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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Ilona Alcock, Co-Founder of Elevate

My background is pretty varied. To date I’ve done everything from being a solicitor in commercial litigation, working in recruitment, running a tech company and now business development.

I was always a really nervous public speaker, I used to hate it and felt physically sick and shaky at the thought of talking in front of even small groups. Over several years I attended training, volunteered for speaking opportunities and even competed internationally. It’s now something I love doing and a key part of our Elevate offering.

I launched Elevate, a business development consultancy, with my business partner Katie in 2020 after we were both made redundant during the pandemic. It was a big risk but we haven’t looked back since.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Katie and I were Whatsapping back and forth after being made redundant, about the job hunt and how everything was going, we just naturally started to discuss whether there was something we could do together. We were both excited by the idea and got together for a socially distanced planning session at my house. We knew there was a gap for a fresh, agile approach to business development and were excited to build something of our own.

Don’t get me wrong we didn’t know exactly what we wanted it to be back then, so we focussed on where we could add value and the areas that mattered most to us; innovation, community and sustainability and worked out from there.

How did you achieve awareness?

Initially from LinkedIn. We spoke to lots of our contacts about what they were struggling with and how we could help and our first two LinkedIn post on the topics went wild!

It’s not just from LinkedIn of course, we’ve had unbelievable support from the business community we’re a part of. Lots of people took a chance on us at the start, passed on our name to their contacts and thankfully we’ve continued to grow.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

We are self-funded – at the beginning all we needed was as couple of phones and laptops. From there we’ve been able been able to grow thanks to support from our network. A great example is our partnership with Bruntwood Works, which allowed us to start supporting on public sector contracts and offered us a beautiful co-working spaces.

What are the key successes?

We’ve done so much in such a short space of time but there are a few moment where I felt really proud. Growing our team was a moment to celebrate – it showed us how far we’d come, and allowed us to recognise the growing demand for our time and skills.

We also became the first Carbon Literate business organisation anywhere in the world, which was incredible. And now a key part of our offering is taking other businesses through the Carbon Literacy process.

My proudest moment was probably our Northern Gamechangers Awards. We created an award programme to celebrate good business champions across the North, and on the night it was amazing to see so many of our dream clients and contacts coming together to celebrate our shared values.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Running a business is emotionally draining. We’ve had ups and down and we had to really pull together as a team to support each other and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. A big part of that comes from wanting to do an incredible job and that was definitely another learning – we want to do everything to make our clients happy, but we had to learn how to set boundaries to ensure we’re not overservicing and we can deliver on multiple projects at once.

Another challenge was cashflow – as much as the emotional side was a challenge – cash is what keeps a business moving so we had to learn how to improve our credit control, build up a buffer and always keep an eye on costs.

What are your plans now/for the future?

We’ve got lots in the pipeline this year. We’ve recently launched a new initiative called Elevate The Conversation where we’re creating a diverse list of speakers who are experts in their field, with a view to diversifying panels and roundtables hosted by us and others to ensure a mix of voices.

We’re also partnering with Manchester Central to host the first Net Zero North Summit to connect sustainable businesses across the North. And we’re looking to further our own sustainability credentials by starting the B Corp process.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

My biggest piece of advice would be don’t do it alone. That doesn’t mean you need to have a business partner or a co-founder, but make sure there’s someone in your corner who will support you and that you can bounce ideas off.

Always remember why you started. Each day can be different and some are easier than others, but focus on your vision and that will drive you forward.  

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Work our your cashflow and how long you can go without getting paid. Outsource where you can and ask for help, don’t take on everything yourself and understand where someone else’s skillset will be more beneficial than your own.

From the outset make sure you understand what success looks like for you and make sure you’re chasing that, not someone else’s idea of success.  

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

I find Meghan Markle’s strength and determination to live on her own terms amazing.

The author, speaker and researcher Brene Brown has an incredible ability to make complex topics accessible and therefore reaches and impacts such a huge audience.  

Jacinda Arden has proved beyond doubt that no matter how successful you are you can be a compassionate leader.

Jade Skillen is a Hyrox master coach, after overcoming an illness that ended her professional football career she climbed back to the top of elite sport, proving that nothing can get in your way.

And last, but certainly not least my business partner Katie. She is a constant source of inspiration. She’s kind, driven, passionate about equality and has boundless energy.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

Slowing down and taking time for myself is something I really struggle with, so I love the saying “time you enjoy wasting, isn’t wasted”. It reminds me to slow down and enjoy “wasting” time.

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