Author and entrepreneur Sam Baker shares how put herself back together in 2020.

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? How on earth did they get through 2020 and remain motivated? Author and entrepreneur Sam Baker, author of The Shift, tells us how she makes it work.

Describe your expertise and your typical clients or audience. 
My expertise is being able to identify an audience and knowing what will resonate emotionally with them before they do, and then being able to give it to them in a way that is useful, accessible and without patronising or pigeon-holing them. Once I’ve identified an audience I’m able to laser-focus in on their needs to the exclusion of all else, if necessary. I’m also good at balancing commercial and creative concerns. That sounds very specific, but actually you can apply it to almost any scenario.”

What is your superpower, the one skill that makes you unique, that your clients or audience love you for? 
Accessibility. I don’t think I could do what I do without it.

Using your unique expertise and insights please share your top tips for thriving as an entrepreneur/businesswoman. 
Oh god, this is a hard one. I think, as women, many of us are trained to fear failure, to put others (their needs and opinions) first, to cope cope cope. My experience as an entrepreneur, particularly, taught me that you have to shelve all those things you’ve spent your life doing and
1. embrace failure (easier said than done but essential. It’s not a personal failure it’s a BUSINESS failure. Not the same. At all.) and learn from it. “Fail forward,” as someone cleverer than me once said.
2. disregard what others think (this is not an excuse to run roughshod over peers, staff and colleagues, more a clarion call not to be driven by fear of what other people think) and believe in yourself. After all, you didn’t get where you are by not being any good. And
3. ASK FOR HELP if you need it. Not at the drop of a hat, obviously. But if you, like me, grew up believing that you had to do things yourself and you couldn’t admit to not being able to do everything expected of you (or in fact had been knocked back when you did ask) it’s a big ask to turn around and say, I need help to do this – or to do it better. Also many people think being asked for help means they get to take over, which is not the same thing at all.

Those are lessons all entrepreneurs learn but I think women and minorities are given less space to learn them. For instance, I was often told that investors loved a second time founder because they had learnt the failure lessons on someone else’s dime. That’s fine if you’re a young privileged white guy who has investors falling over themselves, but founders from diverse backgrounds will already have had to fight so hard to raise money once, that it may seem insurmountable.

Lastly, be honest with yourself (if no-one else) about your strengths and weaknesses and go out of your way to work with people whose strengths and weaknesses complement yours.

Briefly, what has been your journey to your current career? I started out as a journalist in weekly magazines and then moved into glossies before I was made Editor of Just 17. Then I edited minx, company, Cosmo and Red, before going it alone. I guess the bit of my job that I always loved most was creating a magazine that readers loved – it was the reader/audience, rather than the physical magazine that excited me the most. So that’s what I took when I launched The Pool (a digital platform for women) with Lauren Laverne in 2015. We learnt a lot of lessons – good and bad – during that time, but chief amongst them was the fact that you can deliver great content that really resonates with your audience in any format – it’s the quality of the content that matters. That – combined with my personal experience of perimenopause – is what led me to write The Shift and launch The Shift with Sam Baker podcast.

Describe your darkest moment of 2020 and what you learned from it about surviving and thriving? 
No doubt about it, 2020 was dark, globally, economically, socially – like many people in the creative industries, I lost more than half my income overnight. But personally, professionally and financially 2019 was even worse for me, because that was the year The Pool collapsed, catastrophically and publicly. 2020 was all about rebuilding for us – we sold our house and moved to Scotland (although thanks to lockdown spent four months in my brother’s spare room between houses). I wrote The Shift (in my brother’s spare room) and launched the podcast. I feel like I slowly put myself back together in 2020, in spite of everything.

In what ways has the global pandemic led to you changing how you work and earn your living? I used to make more than half my income from hosting events and doing live interviews. For months last year there were no events at all and when they did resume they were far fewer and took place on Zoom or Google Hangouts, which is really not the same at all! Last year I hosted only one series of live events (at Cheltenham Literary Festival which was hybrid physical and digital) and it really consolidated for me how important a live audience is, and how important it is to be face to face with your interviewee if at all poss. I had already started recording the podcast before lockdown, but I had not envisaged what a big part of my work life it would end up forming. I now have a new skillset (you are never too old to learn!), a new platform and a new source of revenue which has been invaluable in both a practical sense but also a psychological one.

How do you stay positive and motivated when the chips are down? 
I have to be honest, I struggle. After decades working in an office I’d become pretty institutionalised and dependent on an externally imposed structure. Plus I have always travelled a lot for my job – whether to fashion shows as an editor or around the country or world to interview people. I miss that a lot and I find motivating myself within the same four walls day in, day out very hard. I’m lucky to live in a beautiful city so when all seems bleak I walk. And then I walk some more.

What makes you feel optimistic about the future? People. The greatest gift of the last year was “meeting” the women who contributed their thoughts, experiences, hopes, dreams and horrors when I was researching The Shift. Their trust, warmth and humour. Community is a gift. I think/hope we are all learning that now.

What advice would you give to any female entrepreneur who is really struggling to stay positive and keep their head above water?

Firstly and most importantly, all advice is just someone else’s opinion. Listen by all means, but do what you think, not what they do.

It’s not personal. It’s business.

It’s not all on you. And if it is, you need to take a long hard look at your co-founders, assuming you have some.

Lastly, get a mentor, if you can. Or a buddy. Just someone who gets what you’re going through but is not emotionally (or financially) invested in your business/life to talk things through with. A problem shared etc, but also founder depression isn’t a thing for no reason.

Where do you go time and again for inspiration and fresh thinking? I spend far too much time lurking around the internet – you can find inspiration where you least expect to find it. And I feel like I’ve listened to every business book known to humankind on audible. When all else fails, nothing is as big a boost as pounding the streets/a park/wherever, listening to other people’s failures and triumphs. If I had to name check one book it would be Essentialism by Greg McKeown – I am terribly easily distracted. When I was knee-deep in startup land, I was also addicted to the podcast StartUp – it’s two American guys launching a media startup and going through all the well-worn startup pain barriers. It may not resonate for you but I think well worth a listen. Subsequent series have followed different businesses.
With thanks to Sam Baker. @sambaker – twitter @theothersambaker. @theothersambaker – instagram. The Shift. How I (lost and) found myself after 40 – and you can too (Coronet) is out now in hardback or on audible or kindle (and 99p on kindle throughout January). Podcast: The Shift with Sam Baker is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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