How would you define success? If you asked 100 different people, you would get 100 different answers. But knowing your goals and actually achieving them are two very different things – it’s not always easy to take that vital first step. As the founder of Tunbridge Wells based business, About Success, Belinda Raitt shares just how you can get to where you want to be.
What prompted the start-up of About Success?
I used to work in executive search – headhunting as it’s better known – in London. The firm also offered leadership development and coaching, which I always enjoyed more than the recruitment side: helping people to achieve their potential by understanding their goals and motivations, advising clients on how to put together high performing teams and develop the leadership skills to get the best out of them. I have an MA in Psychology, so maybe that’s why. When the credit crunch hit our firm in 2009, I took a redundancy offer and set up my own business, About Talent Ltd, so that I could train as a coach and use what I’d learnt from working with the management teams of FTSE 100 companies to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) build their businesses and develop their leadership skills.
About Talent also has an executive research arm, and my researchers and I are often approached by executives in the 40+ age bracket looking for jobs. The sad reality is that age discrimination, although nominally illegal, still exists, and it can be a long, demoralising process for these people to find another job. When older executives come to me for career coaching, we often end up looking at self-employment as an option.
I also run West Kent Networking – a friendly, supportive business networking group for small businesses across Kent, and I’m a firm believer in collaboration and networking. And that’s what gave me the idea for About Success – a support network for executives exploring different career options, combining all three areas of my business: career and business coaching, headhunting, and networking.
What has running this company taught you about business and industry?
Building a business does not happen overnight! It takes hard work and trial and error, learning from your mistakes and from the experience of others. I’ve learnt a lot about business success and failures from executive search, as you have to research companies in depth and get to hear first-hand from industry leaders what they have achieved – and where it’s gone wrong. A company is only as good as the people in it. Applying this to running my own business, I’ve learnt to keep an eye on the competition but not sweat about it – focus on what you’re good at and do it well, and deliver consistently what you say you will, when you say you will. Stay open-minded and flexible, and be prepared to adapt according to economic or market demands. And don’t be arrogant – you can always learn from experience and from others. That’s why I’m such a strong believer in collaboration and supportive networking – everyone has something of value to offer, even if it’s not immediately obvious. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of a good brand, personal or corporate, and the amount of marketing that’s needed to keep a business visible!
Tell us about your experience of success that qualifies you to run a business of this nature.
I’ve been running my own business for the last six years, started during an economic downturn, as well as a vibrant business network that promotes and supports local independent businesses and small charities, and continues to grow every month. I’ve worked in different types and sizes of organisations, and been through redundancy myself, turning it into a successful experience. I’ve seen the job hunting and interview process from both sides, as an employer and recruiter as well as a job seeker. During my seven years in executive search, my job was to help build the management teams of some of the most successful FTSE and private equity companies. I’ve learnt from the inside what makes those organisations work, what skills are needed, what challenges to overcome.
Since I set up About Talent in 2010, I’ve used my business knowledge to help other start-ups to get going and smaller companies to grow, and seeing them succeed is hugely rewarding, knowing that my input has helped them along their path to success. My latest one has been Fromage & French, which I set up with a partner in January, and now that that’s up and running and in good hands, I can step back and concentrate on this, my main business again.
Who is About Success aimed at?
People come to us because they are facing change. They are usually senior level executives considering a change of career, looking for a new role, currently unemployed, or approaching retirement. We also offer a tailored package for executive level mums who want to return to work. We’ve just recently developed a job share website too as part of About Success – www.execjobshare.com – for executive level people who want to work flexibly, in direct response to the lack of part-time jobs out there for more skilled workers. It’s something the Government is talking about a lot at the moment – we thought we’d just get on and do it!
What do you feel is the biggest concern for experienced Executives wanting to maintain a fruitful career past the age of 40?
While experience definitely counts, it’s important to keep your skills current, your outlook fresh and be able to adapt. Change can be good for you if you allow it to be! The challenge is competing for jobs with a cheaper, younger workforce, who are often more mobile in terms of relocation and less restricted by the financial realities of family, mortgages and school fees. It’s also about understanding how digital, social media and technical developments are changing jobs and the workplace, and being able to relate your experience to the new world. A lot of people I see for career coaching have found themselves in a bit of a one-way tunnel with their career, without really knowing how they got there or what they’re getting out of it. Once I can help them understand what’s important to them, and what they’re best at, that’s often the ‘lightbulb moment’ that sets them on a more fruitful career path.
For those looking for success, how would you define and measure it?
Success is whatever you want it to be! Success is, or should be, subjective, and holds different meaning for different people. It’s tied into your values and goals. If you’re motivated by money, then success could mean earning enough to fund a lot of material possessions and a lavish lifestyle; if your goal is to retire at 50, then it’s about looking at the best options to help you reach that goal. If you’re driven by family, then it could be about making sure you provide enough for their needs, or spend enough time with them. Personally, I think if you’re happy in yourself and what you do, and making the most out of each day, then that’s the secret! And don’t be afraid to change direction – it’s good to have a goal to help you focus, but people, circumstances, life, all change.
You run a number of events and workshops. What is their purpose?
People are social creatures, and thrive on interaction, whether online (increasingly these days!) or face to face. It’s an often proven fact that most new jobs and business opportunities are found through word of mouth, friend of friends, and networking. If you’re not out there building relationships people aren’t going to get to know you, and it’s easier to help someone you know. it can be a lonely business, going through a career transition, and it helps to know that you’re not alone. So the events and workshops are another way of sharing knowledge and experience, beyond the online network, to encourage collaboration.
What is the Executive Club and in what ways is it advantageous?
The idea behind the Executive Club is to provide a support network for people with 20 years or more executive level experience who are currently unemployed, looking for a change of career, or approaching retirement; or mothers who want to return to a corporate career or set up their own business. Joining the club offers members immediate access to a network of other executives in a similar situation, and to business and career guidance from About Success’s experienced collaborative team of advisers, coaches and executive search consultants. There is an online library of useful resources and membership also includes access to ExecJobShare.com, our exclusive job share jobsite.
Alongside all that practical advice and support, there are also the emotional benefits of being able to share your experience with others, either to help them or for them to help you. When you go through a career transition or have been out of work for a while, it can affect your confidence, so the Executive Club is also about helping people to feel better about themselves, rebuild their confidence, and focus on their strengths.
Tell us about the Mentor scheme and its benefits.
This is a great way for members of our Executive Club to regain their confidence and use their experience to help small businesses who need some extra help. Our Mentor Scheme is aimed at sole traders, young start-ups that do not yet have much senior experience in their teams, companies in a vulnerable growth phase or that need some short-term support while they are developing new products or channels to market, who can’t afford the fees of a full-blown consulting contract. It’s a low cost way for them to benefit from some senior industry advice. In return, the mentors benefit by increasing their network of local contacts and exposure to the market. It keeps their skills up-to-date and fills a gap on their CV if they are between roles. For those who have had a longer career break, it can be a helpful way to get used to being in a corporate environment again. It works for both sides – it’s all about sharing knowledge and collaboration.
If you could sum up the path to success in five words, what would they be?
Try, fail, learn, work, enjoy.