The Female Fusion Podcast!
The Female Fusion podcast is your go-to resource for inspiration, motivation, and practical advice for female entrepreneurs.
Hosted by Jen Blandos, a seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience building successful businesses, this podcast features insights and expertise from some of the world's top female entrepreneurs and industry experts.
Whether you're just starting out or looking to take your business to the next level, the Female Fusion podcast is here to help you achieve your business goals.
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- How being told 'no' became a catalyst for growth and helped Jen build a successful business across several countries
- The strategies Jen used to survive two global recessions
- How Jen used her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer as a push for positive change in her business
"Focus on thinking big and driving your business ahead. And if you do that, they're never going to catch you, they're never going to be you."
In this episode:
1. How being told 'no' became a catalyst for growth and helped her build a successful business across several countries
2. What strategies Jen used to survive two global recessions
3. How Jen used her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer as a push for positive change in her business
- Find out more about Female Fusion at femalefusionnetwork.com
- Find out exactly where your business could be more profitable by taking our FREE Business Profitability Quiz at femalefusionnetwork.com/quiz
- Join the Fusion Circle Waitlist at femalefusionnetwork.com/join
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[00:00] How many of you heard the word no? You can't do that? Or don't you think that's a bit ambitious? Maybe you should be a bit more realistic.
Maybe you heard that when you were growing up or how about when you were setting up your business or maybe even today when you're running your business. I grew up being told no a lot. Maybe it was because I was a strongheaded child and frustrated my parents to no end. Or maybe it was because I just maybe thought a bit too big. The first prominent memory that I have was sitting in the car on the way to school with my mom and I was probably about eleven or twelve years old and I announced to her that when I grew up I was going to be the Prime Minister of Canada.
My mum looked at me and said, maybe you should be a bit more realistic in what you want to do when you grow up, Jen. And then I think she probably told me I should consider being a teacher, lawyer or maybe getting a degree in management or something like that. But guess what? I never did. Of course, now I just want to say that as well that I spoke with my mum about this a few times.
My mum, bless her, has no recollection of this ever happening and feels very, very bad that she said that to me in the first place. But you know, we know as being parents and I know as a mother as well that we always do the very best that we can with the tools that we have. And so I have no hard feelings towards my mum about that. But you know, I do like to think that way. Back then, that situation with my mum was probably the very first lesson in thinking big that I had.
Because for me, and I think as well as like a lot of entrepreneurs, I like to think big and I don't really like to take no for an answer. And it's something that I've learned over the past 20 years is a really great skill if you're an entrepreneur. So how did I go from being that girl who wanted to be the Prime Minister of Canada one day to living and working across several countries and owning peer agencies, training companies and now a community for female business owners? And it really started by accident. I like to say that I've been an accidental entrepreneur.
In 2002, I arrived in London after living and working in Brussels, stockholm. In Belgrade. Now those stories are for another day because I had a lot of fun in those places and there's a lot of interesting stories that I can add to that later. But back then I had worked as a senior Director in public relations for some of the biggest international PR firms. And I thought that landing a job would be easy when I returned to London, but it really wasn't.
Back then, nobody wanted to hire a girl with no London experience or contacts and of course, a Canadian accent. Yes, really, they didn't like my Canadian accent. But something strange happened because the the clients that I had worked for in Europe and Africa contacted me and they asked if I would do work for them or if I would coach their teams on how to be better in PR and communications. So, out of necessity, I started my own business because I needed a job. I had no idea then that it would lead me onto the journey that it has.
It first started as a PR agency and then very quickly, I also added on a training business. And within 18 months, I had a growing business and I landed a one year, 1.5 million US dollar contract with one global company. And my team went from just me working out of the spare bedroom in my flat to staff of over 15 people. I was lucky and perhaps pretty good at new business and understanding what my clients wanted that allowed me to grow. But the thing that I still find crazy is, can you believe that I was not even 30 years old at that time?
And the other thing as well, about one month after I incorporated my first business, I found out I was pregnant. And so my business baby was born at the same year that my actual baby was. So I can always remember how many years I've been an entrepreneur because it's the exact same year, the exact same age as my son Matthew. And my son Matthew is almost 20 years old. So I've been an entrepreneur for 20 years.
I didn't expect to have a business. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs find this, you know, that you think it's a way to make some money until you can find a job again. And that's exactly what I did. I knew nothing about running a business or having a team. And it was such a steep learning curve and I learned so many lessons along the way.
