Describing the most popular dish on her menu, Caroline Gardner leaves little to the imagination. That would be “our papadias which are like quesadillas but with crispy mashed potato and grilled onions. And then fried, but crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. And covered in salsa.”
Caroline, with help from her mother and her boyfriend, runs a Birmingham street food business called Buena Onda (“good vibes” or “good times”) specialising in Mexican cuisine. Caroline’s mum came to the UK from Jalisco, the Mexican state where tequila is made.Food is important to the family. “It’s always been a treat”, she says. The policy growing up was “no one can leave mum’s house hungry. She’s very nice, very hospitable, and loves a spread. We can just eat and chat, chat and eat non-stop.”
Buena Onda was born during the pandemic, when the rule of six was still in place and food could only be served outside. Daunting as it was, she’s enjoyed the experience of setting up the business, she has found the process simpler than expected thanks to business financial platforms like Tide. With that not as much of a concern as it might have been, she’s been able to enjoy seeing her business grow. Having been cooped up indoors for months it was “magical”, says Caroline, to finally “wonder freely through this market”, watching people enjoy her food. It “just felt like a glimpse of real life, something we hadn’t seen in so long”.
Even before the pandemic, Caroline had been cooped up in a “job that I hated”, working for a student accommodation company. But one day she saw her local market advertising for “‘experienced’” food traders on Instagram. She had no experience at all but applied anyway, thinking that her mum’s nachos were so delicious that she might as well try and sell them. “I thought, ‘I’m not doing anything else right now, I’m looking for other work, it’s summer’”, she says.
Blood, sweat and tears
Running a business is hard, so she’s grateful that Tide has the financial side of the business covered, allowing her to focus on the bits of the job she enjoys.
Cooking for large numbers of people quickly is “high pressure. It’s blood, sweat and tears.” And “it’s always completely different. Just because 26 people came last Saturday, it doesn’t mean they will this Saturday.” Everything from train strikes to the weather can spoil a day’s trading, and you can “stand there feeling quite demoralised”, if, say, a chip van undercuts you at a school fête.
Markets charge hefty prices, too, sometimes up to 30 per cent of the day’s takings in addition to a pitch fee.The best piece of advice she has been given, she says, was to put up her prices. “We were still making a little bit of profit but not enough. When you’re feeling new and like I’m not a trained chef you think, ‘Oh gosh, it just feels a little bit cheeky.’” But you do what you have to.
Two years in, Caroline and team still feel “a little bit of panic” set in when they set off for the day. Luckily, there is “still a feeling of sheer joy whenever we’ve finished having a really great weekend somewhere”. Those weekends are a lot easier thanks to Tide, the mobile-first bank for small and medium-sized businesses. Caroline’s grateful she found what amounts to a one-stop-shop for the financial side of her food operation.
Caroline got the app on day two of setting up the business, finding Tide almost by luck whilst googling in bed on her laptop. “I looked on Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert for the best business accounts for small businesses,” she said. The bank she used for her personal finances wouldn’t allow her to open an account as a pop-up caterer, so it was a case of “on to the next.” “I personally haven’t loved my experience with other more traditional banks”, she says. She has memories of a “little calculator thing for codes. I don’t want that. I want something that’s simply built for an iPhone”, she says. Caroline remembers the need to open up a laptop and remember 12- digit-codes with other banks, whereas on Tide it’s a simple – but safe – process on your phone.
Tide is simple to use and the “transactions come out really quickly” unlike with the big banks. Tide’s connectivity to third party accountancy tools is especially useful, says Caroline. She simply import pictures of receipts from Tide into the accountancy software, saving her stress and time. Her first VAT return was not as “traumatic” as she had expected, she says, “thanks to Tide and the accountancy software I had in place. I thought it was going to take me the whole month of January but it was actually like two hours.” Tide frees up Caroline to spend more hands-on time with her business. She can get more joy out of it.
Rising female business owners in the Midlands
By Heather Cobb, SVP Member Engagement at Tide
Female entrepreneurship is thriving. Echoing the rise in female executives leading the workplace, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of women starting their own businesses over the past decade. Latest data from the Rose Review into entrepreneurship shows that the number of all-female-led incorporations accounted for 20% of new UK businesses started in 2022, up from 16% in 20181 .
Being my own boss
Our latest Women in Business survey of almost 2,000 Tide members2 found that theWest Midlands is one region in the UK where we’re seeing a rise in female entrepreneurs. Here, over a quarter (27%) of women stated that ‘being my own boss’ was the top reason they started their business.
Take Tide member Caroline Gardner, for example. Caroline left her stressful job in student accommodation during the pandemic to setup Buena Onda (‘goodvibes’ or ‘goodtimes’), a Mexican Street Food Business.What she loves most about having her own business is the “freedom to move around and adapt our menu based on the weather, the venue,the occasion”.
Caroline’s story tracks with a broader narrative – a major incentive for women to start their own business is to gain more autonomy. Going back to our survey, almost one in five (18%) launched their venture to have flexible working hours and a better work-life balance – almost twice as likely as their male counterparts (10%).
Expressing creativity is another motivator for female business owners, with over a quarter (26%) of our female members in the West Midlands admitting they started their business to pursue a creative idea. Others felt like it it was the right time to pursue their passion (8%) or put their specialist skills to work (14%) For Caroline, it was cooking the food she loved, and the chance to break away from a previous role that had been quite monotonous. Crucially, she wanted to give her business idea a shot.
Despite major progress on female entrepreneurship, one troubling fact persists – three times more women(19%) than men told us that gender was a barrier to launching their businesses.
Like the rest of the UK, the biggest obstacle facing female business owners in West Midlands ,in particular, is a limited access to finance (20%). This is followed by lack of knowledge about a particular business area or not receiving financial support from friends or family (both 16%).
A helping hand
At Tide,we recently met our target of welcoming 100,000 female-led businesses to our platform3, with some of our key growth areas including cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, amongst others.
But our work doesn’t stop here. Helping women overcome barriers to successfully run their own own businesses is an important goal for us.We’re committed to supporting these women reach their full potential, whether that be through operational advice, networking opportunities or finance recommendations.We know that it’s only when women feel empowered and supported in achieving their goals, that they can make a positive and lasting impact on their communities – and help inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
1. The Alison Rose Reviewof Female Entrepreneurship– 2023’s progress report
2. The Tide member survey was conducted UK- wide between 3and7 February 2023, with 1,961 total respondents, with regional data on the WestMidlands.
3. We’ve on boarded more than 100,000 female members. Here’s what they’ve told us about starting a business. Based on an average sample survey of Tide members