Last Friday night, I attended a fundraising event called ‘Fight for your Why’ – it featured eight speakers, all business entrepreneurs, whose common theme was the ‘Why’ of their business – their passion, their reason, their beliefs. The speakers all had very different reasons for starting their business, but there were several common threads: overcoming a challenge; being true to themselves; wanting to help others and the importance of time with loved ones.
One speaker in particular I found very moving – Luz Restrepo, founder of Sisterworks. She started her presentation in Spanish to illustrate vividly how powerless people feel when they cannot understand the language being spoken to them. She described fleeing with her family from Colombia and how people who arrive in a country with no language, no possessions, no home and no friends ‘feel like nothing’. Luz started Sisterworks to help other refugee women to find dignity in work and business.
This got me thinking about my ‘Why’.
Stepping out of the familiar
Recently, after 30 years in corporate life, I took the decision to leave my job and to set up my own business. I enjoyed my job, I worked with fantastic people, with interesting clients, for a highly respected multi-national and I had had a range of marketing and sales roles with the company, in the UK and Australia.
Why make the change?
Much as I loved what I did, I realised that the demands of my corporate role were just not compatible with the needs of my family. I spent a lot of time travelling, and was ‘not even here when you’re here’, with calls at all hours of day and night. I literally left my kids on the beach every January school holidays to go to an overseas conference. When children are small, you know they are going to need you – in our case my husband took on the role of full time carer for their first eight years. But what I didn’t realise was how much they need you as they get older. They might be at home for fewer hours a day, but their problems are more complex; a band aid and a kiss just doesn’t cut it any more. Mental health has been one of those complexities for one of my children, and I needed to see if my being home might be a step in the recovery process.
The Plan (ha ha)
The plan was to take a few months off and then find a role without/with fewer travel demands. I attended a career and personal branding workshop with Andrew Ford of Social Star, with the aim of attracting such a role. But the workshop gave me some interesting insights that actually changed my direction.
What I had always been passionate about was communication, understanding, and ‘translation’. Translation that started in the literal sense with my study of languages, but which developed into translation in the metaphorical sense of communicating how a client’s requirements are met by a product or service. Although I didn’t use my foreign languages at work, I did use my language skills, whether it was building a proposal, giving appraisals, or writing a business case, and this was one of the things I loved most – ‘translating’ from the sellers language to the buyers language and generating mutual understanding, which of course is the very core of selling to a satisfied client.
This love of sales was tempered by frustration at my lack of control over the product. In a large company, there are sometimes changes over which you have no influence – changes that impact commitments that you have made to clients. I realised that this challenged my strong need for personal integrity and that I had to have control of both ends of the transaction – the client interface and the product.
‘Not now, I’ve got a call’
I love business and believe that a successful working life is an important part of being a role model to my children, not to mention the practicalities of providing financial support. But not at the cost of them feeling they are second priority and not heard. I have lost count of the number of times I said to my kids (and husband) ‘not now, I’ve got a call’. I realised that I need to have more control over when I work and when I am with my family. Not just the nuclear family either – my own parents, siblings, nieces and nephews are 19,000 km away in the UK and I miss them more, not less, the longer I spend in Australia. It is important to me to be able to travel when it suits my family, not based around quarter ends and company demands.
Bringing it all together – My Why
My passion for communication and finding the right words was the core of my career success. My Why is to take those skills and use them to help other businesses achieve their sales goals through effective communication, ‘translating’ their language to their clients’ language. My Why is to have the integrity that comes with end to end control. Above all my Why is to be the best and role model and provider I can be for my children and for my family to be 100% certain that they are number one priority.