Founder of Seven Sisters Festival, Lauren Woodman, on how she has built an ever-growing female brand, business and community
Dr. Lauren Woodman
Fri 11 October 2019 - 12:11 pmEntrepreneur | Featured
Dr. Lauren Woodman is an Osteopathic Doctor who founded the largest women’s wellness festival – Seven Sisters Festival – when she was just 24 years old.
She is also the co-author of the Amazon bestseller ‘The Evolved Woman’ and has a long list of impressive mentions such as the Telstra Young Business Woman’s Awards Finalist, VU Young Achiever Alumni Awards finalist as well as an Honourary member of the golden key international honours society.
The festival started with just 350 attendees 9 years ago, and has organically grown to numbers in the thousands – with a huge waiting list also. There is such a high demand that Lauren has secured a new, larger venue just outside of Melbourne and is moving to two annual events per year (instead of just the one.)
Although Lauren admits it took her a long time to be see herself as a “business owner,” there are definitely some entrepreneurial lessons to be learned from her journey. She now has a team of 8 full time, 120 workers on the site, full waiting lists, sold-out tickets every single year, enormous organic growth and demand and has plans to scale even further in future.
We had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Lauren about her achievements, lessons and motivations.
Talk us through how you went from osteopath to business owner/festival organiser!
“It was never intentional. It probably took 5 years before I was comfortable with label of ‘business owner.’ It was really just a creative offering – something I was really inspired to do – and it just so happened that it actually needed to be in format of a business to survive.
“I started at 24 years old, it was in my first 6 months out of university as an osteopath. I guess the 3 years prior to graduating I had attended a lot of events and festivals. And it was just so liberating for me to be in this space and community and it really intrigued me, and I loved the creative component, and that sense of liberation.
“I got involved with Women’s Circle, where you catch up with a group of women for 2 hours and speak really openly about things in your life. It shifted my mindset on a lot of things and I wanted to make it more accessible for others to have that kind of experience for themselves.
“The third influence I had was being an osteopath, and seeing so many women in particular come in to see me who were disconnected from their bodies and minds and what they wanted – – it was so hard to encourage positive change. And that got me thinking – what are the factors that stimulate change for people?
“You know being in a space, that is a place of permission, and stepping out of everyday life as you would at a festival, and being in this environment of – I guess – creativity, permission, openness… was so supportive of that. And then bringing in healers, speakers and facilitators to provide that inspiration and support… it just continued to grow and grow.
“When something has an emotional response too, women talk about it. So it just organically grew!”
How did you fund the business?
“It was all bootstrapped and it still is. We have a great cashflow, right, compared to other businesses, because we have a big influx of income through the ticket sales each year and then base our budget from that. But at the beginning I was seeing 40+ clients per week, living off nothing, trying to fund it.”
How have things changed business/operations wise since the beginning?
“Like most entrepreneurs, you end up having to do everything at the beginning. Marketing skills, legal, HR and everything. And I felt like I was chasing my tail in the first couple of years waiting for it to become financially viable to the point where I could bring people in.
“So, yes, now I have event manager, and a manager for each department – for workshops, performance, healing area and site management etc. And on site, we have a team of 120. We have a base team of 8 now.”
What advice do you have for businesses that want to create an event?
“To be honest, when my initial idea came, I was so excited and inspired. I wrote everything down and had a 40 page document. That helped me massively on getting down what the mission was.
“And then came in the practical stuff. Like ‘I need a date, I need to understand what team I need- how many people, what are the different roles are…’
“Perhaps giving yourself more time than what you think you need to take the pressure off! You’ll always be troubleshoorting and putting out fires last minute. Life happens, and when you’re dealing with large numbers of people, things will happen! Making sure you have contingency plans is important.
“Be able to communicate to your audience, and offer them something that’s really unique. To be able to really put forth what your point of different is. People really love novelty, so make sure you offer something that is new and exciting and is different and peaks curiosity – understand people psychology… what are the strong motivators?”
How are you networking and marketing to get businesses on board as stalls/workshops?
“We’re fortunate that we have hundreds and hundreds of people actually apply so…”
Wow! So at what point on the 9 year journey did this happen where people were coming to you?
“Probably actually only the second year. The first year I went out and approached women that inspired me. And the second year I used Facebook (back when it was still easy to use!) From just that, organic growth meant people came to us.”
How do the businesses benefit from festival?
“People can be amazing at what they do but they aren’t good at marketing themselves. It puts your name out there. I have a direct example of how someone went on to sell $50,000 of courses just from collating a mailing list at the event.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I’d like to duplicate the model of the festival, and sell that, as I don’t have capacity to run any more. But I think there is a need and demand for this type of event all around the world.”
What is your important business advice?
“With starting any business, it’s about being really attuned to people’s needs. It’s not enough to say “oh that would be really good” – you need to do the research to see if there is enough demand.
“And you really to do need to have enough motivation to do it. There’s been moments where I’ve been the last one on site at 3am packing a shipping container – there are lots of very unglamorous moments that aren’t easy! It’s not just running an event, there’s so many things to deal with!”
What is you role like now then?
“At the moment, my energy is on developing the new site (venue). And having an overview and helping my event manager. I’m still heavily involved in budget. And I can delve into the areas that are of interest, like branding.”
What has been an a-ha moment for you?
“One thing I can learned and can suggest with events, is having the ticket rounds. So you have streams of income in at different points – and it also gives a good motivation for purchasing as well.
“Also, understanding audience and price point. We did a survey and found out a lot about our audience – their standard income, if they are looking after a family and so on.
“From there, we introduced payment plans. That made a huge difference!
“We found out almost a third to half of our audience were wanting to use payment plans, and as a result they purchased early and we had money coming through each month.”
What’s your biggest learning been that you can share with us?
“So one thing I’d definitely say is that the biggest limitation in business has been myself.
“The more I work on myself and clear issues I have around authority or money, the better I can be in business. I invest in self-growth and development a lot, so I can make decisions from a place of clarity not from limiting beliefs.”