Meet Vanessa Dennett, owner of The Simpson Sisters, a small business which runs creative workshops in relaxed and collaborative settings in Bristol and North Somerset. Like many women, Vanessa put her career ambitions on hold whilst raising her children, but now she is finally able to pursue her passion and showcase her creative talent through her blog and the workshops she runs.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small village in North Somerset and had a pretty idyllic early childhood. I went to the village primary school and then onto the local comprehensive where the idyll ended. I became pretty unmotivated and much more interested in horses and boys than anything academic. I was however considered bright enough to be studying the sciences at O-level and consequently wasn’t allowed to continue with the more creative subjects which I enjoyed.
Suffice to say that I was not successful at O-level, and after an unhappy start at a new school for A-levels I persuaded my parents to let me leave and go to secretarial college instead. I never particularly wanted to become a secretary, rather it seemed a good escape route. A couple of years temping and travelling persuaded me that office life was not for me and I applied for nurse training because I liked people and didn’t have sufficient qualifications to do anything else medical. It’s fair to say I could have given these decisions a little more consideration!
The following years were spent nursing and, following a knee injury, in various medically oriented sales and admin jobs – I recruited Australian nurses for the UK and sold plaster casts amongst other things! During this time I met my husband and we have lived and travelled around the world as he has pursued his career. Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden have all been home at various times.
Since the birth of our two daughters I have explored a number of potential careers, largely based upon what I could fit around the demands of caring for children while living overseas without any established network and a husband who travelled. I drew upon my secretarial skills typing at home in the evenings, my knowledge of anatomy as a massage therapist and my sewing skills as a technician in a school’s textiles department, but nothing left me feeling very fulfilled or enthusiastic.
How did the idea for your business come about?
While living in Belgium I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pilot online coaching programme by a friend establishing her business. I finally spent a bit of time thinking about who I am, my skills and my interests and concluded that what I would really like to do would be ‘something creative with other people’. At this point we moved again twice in short succession and I put these thoughts on hold. We returned to the UK and I found a job almost next door at St Peter’s Hospice where I helped manage their hospice based volunteers on a short-term contract. At the end of this contract I again felt the frustration and entrapment that I have so often experienced in office environments, and much as I love the hospice I looked again at the outcome of the coaching programme and thought “I just have to try something, anything, more creative”. It was at this point that several threads began to weave together.
- While overseas we had bought a small disused barn from my parents when they downsized from our family home and I had begun to blog very sporadically about the project, simply as a personal record and a way of family seeing what was going on. I had great intentions but too many moves got in the way and I never really got going.
- While at the hospice I undertook a Digital Mums social media management course in order to up-skill a bit and with the notion that this type of flexible working might suit me. During the course I attended an Instagram workshop at The Forge with Emily Quinton and was introduced to Makelight and the online world of creatives which had somehow been a secret to me until then.
- Originally a Simpson, I thought that The Simpson Sisters would make a great name for a business. Though I wasn’t sure what business I could possibly run I had bought the domain name a few years ago.
- Attending creative workshops of all sorts, from cake decorating to pottery, watercolours and stage make-up has been how I have met some of my best friends in various locations over the years and I have spent many happy hours learning new skills in this way.
It suddenly occurred to me that workshops were just exactly doing something creative with other people and that I could either keep attending them, or I could start running them. Being interested in so many different creative pursuits it seemed to me that collaborating with others would be a really great way to do this.
It has taken me a while to nail exactly what it is that I’ve been creating, but I’ve loved finding my way over the last year and can now confidently tell people that The Simpson Sisters is a small creative business whose aims are to encourage and enable creativity by offering a variety of creative workshops in a warm, friendly and relaxed environment, and by providing a small attractive venue for other creatives to use for similar purposes. I love sharing my home with people and workshop days are my absolute favourites. In fact, I’m teaching my first sewing workshop in September and have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had pursued textiles as a subject at school!
Social media has been a huge learning curve for me over the last 18 months, I didn’t even have an Instagram account until last year and had never tweeted until then either! However, it has proved a wonderful resource and I have benefitted enormously from so many of the lovely people I have met online. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are where I’m found regularly and although I sometimes find three platforms challenging I believe that they each offer something quite different to me. I would love to grow my audiences and have worked hard to improve my photography to this end.
Vanessa is following…
Simple and Season: I had followed Kayte’s blog for a while and jumped at the chance to hear her speak at Blogtacular. I was not disappointed and found her marketing advice invaluable.
Makelight: without some of Emily and Stef’s courses I would never have pursued Instagram, updated my website or begun sending a newsletter.