Being a homeless single mum who couldn’t afford a loaf of bread gave me drive to succeed – now I’m set to turnover £100k

BEING a homeless single mum to two young children who, at her lowest ebb, couldn’t afford basic groceries, gave Rachael Jones the determination to create a better life for her family.

“The worst point was when I checked my bank balance in Tesco and realised I couldn’t afford to buy both bread and a pint of milk for my kids,” Rachael, 32, exclusively told Fabulous.

“I had no fallback. I picked milk in the end because I knew the kids would drink it.”

Before falling on hard times, Rachael founded PANDAs, the UK’s leading perinatal mental health charity. She launched the foundation aged 21 after suffering with postnatal depression following the birth of her son. 

PANDAs has helped over 20,000 families cope with pre and postnatal depression, and Rachael was awarded Good Morning Britain’s Community Health Star.

But, following the breakdown of her marriage in 2015, Rachael was left penniless and without a permanent residence. She spent months living in a hotel with her two children, Andreas, 11, and seven-year-old Alexis.

“Originally we were sofa surfing between family and friends,” she said. “And then the local council put us in Travelodge as temporary accommodation.

“One of the strange things was that I had to have a hand-delivered letter from Shropshire council to say that I was officially registered as homeless because they didn’t have an address to post it to.”

During these difficult times,  she stepped back from her work at the charity and spent the next few years prioritising her kids and freelancing for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the Centre for Social Change.

The family were moved into a housing association home, which helped give them stability. 

But, after losing two freelance contracts in quick succession, Rachael founded Third Sector Experts, a consultancy company for charities, social enterprises and non-governmental organisations, in September 2020. 

And, despite the difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the business is now set to turnover £100,000 in its first year.

She said: “I’ve got two kids and I just couldn’t go back to not knowing when my next payday would be. 

“When you’re faced with the fact that you’ve got no work coming in, I was very determined not to end up in the same situation that I was in before.”

The worst point was when I checked my bank balance in Tesco and realised I couldn’t afford to buy both bread and a pint of milk for my kids.

Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, over 835,000 new businesses have been registered in the UK – which is a staggering 41 per cent increase from 2019.

However, a new study by the London School of Economics found that more than 900,000 businesses were particularly “at risk” of folding this year – with “micro” companies with less than 10 employees being among the most vulnerable.

At the end of last year, the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer found that one in 10 UK charities were at risk of being shut down within 12 months.

With over 10 years of experience in the charity sector, it dawned on Rachael that she could use her expertise to help non-profit organisations survive the pandemic.

She explained: “We take them from start-up to long-term sustainability and we pretty much do everything in between – like knowing the right forms to fill in to developing their business plan.

“We make sure they’re robust enough to deal with a crisis – like the pandemic!

“A lot of our clients are small to medium organisations and quite often they will be heavily reliant on one source of income – they haven’t quite got the fall-back for if something drastic happens.”

Rachael didn’t apply for any bank loans or outside funding and spent just £151 setting up her website on Wix and buying the domain name.

She continued: “I didn’t have a pot of savings or anything like that – mainly because I’m still paying off the solicitors from my divorce. I didn’t have the funds to pay for social media adverts but I joined Facebook networking groups. 

“I was very active online, answering user’s questions regarding charities and social enterprises and, in turn, they promoted my business.

“In the beginning I also spent a lot of time providing free 30 minute calls to help provide advice and guidance to organisations. This opened up opportunities and let people know how Third Sector Experts can help.

“The first client came from promoting it on social media within a few weeks. And I’d been very fortunate to have gained quite a few through word of mouth referrals from people who I previously worked with. It felt amazing when I got that first client and it still does to be fair – we have over 40 now.”

Determined to keep building the company, Rachael – who works from her home in Birmingham – spends £800 on online advertising every month.

How YOU can Boss It like Rachael and launch your own business:

1. Create a free and professional website using a builder such as Wix or GoDaddy. There are hundreds of customisable templates available, plus the site can help you with SEO and integrated marketing solutions. You can pay extra to purchase your domain name. 

2. Know who your customers are! As much as we are all guilty of saying ‘everyone’ in the beginning. ‘Everyone’ won’t buy your product or services. Think about who your customers or clients are, then how do you reach them, focus your efforts and energy there. I sought out clients in Facebook networking groups, it was free and easy to do. 

3. You HAVE to be consistent. Show up online, be consistent with posting on social media, keep your website up to date to help with SEO (Blogs are really good for this!). Why? This is for when a person thinks about your product or service, you are the expert that comes to mind, you’re the shop or service to go to before anyone else. As you are instantly the first thought of ‘they do that!’ / ‘Ask them’.

4. Figure out your pricing strategy. Ensure you have a pricing model that works. If you prices are too high, risk customers not buying from you. Price your self low and risk not breaking even. Be prepared to review your products or services, if they don’t sell or not enough interest, tweak, remodel and promote again.5. Play to your team’s strengths.  Know what you are good at and outsource what takes up your time and isn’t what you enjoy, virtually assistants are brilliant for this! Consider if you can replicate yourself to be able to deliver twice the amount of work, using freelance associates is a great way to start.

She also spends a further £300 on equipment – including laptops and camera lenses – and subscription services, including a networking organisation which puts her in touch with other businesswomen.

She explained: “Every time we got a paying client, we split it down the middle – partially to pay myself and then partially to reinvest into whatever it was that we needed, like insurance and consultancy agreements.”

In just eight months, Rachael already has hired two employees, who advise clients on safe-guarding practices, and she wants to hire two more by September to grow their international clientele in Europe and Africa. 

Since setting up the company from her living room, Rachael now counts the charities Daddies with Angels, Hope for Africian Communities and Shield among her returning clients.

She added: “Our organisation works well working from home, but once the Covid restrictions lift fully then I would be looking for the team to meet face-to-face on a quarterly basis to help with team building, training, moral and forming a supportive positive working environment.

“I love being able to speak to so many different people and organisations at a time where there’s so much hurt and upset in the world and I get to be in the privileged position where I hear the good that goes on. So while the news is understandably gloomy, I get to hear about organisations in Zimbabwe building schools.”

However, never in Rachael’s wildest dreams did she think her business would be so successful so soon.

She continued: “I thought I was going to have to get a part-time job and then do this on the side.

“We’re well on our way to turning over £100,000 by the end of our first year in September. If you’d said that to me last year, I would have told you not to be ridiculous. 

“I thought I was going to have a hard enough time paying myself let alone actually employ people. I just want to keep helping these organisations.

“I never went to university, I am not academically driven and never even took a business course. My qualifications were gained via work based learning programmes. I have a  Level three management and leadership and achieved a Advanced Level 5 diploma in Management and Leadership with the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) two years ago.”

Reflecting on how her experience of homelessness has shaped her, Rachael added: “I’m a lot more confident in my own ability and what I can achieve and it’s certainly made me a lot more resilient. 

“When you remember that you once had to pick between bread and milk, you realise that it’s really not that bad. We all get caught in temporary moments but things change and bad moments will pass.”

For more inspiring stories, we spoke to Molly Robson who set up my first business when she was 18 – now Mrs Hinch has turned her furniture company into a £5m empire.

Plus lockdown nearly killed their fashion business but now sisters Natalie Reynolds and Lexi Panayi are making £600k a month selling face masks – and Sam Faiers is a fan.

And Pamela Gruhn gambled her life savings to set up my chalk paint business – now Frenchic is worth £16m.

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