Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently
My name is Arina Osiannaya and I’m the managing director of the Business Funding Show (BFS), which is the UK’s first and only exhibition exclusively focused on SME Funding and Growth Support. It’s being held in London on the 2nd & 3rd of February 2016 at the iconic Old Billingsgate.
“I set-up the BFS to help businesses learn about all the available funding options in the market and meet finance-providers in the most time-efficient way. In the UK I have met many ambitious and smart entrepreneurs whose passion for what they are doing was so inspiring, however, I also saw that some of their businesses have growth limitations because they don’t have the required funding. Lacking sufficient knowledge of the types of funding and ways to access it, businesses tend to find themselves in a ‘funding circle’, which normally takes take six to nine months to address – time entrepreneurs can ill afford. That was the reason I decided to set up the The BFS. This way, businesses can simultaneously be introduced to lenders and investors and be educated on all possible funding solutions. Ultimately, the main problem isn’t a funding gap, it is a knowledge gap.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Before coming to the UK, I worked in Moscow on multiple projects for a range of fast-growing SMEs. That was when I got excited about business growth. Namely seeing how many economic issues it can solve – from unemployment to poverty. This was when I took the decision to ensure my career, on a macro level, was focussed on addressing issues to help small businesses grow and flourish. In that regard, my career to date has been relatively organic from then to now.
In terms of sitting down to plan what I will do to achieve this, my focus for the last 18 months has been on delivering the BFS as I saw understanding around funding was such a big issues facing SMEs in the UK. Once we have finished the show my career will move on to the next step – namely planning for the show next year and continuing to raise awareness of SME knowledge around financing, which is going to take a long time to address so, to that end, this aspect of my career has only just begun.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Working with SMEs throws up plenty of challenges, although this is good as it means there are things to improve on. Of course, my challenge right now is to successfully deliver the UK’s first ever BFS. Some argue that exhibitions are no longer valid in a digital era; however, nothing replaces the power of personal contact – just like customers need to trust a seller before buying, the same goes for funders and SMEs – they need to know each other; but if they fundamentally don’t know about each other’s existence they can’t do that.
Coming to the UK from Russia wasn’t difficult, but it did throw up its own challenges in the shape of culture and language. Likewise, working on my second masters while also starting to build my career in the UK was a busy period, but it has propelled me to where I am today so it was worth it.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?
My advice would be that you need to learn how to juggle numerous tasks and compartmentalise. In a leadership position, you have to wear a lot of hats because there is always something to do and you need to be able to flip between them quickly. One minute I’m helping to mentor an aspiring young business owner, the next I’m preparing presentations to give to SME owners. You also need to be a good all rounder because you will end up being exposed to every aspect of business. However, before doing any of this, knowing what leadership position you are setting out to achieve and why is the foundation. If you have that goal in the forefront of your mind you can base your work around it. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it can be learnt.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
Today, there are many ways in which candidates, for any role, can be innovative and differentiate themselves from the competition just by being hungry and proactive. Blogging or running an active social media platform, getting involved in ‘free’ schemes like mentoring or simply just coming to the interview with an interesting insight or opinion about what you can add over and above what you have been asked for in your interview are just a few simple things than can be done.
There’s also a huge difference between being qualified on paper versus qualified for the job. I also think it’s organic to base a decision on a number of intangible factors – hunger, understanding, desire to succeed and attitude. Regardless of what job you are being interviewed for, people do business with people, so working with somebody who you connect with is key.
How do you manage being your own boss?
I understand myself better than anybody so i know how hard it is! Fundamentally, being your own boss is a much bigger responsibility than being an employee but the rewards are so much richer. I can’t lie and say it’s not stressful, time consuming or busy but, if you’re doing something you love and are passionate about then that all dissipates quickly. Right now, I’m quarterbacking lots of activity, especially as we’re so close to an event we’ve been building towards for the last 18 months. The simple rule to all of this is planning. Being your own boss is impossible unless you have a very clear picture of the day, week, month and year ahead.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
It starts early. I wake up and have a healthy breakfast of fruit or a smoothie to start the day off well. I try to clear out outstanding emails early, delegating jobs to people so that they have a full day to work on them. I will then have a series of meetings with businesses and exhibitors involved in the show – from high profile names like Natwest or Experian, right through to some of the most interesting startups in financial technology like Unbolted and Ratesetter. I tend to avoid lunch meetings as they take up too much of my ‘work’ time. My afternoons are now spent dealing with show logistics – branding, marketing, PR, timings and planning. In the evening, I look to attend networking events a couple of times a week. Rarely do I get the chance to sample some lovely Russian vodka but when i do, I enjoy it.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?
There is nothing that can’t be done if you want to do it. That sounds very ethereal but it is both simple and true. To raise your profile, you need to stand up, and stand out from the crowd. So identify what you want to do and work back from there. I was always taught to behave at least one level above where you are currently at. If you’re new to a company and want to make an impact, find a niche you think you can work on and proactively set about making it happen. I would be more than happy to give specific advice to your members should they want to contact me.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
Mentoring is invaluable. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anybody involved in business. There’s a misconception that mentoring is only for the young or those that might have perhaps lost their way on the career path. Nothing could be further from the truth. A mentor brings a huge amount. It is somebody to bounce ideas off. You receive knowledge and insight on areas that might be unfamiliar to you, while it also helps enormously with building your business network. Likewise, there’s merit in having more than one mentor – there is no silver bullet or organic ideal mentor to each person. Similarly, if you have a particular weakness, like marketing or finance, find a mentor that can help support and coach around those areas to help build your confidence.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbie networker?
It’s hugely important. in fact it is fundamental to getting ahead in business. There are so many pieces of advice that I could give but here are my top three:
- Go out and do it. It sounds simple but it is so true. If you are looking for something tangible, set yourself a task of going to one networking event or meeting a month. It’s not a huge time commitment but you’ll notice the difference almost immediately.
- Keep your online profile up to date. Today, the first thing people do either side of a good meeting is make an online footprint. Either some desktop research pre-meeting or a LinkedIn request after it so having an up to date profile is key. Similarly, if your online profile is up to date, you’ll organically be invited to relevant events.
- Follow-up. Outside of pure courtesy, a simple and timely follow-up demonstrates a hunger and professionalism that is, surprisingly, not always there. I still here a lot of empty, ‘i’ll drop you a note’ after a quick meeting that tends to go nowhere. If you’re bothering to get somebody’s details, use them. You never know when they might be useful.
What does the future hold for you?
The immediate future is about making a success the first Business Funding Show. We have over 9,000 registrations, a room full of the most influential businesses in the funding landscape today and a rosta of the UK’s most high profile business leaders speaking. Once the show is over, I might take a short holiday but after that, it’s back to business. Getting ready for the show next year.