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Business Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

2 years, 10 reflections….what I’ve learnt from striking out on my own

By | Business, Leadership, Results

 

8403f4cd7065ebac2b1e75374500b3e2This month I reached the 2-year milestone of running my own business. The day came and went with a team lunch, congratulatory messages and thoughts of wow that went fast. Other than that, it was a normal day and business as usual.

I was made to reflect on this achievement this week when I interviewed an executive who is at a crossroad.  He is deciding between pursuing a leadership career path to CEO or to continue as a sought after expert in the management consulting space.  I made a suggestion of a third choice “you could build your own business empire” and he laughed and said “I respect people who put their own homes on the line to build a business – but that’s not for me!” It hit me in that moment; I was included in that reference. I made that decision 2 years ago to back myself with a vision of creating something great. That optimism in my DNA kicked in and I never considered that it wouldn’t be a success or the depth of risk, if it went pear-shaped. This is not egotistical. It’s encompassed belief, capitalising on opportunities and a desire to make a difference.

Before you jump and put it “all on the line”, here’s 10 things I’ve learnt from taking the leap 2 years ago:

1. It’s up to you – I find being in control and 100% accountable for direction and results thrilling and motivating, but understand that this sort of risk and accountability might scare the bejesus out of you. There is no regular monthly pay, or leave provisions, if you like being the master of your destiny; you can put a tick here.

2. Do what you love – waking up excited about what the day may hold, who I’ll met and be inspired by is a rare commodity for the majority of the population (I know through many interviews!).  You want to be sure that you are dedicating your energy to something you know you are passionate about. You can’t fake a love for what you do.

3. Conservative growth – I read an article in the first month of being on my own that said entrepreneurs should not hire any staff in the first 12 months – only when you are desperate for more hands. I was tempted many times – but only hired my first team member 6 months ago.  The benefit was getting my hands dirty in every aspect of the business, defining the business strategy, knowing the pipeline was full and having clarity about who I wanted to work with day in and day out.

4. Vision – I didn’t take the plunge of starting my own business for a long time because I could not get crystal clear on the vision of what I wanted the business to look like. Let a vision evolve, just start doing because being in action allows the cream to come to the top. Sometimes it’s okay to not know all the details (take note control freaks!).

5. Culture – in my experience, culture drives everything in a business. The type of people who work with you, the type of clients you attract, the business decisions you make and the behaviours you demonstrate.  Know your own values – do a personality profile and don’t try and be something you’re not.

6. Clients – without them, I don’t have a business.  I make developing my connections and relationships a priority. I know at the core, these relationships are everything.  If you don’t have the discipline to “walk the walk” as well as converse with people, building a business is going to be incredibly difficult. In 2 years, it gives me a buzz to be working with some exciting, innovative and generous business people who are like-minded in the quest for finding and keeping executive talent.

7. External support – I was able to identify fairly early on that I wasn’t able to do everything on my own.  Outsourcing, asking for help and paying for expertise has been a great investment.  I have learnt many business lessons from listening to others – ongoing learning is an essential success ingredient.

8. Brand – you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do need to stand out from the crowd. I met a brand expert recently who told me that your brand could only be world-class in one of three areas – excellence, reliability or innovation. Having this focus means your brand brings something others don’t and then you have to leverage that. The past 2 years I have consistently been told our brand is authentic, relationship focused and progressive.

9. Be healthy! When you run your own business, there is no calling in sick and asking someone else to cover for you. Being top of your game and staying healthy across all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally is critical to staying optimistic in the tough moments!

10. Reward & enjoyment – no point waiting for a rainy day to enjoy the business success – whether that’s an indulgent purchase, time out or just doing the things you love most.  A very clever friend of mine said “pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success and it is essential to do things that make you feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.” I’m slowly learning to embrace this!

Since leaving my corporate role 2 years ago, I have consistently been told “you’ll build an empire again”, “it’s who you are”, “it’s in your blood”. I wasn’t so sure, but I can say it’s been a ride and the best is yet to come. I feel like I’m only half way up the mountain and I’m keen to see the view from the top.

 

Women in leadership – can we “have it all”?

By | Leadership, Women in Leadership, Work Life Balance

I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader.  She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review.  In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?

Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.

In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.

