When it gets to this time of the year and the studio schedule is blowing up, I like to force reflection about what I've learnt over the year in my magical space in the morning light. I've forced guest writer, Katie Northwood to do the same.
Katie is the former editor of the Samantha Wills Foundation and has interviewed countless entrepreneurs and small business owners over the years. She's also been the Celeste Barber and Oprah of my world since we met through the foundation; giving me endless laughs and being by my side through all the highs and lows of my business & personal life. This week we get reflective as she shares what she learned about business from the Samantha Wills foundation.
‘Luck’ is a word that would land me in the bad books with my former boss CONSTANTLY.
“There’s no such thing as lucky, Katie- we make our own.”
So, to this boss, if you’re reading this - apologies in advance, but I do feel lucky, for the life changing lessons and opportunities I experienced in my time working with you.
At the time of this particular opportunity, I was working at SAMANTHA WILLS in their marketing team, surrounded by some of the nicest people in the world, and of course, all the sparkly things. I was called in to a meeting with the founder (also called Samantha Wills… weird) as she had been building up her entrepreneurial platform on the side - the Samantha Wills Foundation, and she was after an editor.
Those two years were some of the greatest of my life (I said yes to the position, in case that wasn’t immediately obvious), and I learned a crazy amount about business, what success looks like, how to hustle and support. I spoke with, met and interviewed the most incredible female entrepreneurs, and I was afforded the chance to see the benefits that genuine connection and community have to women on that entrepreneurial journey.
So, how the hell can I possibly sum up those incredible two years?
I’m delighted you asked (you did ask, I heard it) - here are the top things I learned from my time there, and I know I will carry these with me always.
01 | Misery may love company, but an entrepreneur loves it more.
There is a C word that I learned very quickly in my time at the SWF, one that I’d never truthfully felt comfortable saying…community.
Yes, it seems to be a bit of a buzzword at the moment, especially in the social-media sphere, but humans are social beings, and we really do thrive in a group of our own. At it’s core function, community provides safety, and a space for sharing of information. But it also ensures that it’s members are surrounded (either geographically or digitally) by similarly minded people, and this is such a positive and powerful thing.
Samantha was always open about her own entrepreneurial beginnings, and how incredibly isolating it was, and it was this very reason that she started the Foundation. It was a way for women on their own journey to check in and connect with others, ask for advice, a sanity check or two, and to just know that there were others up at the same crazy hour.
Sometimes, you don’t even need anyone to actually do anything (and often, there is little anyone can do) but someone saying “I see you, I hear you, and I am doing this with you” is invaluable.
02 | Your business journey will take many, MANY detours.
I know this one to be true from a career perspective, but the path ahead of you is rarely a straight one. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities that lead you seemingly off the path. Equally important, some of these may lead to a dead end, but it’s a lesson learned, not lost.
Sooooo many women I interviewed decided on one business idea, only for it to take on a different shape later down the track, and the thing I loved most about these stories was that they saw these as opportunities to pick up a new skill or contact, rather than wasted time.
There is no excuse you can come up with that hasn’t been thought up before.
Trust me, as an Olympic-level procrastinator, and advanced-level-reason-why-I-couldn’t-possibly generator, I’m well versed in excusing myself from pursuing things. But, as that old saying goes “If not now, then when… and if not you, then who?”
I’ll tell you who - those hustlers who would listen to my long lists of reasons not to, and go “Cool so while you’re working on that list, I’ll be over here just getting on with it”.
These women make it look easy, not because it is (by any means) but because they just give it a red hot go.
03 | Don’t ever underestimate anyone.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the light-year leap that so many women take, both in their personal and professional lives. A mother of 4 going back to uni to study. A designer who took her medical diagnosis, and used it as the inspiration behind the name of her business. A fashion buyer who went full time with her calligraphy. Just remember that you’ll often only see the tip of the iceberg when meeting someone, so never assume that what you see is all that they are.
This might be the very thing to fuel the, plus it’ll give them a great story when they’re absolutely killing it in their field.
PS. This goes for you too, never sell yourself short.
04 | There isn’t a finite amount of success, so it’s ok to share
One of my favourite idioms is ‘kicking the ladder out beneath you’ - not because I condone it, but because it paints such a vivid picture. The idea that if you find the magic beans of success, you need to make sure NO ONE ELSE ever finds them, lest it somehow diminish your win.
A huge standout from my time both working with Samantha, as well as the greater (and great) community, is the openness and desire to share information, not just stories - the “I did it…” is supported by “and this is how”. I can imagine it would be tempting to think “this worked for me, so I’m going to hoard it away to stop others using it” but actually the opposite was true. People genuinely wanted to see others succeed. If you have the opportunity to help a fellow entrepreneur, do it.
05 | Mental health can make or break you, especially in business.
The sobering honesty that I witnessed will stay with me always. The work/life balance debate is still going strong, however whichever side you take, I think we can agree that you can’t expect long term success if you don’t make time for your own mental wellbeing. I lost count of the number of women I spoke with who experienced ‘burnout’. Yes your business is your baby and your passion project, and you want to put everything you have into it, but there is not a limitless supply of you to go around.
It was well documented at the time (and it is not my personal journey to talk about) but after 15 years of operation, Samantha decided to close her jewellery business, and the respect I have for her in making that decision is immeasurable.
I learnt from this experience - and from her - that knowing your limits is one of your greatest mechanisms of self protection. You can’t give yourself to something if you have no more to give.
Take time for yourself, and make time for yourself.
(Ooh I might print this on a t-shirt!)
06 | Community is amazing, (if you surround yourself with the right one.)
This is by far the biggest takeaway from my time with SWF. Because of the platform, and the connections I was afforded, I met some of the most goddamn talented women I could ever hope to meet - including the magical founder of The Blackline Bottega! I also saw so many women showing up to support their fellow small business owners. Women seeking out small businesses they could buy from, women wanting to collaborate with others, and others still just wanting to celebrate their peers.
As part of the SWF platform, we profiled different women in different businesses, sharing their honest and candid journeys. This included an interview published on the site, as well as an Instagram post, celebrating them and their story. There was one woman in our community (who I still speak to, to this very day) who would comment on EVERY. SINGLE. Instagram post without fail, sharing some serious love.
So if you haven’t already, find yourself a community, one that will embrace you, and celebrate you and rally you when you need it.