Tech entrepreneur Suzanne Noble shares how she’s kept evolving through lockdown.

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the last year, it’s the power of community. The wisdom of those we surround ourselves with (virtually or otherwise) can make all the difference to how we live and work – and how we feel. How do other women manage to stay ‘up’ and face major challenges? Serial entrepreneur Suzanne Noble shares her thoughts on surviving and thriving.

Describe your expertise and your typical clients or audience Primarily I work with people aged 50+ . I run a startup called Silver Sharers that helps match older homeowners to compatible lodgers. Advantages of Age (AofA) is a social enterprise of which I’m a co-founder and we run Startup School for Seniors, an eLearning platform helping over 50s to start their own business. AofA hosts a large and lively Facebook group, where we cover topics as varied as death and dating, pensions and poverty. Through it, social connections have been forged and we have informal meet-ups amongst members (COVID permitting, of course).

What is your superpower, the one skill that makes you unique, that your clients or audience love you for? I suspect most people would say my superpower is that I love connecting people. One of my former employees, when providing me with a recommendation on Linkedin remarked, “Anyone who works with Suzanne will tell you she’s a good laugh, very professional and seems to know everyone, which is very handy if you’re a new client.”

Using your unique expertise and insights please share your top tips for thriving as an entrepreneur. Be prepared to pivot. Often we start a business believing that we have figured out the answer before we’ve really understood the problem. Of course, that’s rarely the case. Over the years I’ve come to recognise the value of listening to my current or prospective customers, asking ‘open’ questions and being prepared for an answer that isn’t the one I’d expected. If what you’re doing isn’t working, be open to considering what can work rather than just giving up.

Briefly, what has been your journey to your current career? I’ve been running my own businesses since I was in my late twenties, which include producing a series about astrology for Channel 4 and creating a baby sling company that I sold to one of my clients. I produced a couple of sex education videos for adults and that business went into liquidation. I was co-director of a Top 150 PR agency specialising in home entertainment for over 10 years and subsequent to that took on the role of global PR & Marketing Director for a children’s TV show called LazyTown. In 2014 I moved into tech, developing an app for Londoners on a budget called Frugl and that takes me up to where I am now, working on Advantages of Age!

Describe your darkest moment of 2020 and what you learned from it about surviving and thriving. Most recently, as a result of COVID-19 I lost my part-time job, which had delivered me a regular income for over a year. The Airbnb room I had been running to earn money to supplement my income was closed down. Three months’ worth of paid gigs were all cancelled. Within a month my income was slashed by two-thirds.

Fortunately, Silver Sharers was accepted onto a prestigious business programme that came with some funding and Startup School for Seniors, run through my not-for-profit Advantages of Age was offered a grant to deliver a virtual programme.

Since doubling down on my work, I’ve seen how it has positively impacted on what I’m doing around helping people over 50 who may be struggling financially, often as a result of circumstances due to COVID-19. Not having to juggle so many balls, as I had been doing pre-pandemic, created an opportunity to focus on what really mattered to me.

In what ways has the global pandemic led to you changing how you work and earn your living? Pre-pandemic I was out 2-3 times a week attending meetings, many of which I now realise, were not productive or necessary. I’ve been a home worker since 2008 so it wasn’t new to me to work from home or in relative isolation and if I’m being honest, it has been great to see how employers and businesses have responded to the idea of home working once they came to realise that there was no loss in productivity.

Like many others, I now spend a great deal of time on Zoom or Google Meets. It can be exhausting and my work-life balance has definitely shifted in so far as I feel that I work far longer hours and it’s rare for me to shut off completely .

I’ve also got used to living with less. A massive drop in salary will do that to a person and with less opportunity to go out, I haven’t spent much on clothes or travel or entertainment.

Thankfully, the months I spent with my colleague creating the videos for Startup School for Seniors and delivering the programme are paying off. We’ve had two commissions to deliver the programme again in the New Year which will actually generate an income that is close to what I was earning last year.

What new work habits have you created in the last year that really help? I’ve listened to an audio recording every evening at bedtime that is about confidence building and I’ve seen what a difference that has made to my ability to concentrate and also, more generally, in being clear about what I want.

How do you stay positive and motivated when the chips are down? I’m a naturally positive person and I don’t dwell too much on the past. What’s done is done. But in October when I was applying for a grant from Unltd that requested I share how my lived experience informed the work I was doing, the impact of the pandemic really hit me. Up until then I hadn’t given it too much thought despite the fact that I’d lost virtually all my income!

What is your next project or goal and what are you doing now to help make it happen?
My Silver Sharers colleague Steve and I will soon be launching a rebranded and rebuilt version of the site that we’ve been working on for the past six months. It’s a big step up from what we’ve been doing and I’m itching for it to go live so we can scale the business. Also after resuming my enthusiasm for singing jazz and blues a couple of years ago, I look forward to performing around London when the entertainment venues reopen.

What makes you feel optimistic about the future? I’m very proud of the work I’ve been doing for the past year and, possibly for the first time ever, have a sense that it’s all going to pay off. Not just in terms of delivering me a comfortable income but, more importantly, because both businesses have the ability to transform people’s lives for the better.

What advice would you give to any female entrepreneur who is really struggling to stay positive and keep their head above water? Find someone to talk to – we all need a support network. I’m a member of quite a few Female Founder communities and they’re a great place to let off steam and share highs and lows. For tech female founders, I can recommend Ada’s List and Women Founders on Facebook. It can be very hard to be a sole founder, especially if you’ve come from a corporate job where you may have had support staff. I would also recommend using Virtual Assistants for admin tasks plus apps such as Calendly, which helps organise my many diaries.

Where you do you go to time and again for inspiration and fresh thinking?
I belong to a number of Slack groups that are specific to tech, venture capital and programmes in which I’ve been involved. I read at least one article on every day and am a subscriber. I rarely listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos and tend to steer away from inspirational speakers as I’m mainly seeking information that is focussed on the area in which I’m working.
With many thanks to Suzanne Noble. @_suzannenoble (Twitter & Instagram)

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