By Sarah Pinch, Managing Director of Pinch Point Communications, President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and Non-Executive Director of the Health and Safety Executive
When starting off in business, there is so much you are yet to learn. Even now, after more than 25 years at work, whilst I have achieved many things to be proud of, my career path is still — and always will be — a learning curve.
Still, sometimes I think I wish I could pass some of the knowledge I have now accumulated back in time to my younger self, to help my successes perhaps come that little bit easier or quicker. Here are some of the top tips I would tell myself, given the chance:
1. Build a really strong network as early as you can
Many people in business dread after work events, or networking, particularly when they start off, but this can genuinely be really helpful, no matter what industry you work in. To make your network actually work for you, target the people you feel you have a mutual benefit with — perhaps you can learn from one another or complement each other’s services. If you can’t find the right networking event for you and what you want, don’t be afraid to approach people directly; ask someone to give you half an hour; no one has ever turned me down in my life. After the initial contact, keep in touch and ask questions to develop the relationship.
2. Be (really) ambitious: If not you, who?
Don’t ever hold back and let someone else take the spotlight if it’s rightly yours. You don’t have to make excuses for putting yourself forward and pursuing your goals; be unafraid to take the right risks and go get it!
3. Look outside your comfort zone
Listen to different music, go to the theatre, listen to opera, buy a newspaper you would never normally read and change your radio station. You might hate it — but the chances are you will learn something new and you will have had, at the very least, a new experience.
4. Get a mentor
Mentoring is a hugely untapped resource and is such a good, timeless practice praised the world over. By finding a mentor, you will have someone to challenge you and keep you on track. I have always found mentors to be an invaluable asset in terms of driving you forward, picking you up when you need it and giving you some great advice.
5. Set objectives, every year
It’s easy to get swept up working away in your job or your business and completely forget your original objectives, getting caught up in the tide and drifting further and further away with barely a backward glance. At least every year, set an anniversary to review your progress and accomplishments. Slap yourself on the back, learn your lessons and consider whether your plans for the future have changed — or stayed the same. A great way to stay focused is to set personal and professional objectives and share them with a trusted friend or partner.
6. Work really hard, play really hard – but do not mix the two up
No matter how close you are to your colleagues or how relaxed your workplace might be, you need to keep your guard up, a least a tiny bit. Wear your work hat at all times, even on the socials; that’s not to say you can’t have a chat, relax and enjoy yourself, but you should always be able to look yourself in the mirror the next morning and not feel embarrassed.
7. Try really hard not to take your home life to work
It can be really difficult to retain a private life if you are one of life’s natural oversharers, and there’s no harm in occasionally connecting with your colleagues over a shared jibe about annoying relatives or dishes left in the sink, but when it comes to the Big Stuff, think twice before opening your mouth. Is this something you want your colleagues to know? Even if it is, how much depth of detail do they actually need to have? They may sympathise with a relationship break up, but there’s no point crying every day or they will tire of it very quickly and it will distract you from what you are paid to be doing. Your work!
8. If you think something is too good to be true, it probably is
Trust your intuition at all times; if something seems fishy, then more than likely it is. Try not to be easily fooled. That’s not to say that you have to be super-cynical of every wave of good luck you have and every great opportunity you achieve, but be aware that 99% of the people you come across are out for what they can get with their own motivations in mind. If that doesn’t add to up to what you’re being offered, double check for a hidden catch.
9. If someone asks you to keep a secret, at work, be suspicious
There are very few reasons why something needs to be kept schtum, be wary of anyone who tells you secret information or asks you to keep things quiet. Always question people’s motivations. In the future, you will learn to have a black book, write it down and keep it safe for future reference!
10. Sexism, racism, homophobia have no place in your life or in the workplace
This really should go without saying, but for some reason it often still needs to be reiterated. Don’t allow anyone in your life or workplace to poison the atmosphere with any kind of prejudice; and don’t feel you have to keep quiet about these things, either. Have a strict zero-tolerance policy and lead by example.