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I am delighted to feature in the latest edition of the Entrepreneur and Investor magazine, a magazine that offers advice on setting up and running a business.  In the magazine you can read about how and why I set up togetherfriends and what I have learnt on my togetherfriends journey. Here is my story...

Setting up a business as a middle aged woman…

'When I turned 50 I became very entrepreneurial. I had not really got to where I wanted with a career, mainly due to having time off with three children and returning to lower level jobs in the workplace which could be fitted into a busy home life.

At 50 things were changing. My kids were growing up and going to university. They were more independent allowing me more time for myself.  At the same time I felt dissatisfied with my progression in the workplace. I still felt ‘young’. I wasn’t on the scrapheap yet or ready for early retirement.  With lots of life experience, I was buzzing with ideas and skills which I felt were not being put to good use.

So I decided to set up a business.  I was going to run a Bed and Breakfast, I was going to take on a Nanny franchise, I was going to offer advice to the Elderly on housing options, a field of work that I had been in before.

But what I decided on was, a friendship website for women in the UK where women could make new friends. The website works by linking women to each other based on age, location and interests. It is based on the dating site idea, but is all about friendship, not relationships.  Although open to all women over 18, my target audience is women over 45, an age group I understand and which I believe is often ignored. 

The idea came about because I wanted to go for a walk but had no one to go with. I had friends in my home town, but they were all busy.  They were in work, they had other commitments, or they were not interested in striding out onto Ilkley Moor.

I began to realise that friends come and go throughout life. In your 20s when you have fewer responsibilities, you may have lots of available friends who can meet up at the drop of a hat.  Later on, personal circumstances can change relationships. A move to a new town, a busy work life, divorce, retirement, bereavement, children leaving home can all affect the friendships that you have.  

Togetherfriends was set up in September 2013. It was self funded, with the limited savings that my husband and I had available.  Funding was mainly needed to set up the website, and pay for any marketing costs.  We had carried out research, we had written a business plan with projected income and expenditure, so we launched togetherfriends with high hopes and excitement.

Looking back I was rather naive.  I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to promote the website and get into the newspapers. I didn’t realise how much it would cost to do this.

The plan was to charge a low fee to members who want to link up with friends, and charge businesses for advertising on the site.  Women are joining the website on a daily basis and subscribing, but the advertising part was initially less successful. This is changing as the website grows.

The whole togetherfriends experience has been and still is amazing. I have learned so much. I have dipped my toe into the world of social media, I have learned about marketing, blogging and running competitions. I have received fantastic testimonials from members who have made good friends through the site.

And I have learned how to market the site without spending a fortune.

My Twitter technique is improving, I have grabbed the attention of regional and national papers (the Daily Express, My Weekly Magazine and Saga magazine) by talking about female friendship, loneliness, and tips on making friends.

I now write press releases rather than paying for advertising. I have made changes to the website to push it up the Google Search Engine and I have found a mentor who I can bounce ideas off. I network with other businesses resulting in shared blogs, competitions and support for each other.

I have become more open minded about the site. I am continually looking for ways to adapt – to give members what they want. And I have learned how to use my time more effectively.  In the early months I spent hours in front of the computer. Now I work in shorter bursts. I plan my work better, being more effective in what I do. I give myself time off. When my mind goes blank, I put on my walking boots and get out on the moor. Often providing me with far more thinking time than the office. 

Everyone told me that it would be a slow burner, and this is so true. But when I get into another newspaper resulting in a flurry of new joiners, when a coffee morning, walking group or supper club takes off,  or when a member writes about their new special friend it makes it all worthwhile.'

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