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When you’re in the thick of running a small business it can be difficult to find the time to stop and assess how you’re actually doing and where you want to be.

This has certainly been the case with me. Even after five years of running my web design business, I still find it tricky to create sufficient headspace to reflect on my current situation amidst managing project work, workshops and everything else that comes with being self-employed.

So it was to my great joy that I was invited to The Wilderness Tonic retreat, an away day in the Peak District to discuss your work and challenges with other independent business owners.

Organised by Katya Willems of EasyInstaMCR and Karen Webber of Goodness Marketing, the event took place at The Gathering, a very beautiful converted farmhouse in Edale.

The Wilderness Tonic retreat

Pleased in the knowledge I’d remembered to fill in my preliminary questionnaire and with my walking boots, raincoat and ‘out of office’ all on, I set off on my train from Stockport to Manchester to Edale.

Pulling into the station I ran into fellow attendee Jodie Thackray of Styling Sustainably (as it happened I’d actually attended her photography workshop the week before) and we walked through the village to the venue. The air was fresh and it immediately felt good to be out of the city (and liberated from mobile signal) – it was obvious why Edale had been chosen as a location for the day.

Having successfully navigated the one road from the station to the venue without Google Maps, we arrived to brews and introductions with the rest of the group (both human and dog).

There was a real mix of attendees, from people who have been running their businesses for a long time to those who have just started out (one business was just two months old!). People’s backgrounds varied greatly, from a former theatre director and a textiles designer to a health coach and a PR pro.

Brainstorming ideas with Katya, author Elli Johnson and Claire Gamble of Unhooked Communications. Photo by Karin Albinsson.

The atmosphere was relaxed. We did a short ice breaker exercise (which to my relief didn’t make me want to flee to the hills) before splitting off into two smaller groups to chat in more detail about the key areas of our work we want to improve.

This was arguably my favourite part of the day. Listening to the others and gaining fresh perspectives, and helping them in return to unpick their business challenges and objectives in order to come up with a new idea was really fun.

My turn soon came round and simply being able to talk openly with likeminded people about ideas and challenges helped bring to the forefront solutions that have been percolating away in the back of my brain.

There were true lightbulb moments. It was inspiring.

Connecting with nature

Edale is lovely and only 40 minutes from Manchester by train!

Lunch followed in the form of a delicious homemade pumpkin curry with more chatter, and the perfectly-timed arrival of the sun for our afternoon walk in the hills.

We left the farm, passed through a forest and over a stream and suddenly we were out in the hills. Mam Tor on one side, Jacob’s Ladder on the other. It was a stunning landscape and for those of us looking for headspace, this was the place to find it.

I guess this was networking, but it didn’t feel like it. There was no awkwardness or anxiety, no pitches. Most of the time we weren’t even talking about work, just chatting as people.

Incidentally, Katya also leads regular Freshwalks events, which have a similar vibe to the walk we did at the retreat. The next one of these is on November 13th at Styal Country Park.

After The Wilderness Tonic

Before we knew it we were back at the farm. Half 4 already and time to head home to Stockport. Time flies!

In the days since The Wilderness Tonic I have felt inspired, focussed and confident in running my independent web design business.

I’m very thankful to Karen and Katya for arranging a great day and to the other guests for their patience to listen and share their ideas and experiences with me. I can’t wait to put my new plans into action!

The Wilderness Tonic will be held again in the winter, so if you’re thinking of going along, follow them on Instagram: Katya and Karen.

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