And what I found out as well is that most women don't go into business because they want to make lots of money. It's great if it happens, but often we go into business because we need a job like I did, or we want to make a difference or we want to take a passion and turn it into a business. I was really fortunate because I set up a business at the right time, in the right place. And I found a niche not only for the service, which was communications, PR and media training, but also for the market, which for me was international because no one wanted to hire a girl with a Canadian accent in London. So that actually became the strongest part of my business.
And my business was going along. So well, I even had a physical office in London. I had one in Brussels. And I ended up winning big contracts in Brussels with the European institutions. And as that was happening, this was like this really crazy period and I was looking at expanding fast to other markets.
And personally, things were going so well too, that at a very young age, I was able to buy the house of my dreams in central London. And it was really the first time that I felt properly grown up. But then something happened and that was 2008. The markets crashed, the banks collapsed and businesses disappeared overnight. Within one week, 90% of my contracts were gone.
Gosh, it was gutwrenching because the week before, I remember I had a board meeting. I had decided that I was going to be properly grown up and I had set up an advisory board and we had had an offsite meeting and we were talking about global expansion and one week later, it was all gone. I was devastated. But not only that, I was pregnant with my second baby, who is now my teenager, Eva. So what was I going to do?
Well, I had to pivot, and I had to pivot fast. And my staff were 15, I had to cut them back to three. And that was really devastating for me, because every single person that I employ, I really care about, and I see them as family and I always worry about the impact of them losing their job, what that will happen on them. So that was really hard for me. And I also had to really massively scale back my Brussels office to the absolute minimum so I would be able to service the contracts that we still had.
And thank goodness for Female Fusion contracts back then, because recession or not, they still happened. So that was something which was regular income for me. And so I learned it was really good to be able to have those contracts in different markets. But I was also devastated because although I had a number of months available to cover the cost of running my business in my business bank account, that that ran thin very quickly. So I had to take money out of my dream house, out of my mortgage, and to cover the spiraling costs of having a business in central London.
And the future seemed really bleak. I remember just the feeling of stress and anxiety and worry about potentially losing my business. But I was so determined that I wasn't going to lose that company, I hadn't come that far to throw in the towel. So what did I do? Well, first, I called my mum and dad in Canada and I asked them for help.
Not financial help, but more. I realized that I had to get out of central London and I needed to get on a plane and I needed to go and see customers around the world, even though I was pregnant at the time. My mum and dad got on a plane from Canada and moved in with me for three months to look after my son, who was quite little at that time, matthew, who's now a young man off at university. But that really enabled me to go into business recovery mode and really think about how I could rebuild and rebuild my business fast. Because after all, the clock was ticking.
I was due to have a baby in February 2009 and I had a limitation about how long I would be able to fly for. And so I needed to move fast. So while the small businesses were crumbling all around me, I had no choice but to think big again. What could I do and how could I survive? And, you know, there's nothing like a woman who's pregnant and knowing she's on a deadline.
So I knew I was going to be able to travel until early January 2009. And so I had two and a half months to really make it happen. So what did I do? Well, I looked east, I looked at the markets that weren't so negatively impacted by the recession and I reached out to my contacts that I had there, set up meetings, I went to talk to them. So this was well before the time of Zoom and we had Skype, but not many people were using Skype back then.
So when I reached out to my contacts that I had in these different markets, I set up meetings and I went to talk to them about how my business could support them and the work that they were doing. I listened to what they needed, what the requirements were, and then I really made sure that I adjusted what it was that I was offering to meet their requirements. So I'm a big believer in challenges that get thrown at us in life and they're there to put us on a new path or teach us a new lesson. And it was because of the recession in 2008 that brought me to Dubai. So I was in London at the time, but my pregnant round the world new business trip didn't go entirely to plan, but it did save my business and I managed to build some relationships and win a couple seven figure contracts in the GCC region.
And I had won one really big contract just before I was about to have my baby. And it was at that point that one of my clients said, you can't have the contract unless you agree to set up an office in the UAE. And you also have to do that and you have to agree to live here for a year, train up your team. And if you do that, if you're prepared to invest in setting up your business in the UAE and having a local team, and you will physically be here, not flying back and forth from London, which is what I was doing previously, then you have the business. And I thought, okay, you know what?
I'll go for a year. I thought it would be a great place to have a small baby, to maybe have some extra help and to look at building up the business. And the contract was so fascinating that I knew that the experience was going to be second to none for my business. So still in the height of the global recession, a few months after I had had Eva, I jumped on a plane, filled up my suitcases, and moved to Dubai with my two young kids and built another business. I was really fortunate that I had business that was already waiting for me, so it wasn't like I was starting from scratch.
