Launching your own business requires a big leap of faith at any time, but never more so than in the current period of political uncertainty.
However, after 18 months of careful planning, Lizzie Atkinson took the bull by the horns and opened her Beauty Suite in late November.
The salon in Ringmer is not just the realisation of a long-held dream. It’s a demonstration of what a proudly independent woman can achieve when she’s determined to build a secure future for her and her seven-year-old daughter, Maggie-Jo.
“My favourite saying has always been ‘fortune favours the brave’ and although there’s so much political and economic turmoil at the moment, I wasn’t prepared to wait until it all settles down so I decided it was worth taking the risk now,” Lizzie says.
There has never been any doubt that she would forge a successful career in the beauty world. Since she was a teenager she has devoted herself to becoming the ultimate professional, trained to the highest standards and always aiming for perfection.
“I had my first job when I was 15, a Saturday girl at a salon in Brighton,” Lizzie says. “Then I started a two-year course at South Downs College when I was 16 and I’ve never stopped since.
“The reason I wanted to be a beautician is my auntie, who was heavily involved in doing make-up on film sets. It sounded very exciting so I’m following in her footsteps a little bit. I was planning to do a course in theatrical make-up but at the same time I was accepted for a job on cruise liners with P&O and my adventurous instincts took over. It was hard work, 14-hour days, but I really loved it.”
Lizzie worked on the liners for three years, getting to see a lot of the world as she cruised the Mediterranean, the French Riviera, Italy and the Caribbean.
“I loved the trips to the Norwegian fjords, watching humpback whales and dolphins as they surfaced alongside the ship,” she says.
“I was only 19 when I started, the youngest of 800 crew members and one of only a few who were British. I was highly-trained to their very high standards by the incredible staff I worked with who came from all over the world. It was the kind of international experience I would never have gained if I’d stayed in the UK.
“It was an incredible experience for someone so young who had grown up in a very small rural village. Everybody treated me like family, taking me under their wing, and I developed a lot of respect for different cultures. A lot of the crew were from the Philippines and on Philippine Independence Day we had a huge party, wonderful food, dancing, karaoke.
“P&O have their own clientele, mainly retired people treating themselves to a cruise, but I got a lot of experience dealing with all kinds of passengers, especially on the Caribbean trips where we had a lot of Americans on board who had different ideas and standards when it came to beauty therapies but also had a great sense of humour. That could be interesting and sometimes absolutely hilarious.
“I have such fond memories of those three years but I became a little homesick after all that time away and started thinking about what else I wanted to do with my life. I’d got married and had my daughter, and there’s no chance of hopping on a cruise ship when you have a young child, but I wanted to carry on working.
“As part of a TV show I took a job interview that resulted in an amazing job with a lovely famous salon in Brighton, another amazing experience but not really what I was looking for. I know working there helped me develop my skills even further, but there was no prospect of moving into a management role.
“I moved to Toni and Guy in Brighton and fronted their beauty department for nearly seven years. I absolutely loved working there but after getting divorced, I started to realise that even in a management role I wasn’t able to earn enough money as a single mum to give my daughter the kind of good life I wanted for her.
“I got some extra training in laser and aesthetics and 18 months ago I began to plan starting my own business. Not only did I want to give my daughter a better life, I wanted to show her that you can be independent, take control of your own life and make something work if you want it enough.”
In October, Lizzie got the keys to the premises which are now home to her Beauty Studio.
“It was an office before so although I had to keep trying to earn money until we opened just a few weeks ago, I spent every evening and weekend getting it ready. It took me two months but I put every drop of paint on the walls and set up all the equipment myself.
“I was nervous, of course, but it’s already going really well and I’ve been so well supported by the local community as well as my friends and family. I’ve been really busy – I think people want to support local businesses, especially those run by women who are trying to break the mould.
“I am definitely different from other beauticians. This is not your average salon – I’m completely responsible and expert in everything I do, there are certain treatments that I won’t offer because I think that in the long term they can be damaging.
“I do have some young clients but I won’t treat anyone under the age of 18. I think there’s a big responsibility not to encourage really young boys and girls to have hang-ups about their images and want to replicate the latest trends.
“Apart from that, my clients are right across the board as far as age goes. The oldest is 94 and comes to me every four weeks. We sit down and have a chat before her treatment. Another lady is a 90-year-old, I love doing treatments for that age group.
“I also focus on male grooming, wellness and healing. There’s even more pressure on men nowadays and they can be very vulnerable so I do a lot of massage and holistic therapies for them. The Beauty Suite is here for everyone – it’s even decorated in gender-neutral colours.
“I’m so glad I took that leap of faith and love what I’m doing, though of course it’s a very busy life when you have family to look after as well. I try to organise things to get some kind of structure week to week, but sometimes I am winging it day by day!”