Why did you start your own business?
After spending 20 years in the corporate world, I decided to take a break and go freelance. I wanted flexibility and to focus on the work I really wanted to do, away from all the corporate politics. At the time, a few people in my network reached out and asked if I would like to do associate work with them, and it sort of developed from there. Little did I know a global pandemic was on its way and 2020 proved to be particularly challenging for business.
Since then, I’ve taken an in-house contract a few days a week which still allows me to carry out my freelance work. I enjoy having the freedom and flexibility to do the work I love and want to do.
When you’re in the corporate world, you’re ‘bound by the rules, red tape and procedures’ of that workplace, not to mention all the politics. As a freelance consultant, I have the flexibility to choose to work with organisations that align with my values and where I feel I can make a difference.
What inspired you to set up FSB’s LGBT+ networking events and what impact has this had?
When the pandemic hit, I turned to online networking as a way to stay connected with my contacts and develop my business. I attended various FSB events in London and across the country, and in talking to some of the FSB members I realised that there was a gap for LGBT+ business networking.
After a few conversations with Robin Walker, a fellow FSB LGBT+ member, and the London FSB team, we set up the London LGBT+ Networking group. We started with a pilot event in London focusing on four areas: building community, creating networking opportunities, supporting each other, and advising/providing support to non-LGBT+ business owners on LGBT+ issues. We weren’t sure how many people would show up, but to our surprise, we had 60 attendees at our first event and around 60% were from the LGBT+ community.
We went on to run 12 events in the following year covering a range of topics and putting the spotlight on small LGBT+ business owners – from travel agents to chocolate makers and marketers. The regular attendance demonstrated the need and appetite for LGBT+ small business owners to come together, network and learn from each other. We’re pleased to say the event proved to be so popular with FSB members, both in and outside of London, that it’s now a national monthly FSB LGBT+ event.
What advice do you have for LGBT+ people who want to start their own business?
Go for it! Despite all the challenges, you will learn a lot from the experience – about yourself, your leadership style, your business product/service and your target market. Use all that learning to help inform your thinking, make decisions and evolve your business.
Build relationships and be curious! Chances are, someone has been there and done that, and they can help you – or at least guide and advise you. I had lots of support from the FSB LGBT+ community and made good use of the FSB resources available.
More importantly, be yourself and own who you are. If you are not out as a business owner and don’t feel you can – perhaps for fear of losing work or customers, or having to “come out” with every conversation - ask yourself:
- What impact is this having on your personal wellbeing?
- How do you feel about working with client that you know have discriminatory views when it comes to sexuality?
- Where is your integrity as a business owner and as a leader?
- What opportunities might you be missing by not being your true self?
- What legacy do you want to leave for others and what example do you want to set for other new and aspiring LGBT+ business leaders?
I’m not suggesting everyone should come out with a big fanfare or even do it if they truly don’t feel they can – that is your personal choice. But, if not now, when will you start the conversation?
From personal experience, if hiding or thinking about coming out every time you meet someone new is playing on your mind, pull the bandage off and mention it upfront in a way that’s subtle, so that you set the tone and what is important to you.
What advice do you have for LGBT+ work inclusion?
In my field, one of the things we often talk about is the importance of people their true selves at work – be that showing up as we are or being authentic leaders. There is a lot of research on the befits of being one’s authentic self in the workplace – it promotes personal wellbeing and overall fulfilment, leads to stronger interpersonal relationships, and drives performance.
Yet recent UK studies show that coming out at work is still a problem for a large number of people who identify as LGBT+. Whether you’re a small business owner or an employee, you need an environment where there is trust and psychological safety for you to be and perform at your best. By hiding an important part of yourself and acting in a way that’s incongruent with who you are, it can actually have a negative impact on your behaviour and increase your probability of lying. Rob Walker and I have written an article for FSB on this before.
A lot of my work with leaders is about encouraging them to be present and listen to their teams without judgement, to understand what motivates and is important to them. That way, you can manage and lead them more effectively – driving better performance. As business owners, leaders, and managers, it is our responsibility to listen and create a safe space where people feel they can be themselves, otherwise, they never will. Be mindful of the language you use and ask people how they want to be addressed and treated. Don’t jump to quick and irrational conclusions.
At a recent national LGBT+ FBS networking event, Rich Bishop talked about his approach to creating an inclusive environment and how it can help you attract new and diverse talent. Rich explained how being out himself as a business owner gives others the permission to be themselves at work. He also encouraged attendees to have open conversations. Of course, if you’re working for a business run by an LGBT+ owner, it’s much easier, so it’s about giving people the space to talk about it in their own time and at their own pace. This will send a strong message to your clients and suppliers but also help you attract potential talent, as they will feel this is a safe professional environment where they can be themselves.
Finally, allyship is really important, but before running out there asking for more allies, let’s start by being allies to each other within our community and speaking out when we are seeing injustice and unfairness.