And I left my business in the hands of a general manager, and I threw everything into building a business in Dubai. But little did I know that one year would turn into pretty close to 14 years in the UAE and the beautiful country that I still call home. And, you know, being an entrepreneur is not easy, and there are highs and there are lows, and we often have to think big because it's with that forward thinking vision that keeps us going. And I found that, for me, that often I would have these crazy ideas and think of, like, the biggest possible thing that I could do, and I would just go and do it, and most of the time it would work out. But with the highs of owning a business and all the beautiful things that come with it, there's also lows as well, and I'm not going to sugarcoat that.
And when you own your own business, that can be really tough when the business counts on you, that even if you're not in your business, no matter how well trained your team is, if you're out of the business for a significant period of time, the revenue that you have in your business is going to drop. It's not going to be the same level as revenue as it would be if you were in your business. And in 2012, I experienced that because I was diagnosed with breast cancer and totally out of the blue, and I had just gotten to the point that I had really rebuilt my business. After the recession of 2008, business was looking great, and then boom, I had to undergo surgeries. I had to have more than 30 days of radiotherapy treatments, all while trying to drop not too many balls and still having kids that were pretty young as well.
I think back then, Evo would have been three or four, and my son Matthew would have been eight, probably. So that was a really difficult period for me. And I learned that I could take the foot off the gas and allow my team to pick up from me. And it was a great learning experience for Empowering. My team to take over.
Because if I'm perfectly honest, that I was trying to do too many things. And I probably wasn't a great manager back then, and I maybe micromanaged a few things. And it really taught me to trust your team, to train your team, and to let them do it and to know that maybe they're not going to do it the way that we do it. Maybe they're not going to do it as good as we might do it, but they're going to do it and they're going to do a pretty good job. And at the end of the day, that is what we need.
And having a business isn't easy. And as you go through the roller coaster of entrepreneurship, you will have all sorts of personal and professional challenges thrown at you. And over the years, I've had employees steal substantial amounts of money from my business, others who tried to take my intellectual property and create a similar business. I've even had clients cancel big contracts, and I'm talking very substantial contracts because I refused to give them a 50% discount on the day that the work was due. Anything and everything that you could expect, I have pretty much gone through it.
And it's interesting that with this experience and with this background of having gone through this, I often see entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journeys sometimes getting upset if a competitor steals their ideas or copies their work. It happened to me very early on as well and it used to really upset me, but now I really don't care. And you know why I don't care? It's because I know that where I am that individually, that company will never be able to catch up, they will never be able to get to where I am because they might copy what I'm doing, but I'm ten steps ahead because I am always innovating thinking of new ideas and they will never be Jen. Kind of like I will never be somebody else as well.
Which is why it's so great for us to focus on ourselves and what we do well and not try to copy others. And if and when you have that happen to you, remember they're not going to be you. Don't take your eye off the ball. Focus on thinking big and driving your business ahead. And if you do that, they're never going to catch you, they're never going to be you.
The other thing as well, when we have these difficult things happen to us in business, it's so tempting to want to go home, to want to crawl into our pajamas, cry, maybe watch some Netflix and just feel sorry for ourselves. But at the end of the day, I might take a day, feel upset. Sometimes, depending upon what it is, I might even have a big cry. Sometimes that helps just to deal with the problem. But I also look at it to use it as an opportunity to tighten up my systems, my processes, policies, procedures.
And as I say to everyone, challenges like this, things that we go through simply become a really expensive training course that we learn from. And this is something that you should always hang on to. Things are going to happen that you are not going to love in your business. But what is important is that we look at that and say, how can we do it differently next time? What do I change in my business?
So this isn't going to happen. And it's always better, especially if you're starting out in the beginning to make those changes, to have that happen now rather than five years from now or ten years from now, when it could be a really, really big mistake. And I've gone through all sorts of mistakes, and I think I might even do a podcast just on all of the mistakes Jen has made in business, because I think it might be really interesting because it has been such a great learning experience. But what I find is really interesting as well is all of these challenges that we have in business, looking back at it, even a few years on, or several years on, about how it really helps point you to something different. And if I fast forward to February 2020.
At this point, I had offices in London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. I was traveling all over the world. Gosh, I think I was on a plane maybe about five to ten days a month. And I love travel. There is nothing more exciting for me than sitting in an airplane, having that airplane smell, putting on the seatbelt and the plane taking off.
I get in excitement every single time doing that. I love to travel and I love to go to new destinations. But back in February 2020, business was going so well. I remember I had had a really successful business trip to London towards the end of February 2020. We were pushing out like 25 or 30 new business proposals and tenders a week, and we were winning maybe 80% of those.
Like, business was good. And it felt like finally I had my business in a position where I could sell it and maybe look at doing something different. And then boom, it happened again. And, you know, in 2008, I lost 80%, 90% of our contracts. This time we lost 100%.