I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have.  My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker.  I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.

Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.

Quick tips to make it work:

  1. Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail.  The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity.  Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
  2.  Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”.  As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative.  However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people.  Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
  3. Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”.  This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both.  In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
  4. An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved.  Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
  5. Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals.  The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home.  I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.

To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different.  Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.

Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible.  The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.

Empty the cup…are there benefits of time-out?

By | Change, Strategy, Success

Empty the cupLast week I left my job after 10 years (see quit while your ahead…10 tips for going out on top) and since I announced the decision I have had lots of well wishes, feedback, new business offers and advice.  My head has been swimming to say the least.  Then one clever person said to me stop! You need to empty your cup.  My blank look obviously prompted him further…his philosophy is that good ideas, innovative thoughts and break through moments can only happen once you are clear and have emptied all your thoughts, emotions etc that are tied up with your current/last situation.  In my case, 10 years of “stuff” to un-learn and let go of.  Hmmm easier said than done!

So day 3 of my ‘time out’ – I’m struggling. I have cleaned out my office, re-organised files, had meetings with a web designer, accountant, photographer, business mentor, attended a committee meeting and updated my social media profiles. Did I mention a journalist rang, I’ve been invited to enough coffee meetings to last the next few months, I’ve given advice on an execs resume, signed my business registration docs and applied for a range of insurances? There is no time to empty my cup!

Or is there? If I do “nothing” for the next 2 – 3 weeks, what will happen? I’m sure I won’t evaporate or my networks will forget me? Worst case? I miss a few opportunities.  And that’s it. I can’t honestly think of anything worse.  On the flip side, what are the benefits? I take the opportunity to refresh and recharge.  I might be lucky enough to spark some new ideas, gain a different perspective or clarify my business plans.

So that being said, I am going to attempt to ‘empty the cup’. I have committed myself to a week away and I am looking forward to the opportunity to re-assess my goals and see what comes up for me. Wish me luck!

Have you ever taken time out to empty your cup? What benefits did you receive?

Belief Critical to Business Success

By | Results, Success

This week I had a new business owner track me down on Linkedin and ask if they could buy me a coffee to pick my brain about how I’ve “grown the business so successfully”. Apart from the fact that I’ve recently given up coffee (my adrenal glands are running over-time!) – I have agreed, because I know in my own experience learning from others can sometimes be the most inspiring way to take an idea or business to the next level.

This happened for me late 2001 when I was working at another recruitment firm where things were going really well from the outside.  I had a great team, a group of repeat-purchase clients and revenue targets were being overachieved.  However, on the inside, it was a different story.  We had a new CEO, who was less than inspiring and had zero recruitment experience, the culture was changing significantly, staff were being treated like second class citizens and I was becoming disengaged.

I was reading Richard Branson’s “Loosing my Virginity” autobiography at the time and I was inspired by his road to success and his theories about growing business. His beliefs included small is beautiful, look after staff first, clients second and shareholder interests last.  He stressed that your key asset is your people and you must give them every opportunity to work at their best.  As I looked around I could see that the opposite was happening in this national recruitment firm – it was very much about the share price, winning volume tenders, cutting costs and reaching the number one position in the market.

Coincidently, I was headhunted at the same time by well known Adelaide businessman, Mark Hender to join his consulting firm.  Although highly prestigious and reputable in the executive space, I was reluctant to move into a sole consulting role again since I was thriving in leading a team of people.  That is when he offered me the opportunity to set up a new business.  A very exciting proposition that I didn’t refuse.

There I was, all of 23 being offered the chance to develop something from inception, put in place everything I had learnt and make the people the focus instead of just the profits.

The recipe for success was clear.  I had something to believe in – a new business where people and quality were going to be the differentiator, I had someone who believed in me and was prepared to take the risk with me and finally I had the confidence and belief in myself to get it off the ground.

The results were generating revenues of $3 million in our first year of business and creating a new recruitment system where clients paid for part of our service upfront and where candidates were king – treated with honesty and respect and very much just as important as the paying client.

I celebrate my 10th year at Entrée Recruitment  this year and as I reflect on what I will say to this business owner over coffee next week – it is very clear that belief is a critical ingredient to business success. You need to believe in yourself, you need others who believe in you and finally you need a business idea that you believe in.