Stacey Sheppard is founder of The Tribe in Totnes. Stacey is a freelance writer, journalist and professional blogger. In 2019, she started to work from home, alone, and quickly realised just how isolating and lonely that can be. She went in search of a local coworking space but couldn’t find one that made her want to leave the comfort of her own home and start commuting to work again.
Having watched the emergence of design-led and women-only coworking spaces popping up in cities around the world, Stacey had hoped for something similar in rural Devon. Knowing full well that this was unlikely to happen, she decided to take matters into her own hands and open her own work hub.
She knew that with her background in interior design she could easily create a beautiful and welcoming coworking space and open it up to other women in a similar situation. In January 2020, after just four months of preparation and planning, she opened The Tribe, a small boutique coworking space in central Totnes, designed to offer a sense of community, connection and collaboration to local women in business. BIPC Devon talks to Stacey about her small business journey…
“I had wanted to work for myself from home for such a long time and my career in digital marketing allowed me to do this, but I quickly realised that working in isolation was in no way conducive to my creativity.”
Stacey has created the perfect environment to offer other women the connection and inspiration she too was craving.
“I wanted to work alongside other creatives in a supportive environment where I could share ideas and inspiration, have someone to chat to when things weren’t going so well and someone to celebrate the wins with. Being a solopreneur or a small business owner can be extremely lonely and I wanted a community to share the journey with.”
Rising to the Challenge
Stacey says her biggest achievement while running her small business is simply surviving the Pandemic. Having opened her doors two months before the first lock down, her first year in business was an immense challenge. Having opened a space designed to bring strangers together, this quickly became illegal and left Stacey with an empty work hub.
Three years on Stacey has not only survived the pandemic, but has built a thriving small business community in the heart of Totnes, established herself as a BIPC Branding Expert, and regularly speaks at business events all across Devon.
Running a coworking space for women is a challenge, but this challenge is also what drives Stacey.
“Part of the reason that I wanted to niche down to female entrepreneurs was to help them overcome the obstacles that they face to starting and scaling their businesses”
Stacey is passionate about closing the gender gap when it comes to female entrepreneurship and felt that a coworking space for women could help to address some of these barriers, not necessarily realising how they too would prove a challenge to her own business:
“It took a while to emerge from the disruption of all the lockdowns but I gradually started to notice that I had picked a particularly challenging niche. The barriers that my ideal clients face in their own businesses, very quickly became the barriers in my business too.
This is particularly the case for caring responsibilities. Come the school holidays, the vast majority of my customers disappear to care for their own children. Across the entire year this is a significant amount of time that women are unable to attend my space.”
Addressing the Barriers to Female Entrepreneurship
As outlined in the NatWest Rose Report in 2019, female entrepreneurs face five main barriers along the entire entrepreneurial journey.
1. Low access and awareness of capital
2. Greater risk awareness
3. Perceived missing skills & experience
4. Disproportionate primary care responsibilities
5. Lack of relatable sponsorship/mentorship/role models
Stacey felt that a coworking space for women could help to address some of these barriers. And The Tribe has definitely had a positive impact on the community that it serves. With new connections blooming into partnerships, glowing testimonials and a tangible network of shared resources, The Tribe has become recognised countywide as something rather special indeed. All the positive stories haven’t gone unnoticed and Stacey has been invited to talk to Local Council employees, be a guest on Radio Devon, present at a NatWest Boost x BIPC event for International Women’s Day and be a key part of BIPC Devon’s Women in Business Course.
What is it Really Like to Be Your Own Boss?
“The most unexpected thing about running a small business for me has got to be how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is. You can go from feeling stable, confident and optimistic, to petrified, hopeless and helpless in the blink of an eye. The last few years have been so unpredictable with new crises looming on the horizon wherever you look. There hasn’t been any let up and that has been quite difficult to navigate.” Although Stacey faces many challenges, it’s the very thing she has built that keeps her going:
“My community is what keeps me going in challenging times. It can be so easy if you work alone from home to think that you are the only one experiencing these challenges, particularly if you believe the smoke and mirrors of social media where everyone seems to be crushing their income goals and working 4hr weeks. I know that the members of our community are always there to lift one another up, commiserate when things go wrong and celebrate with when the tide turns. I can’t really put into words just how much of a blessing it is to be part of a community like The Tribe.”
What's The Best Thing About Running Your Own Business?
Whilst running a small business is extremely stressful and puts a lot of pressure on you, what Stacey really likes about it is the control you have. There is no employer limiting your income or dictating your tasks. You get to decide what to work on, when to work on it and which direction to take next.
“I found this particularly liberating over the past few years,” says Stacey. “Whilst the Pandemic and the cost of living crisis are events outside of my control that negatively affected my business, I had complete freedom in how I reacted to these events. Whilst I obviously worried about my livelihood and the survival of my business, I didn’t need to worry about being made redundant. The fate of my business was in my hands and I knew that I could call on my skills and experience to pivot, launch new offers, and generally seize the opportunities that emerged from the crisis.”
“We may have spent the first three years in business trying to survive but it really feels like 2023 is the year when we can build momentum and really start to make moves towards our goals. I am planning to run many more community building events each month so that women can expand their network, make deeper connections and hopefully find others to collaborate with. We are already seeing lots of collaborations come about organically from our activities.”
“We have just launched an online membership for our community. The idea behind this is to enable women who maybe live slightly too far away from Totnes to come to the office but still want to be part of our support network. It is also for anyone who is happy working from home but would like to benefit from the connection of a local online community. I will be focusing my efforts on growing that over the coming months.”
“I also have an exciting new project that I am working on at the moment that I am hoping to launch in time for International Women’s Day. I am working on a range of merchandise that I will be selling to support our coworking space and diversify our income. I will be starting with t-shirts and tote bags that feature empowering and uplifting slogans that will help us to remember that we don’t have to do any of this alone and that we are in fact stronger together.”
Inspired by Stacey's Story?
BIPC Devon wouldn’t exist without our incredible experts just like Stacey, we’re extremely grateful for all the excellent advice she gives to our community and everything that The Tribe does for all things small business in Devon!
If your feeling inspired by Stacey’s story why not come along to our 2023 Women in Business launch on the 8th of March at The Botanist Exeter!
Sign up here!
By Isabel Flynn