Every single project and contract that we had was canceled. Can you imagine as a business owner, just how that feels? And, you know, the the fear of the responsibility that you have for your employees? That was really where I was at that point. And my seven figure businesses, my London office, my Dubai office was going so well.
Went down to zero overnight. Now, I'm always a glass half full girl rather than half empty. And I'm always thinking positive and thinking about things we could do and thought, okay, this is going to last for a couple of weeks, maybe a month tops. I had no idea that it was going to be the way that it panned out, and I don't think anybody felt that either. And I always ran my business to make sure that we had money in the bank, to be able to cover costs, to be able to pay for rent, for salaries, several months.
So if anything happened, if you had a month where there was nothing that came in, you would still be able to run your business. And I had enough money in the bank to probably cover five months of running costs within the business. And at first we held on. We switched it online as quickly as possible, picked up a bit of work, but not really enough to keep the business running the way that it was, and also have everyone employed. And that was so heartbreaking for me that I had people who had worked for me for more than ten years.
I felt that personal responsibility for them, to support them, to support their families, and then to realize that I couldn't pay them indefinitely with zero money coming in. And what I found really hard about COVID was that this was global. I couldn't do what I did in 2008 and look east or south or north or even west, everyone in the world was exactly in the same situation as I was. I could innovate and offer more products and services online, and that's exactly what I did. But my clients were mainly corporate clients and a lot of them back then were like, no, I'm not really interested in online, don't really like online.
We'll just wait until things come back to normal. If it's like six months or one year, we'll just wait. It doesn't matter. We don't want to do anything online. And that was a bit challenging.
But remember how I said as well that we as entrepreneurs, we always think big, right? We're always thinking about what's next and what our vision is. And so I saw the global pandemic as an opportunity because for the longest time, I didn't really love my businesses anymore. I didn't have that same passion and love for them that I did when I first set up my business. So you know what I did?
I just walked away. Now, there's a little bit of a backstory behind that and I'm not going to go into a lot of it. And the reason for that is that my business partner in my other business was my ex husband. And COVID made me realize that I could do something else. And the reason why I don't talk about it in a lot of details is that I had two kids with my ex husband.
And I think sometimes those of us, if we have kids, that we have a responsibility to not talk about our kids. And you might notice if you see on my social media either my personal social media or work social media. I very rarely talk about my kids and the reason is my kids are teenagers and of course teenagers are slightly different, but they don't really want me to talk about them. So I don't overshare anything in their lives that they are responsible for their social media footprint and they don't really want to be talked about it a lot. So I don't really talk about it a lot, but COVID made me realize that there was something bigger out there for me and that was probably the biggest good thing that came out of COVID for me, because I always wanted to do something bigger.
I wanted to do something that helped people and really, really made a difference. I used to go and say that if I sold my businesses, I was going to go work for the UN for a couple of years. I wanted to have a job working for the UN because I felt that that was going to be a really beautiful way to give back. So as I decided to leave my big business, the one that I had known for decades, an opportunity came up and I was approached by a woman who had a Facebook group called Female Fusion. And it was a group that I regularly used to get information about where I could find an expert or how I could solve a problem in my business.
And at that time, there was probably maybe about 7000 female business owners on there. They were mainly from around the UAE and she had had this group for about five years and people loved it. I loved it. It was just such a lovely community to connect with other business owners and she wanted to see if it could be Monetized. But because she lived in the UK and had done since, I think about 2010, it was impossible for her to do much with it not being physically based in the UAE.
So she asked me if I was interested in turning it into a business and maybe seeing if this Facebook group could be Monetized. So I was like, why not? I'm not doing anything else. Sounds like a bit of fun. So in September 2020, we launched a paid membership with around 100 founding members.
And that was really great. Look, I had no idea what I was doing. I'd never had a membership before, never had a digital business. It was such a steep learning curve. And I will do an extra episode in this podcast talking about memberships and also building a digital business because that's so fascinating in itself.
But around the same time, I was also approached by UN women who asked me if I would be interested in helping them create a program for business owners in the UAE. Do you know what? I couldn't believe it. I was like, I thought that Female Fusion was like the UN giving back and supporting other business owners, but then UN women asked me to work for them as a consultant. How could I say no to that?
And I think as well, so many women who I know, it's their dream to be able to have worked for the UN for a bit. So I jumped in with 2ft and said, yeah, absolutely, I would love to. So that was a really interesting experience. And I created a program in the UAE. I designed it and ran a number of elements of it for female business owners in the UAE.
I did that for 18 months and then around mid 2022 decided that I had taken it as far as I could go. And Female Fusion was growing so quickly that I needed to focus on that.
