“.Toot your own horn and promote yourself even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.”
Vanessa Vallely is regarded as one of the most well networked women in and out of the City. She is on many watch lists following successful women in the City, including Financial News Top 100 Rising Star across Europe, Africa and EMEA, Financial News Top 100 Women in Finance, The International Alliance for Women’s Top 100 Women who are making a notable difference and most recently, Brummels Top 30 Inspirational Women in the City.
Vanessa is passionate about sharing her know-how and experiences with others. The fact that she is founder of networking website We Are The City adds further credibility to an impressive career history from a “15 year old with 15 pence and big ambitions”.
Vanessa shares with Work Your Way a little bit about her career and how she thinks mentoring can help women succeed in business.
Q: Tell us a little about your business and the mentoring that you provide.
I created WeAreTheCity specifically to support the pipeline of corporate women and female entrepreneurs in the UK. Through WeAreTheCity and my own speaking activities (circa 5,000 people) we promote the activities of over 120 Global diversity networks as well as 2,000 + development events each year. We also provide a platform for female entrepreneurs to get their quality products or services to a female demographic. In addition, WeAreTheCity is a conduit for over 30 charities to promote their give back activities to WeAreTheCity 30,000+ members. 90% of the female centric development content is generated by WeAreTheCity own members. My husband and I have grown WeAreTheCity from a front room start up to a website that has over 4m hits (globally) and 270,000 visitors per month. WeAreTheCity is also one of the top 10,000 websites in the UK and has a job board (careers city) which was set up to encourage more females in to City roles.
Alongside building WeAreTheCity to promote external networks, in 2009 I also co-founded the not for profit citywide diversity forum, The Networks of Networks (TNON). The TNON includes the Diversity heads and heads of women’s networks from 45 FTSE firms. The aim of the forum is to encourage corporates to work and collaborate with each other in order to further Diversity opportunities and initiatives. This forum has grown from 10 firms with 20 members to over 45 firms and 200 members over the past 4 years.
I am also a global mentor to 15 individuals as well as speaker in schools. I truly believe that youth and women are key to repairing the global economy. I mentor via skype or face to face using a framework that I have developed and my extensive network. My job as a mentor is to open doors for my mentees when they are not in the room.
I have a number of rules when mentoring. I wont mentor anyone who isn’t mentoring someone else. When our mentoring relationship is complete, my role is to find them their next mentor and be their champion for life.
I have also travelled every year with my mentors to countries such as Africa, the Middle East and India to work with children and entrepreneurs. Through these activities and others I have raised over £30,000 for charity last year.
I am also committed to my charity and community work, serving as a Non Executive for Prostate Cancer UK and NYMT as well as the Pearly Queen of the City of London, which represents a fundamental aspect of London’s heritage.
Q: How do you managing your work/life balance and what tips would you give to other parents who are trying to juggle work and run a business?
I have engaged a number of different strategies throughout my working career to achieve balance, and not all of them have been successful.
Its trial and error and invariably what works for you given the constraints you have. My only tip is that you need to ensure you don’t work yourself in to ground. It is very easy to become completely absorbed in your business and never switch off, you need to ensure that you set yourself boundaries, especially if you are working from home. If you have children it is important that you still take time out for each other. My husband and I still have days away where we sit and discuss the business away from everything, same as there are times where we take a day out just to be husband and wife, not business owners. routine is key, but as said it takes time and by the time you have mastered it, it may well change again.
Q: Would you say women face different challenges in business and what tips would you give to overcome some of them?
I believe that Women have a tendency to under estimate their capabilities and play themselves down. Our confidence can sometimes get the better of us. I see every day and every person I met as opportunity. Not just as opportunity for me, but an opportunity for me to help others achieve their goals. My advice would be to toot your own horn and promote yourself even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable. If you don’t tell people what you are truly capable of they will never know. Another piece of advice would be to network.
There are over 800 Women’s networks in London and these networks are a hive of support both for corporate women and entrepreneurs. Whilst networking you will grow your confidence and get a chance to promote your business to.
Q: What tips for success would you give to women starting out in business for the first time?
Ensure you have a solid business plan and a good accountant. Use the entrepreneurial networks (e.g. Women Unlimited or Everywoman) to learn new skills. Join every business start up forum you can. Ensure you have a decent website and that you engage in social media as a mechanism to build your business. Seek your business mentors and learn from them. My biggest piece of advice is to ask for help. No one is born knowing how to run a business and whilst you in start up mode people will be more inclined to help you. Chose your bank wisely and ensure you have a decent amount of start up cash-flow as you will find that people pay late.
Q: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently in your own business?
I would have had a business plan earlier in my career & I would have got myself a mentor and a decent accountant from the offset. I started my first business when I was 22 and promptly closed it after I received a whopping tax bill – looking back I realised I never had any business acumen. I had all the ideas and the resources for my business but it wasn’t scalable as it was just me. I learnt from my mistakes and when I set up WeAreTheCity I ensured I put everything in place in terms of the business infrastructure I needed. I also made many expensive business mistakes in the early years, e.g. Sending every member of WeAreTheCity a Christmas card that I hand signed, it was a nice touch, but time consuming and expensive. You live and learn in business and invariably make the same mistakes twice.
Q: What plans do you have for your biz/where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I have a five year exit plan for my business. However before I sell my plan is to place 1 or 2 WeAreTheCity in other countries and to expand our job board, Careers City. We are constantly innovating on WeAreTheCity, creating new sections and adding new technology. With over 30,000 women as members of our site we already have a great community however I know we can do more to help them grown professionally and personally. In 5 years time I would hope that WeAreTheCity will be in the hands of its next owners who will be able to take it to the next level, as for me I will hopefully be doing more of what I am passionate about and this includes mentoring corporate women and female entrepreneurs & continuing to devote my time to developing the pipeline within schools and social enterprises.
Vanessa Vallely is CEO & Founder of www.wearethecity.com and www.careerscity.co.uk.. Her debut novel, “Heels of Steel”, will be published in September 2013, unveiling the hard truths and dispelling the frustrating myths of what it’s really like climbing your way up the corporate ladder in a male-dominated industry. The book goes into detail of her life living with her single Mother in a council flat, as the financial district sprung to life around them. Vanessa admits to the mistakes she’s made along the way and the lessons learned, particularly the importance of finding solace in the form of women’s networks, and how she got to where she is today.