I have just finished a video conference call with a prospective client for my new business, Third Quarter Tribe cic. Yes me. Yes - really! I am so excited that I had to write about it. I can’t quite believe it - from the short, fat, spotty, shy girl at school with little ambition, I have developed into a go-getting, mature entrepreneur, and businesswoman. How did that happen? Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would describe myself in those terms. Ever.
I have to say it's been a journey through various paid employment routes to get to where I am today. My natural shyness is something that I have worked on, to create a professional persona, even if I sometimes quake behind it! I have worked on my self-confidence and picked myself up when it has been knocked by others. I haven’t developed it on my own. I have been very fortunate, and still count myself so, to have fantastic friends, business partners, and other business colleagues who have counselled, mentored and supported me along the way.
The journey to where I am today started about two years ago when I went from managing small community projects to being part of a much larger international, multi-agency project, involving partners from several different European countries. Well, that selling myself short really - one of my bad habits. I was actually a key member of the project management team, leading on a section of development work for the whole project. My colleagues were professors in universities across Europe and successful businessmen and women in their own right. Boy was I frightened, especially the first time I walked into a room with these people. I felt panicky, that I had no right to be there, that I wasn’t as good as them intellectually, wondering what I was doing there or had to offer, finding it difficult to voice my ideas- quite literally. As the project developed, and with help and support from my then work colleagues and boss, things changed and my confidence grew. I discovered that they all treated me as an equal, that they valued my input and looked to me for advice and support. I still found it difficult to stand up in front of a large group of people and talk, to lead rather than follow. But I DID.
I began to feel at home in this environment and to relish my role and the work that I did. I was beginning to think about semi-retirement at the end of the project and then - bamm - a completely unexpected and rather horrible situation occurred in my workplace which left me without a job, completely and utterly confused. I lost all my confidence and self-esteem. I applied for several jobs, got interviews but in my heart I knew that I really didn’t want to be employed by anyone else again. I wondered about retirement but felt that I wasn't ready for that yet. I wondered if others my age were thinking about making some sort of change concerning earning a living and not knowing where to go for support. I talked to a friend in a similar situation. Depressed, unsure, uncertain, angry, and a little scared. They confirmed that without support from others they wouldn't have known how to turn their working lives around. As a result, I decided that was my path. To provide that support that people over 50 in similar situations desperately need. At first, I wasn't sure how to do it. But with help and support from my network, friends, and family, a business was born and a new businesswoman has emerged. Who Knew? I still feel panicky and can freeze when I need to stand up in front of other people and talk about my business, or like today when I have an important video meeting. My confidence is taking time to repair but it is. And I am certain that what I am doing is the right thing to do, will help others and is a successful business.
So, what would I pass on to others? Here are my top tips.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Friends, people in your networks, family, they mostly want to help and are all too pleased to do so.
Try not to take it personally! One of my greatest failings is feeling personal rejection in the context of business.
I find my confidence rises and the panic is less when I hide behind my professional persona. So think who you are as a business person. For me, that requires me to look professional - smart work clothes, make- up and shoes even when I am working on my own at home, but even more so for video conferences. I even make sure I wear my favourite perfume!
When I freeze and lose focus, I try to remember the trick of asking for the person to remind me what it is they have asked, or ask another person to make a comment. It gives me time for the brain to kick in again.
Being prepared beforehand. So before a meeting or sales pitch, I have at least one preparation meeting with my business partner. I write notes and then rewrite as I change the way I want to say things (or can’t read my handwriting!). I still panic, but I have a safety net.
One of the things that has helped me the most is being able to talk to a friend, especially when that is a “critical friend” who is honest and supportive.
I have to believe in me - why should anyone else believe in me if I don’t. It takes work, especially on a day you are not feeling very confident. I give myself a talking to in the mirror as long trying to be as positive as I can.
Most of all DONT GIVE UP. It does get tough, it does seem impossible to move forward at times but I believe that it will work. It has taken me a while to learn that while things don’t work quite as you thought, being both flexible and vulnerable are all good things and help me learn and develop.
I am just beginning to get comfortable with my new titles and image - entrepreneur, successful professional businesswoman. It feels good and makes me excited for the future. What was I thinking about semi-retirement for, I have many years ahead of me in my new chosen career if I want?
If I can do this then anyone can. So why don’t you?
If you need help - well that is what Third Quarter Tribe is all about so why not get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org.