Successful Mums meets Susanna Lawson, Forward Ladies / HSBC Businesswoman of the Year
We were delighted to welcome special guest Susanna Lawson to our busy Bromley Taster Session this week. Recently crowned Forward Ladies /HSBC’s Businesswoman of the Year, Susanna is co-founder and director of software company OneFile, which has grown from a spare-bedroom start-up to a multi-million-pound business with more than 84 employees in the space of just 12 years.
Susanna is also a mum and talked frankly at our workshop about the challenges of developing her business while raising her two young children. Earlier in the session, our audience of mums had discussed how easy it can be to lose confidence when you’re away from the workplace for even a short period of time and, says Susanna, this was certainly something that resonated with her.
“I’ve been there,” she nods. “When I had my son, who’s now seven, I took a full year off, which was marvellous and I completely immersed myself in it. But while I was away, the business grew and I didn’t really feel connected. When the time came to return, I’d completely lost my confidence – and it was my own business!”
“I remember being very shaky and panicky, dashing off to the toilets for a cry. I don’t understand why it happened – perhaps because it’s such a fundamental change in your identity and, of course, you’re sleep-deprived and the rest of it – but it did and relatively quickly.”
The straight-talking businesswoman soon got herself back into the swing of things and has been on quite a journey since then.
“Six years ago, when I was crying in the toilets, I certainly never thought I’d be HSBC’s Businesswoman of the Year! That’s a long old journey there and a lot of hard work,” she laughs.
Susanna believes that in OneFile’s early days, she would have greatly benefitted from the kind of support and advice that Successful Mums is offering women today.
“I’m looking at what Jane does now and I wish I’d had that when I was starting out,” she says, singling out Jane’s Executive Business Programme in particular. This six-month programme enables budding businesswomen to benefit from not only Jane’s expertise but also the help and support of a small group of like-minded, enterprising women. Each member is also held accountable for moving their businesses forward month by month.
“The idea of going away with a goal and being held accountable the next month is fantastic. I did that in a business group about five years into my journey but it would have been really valuable as a start-up,” says Susanna. “And as a mum, it’s great. In a generic business group, everyone’s coming from different places but, in this case, you’re all in a very similar situation.”
As an employer, Susanna was also delighted to see the list of transferable parenting skills that the women at the session came up with.
“That’s just a phenomenal list! That’s the job spec for a really high-level, accountable, responsible job and these women are doing it all day, every day,” she says.
“When I’m interviewing people, I am absolutely looking for those skills: the can-do attitude, the solutions focus, the collaboration. These are things that you want underpinning what your employees are doing every day – and these ladies have them in spades!”
SUSANNA’S LIFE HACKS FOR WORKING MUMS
Build your network
Having a network of people to help and support you is key. As a business owner, getting together with other people who run their own businesses is invaluable: you can bounce ideas off each other, share contacts, experience and knowledge, and they’ll understand where you’re coming from. As a mum, you also need that network of friends and family who can help you with childcare when necessary.
Pay it back
If someone offers to help you out with your kids, make sure you do the same for them! There has to be give and take – and that also applies to your business. If you want people to share or like what you’re doing on social media, make sure you’re sharing their success stories, too.
Work out what is non-negotiable
Whether it’s doing the school run or being there for the school play or sports day, think about what is non-negotiable for you. As much as we might want to, we can’t do everything and there will things you’re willing to compromise on or sacrifice. If you’re building a business but want to be there at school drop-off or pick-up, that’s fine – but you might decide you need to work after the kids have gone to bed or you might have to accept that your business isn’t going to grow as quickly.
Don’t beat yourself up!
Once you’ve worked out what’s important to you and what you feel comfortable with, make your decision and be happy with it. Guilt can be all-consuming and a waste of energy. You might feel your kids are losing out if you don’t pick them up when the school bell goes but they might not feel the same way. My kids love hanging out with their friends at afterschool club and have even been known to cry when their grandma picks them up!
Don’t listen to the parenting police
Every family and every person is different – our routines, our finances, our ambitions – so don’t let other people tell you what to do. You are the only one who knows what you need, what fulfils you and what works for you and your family.
And a little secret…
Something that can be draining and exhausting with kids in tow can turn out to be the most relaxing thing when you do it for work. Yes, I’m talking about travelling! A long car journey where you can play your own music instead of playing I-spy or spending two hours on the train on your own can be bliss. As for taking a flight somewhere – well, that’s like a spa day!
You can find out more about OneFile here and follow Susanna on Twitter here.