Friday, 18 June 2021

Let's get down to business

Let's get down to business

LYNN HART set up Henley Concierge 18 years ago and now works with Dame Stephanie Shirley CH, the Henley IT entrepreneur and philanthropist. She set up Hart to Heart five years ago, organising exclusive parties for single, sociable, professional people. She was born at Townlands Hospital and went to Henley Grammar School, which is now The Henley College.

Describe your business

I have two roles — doing PR, marketing and events for Dame Stephanie and runnning Hart to Heart. I arrange at least seven drinks parties a year, always in beautiful venues. I normally have about 70 people attend with an equal ratio of ladies to men. My database has just over 2,000 people from those in their early thirties to those in their seventies. No two parties are the same.

What did you do previously?

I spent most of my twenties working for P&O Cruises as a purser on cruise ships travelling the world. I then had a few years as an executive assistant but hated being stuck in an office, so when I was made redundant for the fourth time I set up my own business, Henley Concierge, a lifestyle management company, “helping busy people find more time”. The redundancy money lasted three years and I supplemented my income by cleaning houses and waitressing, working 24/7. I always remember the father-in-law of one client asking who the gorgeous blonde was cleaning the loo!

When did you start your business?

I set up Henley Concierge in 2000, when I was 40. I had a number of high-profile clients, one of whom used to ring en route to the airport and ask me to check if she’d turned the iron off. I branched out to organise house/pet sitters, which went really well. Then I saw an advert in the Henley Standard looking for someone to help set up a national charity and organise a sponsored walk in Windsor Great Park. It was a lightbulb moment. I have always loved organising events and helping people. Well, that’s when I met Dame Stephanie. I have never looked back; they say if you love what you do, you don’t have to work and that’s exactly how I feel.

What was your objective?

To work for myself, be financially independent and be able to work when I wanted. Today I live that dream.

What or who influenced you?

I work very closely with Dame Stephanie and she has been the most amazing mentor. I’ve learnt so much from her. I’ve been extremely lucky.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

The flexibility to work from home and the constant opportunity to meet a huge number of people from very different walks of life. At times I have to pinch myself! I’ve made some wonderful friends through Hart to Heart who I would not have met otherwise. What a bonus.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

For Hart to Heart, ensuring an equal ratio of ladies to men, which takes time, patience and persistence!

How do you market your business?

Initially I made a database of everyone I’d ever known and networked like mad. I circulated 1,000 flyers to every gym, golf club, hotel, surgery, veterinary practice, exclusive clothes shop etc within a 40-mile radius. Now I mainly use social media, although the majority of enquiries come via word of mouth. One man heard about it on the train, which made me smile and my ears burn!

What’s your biggest opportunity?

With Dame Stephanie it’s all about promoting her memoir, Let IT Go, which is being made it a film (Emma Thompson has been mentioned). I’m constantly researching, networking and seeking opportunities for her to speak or promote herself.

Where is your business headed?

I’d like to offer one-to-one introductions. I’d also like to create a similar opportunity for people in other parts of the country. Internet dating is tough, time-consuming and disheartening. People have travelled as many as 100 miles to come to a H2H party.

What’s the most valuable thing you have learned?

That networking is vital and one should maintain good communications with everyone. I’m also a firm believer in saying thank-you. So few people do it and it can mean the world to someone else, yet costs nothing.

What’s your biggest mistake?

If something goes wrong, it’s not what has happened but how you deal with it. I try to turn everything round into something positive.

What would you do differently?

I don’t look back. I live in the moment and have never felt happier.

What advice would you give someone starting a business?

Go for it. If you can find something you enjoy doing and see an opportunity, do it. I’ve had some very scary times stepping into the unknown but I grew used to it. Feel the fear and do it anyway, which also happens to be the title of a great book! And get a good accountant.

What’s the secret of your success?

Determination. I have been told I’m very stubborn but I also try to be fair and, if I can help people, I will.

How do you dress for work?

Working from home, smart but casual. When I’m out I wear dresses and jackets. I wear a red dress when hosting a Hart to Heart party so that people can find me!

What do you read?

I rarely have time to read books, sadly. I read a daily newspaper and the Henley Standard, of course!

What can’t you do without every day?

A G&T. Bombay Sapphire and a Fever Tree tonic. Bliss.

What has been your best moment?

The moment that I heard a couple had got married, having met at a H2H party three years ago. Since then I’ve heard of two other couples. That’s the best bonus ever!

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