My name is Claire Young, born in Johannesburg and brought up in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where I live today with my gorgeous 3 year old daughter, Eva.
Many people will remember me as the highly driven runner up of series four (2008) of ‘The Apprentice’ where I was dubbed a ‘Rottweiler’ by Lord Sugar for my tenacious approach in the boardroom. The experience of reaching the final where I came ahead of 40,000 other candidates inspired me to set up my own business.
In 2011 I started ‘School Speakers’. School Speakers is the UK’s No1 speaking agency for schools, colleges and universities. We have over 320 speakers working with schools across the country aiming to motivate, educate and inspire their students. I also co-founded ‘Girls Out Loud’, a platform which helps young girls realise their aspirations and to build confidence in themselves.
Stepping aside from my own business, I regularly work within the media as a journalist and radio presenter in addition to advising the government on projects for young people and women. I have been nominated for the Queen’s Enterprise Award twice. In 2015 I was named ‘Business Person of the Year’ at Wakefield District Business Awards, also winning the coveted ‘Forward Ladies Women in Business Award’ 2015 for School Speakers and the ‘Mumpreneur 2015’ award.
What inspired you to start school speakers?
After taking part in The Apprentice I was contacted by a number of schools to visit and speak to students. Soon I was overwhelmed with the amount of speaking requests and started passing work to other entrepreneurs. One day I was asked for a recommendation for a speaker for Black History Month and I suggested a friend of mine. I had the light bulb moment and spotted a gap in the market to help schools find inspirational speakers for the schools under one umbrella brand. I called this brand ‘School Speakers’ bought the domain name for £12 and had a website built for £1500. I have learnt from Alan Sugar to keep overheads and costs to a minimum! The business has been built through my energy, contacts and passion to succeed. School Speakers started in 2012 with 54 speakers and we now have over 300 speakers visiting schools across the UK & now internationally.
You clearly do a lot. On top of running school speakers, you also work as a government advisor, a journalist and a media presenter to name a few. How do you manage your time between work and family life?
I am really disciplined and use an online diary – and stick to it! I prioritise what is important to me (like collecting Eva from school, taking her to ballet and swimming) and fit my work commitments accordingly. Time is really precious to me so every meeting has an agenda & purpose. I don’t dilly dally!
As you know, running a business means taking on added responsibility. What top tips would you provide to a mum who wants to start a business?
1. Find a mentor – their support will be invaluable.
2. Join, or create, a network of other entrepreneurs. It can be quite lonely at times.
3. Get help with a business plan from a high street bank, they often have free support.
4. Have confidence in yourself and your business.
5. Most of all – GET ON AND DO IT – hardest part is getting started.
Has parenthood changed your outlook towards the way you do business?
Yes, I am much stricter with my time than I use to be. I have a huge amount to fit into everyday so I am disciplined. I also want to be a good role model to my daughter – to install a strong work ethic and passion for life.
Has being in business changed the way you see family life, how has it helped Eva with her development?
Eva understands work and why people have to go to work. She has made me switch off at home – I literally walk in the door at home and my phone goes on silent until she is in bed. The most important value to me now is good work life balance. I have gone from working 7 days a week all hours to not working at weekends and not working too late.
What are your dreams over the next five years time with school speakers and with Eva?
I really enjoy working and building School Speakers, we are working with more and more international schools. I would like every school in the UK to know about School Speakers and use us!
One day I will sell the business and move into a political role – I don’t want to become an MP. So I will use the next few years to figure out exactly what. I am driven my making change and delivering a contribution. Eva – for her to enjoy school, be happy and healthy – that support will be really useful.