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12 successful female executives share the best advice they ever received

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, this weekend, and to celebrate the extraordinary female leaders in Australia, we’ve asked some successful Australian businesswomen for the best advice they have ever received to share it with others seeking counsel.

From “don’t be scared to be yourself” to “if you want something, be assertive and ask for it”, here’s some of the words these successful female executives live and work by.

Lisa Messenger, founder and CEO of The Messenger Group.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
When hiring, hire fast fire slowly is my motto, and I am unapologetically probing when it comes to getting to know prospective new team members. This is because work culture is so important to be me, is the making and breaking of a company and also it might sound cheesy I really do see my team as a family, not just a series of cogs in a machine. I always get the candidate to do a 'lifeline' as well as present their CV, which basically means that I get them to go into detail about personal and business events that have impacted them. They can go as deep or as shallow as they want, there really is no right or wrong answer, and I love to be surprised by their responses. In this day and age a template resume really doesn't cut it, because leaders have to appreciate that good employees are far more than a tick list of qualifications on a 2D piece of paper.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
From memory it was Rhonda Brighton Hall who worked at Luxottica at the time and, I believe has since moved to work in HR Commbank.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
It was after a speaking gig she was doing. I didn't ask for advice specifically on hiring, but I was definitely open to it, as I've always known a leader is only as successful as their support network.

What was your position at the time?
I was CEO of The Messenger Group

What did it teach you?
It has helped massively with our recruitment process, and whether we're recruiting a junior writer of a senior sales executive, we put them through the same paces and usually get each potential candidates to do a series of job-specific tasks in an allocated period of time, to test not only their skill set and knowledge but also how they perform under pressure. It might sound gruelling, but when the reality is that working on an independent monthly magazine now sold in 37 countries, with multiple other side projects, products, partnerships and collaborations, there really is no time for breath in the typical work day and whilst I don't expect staff to be superwomen or always get it right ('fail fast' is one of my go-to mottos) I do need to know they have my back in a crisis, can work under pressure and will always give it their all. This is especially important because I hire to my weaknesses, as I believe every entrepreneur should, so when I'm looking for employees it's really a case of highlighting my weak points and then finding people who can act as pillars to strengthen our structure and lighten the load.

Marissa Panigiris, founder of Fiel Sol.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Never let failures or set-backs stop you in your tracks. Fail, but make sure when you do, you bounce back fast and learn from it.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
I was lucky enough to have the support of those close to me from day one. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by the most supportive friends and family.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
A bit of both. There were times when I asked for advice. Other times, the right advice just seemed to present itself when I needed it the most.

What was your position at the time?
I had just taken the leap and started my own business.

What did it teach you?
It taught me to get back up and keep moving forward. There is no time like the present and every step in the right direction is leading to a better outcome – even if at times they feel like baby steps.

Tania Price, founder and CEO of Entropolis.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Don't be scared to be yourself. Don't let what you think other people want you to be dictate your next move. Trust your instincts and your judgement. Don’t try too hard and overthink everything. The reality is you are 150 per cent better at everything than you believe about yourself.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
I received this advice from my Managing Director at a performance review in my last corporate job.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
It was part of a conversation on my dissatisfaction and impatience in my role that led to what I really wanted from my career and my future ambitions. It was not asked for but it was a breakthrough moment for me to hear someone who knew me well clearly and succinctly identify the things that were holding me back from achieving my business goals.

What was your position at the time?
My position was Group Business Director, Consumer.

What did it teach you?
It taught me that you can waste a lifetime chasing the wrong goals. To reach your business objectives you first need to be clear and honest with yourself about what you really want. You need to be able to see yourself as objectively as possible. Be tough, but fair. Most of all you need to start filtering the white noise in your head. Stay focused. Business is hard no matter which position you hold. If you remain realistic and resilient you’re on your way to being as successful as you need to be.

Jodie Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Fail fast.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
When my co-founders Mike Knapp, Michael Fox and I decided it was time for me to leave full time work to join Shoes of Prey full time. It was my co-founder Mike Knapp who said it.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
It was in the midst of us working through the problem together. I guess I didn't ask for the advice, but it was the perfect time to share it.

What was your position at the time?
Co-founder.

What did it teach you?
That you need to do everything before you're ready, and accept that if you fail it's better to have been done fast so you can get onto the next thing.

Kate Morris, Managing Director of Adore Beauty.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
When feeling scared about stepping out of my comfort zone, to ask myself: 'What's the worst thing that could happen?'

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
My very wise mother gave it to me early on in my business journey when I nearly chickened out. I realised that the worst thing that could happen was that the business would fail and I'd be 25 with no money and no job. (I was studying an Arts degree at the time so that was probably also going to happen if I *didn't* go ahead with my business, ha!)

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
I had asked.

What was your position at the time?
Aspiring but terrified entrepreneur.

What did it teach you?
That I'm braver and more resilient than I think I am. And that sometimes there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Sarah Hamilton, CEO of bellabox.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
It was more a veiled threat after we had raised our 1st round of capital and there certainly was no time for a champagne toast! ‘You’re going to run out of money’.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
Post capital raise from one of our esteemed investors, Geoff Levy.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
I was meeting with Geoff to discuss bellabox and I was hoping for some advice, he challenged our service, what type of customers bellabox appealed to and suggested that we hadn’t raised enough money.

What was your position at the time?
Co-founder and MD of bellabox.

What did it teach you?
While it was quite confrontational, it really taught me to work hard with every investment dollar, as a business that lived on a very small investment for over a year, a big, relative, cash injection into this business can allow you to think that you have a pot of cash when you don’t. Additionally I like to be challenged as sometimes pitching for investment can see you repeating the same benefits of your business over and over- thinking beyond that can only help you better achieve success.

