The Female Focus: Mel Berry

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Introducing Mel Berry

A British Triathlon coach and marketeer who has supported many senior leaders in sport to take on physical challenges, lead more active and positive lives and recently founded the new movement for getting 1 million women active; Her Spirit.

We were lucky enough to share the stage with Mel Berry at a Loughborough University event aimed at giving their Business and Enterprise students an introduction to the world of marketing… and we are so glad our paths crossed! Apart from the fact that we ended up giving almost identical presentations completely by accident (shout out to Simon Sinek and his Power of Why), we were able to find out all about Mel’s latest business venture, Her Spirit.

Her Spirit (the healthier living club for every woman) was founded alongside Mel’s business partner Holly Woodford in order to offer women personalised one-to-one coaching, community support and local events to make healthier living accessible to every woman for as little as £5 per month. They have amazing plans to get 1 million women signed up to the platform by 2022 and are already overflowing with amazing testimonials and praise from women who have tried it out. We love the fact that they’re no BS and have created something that works for women fed up of fad diets or those who feel like the current industry is failing them.

We interviewed Mel for The Female Focus to find out all about her incredible career working for global brands such as Boots and Speedo as well as three Olympic Games AND being the founder of multiple businesses, hope you enjoy the read and if you’re interested in a 14 day free trial of Her Spirit head to the bottom of the interview for more details.

Let’s go!

What is it about sport/fitness that first drew you in? 

Swimming was always my passion, and it all really started there. I am an expat kid born in India and then lived for a while in Malta, which meant I loved the water as there was always plenty of access to it. Back to the question though… I naturally fell into it after years of swimming for pleasure and ploughing up and down the black lines of the pool. It seemed like a good choice to make when I ventured out into the world of work.

You've worked with some of the biggest global brands, worked on 3 Olympic Games and founded multiple businesses, can you pick a career highlight? 

They are all so very different and it’s almost impossible to pick just one, but my highlights include watching a good friend and athlete we/Speedo supported win GOLD in Sydney, who then thanked me to a global audience of millions. From this experience and the complete boost of self-confidence this provided, I set up my first business from my front room. That grew into so many highlights such as creating an event with British Cycling called the British Cyclosportive (the South-East stage of the Tour de France) which sold out in less that 24 hours and of course London 2012 with my work with Adidas. Setting up my business Very Berry was another, we work with some of the best-known sports brands and athletes offer strategic and creative marketing expertise, including campaign planning, sponsorship, event creation and media.

What drove you to set up Her Spirit? How did you get started?

Frustration in the system we called physical activity! Having worked in the female activity space and watching campaigns such as This Girl Can, I saw no real ‘SO WHAT’ factor and no clear customer journey. The campaign got a lot of press but what has actually come out of it in terms of tangible action? I want to create real change and in the early stages of Her Spirit I’ve been able to personally support a whole host women through this experience… it’s so COOL and I love it. But in order to scale and help as many women as possible we needed to think bigger, this is now my biggest driving force and what got us started in the first place.

Getting started... Wow, well like most start-ups it’s a mixture of luck, timing and the right people. The main person that helped me get started was my co-founder Holly Woodford. We have a shared passion and different but complementary skills which is the perfect combination for a business partnership.

 How did you meet Holly? How do you navigate the many MANY elements of running your own business?

I met Holly in 2017 at a very dull Sport England event and when she spoke I was so impressed with what she was saying that I asked a colleague who she was. Turns out I asked a little bit louder than I had originally intended, and fortunately or unfortunately she heard me! We connected that day but it wasn’t until April 2018 that we really saw the opportunity to work together. Navigation comes in so many guises and every day we learn something new. But the key thing is to listen and be open to change as you never know where it might lead you.

What's the ambition for the business? 

World domination! That starts with our initial goal of subscribing 1 million women on the platform by 2022. It’s a big challenge we know, but I love stuff that scares me, it’s a great motivator.

I love the quote: “If it doesn’t scare you, you’re probably not dreaming big enough”

We love your 3 pillars of Mind, Body, Fuel ... what do you do in your own life to support each of these?

A holistic view of yourself is so very important and checking in with yourself regularly to be aware of any subtle (or large) shifts is a good habit to get into. I practise this every day… I call it my ‘four legs’ after meeting an amazing woman called Dee Anderson. Go check her out…she is most famous for her support of athletes Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe. 

My four legs are….

1.     My friends

2.     The work I do

3.     Giving back

4.     Being active.

This keeps me stable and that’s what it’s all about – STABILITY! If you have balance across each of the four legs you’ll be grounded and secure, too much or too little of one and you can end up toppling over. And it’s also worth considering how people support you along that journey, are you open to letting people support you, and are certain people getting in the way of your progress? 

Why do you think the fitness industry is only concerned with obtaining one 'type' of body? What do you think the damaging effects are to others who don't or can't 'look' that way? 

It’s terrible….that why at Her Spirit we are challenging this – we know that the diet and fitness industry is set up to fail women. The industry thrives on people giving up or failing to achieve specific goals and then coming back to them to throw more money at the problem without really taking a step back and looking at the underlying issues. So many people are influenced by society but that’s not right and fortunately changing! Again that’s why we are challenging this…. It’s not right and times are a changing but it’s going to take a lot of work to get us where we want to be. We want to offer women a more realistic approach, and encourage them to realise that they’re doing OK, rather than shaming them into a diet or fitness programme that doesn’t work for them.

Sport has traditionally been a heavily male-dominated industry but you've built a successful career, how has your experience of being a woman in this field been?

Fortunately, I never had a problem. I had great bosses at Speedo both internationally and in the Middle East and then from there all my businesses have never been blocked by gender. But I am very aware that it is an issue and one I champion all of the time. That goes back to the third of my four legs and giving back to help support other women who are affected.

You're currently a mentor and lecturer at Nottingham University, why do you think mentoring is so important/valuable? Do you have/have you had a mentor? 

Mentoring done well means individuals have effective support and opportunity to grow and learn. And hopefully not by learning the hard way… well less the hard way because I think that’s definitely more realistic! I have had many mentors in various aspects of my life, which is a great piece of advice, no one person is going to be right for everything. In business Ian Filby who was the former CEO at DFS and now good friend, in my sports coaching world I’ve had many amazing mentors. I can’t recommend it highly enough, but a piece of advice is to try and make sure the chemistry works for you both too. Successful mentoring relies on a good chemistry match and mutual respect in order to get the most out of it.

What's a quote you live/work by?

I have many that I draw inspiration from, but this is the one most relevant now… 

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
― Maya Angelou 

If you feel like taking a new approach to your fitness, health and wellbeing, check out the Her Spirit app. Mel and Holly have been kind enough to offer a 14 day free trial to get you started. Also, for every annual subscription purchased they will gift a FREE membership to a woman who cannot afford to access Her Spirit. They are about to start allocating these to three amazing organisations in Nottingham. They are The Women’s Centre, Ridewise and Evolve CIC and we think it’s an amazing way to give back.

If you still need some convincing, check out one of their member’s stories here, or go to the Her Spirit website for more information.