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Strong Yet Feminine Profile: Joanna Payne of Marguerite

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Strong Yet Feminine Profiles are a series of interviews, showcasing ambitious women who are striving to follow their passion. Many are working full time and pursuing their dream on the side, some have already taken the leap, and share their experiences (the good and the bad!).

Any career decision is difficult, but making a leap into a different field, in order to pursue a true passion, has to be one of the most inspiring stories. I know, for me, hearing stories like these were crucial to bolstering my confidence when considering my own change in direction.

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Joanna Payne, Founder & Director of Marguerite, tells how Marguerite has been spurred on by the inspirational people she has met, and how amazing it is that every experience prior to starting her own business has fed into this now brilliant project.

Joanna Payne

Q: Tell us a bit about your career path before you founded Marguerite

I began my career working in Development at Whitechapel Gallery before landing my first long term job in the VIP team at Frieze Art Fair, where I spent over four years as the company grew to three fairs in London and New York. After that, I spent a brief amount of time at another fair, Photo London, before leaving in June 2016 to focus on Marguerite full time.

Q: At what point did inspiration hit?

The original inspiration hit when I was still working at Frieze. I felt that a lot of the impressive women I knew working across the industry found it harder to realise their potential than the men I knew. They were nervous about asking for pay rises, yet were upset or even outraged when they weren’t getting them! I realised that a lot of this was down to a lacking in confidence and wanted to do something that gave women a ready-made support network which could in turn offer the confidence boost they needed to get what they wanted out of their lives!

The very first event took place in my living room in February 2015 and at that point, I honestly thought it would almost just be like a book club in that a different person would host the event in their home every other month. Little did I know how popular it would be or what it would become!

Q: Did you have a fully formed idea from the start or has it evolved over time?

Oh my gosh, no! After a disastrous turn of events, we ended up hosting our second event in an overpriced hotel bar that had absolutely no character – let alone any pizzazz! It was exactly the type of ‘networking’ event I hate – where people stand around awkwardly for a bit before making a swift exit as soon as it’s polite to do so!

After that, the model of Marguerite as it is known today was born. I realised that people are most likely to build genuine relationships when they a) have something interesting going on around them to talk about and b) are genuinely having fun! That’s why our events are always built around engaging and inspiring content – whether it be visiting an artist in their studio to hear about their practice or having the Director of Tate speak about how she got to where she is!  

My favourite events are the more active ones where there are surprise or unexpected elements that people come away buzzing from. The photo shoot we did with Rankin was unbelievable – as was the studio visit we did with Bompas & Parr where they had us all making our own jellies and ‘Marguerite Margaritas before taking us outside to set off a huge apple flavoured explosion in the car park!

I also think there’s something so special about breaking bread with people. The conversation you have when you’re sharing dinner with someone is always so much more in depth and interesting than when you have a fleeting chat with a drink in hand.  

The idea of Marguerite evolves every day and is spurred on by the inspirational people I meet, conversations I have, things I see and read about and feedback from our members. One of the best things about starting my own company has been not having to play by any rules or do things in a certain way just because that’s how they’ve always been done.

Q: What skills have you taken from your previous roles to help run Marguerite?

So many! Everything I’ve ever done has fed into where I am today. I owe a huge amount to Frieze – not only for teaching me so much about how to manage events and relationships, but also for their great support since I set up on my own.

I always think how wonderful it is how everything you do can feed into your future success, even if you don’t realise it at the time. Just after I left Frieze, I actually did a short stint with the catering arm of the fabulous Rochelle Canteen, Arnold & Henderson. I wanted to get experience in a different kind of events but quickly realised I really wasn’t cut out for catering! I drew so much on that experience recently however when I was hiring in all of the equipment for a big dinner we did. It’s important to remember that even when you feel like you’re not going in the right direction in your life or career, there’s always something positive or useful that can be drawn from the experience.   

Q: What network have you tapped into to help? Friends, family, previous colleagues?

Literally all of the above! Friends, housemates, family, past bosses, former colleagues, friends of friends, ex boyfriends, you name it!

There was so much I didn’t know about starting a business when I began, and I’m very much learning on the job/making it up as I go along! Things like how to look after the company’s finances, build a website, seal sponsorship deals, manage an appealing Instagram account, write a press release, complete a risk assessment form (?!) were all totally new to me. I’ve been amazed by how forthcoming my friends and contacts have been in offering their expertise - not to mention how willing they’ve been to give up their time to blow up hundreds of helium balloons, carry boxes, pack goody bags - and just generally support my sometimes bonkers ideas!

Q: What advice would you give to other women who are thinking of starting their own business?

Do it! There have been times when it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s also hands down the most rewarding.  The lows can be low when things don’t quite go to plan as everything feels so personal but the highs are out of this world.

But on a more practical level, I always say that my motto is ‘Don’t ask, don’t get’. It’s always so surprising how much people are willing and able to help when you just put your hand up and ask. Another good one is ‘Fortune favours the brave’. I always used to laugh when people told me that I was brave for turning my back on my steady income to go it alone – thinking it was more naivety that had led me to do so than anything. But again, it’s amazing how keen people are to support you when they’ve seen that you’ve really thrown your all into something.

Q: What has been the most rewarding moment to date?

The most rewarding thing for me is hearing our members’ success stories – the jobs they’ve got by meeting someone at a Marguerite event – or the friends they’ve made and projects they’ve embarked on together. For me, the most important element of Marguerite is that it creates a support network so it’s amazing to see that in action. I also get to meet so many extraordinary women on a day to day basis which is something I feel so lucky for.

In terms of specific moments, there have been so many high points in time but being invited to host a huge Marguerite event at Tate Modern back in February as part of their ‘Uniqlo Tate Lates’ was absolutely incredible. Over 13K people came through the doors that night and it was great to be able to share all that Marguerite stands for with such a wide new audience!

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