As I look at my entrepreneurial career of almost 20 years, I look back and feel so much gratitude for all of the lessons that I've learned and the experiences that I've had, the people that I've met, the cultures that I've learned about, and the incredible countries that I've visited. I'm currently on about 76 countries. Okay, I do count. I'm on 76 countries. And now that the COVID restrictions are over, I'm looking at adding quite a few more.
I used to have a rule before COVID that I wanted to visit two new countries a year. In 2022, I added one new country, that was Australia. I'd never been to Australia before 2023, I'll be looking at adding one or two more countries. I'm thinking potentially somewhere new in Africa might be fun, but I'll update you on that in the next couple of months. But international is just it has my love, and being able to help other women in business is something that I'm just so passionate about.
And when I decided to step in and be part of Female Fusion, so many people said to me, it's just a Facebook group, what are you going to do with a Facebook group? You're wasting your time. But I really had a vision because I believed that something was missing. And what was missing for me as a female business owner is I didn't have a community, I didn't have a support network of other women to help me build and grow my business. And especially in the pandemic, I felt very lonely because I didn't have people that I could consult and talk to, especially other women who owned a business like me.
So I really discovered that by taking this Facebook group and turning it into a business. Turning it into a paid membership that bringing together other female business owners. Doesn't matter if they've just started out or if they've been in business for 20 years and have an eight figure business that no matter what stage of the journey you're at, beautiful things can happen and these beautiful relationships can flourish.
Towards the end of 2021, the creator of the Facebook Group stepped aside and we came to an agreement that she wanted to focus on her work in the UK. And I really wanted to take Female Fusion and give it a go and really see if I could make that my main focus and turn it into a business and make it the largest community for women in business, not only in the UAE or the GCC region, but globally. Because I really see that when women build connections and they have a network and they support each other whether they're in the same city or country or several different countries, that that support network is amazing. And now that we're so used to working online and digitally, that there's so much work that can be done across borders. And what I see with Female Fusion is that Female Fusion can really be the catalyst for that.
That we can really provide that framework and that structure for women all around the world to buy from each other, to sell to each other, to be able to introduce each other to other contacts and connections, to be that support network for people. And that's a really powerful, beautiful thing. And as we grow and as we scale with more and more members, we're at close to 1000 members now, that I also see as well, that there is the power and really being able to make change. So a couple of issues really, really bother me when it comes to women owning businesses. And one is that women don't get access to the fair share of funding.
That is proven by statistics and facts. Women just do not get access to the same amount of funding. And there's another number of reasons for that and I don't have to go into detail on that now, but one of the reasons why they're not is that they often don't have access to the same networks that men do. So what better way than us is Female Fusion with the power of such a strong community being able to give our members access to that kind of network and those people who might invest in them. So that is a big thing that we are championing because I don't want to see that it's less than 1% that women are getting funding in certain parts of the world.
That is absolutely ridiculous. It needs to be on par. And the same thing as well goes for contracts that globally women owned businesses are getting 1% to 2% of the value of contracts compared to male owned businesses. And again, there's a number of reasons for that. But that's where I really, again, want to use the power of community to connect buyers, to connect heads of procurement with some of the incredible businesses that have been created by women.
And that is something which I'm really excited about, that we, as Female Fusion, can change the world and make it a better place for women who own businesses. And I often say that I have this dream when it comes to my daughter, who is currently 13. At the moment, she'll be 14. And in another month, that when she's my age, that I want her to be able to kind of laugh and say, gosh, can you remember back in the days of our mums that it wasn't equal, that women owned? Businesses weren't getting the same amount as men, that they weren't getting the same amount of contracts, but that so much work has been done that those gaps have been closed, and it's not even a conversation anymore.
And that is really my dream about where we can be able to take it. And as entrepreneurs, people tell us that we can't do things, that we shouldn't quit our job to focus on a business, or that we should go back to that day job because we're not making enough money, or that we shouldn't expand to that new market or even that idea that we have isn't really going to make us money. But my challenge to all of you who are listening is to think big, to surround yourselves with women and men who lift you up, to surround yourself with those who support you, challenge you when you need it and are going to be your biggest cheerleaders. And when we as entrepreneurs come together, and as women, when we come together, the support is really where that magic happens. And as women and as female business owners, we're so much stronger together.
And this is a zone where we encourage each other to think big. And my thinking big for female fishion is that we're going to tackle two of these really big problems through the power of having such a big community that we can have those conversations, we can make those introductions. We can make those changes so that when my daughter is my age, they're going to laugh and say, can you believe that this was even an issue? And that is my biggest dream.