Paola Diana is an Italian-born entrepreneur and business woman. She is the founder of Sigillus, which arranges various luxury lifestyle experiences for an elite worldwide network of individuals, and Nanny & Butler, a bespoke childcare and household services agency. In 2006, she founded PariMerito, a network focused on equal opportunities and women empowerment.
What inspired you to start a business?
My business was born out of a personal need both for my childcare head hunting business and for my lifestyle management company. I am a mother of two grown up kids and when they were young I couldn’t find a good nanny service in Italy and had to travel all the way to the UK to find one.
I thought it was a great idea to run a similar company and took the business model to Italy to start my own service. I launched a website and was surprised by the amount of requests I received. Customers started making other enquires like ‘can you suggested the best travel agent?’ which led me to create Sigillus – a network of concierge services, from security, real estate to corporate training.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
It is always challenging to get the business off the ground at the start-up stage and there are many hurdles to overcome but it is so rewarding to have the creative freedom to make your own decisions. Because I am my own boss, I can use this freedom to see my ideas become a reality quickly. I love that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, which adds even more to my confidence.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
Be pragmatic and start by being sure that your idea provides for a real need in society, that has demand. There are so many creatives around with amazing ideas but they are dreamers that aren’t realistic.
Start by setting goals and focus on what is important, this is key in achieving your aims. Staying in business isn’t easy and having a good pitch isn’t enough on its own, you need to source clients and study the markets. Know your industry and understand what your competitors are doing so you don’t repeat their mistakes but do it better.
Finally, never lose hope and confidence in yourself. No matter how many times you fall down, the important thing is to learn from failures and to stand up stronger and wiser than before.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
It was a challenging time when many people, including friends, told me not to take risks and were always warning me to be careful but despite this I had confidence in myself, projects and trusted my gut feeling. Breaking out of my comfort zone meant I went on to set the standards in this this sector. One of my mantras is to embrace the challenge and stick to your guns.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
I am a strong supporter of mentoring in business. I didn’t have a proper mentor as it wasn’t very common before, but I had a university professor who inspired me greatly. I didn’t hesitate to ask him any questions. I felt that I could be a good entrepreneur without much experience but he taught me the realities of entrepreneurship and the elements such as politics, fundraising and more. I benefitted very much. I’m like a sponge so I learn something every time someone speaks, I also think people can benefit by learning from the mistakes other people have made, so they don’t make the same mistakes.
I have no time to be a mentor at the moment but it is definitely something I want to do in the future. I would especially like to help mentor women. There are so many women out there who are brilliant at what they do but lack the confidence due to various factors. I would love to help them.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
Networking is hugely important no matter what sector you’re in or what level you are at. I network every day in every city I am in, it is worth it as it’s how you meet incredible people.
It can be time consuming but it is one of the best ways to create a big network of contacts, which is so valuable. Never underestimate the power of networking.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
You have to have a thorough business plan and good investors when scaling your business. Plan out your vision for the next five years then find the right people for your team and motivate them with this vision. Another tip would be to never stop learning and understand the market. Sniff out the market like a dog sniffs out truffles!
You can’t do it all on your own, you have to have good people on the ground, the secret is in people. Have a vision and think big. Make a plan and let other people believe in that plan and work hard for it every single day.
You can lose your soul as a company if you become too big too fast which can be damaging. Always keep your reputation first, not money. It is all about the quality of the service and if you expand too rapidly it can have damaging effects. Sometimes slow growth is best. Take one step at a time.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully it will be full of continued success as an entrepreneur, but I would like to create more free time for myself too. I will also be writing more books, which I really enjoy. My first book The Salvation of the World – Women: The Biggest Change Agents of the 21st Century launched recently in Italy and will soon be published in the UK.
I would like to scale up with Sigillus and expand to both Dubai and New York within the next couple of years. The long-term plan is to take Sigillus Global
What is your one piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
Never stop dreaming. Society needs entrepreneurs, people who take risks and don’t feel the fear.
You can follow Paola Diana on Twitter.