'Thriving, pushing boundaries, creating new products and services and serving clients with grit and grace…'

Ahead of the Network Ireland Business woman of the Year Awards, on October 2, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to the Cork finalists, for WoW! over the next three weeks
'Thriving, pushing boundaries, creating new products and services and serving clients with grit and grace…'

Winner of the Solo Businesswoman Maeve Lankford, Kaleidoscope Coaching and Facilitation at the 2020 Network Ireland Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards, sponsored by Brown Thomas. Picture: Darragh Kane

Maeve Lankford Network Cork: Solo Business Award

AS a sole trader, who continued in business, Maeve Lankford wasn’t entitled to a single Covid payment, which made the pandemic the single biggest business challenge she has ever faced.

Describing the exclusion to any financial supports as ‘very harsh,’ she said there was a period of a few weeks when she wondered if she’d even have a choice about whether to keep going or not, even though she never once thought about giving up herself.

Maeve is a transformational coach and facilitator who runs Kaleidoscope Coaching & Facilitation where she works with individuals and groups to empower them to develop a compelling vision for what they want to achieve and teaching them the tools and strategies to achieve it.

She grew up in the local shop in Kilavullen, where she now lives with her husband Andrew and three teenage sons, Eoin (aged 19), Oisin and Ultan (twins, aged 16).

Maeve says there has always been a bit of an entrepreneur in her DNA. That helps a lot to explain why, by May, not only were her existing clients returning, so too were new ones, and why she’s actually gone on to expand her services.

But before she got to to this place, she had to overcome two major Covid induced challenges to her business: convince people to work with her virtually, and find new ways to engage with potential clients.

“The early months of Covid were genuinely very challenging as all organisations postponed or cancelled all the work that was scheduled. Even though I was confident that much of that work could be done virtually, the organisations themselves were not yet ready to take that plunge.

Network Ireland Cork’s president, Marguerite O'Sullivan with Winner of the Solo Businesswoman Maeve Lankford, Kaleidoscope Coaching and Facilitation . Picture Darragh Kane
Network Ireland Cork’s president, Marguerite O'Sullivan with Winner of the Solo Businesswoman Maeve Lankford, Kaleidoscope Coaching and Facilitation . Picture Darragh Kane

“Over time though, as it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over quickly, I’ve been working with those same clients to take those original projects online so that the show can go on in terms of supporting staff development and continuing with the scheduled work. In this context, Zoom has become my best friend! I think I’ve used pretty much every feature it offers at this stage to make my workshops engaging and interactive for everyone.” 

Maeve’s other big initial change was to find new ways to engage with new clients.

“Previously, people might attend workshops that I was doing within an organisation and then come to work with me individually, either self-funded or funded by their organisation. In the absence of those, I needed to create opportunities for people to experience what I have to offer. To that end, I created a four-session programme called Standing Firm to support people in building resilience and the capacity to respond well to any challenge.” It was a massive success after she offered this for free, online and had over 300 people participate in April and June.

“Organisations have subsequently brought me in-house to offer to their staff and it led me to come in contact with many new people and audiences. I continue to now offer more workshops and programmes publicly to expand this new way of engaging with people,” she said.

Maeve started out as a solopreneur in 2014, initially combining it with her part-time job in UCC as Welfare and Development Manager in the HR department there.

“I worked with the Leadership Foundation in the UK (now Advance HE) as Champion for the Aurora Women in Leadership programme in Ireland. The combination of both jobs was very challenging (anyone who has worked two part-time jobs knows that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!). However, the experience also gave me the confidence to make a go of it on my own, doing contract work for the Leadership Foundation and working for myself. I went out on my own on that basis in November 2015 and have never looked back,” she remembers.

“And in truth, 50 was looming as a milestone birthday and I felt it was then or never!” 

She loves the freedom of working for herself.

“I have never felt I was doing anything I didn’t want to do. Even the things that I find challenging, like doing my tax returns – they’re all part of my business so I don’t resent that work. I used to say if you want to really challenge yourself, do a PhD! Now I say, if you want to really challenge yourself, become an entrepreneur, then you’ll really know what you’re made of!” 

Winning the Network Cork Solo Business Award was a huge endorsement and she says the group have been an amazing support.

“I always tell my clients about the importance of having role models who are succeeding in the area you want to succeed in. And Network Cork has provided that for me: women in business who are thriving, pushing boundaries, creating new products and services and serving their clients with grit and grace…the network has also been a source of friendship, encouragement and, just recently, celebration. What’s not to love?” 

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