Interview with Susannah Davda, The Shoe Consultant
Read how footwear designer Susannah Davda turned her professional experience and passion for shoes into a successful, family-friendly business as The Shoe Consultant.
What’s your career background?
It’s very dull really. I’ve only ever worked in shoes! I worked in several shoe shops as a teenager, and while I was at university. I then studied for a BA (Hons) in Footwear Design.
When I graduated, I worked in buying and design for UK retailer Jones Bootmaker. I then moved to Dr. Martens and became their Global Women’s Product Manager. See? It’s all shoes, shoes, shoes.
How did your career change after having children?
I was struggling to get pregnant while I was working in the corporate shoe world. This was one of the reasons I decided to resign to set up my consultancy business.
I also guessed that doing my role part time wouldn’t be an option if we were able to start a family. Being a global product manager involved a lot of travel, and I had a long commute. I didn’t think those things would be compatible with the time I wanted to spend with a child.
Thanks to some medication and a reduction in my stress levels, I became pregnant just days after the end of my notice period. My business baby and real baby were conceived at pretty much the same time. Thanks to having saved up a chunk of money, I was able to start the business slowly, and take the rest (and eating) time I needed whilst being pregnant.
When my little boy was one, he started attending nursery, and I was able to focus on the business for three solid days a week. He recently shifted to three days, and spends one day with my husband.
I love the flexibility that working for myself offers. Being able to build up my work gradually as my son needs me less is a real privilege.
When did you get the idea for your business?
I had been blogging about shoes and sharing my expertise under the name The Shoe Consultant for some years, but struggled to monetise it with affiliate links and adverts.
When I decided to set The Shoe Consultant up as a limited company, I thought about how I could share my shoe knowledge. I only thought of consulting for shoe brands, guest speaking and writing in December 2014 when I was seriously considering leaving my product management role.
I presented my plan to my husband, and was shocked when he said ‘yes, do it’. These are now the main revenue generators for my company.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
After I registered the company, I started attending networking events and workshops run by Enterprise Nation. I met a lady who wanted to launch a shoe brand. I started consulting for her, and attracted some more clients through social media.
I was also booked for several paid and unpaid speaking engagements around this time. I evolved my blog to be a proper website including the business services I offered.
What’s your USP?
I’m on a mission to change the way we shop for shoes. I love sharing shoe stories and tips with women via my talks and articles.
I support small and start-up brands, and provide them with the information they need to succeed. With my help, these small brands are thinking deeply about what women want to wear on their feet. It’s my hope that soon all women will be able to buy shoes they love to wear.
Who’s your target audience?
Women who care about what they put on their feet, and women who want to design shoes.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
The best way I’ve found is to attend networking and industry events, and meet people in person. Online, I focus on three social media platforms: LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. I also update my website regularly, so my SEO is strong.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
A lack of confidence I suppose, but self-belief grows with time and the right support. Two amazing female business coaches have been instrumental to the success I’ve had so far.
And your proudest moment so far?
The first month I was able to take a salary felt like a real milestone. More recently, I was delighted to speak about sustainability in footwear at the trade show Pure London earlier this year.
Why is work so important to you?
I love helping women, and talking and writing about shoes all day.
Running my own business allows me to push the limits of what I think I’m capable of. Only by taking risks and doing things I’m scared of does my confidence (and revenue!) grow.
Who inspires you?
Intelligent, driven female entrepreneurs who help other women: Holly Tucker, Janet Oganah, Sara Tasker, and my business coach Jess Rogers to name just a few.
How do you balance your work with your family?
Working from home means I sometimes struggle to separate work from family time. I’m still working on this, but it’s easier to make a mindset shift now I can work solidly from Monday to Thursday. Fridays with my son are sacred, and we often cook together which I love. I can’t check my emails with floury hands.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
Don’t wait forever to start your business. Do make sure you have your finances in place, and a really good business idea. Don’t let your dreams of owning a company be just dreams, and regret you never did it. Starting my business has been the best thing I’ve ever done.
Holly Tucker always describes running a business as like being on a roller coaster. The highs are amazing, and the lows are really tough. Cling on to the highs and remember to enjoy them. Appreciate how having your own business allows you to take full credit for your achievements.
Leave the house. In this digital age, it’s easy to get stuck at your desk, and miss out on opportunities in the real world. By attending networking events, brand launches and courses, I get to meet amazing people face to face.