Grainger Market to improve, repair and refurbish the glazed roof to ensure this important cultural tourist destination is preserved. Work will start in January 2018.

Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet member for inclusive growth at Newcastle City Council, added: “We are delighted to welcome new retailers like The Simply Small Co to the Grainger Market, which is a perfect place to set up a new business, and we wish Natalie every success in her venture.

“The Grainger Market is a wonderful and popular place to shop, with a wide range of retailers based there and more new shops due to open soon.

“It’s a huge asset to our city and we are making significant investment in the building to protect and preserve it for future generations.”

It goes without saying that everyone at Gardiner Richardson wishes Natalie success in her new venture too.

To me, supporting small businesses in our community is vital, whether it be on Small Business Saturday or any other day in between – so to show my love for Natalie’s business venture, I bought little C a really funky, bright Blade & Rose winter hat. Well, he is my rainbow baby after all!

The Simply Small Co Newcastle is open now and sells children’s and baby wear, nursery furnishings, toys and gifts. It is situated in unit 56-57 on Alley 2, next door to the market office and weigh house. For more information visit www.thesimplysmallco.com

For more pictures, check out ofsaffronandcyrus on Instagram.

  • Are you a mumpreneur and would like to feature on Of Saffron & Cyrus? Get in touch. Email saffronandcyrus@gmail.com

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