Modi Song, co-founder of Joe Button.

What’s the best advice you’ve received on how to achieve your business goals?
If you want something, be assertive and ask for it. Don’t wait for the opportunity to present itself or expect others to ask you how they can help because it’s not their responsibility and often not in their best interest.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
We received this piece of advice from one of our investors early on in our entrepreneurial journey when we were finding it more difficult to gain traction than we had anticipated. In the beginning, we felt like we had to have all the answers to everything but we quickly learnt that this was impossible and that we would we far better off drawing upon the knowledge and experience of our investors and mentors who were only too happy to help.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
It came up during one of our regular catch- ups when we were at a point in our business where we were wondering what we were doing wrong and why we didn’t seem to be getting as many opportunities as other startups.

What was your position at the time?
As above.

What did it teach you?
Whilst our investor didn't offer us this piece of advice with any consideration for gender bias, it did remind us that it's almost second nature for men to ask for the things whereas women often don't feel like they have a right to request things or that they're in a position to negotiate. It made us realise that our male competitors and counterparts were probably getting ahead simply because they were asking for more. We came to the realisation that we were probably losing opportunities because of the possibility of rejection, which in the grand scheme of things seems a bit silly and illogical.

Taryn Williams, founder and Managing Director of WINK Models.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?

    1. If a project/idea/employees isn't working, move on. Don't waste time re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    2. Be hard on the problem but soft on the person.
    3. Always be closing!!

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
In the first two years of my business I made a point of asking as many people I admired as possible for their advice and wisdom. It's a great way to learn from other peoples failings (and successes!) and build a panel of trusted advisors to turn to when you need to workshop ideas. I've had some fantastic mentors over the years, and they have been invaluable in the advice they have given me. Two standouts are; Stephen Giderson from CFO advisory, and Andrew Thomas.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
I'm usually one to try to work through problems or new ideas with trusted confidants, so in most cases it is advice I've asked for. But generally it comes out of a broader conversation around my original thoughts on planning, strategy and direction.

What was your position at the time?
Business founder and Managing Director.

What did it teach you?
It taught me to be decisive in my business in order to reach my goals... (and) to identify the issues, address them, and move on to the next thing.

This advice has not only helped me, but helped me to manage my team better.

Jane Lu, CEO of Showpo.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Don't get caught up in the final goal and focus on the steps to reaching it. It can be very daunting and intimidating to look at your final destination and all the obstacles along the way, so it's best to break it up.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
This advice isn't groundbreaking or revolutionary, I'm sure everyone's heard it plenty of times before. However, I think it takes you a while to actually train yourself into thinking in this way.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
As above.

What was your position at the time?
I think it was only in the last few years that I've actually consciously started thinking in this way.

What did it teach you?
It's helped me to not make excuses that certain goals are too big and unachieveable and to just get on with it.

Melanie Nguyen, Head of Client Services at Money Place.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Simple but sound advice I received was to keep my ear to the ground, truly understand what your customers want you to be and add value to their lives. This principle underpins everything we do from product design and the way in which we interact with customers. For key business decisions we ask ourselves 'does this add value to the customer’s experience or life?'.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
Just as we formed the start up. A well respected businessman who runs businesses internationally.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
It was volunteered to me.

What did it teach you?
It sounds like a straightforward principle but we’ve all seen businesses derail because they lost sight of what customers want. Competitors moved in and their value add was eroded. In today’s digital times you can’t afford to have a bad day in business. Websites allowing customers to rate and comment on businesses are growing in popularity and it’s a clear sign that customers want to be heard. What better way to acknowledge the feedback is valued than through acting on it.

Caroline Woodhouse, founder and CEO of Where4Events.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
The best advice given to me is, firstly know what I want to achieve, understanding what my business has to offer when talking to an audience; whether it’s one person or a group, to have the ability to present myself confidently irrespective of the other’s position. Knowing how to network at a senior management level is an acquired skill and becomes second nature with time.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
Ron Gauci, previously CEO of Melbourne Storm, now Interim CEO of Melbourne Polytechnic, previously NMIT is an outstanding mentor in my startup business and I am most appreciative of his guidance and support since April 2013.

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
Having met Ron at Melbourne Storm via LinkedIn he realised how inexperienced I was, he took interest in my personal journey before enquiring about my business, my vision and what support I needed.

What was your position at the time?
I was in the early stages of my startup business.

What did it teach you?
It is important to be clear in one’s business, to know what edge the business has, yet success requires a collective collaboration of support from key business affiliates which requires confidence in presenting an idea, a vision and being open to advice and mentoring from more experienced business visionaries along the way. To be an attentive student in the University of Active Business networking.

Debra Sloane, founder of Love Those Lashes salons.

What’s the best advice you’ve receive on how to achieve your business goals?
Know your market and your potential clients.

    1. Visit your competitors as a client.
    Be in your clients shoes, what is it you like and don’t like about the service?
    2. Surprise your staff with visits and visit often. Particularly call first and talk to them as if you are interstate and then arrive within 5 minutes of your call. This will let you know what is actually happening on an average day.
    3. Have good Managers that you trust and have the same values as you do.
    4. Visit your business as much as possible and be on the ground floor where the action is.

When did you receive this advice and who gave it to you?
A friend who owns a successful franchise business about 2 years ago

Had you asked for advice or was it presented to you?
No I didn’t ask for advice, it was just through conversation about our businesses and where I plan mine to be in the future with franchising.

What was your position at the time?
Managing Director – doing everything.

What did it teach you?
To go back to the ground roots when I ran a little salon and was in the salon about 60 hours a week; I knew my clients and staff. Of course as one gets bigger this is more challenging, but still achievable. Know your business from the floor.

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