Bethan Andrews sits down with entrepreneur and media personality Luisa Zissman to talk chasing business dreams, life in Hertfordshire and her upcoming UK podcast tour
From leaving school at 17 and setting up her own business at the age of 20, to flying the flag for women in business, getting to the final of The Apprentice, and paving the way for a career in the media, Luisa Zissman is no stranger to grit and determination. Chasing her dreams and pushing for success is second nature to the Hertfordshire-based entrepreneur.
In 2011, Zissman opened a cake shop in St Albans and an online cake business, and it was from here that she decided to apply to The Apprentice. “I applied for The Apprentice because I had the business and my husband at the time was involved. We were going through an amicable break-up, but I wanted to do something on my own,” she explains.
“I thought, I’m just going to give it a whirl. I didn’t necessarily want to be business partners with Alan Sugar, but I wanted to branch out on my own. It taught me that I was better than I thought I was. I never thought I’d get into the final, so it was a big confidence boost and it taught me that a lot is possible – if you really want something then you most definitely can do it.”
Speaking of chasing dreams and going for what you really want, Zissman is passionate about showing that, as a mother, you can still be successful as a woman in business and as an entrepreneur. “For mums to see that you can be a mum and still run businesses is really special,” she says. “As a mum myself, it was a nice thing to show.”
Does she have a career highlight? “At the heart of the business, we were turning over £3million which was great,” she says. “A high point now is being in a financial situation that means I can invest in other people’s businesses. From a media perspective, having a really successful podcast and doing that with one of my best friends is amazing.”
Fast forwarding to today, Zissman is referring to the incredibly popular podcast she co-hosts with Anna Williamson that will be going on tour in 2022, and to the new business she has invested in called Silly Sentiments. “I noticed the company online and messaged them to get to know the owner Vicky Gratton. She came to me for advice when she was approached by an investor, but I said that I would be willing to work with her and that’s how it all came about,” explains Zissman. “It’s made up of very current, funny greetings cards all designed in-house with the aim of making people smile – it’s a fun and creative business to be involved in.”
Zissman gives off a real excitement talking about her new venture, and it’s clear that the continuous education she gets from the business world is a big part of her drive. “As a mum, you can kind of get trapped in the mummy world,” she says. “It’s really nice to be able to have stimulation that isn’t your kids. Sometimes, I find the media world a bit empty and shallow too, so it’s nice to have a business that makes me think and use my brain.”
Speaking of the media world, an element that Zissman does love is the world surrounding herself and Anna Williamson’s successful podcast, LuAnna, as covered in the last issue of Absolutely Hertfordshire when we spoke to the latter. With millions of listeners built up since 2018, the honest format of the podcast has built up something of a cult following. As one of the first friendship duos to bring out a podcast in this format, it’s another thing that Zissman has almost pioneered. So, what makes it so popular? “We talk about everything and anything from the very ordinary to the taboo, and it’s all revolved around listener input,” she says.
“It’s inadvertently in the top 20 comedy podcasts which, I’m not sure how, because neither of us are comedians, but I think people love it because it’s like having a conversation with your mates down the pub. We cover topics that people think about, but wouldn’t dare talk about. I think that’s why it’s popular, because it’s no holds barred.”
The duo are taking it on tour in 2022, and can’t wait to meet their listeners and feel the joy of being surrounded by like-minded people after a bumpy, and often lonely, few years. “We are going everywhere from Glasgow to Ireland and it’ll be really fun,” says Zissman. “It’s going to be us live, having a laugh with all of our loyal listeners. I can’t wait to be in a room with people who love the podcast as much as we love doing it.”
With such a busy working life, I wonder what Zissman does to switch off and escape the media world. As we chat, it quickly becomes evident that her home in Hertfordshire is at the heart of the quieter side of her life. Having lived in the county for a long time, she radiates love for it and credits it as somewhere that she can escape to after a busy week of work.
“I’ve lived in St Albans, I’m currently living in a village just outside of Potters Bar, and I’m moving soon to Bishop’s Stortford so I’ve covered the whole of Hertfordshire,” she laughs. “I really loved St Albans, it’s such a beautiful place with a real buzz, but I love the villages and community feel too. I’ve got seven horses and I love riding around all the rural areas, but I like that you can still go to places like Bishop’s Stortford for a great night out.”
Zissman goes on to tell me how much she likes to go to the country house events at places such as Hatfield House and Knebworth, and that as a mum, she really values the fact that the county has such brilliant schools.
So, what does 2022 have in store for her? She tells me that, alongside the excitement of the podcast tour, she may have another investment to follow after enjoying the process with Silly Sentiments, and that she is looking forward to moving house and enjoying life divided between the limelight and fields full of horses in leafy Hertfordshire. Despite the fact that Zissman’s world sounds hectic, incredibly ambitious and full-on, it sounds like a pretty lovely set of plans for the new year.
In fact, between her life in the busy media and business world and her life in the quiets of Hertfordshire, some may even say she has the perfect balance.