Your Name and Age:Salima Manji, Age 39
Tell us about your family: I have two children, Sam (9 years) and Sophia (7 years) both at school age.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
Previously I had a career in Investment Banking where I worked in the City of London. This was where I met my partner and I left banking to start a family. After two children, I returned to banking but found it hard juggling family and work and by this time I found that my focus had changed from pursuing a high flying career – I just wanted to spend more time with my children.
The idea of a supper club for singles came about when a few of my colleagues were complaining about the horrors of online dating. I decided that I could start a business that combined my love of food with the networking skills I had gained in the City. After a bit of research I set about designing a website and a few months later, the London Dinner Club was formed.
The transition itself was easy, as I’d already made up my mind – it was more the risk that was a concern for me, but I knew that I would work hard at it and make it a success.
When did you launch?
I started up the London Dinner Club in 2010
How did you get started?
I funded the start-up costs with some savings (approx £5,000) This was used to design and build the website, logo, business cards and PR.
What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?
I love the fact that my days are so varied. From trying menus in new London restaurants to dealing with membership enquiries and social media networking on Twitter and Facebook.
But my main aim throughout the whole project was to spend more time with my children. Whilst in banking, I envied my mum friends for things we all take for granted, like picking up their children from school and taking them to the park in the school holidays. Things like family days out were a luxury because of my hectic work schedule. Now, most of my work is fitted in flexibly around my children which is undoubtedly the best thing about running my own business.
There are other perks too! I like a good love story and a happy ending so I find matchmaking lots of fun. Hearing from members after they have found love through the London Dinner Club is so rewarding and that is what I go to work for.
What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business?
All the paperwork!
What has worked well about your business?
Our success rate. Three years after starting the London Dinner Club, we’ve had almost 400 members, a few have gone on to marry and several are engaged.
What’s been your biggest business mistake and how did you deal with it?
I tried to walk before I could run and if I could turn the clock back I would have taken things a bit more slowly but I was so keen to get my business off the ground that I almost couldn’t get success fast enough. Although I wouldn’t consider this a hindrance – it was still lots of fun!
How do you fit in work with the family? Is your partner supportive of your business?
When I worked in banking, my work/life balance was almost non-existent, but today I have managed to find the perfect balance between running a business and making time for my children. There was a point after having my first child and I was still on maternity leave, where I felt as though I needed another focus to keep the ‘old’ me alive. I was still an independent, motivated lady and I didn’t want that to change unnecessarily just because I had children – nor did I want to feel as though I had to sacrifice it. Now, I feel as though I have found a great compromise.
After the kids have eaten and finished their homework and had a bath, I call on a few babysitters who I’ve been using for the past four years so that I can rush out and go to my dinner parties/drinks evenings.
Are you working towards a financial goal for your business?
As well as the London Dinner Club I am also beginning a project aside to this which is exclusively for Asians. This will be The Asian Dinner Club and works in the same way, except members will just be Asian professionals – being Asian myself I thought that this would make a great addition to the Dinner Club brand. It has already begun and I am very excited about progress and future plans we’ve got going for this.
Would you ever give up your business to do something else?
At the moment I am really enjoying my business and it keeps me on my toes. Perhaps when my children get older my focus will change again – but for now I am happy.
Have you had your ‘I’ve made it’ moment? Tell us about it. If not when do you think it will come
At the beginning when I started my business I was ringing around some upmarket restaurants in London to arrange hosting my dinner parties there. My “I’ve made it” moment was when other upmarket restaurants started calling me and asking if I could host dinners there!
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?
Who knows maybe one day there will be a Birmingham Dinner Club, or a Glasgow Dinner Club! Or a New York dinner club even….
Your website link www.londondinnerclub.org