TWO women who faced a bleak future without pensions and financial security have built up a successful business empire.

Sue Tonks and Susan Ogden diversified when the financial crash of 2008 threatened their financial plans linked to property.

So they expended their networking activities and launched a utility bill services franchise.

Ms Tonks, aged 54, also does management consultancy and training, and is a Bolton magistrate.

Ms Ogden, a 59-year-old former school dinner lady and cake factory worker, now focuses on their properties.

Both are members of the Business Network Bolton and Bury, which meets once a month at the Last Drop Hotel, Bromley Cross, or in Bury.

They started a leadership and training company, Synergy, in Bolton in 1999, which trains managers at businesses including Leighs Paints, Bolton Wanderers, Mark Two, AE Yates and Bolton Lads and Girls’ Club.

Ms Tonks is also a business trainer and speaks regularly at universities in London and Durham with international MBA students.

She said she hit a major financial problem in 2007 through no fault of her own and reached near-bankruptcy, so she had to get rid of her pension and endowment to survive.

Ms Ogden was a school meal supervisor in Oldham and then became a night shift supervisor at Park Cakes just to make ends meet.

With no pension and major financial challenges, the pair decided to look at other ways to work towards their goal of early retirement in May, 2014 and long-term financial security.

Ms Tonks said: “We first decided that property investment was a way forward. So we went on a training course to learn about it at the Last Drop Hotel.

“As a result, we’ve built up a substantial property portfolio.”

They now have 25 properties, mainly in Bolton and Greater Manchester.

With the onset of the financial crash in 2008/09, however, they realised that the properties were not going to give them the return we needed to retire early.

They instead turned to part-time self employment with Utility Warehouse, which provides businesses and homes with cheaper bills.

Ms Tonks said: “People need to have a plan B to ride the storm.”

Ms Tonks grew up in Warwickshire, went to University in Liverpool and came to Bolton as a management trainee with British Road Services at Kay Street.

She said: “Life and business is what you make of it. The only person who can make a difference to your life is yourself. We’ve suffered lots of knocks but planning, determination and having a goal has been our secret to success.”