Louise Findlay-Wilson is the founder and Managing Director of the communications agency, Energy PR. Married, with four children, Louise set up her first agency at the age of 26, grew it and sold it before establishing Energy in 1995. She shares her advice for younger women setting out on their careers…
Identifying just a few top pieces of advice to share is quite tricky. After all, most advice is rooted in mistakes, and I’ve made quite a few!
But each mis-step has been a massive opportunity to learn. So my first piece of advice would be: embrace the things that go wrong, the poor decisions, the bad moves. By ‘embrace’ I mean turn them into something positive, learn from them and of course also vow to never repeat the same mistake twice.
Know Your Value
I know it’s a generalisation, but I think women are only likely to go for roles they are over qualified for. In contrast, men are much more likely to blag it. So at the outset of your career be confident about your abilities, don’t wait years to ‘go for it’. If you’re asked if you think you can do something say ‘yes’ – work out how you are going to do it later. A confident, ‘can do’ mentality will take you a long way.
Similarly, don’t undervalue yourself. The technology evangelist, Professor Sue Black, wisely said women should look at the salary for a role and then ask for ten per cent more. I think it’s great advice. That small difference early on in your career will amount to a much bigger difference later on and it will put value into your mindset.
To support this ‘can do’ spirit you need to have confidence in your abilities, and that’s not always easy. Even the most loving parents can inadvertently programme our thinking: ‘I’m no good at maths, I’m not sporty, I’m disorganised, I shouldn’t talk about money.’ So, every morning write down a few affirmations. This is a trick learnt late in life, and I wish I’d known about doing this years ago.
The affirmations need to be in the present tense and should support your plans and ambitions: ‘I am a brilliant negotiator, I’m the best in my company’ ‘I can do anything I set my mind to…’ These need to be YOUR affirmations, and they can change day to day. But write them EVERY day.
The most successful people I know have written down goals and revisit them. These should be personal and career goals. Have the guts to express them, tell others about them and hold yourself accountable for them.
Avoid Business Partnerships
Lots of people running successful business partnerships won’t agree with me on this one, but in my experience it’s very difficult for business partnerships to work. Unless you’re already connected to the other person – married, a couple, siblings etc. – the chance of you over the long-term having the same values, worth ethic, ambitions and commitment to the business is slim. It might not matter while you are trying to get your business off the ground, but once you’re successful and money is at stake, trust me, those differences between you will really matter.
Bring Your ‘A’ Game – always
It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with a big decisionmaker or a lowly minion, always be the best version of yourself you can be – polite, positive, professional, fair, honest. Have values and apply them equally to everyone, irrespective of their status. You should do this because it’s the right thing to do! But also, as time goes by, the network of people you’ve interacted with will grow and grow and your biggest asset will be the number of people you have out in the market who like you, rate you and therefore recommend you.
There will inevitably be worries. If you set up your own business, potentially there will be lots of them – but even if you don’t, you will have them during your rise to the top. You must learn how to manage this, otherwise your life will be miserable. Here’s my technique, and it works.
For any given worry I work out the absolute worst thing that could happen; and I mean the absolute worst thing. I then decide how I’ll deal with that if that happens. Once I’ve worked that out, I park the worry (in fact, I mentally lock it in a cabinet). I seriously don’t think about it again; I don’t need to, after all, if I’ve got an answer for the worst possible outcome, why do I need to think about it anymore?
Open to the New
Lastly, be open to new ideas, new hobbies, new careers, new skills, new people – never stop learning, never stop making friends. At my mum’s funeral there was an incredible mix of old friends she had known all of her life and young people she had perhaps only known for a year or two. This openness to ‘the new’ impacted on how she dealt with people, her world view, her interests, everything. I’d like to think I’m emulating her, it’s a great way to be.