Ladies who lunch – with purpose

lunchLadies who lunch – with purpose

Earlier this week I took a couple of hours out to have lunch with the girls. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Lunch with the girls’ has certain connotations; pink cardigans, pink lipstick and pink Prosecco, and chatter about relationships, holidays and clothes. But it wasn’t like that at all. Because while there is very much a place for that (and I would hate to see those more frivolous lunches disappearing from my diary) this ‘lunch with the girls’ was all about business.

In spite of our best efforts only four of the nine of us could make it, but rather than reschedule we carried on. And I’m very glad we did. The lunch was delicious, and the coffee afterwards was strong enough to have me speed-walking back to my desk for the afternoon. But the conversation – almost exclusively business-related – was the best bit of all.

The nine of us met two and a half years ago on a Business Gateway course for women who were running their own businesses and planning their first stage of growth. I almost didn’t turn up on the first day (another attack of Imposter Syndrome – as a solo freelancer would I be found out as not a ‘proper’ business woman?) but that fear was soon laid to rest. In six days over six weeks we learned about business leadership, sales and marketing, business growth and how to finance it, how to create a vision for the future, and how to realise that vision.

And although the practical information we gleaned on the course was invaluable, both at the time, and to refer back to occasionally when we get ‘stuck’, the informal network that that we created out of the course has – for me at least – been its most valuable legacy.

On a surface level there’s an online connection. A quick scout around our social media profiles will quickly update us all about what the others are up to. We can encourage and help promote each others’ businesses there too.

Then there are the times we get together – like this week. They don’t happen often, but when they do there will always be something for each of us to ‘take home’ – the spark of an idea for a new business direction, or a nugget of information which might lead to a new client or contract. One of us will be stuck with a VAT query that the others can help with, or will have a contact who might be able to supply fabrics for a third. Or there will be a suggestion for a subject for a magazine interview…or a story about taking pigs to slaughter, and why that’s a bad idea on a Sunday.

We keep in touch by email too – business referrals and requests for advice are common. And although we are a disparate bunch, both in terms of geography and in the sectors in which we operate, the issues we face are remarkably similar and follow the same broad themes. Even knowing that you are not alone in struggling with keeping the ‘back-office’ of your business up to date is reassuring. ‘Get a virtual PA’ were words that were said more than once.

wmbAt the time of signing up to the course I had bristled at its title – ‘Women Mean Business’ – and its obvious exclusion of men. Business people are business people, there’s no difference between men and women, is there? But now I’m not so sure. Two years later we have – to a woman – all kept in touch. Would that have happened if we had been a mixed-sex group? It’s impossible to say, but I very much doubt it.

There is a place for all kinds of business networking – I am a member of Highland Business Women, of Inverness Chamber of Commerce and am a recent sign-up to SCDI too; all are well worth their membership fees, and all in different ways. But this tiny all-female group, brought together by happenstance and circumstance, might be the most comfortable of them all. Thank you, ladies. And let’s lunch again soon.

Are the days of Boozy Lunches behind us?

The coffee was strong at our lunch out this week, but that was as strong as the drinks got. The bar was doing a brisk trade in tap water, but little else. To be honest I can’t remember the last time I had a lunchtime drink on a school day, but others must still be at it. Because last week Lloyds of London introduced of a zero-tolerance ban on drinking alcohol during office hours, to enormous uproar down south.

Do people still routinely have a pint at lunchtime? I thought those days were gone.

25 years ago in Edinburgh it was absolutely the norm. The restaurant nearest to our solicitors’ office in Queen Street advertised ‘lunch for a fiver’ – £5 for a main course and a large glass of house wine; a soft drink was extra.

These are changed days – and not for the worse, unless you are in the pub trade. At the time I used to wonder why I was never out of the office before 7pm. Thinking back to the size of those wine glasses, I could now hazard a fair guess…


This column first appeared in six SPP Group newspapers week ended 24th February 2017.
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