Self-Starter Stories: From experiencing the glass ceiling to smashing it
This week's #selfstarterstory features Nancy Roberts from BusinessInclusivity.
'BusinessInclusivity is a social enterprise providing diversity and inclusion consultancy to businesses and women in leadership. We see inclusion as the key to successfully leveraging the benefits of a diverse workforce, and we work with business leaders to identify ways in which creating an inclusive workplace can help them to achieve their organisation's goals. We also offer one-on-one support to women in leadership, helping them to maximise their impact and to inhabit the boardroom with confidence.'
#PickYourselfUK caught up with Nancy to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey.
Looking back, what lead you to be where you are today?: I think it's a road I have always been on, I just didn't know it! My whole academic and professional career has been leading me to this point.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Having to be good (or at least vaguely competent) at everything. When you work in an organisation you tend to only need one or two focus areas; my background is in operations but I've had to learn marketing, sales, business development, the list goes on....
What did you want to be when you were a child?: A ballet dancer. Maybe in my next life...
What was your last job?: Operations Director for a large academic publisher. I had a great time there but I was ready to move on.
When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: Because I think the chances of getting chosen as a women are lower, and I want to provide a role model to other women thinking of backing themselves to show them it can and should be done. I have had experience of struggling to get into Senior roles, and of the sense of exclusion you can feel even when you have succeeded in getting into the boardroom, and I want to change that. I am lucky enough to have had a lot of opportunities in my career and life, and I want to share the knowledge I've been fortunate to gain with women who may not have access to it.
What did you learn from your worst boss?: To listen and not to rush to judgement. When you have had that happen to you, you know how much it hurts.
What is your favourite business book and why?: I'm a bit of a process geek at heart, so I'll have to choose The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: I mainly do everything myself. To varying degrees of competence, but I'm learning fast. Over time I will outsource some non-core activities such as accounting so I can focus on what I do best, which is helping women to progress their leadership careers.
What is your productivity secret?: I'm a HUGE fan of post-it notes. You can create Kanban boards and so on if you want, but just jotting each idea on a post it allows you to capture, prioritize, and reprioritze really easily. There is no problem in life which can't be tackled with a pen and some post it notes.
What is your favourite app?: Google maps. I have zero sense of directions so I have to have it with me to go anywhere.
How do you market your business?: In various ways, but largely through leveraging and expanding my network; I worked for other businesses for a long time and those connections are really vital in seeking out new ideas and directions I can go in to reach new people. I find LinkedIn is a great way to connect with people, and they are often very generous with help, advice, and contacts. And also by building a content marketing strategy, engaging with people in the same field on social media, and writing a blog to keep up the engagement.
When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?: Through a lot of dogged content marketing to build a profile, and then by some judicious use of paid advertising on Google and LinkedIn.
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: By blogging and then posting about it on social media. It takes time and determination, and can become an obsession, but it really does pay off.
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: I would say that you should feel the fear and do it anyway. It is scary and daunting, but it's also super exciting and nothing can match the thrills of seeing your business take off. Also - when you start a business you discover a whole world of free advice, support, networks and fellow entrepreneurs that may never have known existed, so you are never alone and whatever challenge you are facing, someone else will have been there and, more than likely, will be ready to help you out.
If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?: It would have to be the Sanitary Pad Revolutionary, Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost means of making sanitary pads for women in rural India, after having been horrified to learn of the impacts of period poverty in his own community. He faced incredible personal sacrifice and humiliation, but he never gave up and he is now selling the machines and creating jobs throughout India. He aims to create 1 million jobs. For me, he is as far from the classic image of an entrepreneur as you can get, he is non-Western, not highly educated, he's no Mark Zuckerberg, but he has the classic almost obsessive determination to solve a problem, and resilience to keep coming back from challenges. I'd love to meet him and tell him how much I admire him.
To keep up to date with Nancy's journey, connect with him via his social media channels below:
Nancy Roberts has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.