Friday, 11 February 2022

Natasha (Fe. 2002-06) runs Present Day Thinking, a business development consultancy dedicated to supporting small and mid-sized businesses grow. She spoke to us about how the idea for her business came about, and the work it took to get to where she is today.

What has been the path to launching Present Day Thinking?

Running my own business was always a pathway I was destined to take.  My grandparents on my mother’s side and both my mother and father were/are all entrepreneurs and the founders of successful businesses. Watching them embark on their own journeys over the years and making successes of the exceptionally hard work they have invested in their own ventures inspired me and gave me the confidence to not only consider but pursue the somewhat ‘non-traditional’ career route of owning your own business.

Looking back on my time at Brighton, I must admit I never considered the possibility of starting my own business.  In fact, my career aspirations changed several times in this short period of time between selecting my GCSEs and starting my A levels; it seems I was keen to pursue everything from linguistics to investment banking.  The red thread that ran throughout, however, was always the possibility of earning money.  Indeed, I’d been working most Saturdays for almost 3 years by the time I took my GCSEs, volunteering Saturday mornings at the local Oxfam before moving on to a paid Sales Assistant position at the local bakery.

It was perhaps no surprise to anyone who knew me that when the time came to decide on whether to pursue higher education or enter the world of work, I chose the world of work.  Starting my career as an Administrative Assistant for a private stem cell bank, I worked hard to earn the trust of the CEO and other management stakeholders, and to assume as much responsibility as possible to support my own personal development.  Shadowing stakeholders from across the business, it wasn’t long before Administrative Assistant became Office Manager (with the added responsibility of being a Designated Individual under the company’s HTA License – a license key to the continued and safe operation of the business) and Office Manager ultimately became Head of UK Sales & Business Development.

Working very closely with the CEO on both strategy and day-to-day operations at this early stage in my career showed me first-hand just what could be achieved if you set your mind to it. The problem was, working for an SME meant there was very little room to grow once I’d reached the top of my career ladder within the organisation – even with the exceptional, record-level growth we were achieving.  I, therefore, made the difficult decision after 5 strong years to leave and continue on my development journey.

Over the next 6 years, I pursued a variety of sales and business development opportunities, each time stepping higher up the ladder and further developing my knowledge, skill set, and experiences.  Indeed, having circumnavigated university originally, I decided in 2015 it was finally time to broaden my academic horizons and so I enrolled with the Open University to gain my MBA part-time alongside my full-time job – which I did and am so proud of!

The problem was though that although I continued to develop every time I embarked on a new role with a new organisation, I inevitably ended up facing the same challenges and frustrations of not being able to make the changes that mattered. Being so passionate about work and having experienced this for what felt like the umpteenth time, I finally decided to pull the trigger and launch Present Day Thinking in May 2019.

Although I had originally registered Present Day Thinking with Companies House in 2009 but it wasn't the right time to launch it. Knowing deep down one day I would likely make use of the name, I kept Present Day Thinking registered for the next 10 years – dormant, but ready for when the time was right.

What have been the challenges in working for yourself?

It sounds cliché, but work-life balance.  Throughout my career, there have always been times when I’ve found it difficult to ‘switch off’ but working for myself I find these occurrences are more and more frequent.  Not only am I trying to run and grow my own business, but I’m also working in the interests of my clients.  I am essentially always doing two jobs.

What’s more, as someone who is exceptionally passionate about business, I take great pride in my work and have always, genuinely-placed the interests and needs of my clients at the forefront of what I do.  Whilst this means my clients always receive a faultless, gold quality service it also means I rarely work a simple "9-5" day.

As a woman in business, have you encountered any gender-related roadblocks in your career?

Thankfully not, but I have had experience working with male managers who appeared more comfortable engaging with stakeholders of the same sex.  Although this hasn’t negatively impacted my career, it has made for some difficult exchanges in which I felt like my ideas weren’t always being heard.  Not to be deterred though, it has always been a case of drawing on my strengths as a people manager and entrepreneur to find ways to circumnavigate this.

Perhaps it’s for this very reason that my gender has never become an obstacle in my career.  It may simply have been that I wouldn’t give anyone the opportunity to negatively impact or stand in the way of my career.

What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from setting up your own business?

Resilience.  Although I’d learned some level of resilience in my previous roles, especially operating in a sales environment, I don’t think I really learned what resilience was until I started Present Day Thinking.  Resilience in this sense for me not only means having the strength to pick myself up when I fall or hit a wall, but, critically, to continue adapting to the ever-changing world of business.  As a new, largely unknown SME in a fast-changing, saturated market I have learned that innovation and resilience are paramount to success.

What do you think has been the biggest factor in your success?

My support network. My partner, family, and friends have all played a significant role in the success of my business, not just in the advice and guidance they provide when asked but in the providing unfaltering support and reassurance they give me. I don’t think a single person within my support network has managed to escape some form of personal or professional request for help over the past 2.5 years, although some have perhaps been luckier than others to receive such requests during office hours!  As I’ve learned, there’s no such thing as "9-5" when working for myself.

What advice would you give someone wanting to ‘go it alone’?

Have faith and believe in yourself.  It sounds cheesy perhaps but choosing to ‘go it alone’ is by no means an easy road, especially at the beginning when it’s just you.  With nobody to report to or soundboard with, it can become easy to doubt yourself and even become slightly lost.  To help stay on track and moving forwards, take a minute to remind yourself of the reasons why you chose to ‘go it alone’.  You had faith in yourself on embarking on this journey, have faith now – keep believing in yourself and you’ll get there.

Be patient and never stop trying. After all, “failure cannot live alongside persistence”.

How did Brighton College help you get where you are today?

Brighton College taught me to be independent.  It taught me the value of hard work and the importance of personal development.  All recognised qualities of a successful entrepreneur, and qualities that have helped to shape the strong, confident, determined businesswoman I am today.

If you run a business and would like to share a bit more about it with the Old Brightonians, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.! We'd love to hear from you.

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