6 northern entrepreneurs share their secrets on how to thrive in London-centric industries
No matter how much you love life in the North, do you ever worry that living outside of London could be holding you back in your career?
By Katy Ward
No matter how much you love life in the North, do you ever worry that living outside of London could be holding you back in your career? I know I did when I left the capital – and a permanent job in the media – three years ago to return to my hometown and become a freelance journalist.
I was excited by the prospect of being close to my family again, but worried whether I’d be able to make a living in my (sort of) new location. How would I create new contacts in an industry traditionally associated with the London bubble? Would my old contacts forget about me if I couldn’t show my face at after-work drinks? What would lockdown mean for my business?
But after a somewhat rocky start, I managed to forge a career, renew my old contacts and make some new ones. And I’m not alone in pursuing a traditionally ‘southern’ career in the North East.
I’ve spoken to six professionals who are all thriving in businesses you might once have expected to find in Oxford Street or the Square Mile, and find out about the challenges and opportunities our incredible region has to offer.
Louisa Rogers – Founder of Trendlistr and Fashion Communication lecturer at Northumbria University
’Tap into the willingness people have in the North to support local businesses’
Following what she describes as ‘a painfully underwhelming undergraduate experience’, Louisa is now a lecturer in Fashion Communication at Northumbria University and the founder of Trendlistr, an online destination for sustainably-sourced vintage fashion.
Despite this success, Louisa says there’s always an assumption that her business is based in the South. ‘The most obvious disparity is the sheer density of wealth in London. Unfortunately, it’s still largely about the circles you move in and there are more circles with disposable income down south.’
Although pragmatic about the challenges of living in the North East, she believes the positives outweigh any negatives. ‘Our premises are generously sized and reasonably priced and we have proximity to three fantastic universities creating thousands of talented graduates every year.’
The biggest lure? ‘You can’t beat the willingness of people in the North East to help out and support you as an independent business.’
Steph Heald – Transformational Business Coach and Hypnotherapist
‘You can have a New York career in the North East’
Steph, who has been based in the North East since the age of 10, is a Transformational Business Coach, whose goal is to help women improve their businesses and lives through quantum science.
‘It is pretty “out there”’, says Steph, who has generated more than £45,000 in revenue since June. ‘I believe quantum science shows us there are infinite possibilities and that for every decision you make, there will be infinite versions of you living out all the different possibilities you could have taken.’
Because what she teaches is so ‘out there’, Steph says clients are often surprised to discover she is based in the North East. ‘It is more what you would expect in London or New York because it is so forward-thinking.
‘I’ve been in the North for 20 years now. I love the fact you can be in the city or the countryside within 20 minutes. The outdoors and the people are what makes the region special. Even in the bigger towns and cities, there’s a real sense of camaraderie.
Danny Richmond – Managing Director of Tic Watches
‘Make the most cheaper operating costs’
Based in Darlington, Danny doesn’t regard location as an obstacle to the success of Tic Watches, which is the UK’s top-rated retailer of designer watches and made £7.1 million in online sales in the year ending July 2020.
‘The area has cheaper operating costs and is full of talent when looking to employ staff. Despite not being located in London, we still do trade in the city due to our online presence.
‘It has allowed us to expand and develop the business with less investment and open a retail store, which we might not have achieved in London due to the high rental costs.’
Has he ever considered moving to London to further his career? ‘To be honest, it’s never crossed my mind. I am proud to be employing local talent. We will continue to build and reinvest money into the local economy with our growth and potential new business ideas.’
Katie Beardsworth – founder and director of Polyphony Arts
‘Make the most of the network where you’re based’
Katie is the founder and director of Hull-based Polyphony Arts: an art and artist management agency supporting classical musicians. ‘I’m a singer and played the cello as a child. My parents both played the piano and my dad was a professional music manager so I’ve followed in his footsteps.’
Despite her musical beginnings, she was aware from an early age of the potential challenges of being based outside London. ‘Until I went to university, I felt outside the hub of music-making. I felt on the periphery and worried my career wouldn’t take off.’
Following her graduation from York University, she did indeed move to the capital for a year to work for an orchestra. ‘It was undoubtedly useful for my personal network, but I didn’t like the long hours, high cost of living and low pay, so I soon moved back up north.’
Not surprisingly, Hull being named The City of Culture in 2017 provided a boost for the classical music scene. ‘We noticed great improvement in audience numbers and engagement.’ However, she does admit these numbers didn’t last beyond 2017 and the arts industry has, of course, been badly hit by lockdown.
Despite her early fears, Katie has found it easier to build a network in the region than she perhaps would have done in the South ‘People who work in the arts up north tend to work across the whole region and so my contacts from Hull are still relevant in Newcastle. The trick is to make the best of your network where you’re based and the wealth of online networking events.
‘Try to embrace the benefits of being north-based and not feel as though it is holding you back and, if it really is holding you back, look at taking steps to rectify it.’
Amanda Perry – founder of SOUP agency
‘Don’t get hung up on not being in London’
Born in Leeds and having grown up in Cornwall, Amanda set up SOUP in 2018 – a digital marketing agency based in Sheffield, which has since worked with more than 500 businesses.
Despite the preconception that industries such as e-commerce are inherently ‘southern’, Amanda says her northern location has never been an obstacle in building her business. ‘The world is a big village and there’s no difference whether you’re based in Sheffield or San Francisco.’
The amount of talent in the North East is another attraction. ‘One reason there’s such a wealth of talent in the job market is because there’s less opportunity than in London, which is great for us as we get to hire great people.’
As her career has progressed, Amanda has noticed a shift in the perception of businesses based in the North. “Perhaps a few years ago, a client would select an agency based on location for face-to-face meetings, but now they can select purely on the basis of talent.
‘When we started SOUP, we thought it was really important to have a London office so that people took us seriously. I don’t think it has ever come up in conversation.’
Kirsty Holden – Online Business Manager and Virtual Assistant
‘You have the technology at your fingertips’
Having always lived in Yorkshire, Kirsty is an Efficiency Strategist, Tech Virtual Assistant and Business Mentor, providing virtual support to entrepreneurs through social media management and general administrative duties.
‘I used to love playing computer games as a child and have always been the go-to person to help.’ After leaving school, she went into office work and was also involved in a transformation programme within an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice.
‘The biggest achievement in my career has been starting my own business and leaving a pretty secure job to give me the opportunity to help and support those who have done exactly the same: those who had chosen to create a business around their life instead of a life around somebody else’s business. Now it’s on my terms.’
Kirsty stresses the importance of leveraging virtual network opportunities when based in a more geographically-remote location. ‘The fact that I’m not just around the corner from the big cities doesn’t mean anything with the technology we have available to us right now.’
What would she say to professionals based in the North looking to make the transition into a career in tech? ‘There will never be a better time, given the need for technology right now in so many ways. You have the facilities at your fingertips.’