Here, our founder Michelle de Klerk, talks to Telegraph Women about facing her fears.
Having lived and worked in South Africa, Paris, Taiwan, London, Hong Kong and Washington, Michelle de Klerk has worn many hats. From hard news and investigative journalist to commodities editor, luxury marketer, private client consultant and entrepreneur, the common thread that runs through Michelle’s experience is her genuine interest in people.
Michelle, 37, cut her teeth in newspapers in South Africa, before moving to the UK and taking up a role in financial services and working her way up into a role of Associate Editor for a commodities publication and newswire.
As an avid adventure traveller, she kept her hand in freelance travel and finance writing for UK broadsheets and in 2009 was asked to join The Mantis Collection, a boutique hotel group with properties on all seven continents, as their marketing and sales director.
In 2011, a move to Paris coincided with the discovery that Michelle and her husband, an occupational psychologist, were expecting twin daughters. After two years in France the couple returned to the UK and Michelle started her luxury marketing and private clients business, The World At Your Feet. Her networking organisation The Women’s Chapter was then officially launched in July 2014.
Michelle is also the co-founder of The Concept of Collaboration, a network of award-winning industry leaders who provide integrated consultancy services to luxury brands, which launched last year.
She lives in Surrey with her husband and three-year-old twin daughters.
Here, Michelle tells us how she did it.
What motivated and inspired you to start your business?
As the daughter of an entrepreneur, I’ve always wanted to run my own business. After my own daughters were born I knew that I wanted to go back to work – but I also knew that wanted to be the master of my own time. It was important that I could be physically and emotionally present in their lives, but also inspire them – as both a mother and professional role model.
I love connecting people with one another, seeing friendships develop, finding synergies and inciting collaborations, so I wanted to find a way to channel my passion in to something that could bring people together in a meaningful way and where I could have fun doing it.
Tell us about your business
The Women’s Chapter is a London-based, invitation-only networking group and event platform for high impact women. We offer members the opportunity to grow their personal and professional networks through boutique events and the sharing of relevant, inspiring content and profiles.
Our network of 1,600 women business leaders, innovators, senior professionals and entrepreneurs is constantly evolving and growing due to ongoing referrals and excitement around the concept of exclusive networking for inspiring women at curated events.
We lead such busy lives, juggling work, family and home commitments, that we don’t get time to indulge our passions and interests. For women, it can be rather lonely at the top and that the higher you climb, the more limited the opportunities are to connect with women of a similar level, share knowledge or troubleshoot.
It is my aim for the Women’s Chapter to consistently be a platform for events whereby like-minded, inspiring women can come together in a relaxed way to enjoy art, fashion, culture and gastronomy, let their hair (and guards) down and leave having met someone they felt they were meant to meet.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I started working with a business strategy coach, Ramona da Gama, to help me develop a vision and timeline for what I wanted to achieve. After my first hour with her, the mist lifted and it became very clear what I needed to do and when. She is my secret weapon!
How have you raised awareness?
Since my network is on an invitation-only basis, the exposure and growth has been very organic. I also work with select media partners and brands to make sure I reach people who would be a good fit for the network, as well as keep the members inspired and engaged.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Finding enough hours in the day in order to achieve the work-life balance I set out to achieve through starting my own business.
How do you overcome challenges?
I make lists and hit the toughest ones on the head first. Like Mark Twain famously said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Fortunately I work well under pressure.
What do you love about running your own business?
Autonomy and the freedom to be creative in my approach to work. You can also take time to listen to people, rather than having to only assess what commercial value they bring.
How do you stay motivated through difficult times?
My husband is incredibly supportive and encouraging. Our business styles are very different, so he always gives me a fresh and interesting perspective on difficult situations.
For any strategic business issues, my business coach Ramona, is the voice of reason. I also always bear in mind that if you have the fundamentals of health and people who love you, nothing can ever be that bad. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Do you have a business philosophy?
Be fearless. Be true to yourself. Be open, honest and trust your gut instinct. There is no point in putting thousands of hours of work into something if it doesn’t make you happy.
What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t hold back or make excuses. Most of the time, the biggest obstacle you will face is your own fear.
Don’t feel obligated to grab every opportunity that comes your way. Be selective about who you work with and never promise to deliver something unless you are sure you can.
How I did it
When I face a big challenge I…Work out what about the challenge frightens me most and then face that aspect head on.
My greatest fear is…Something happening to my family or losing my health.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is…Have twins in a foreign country when I didn’t speak a word of the language.
If I could go back in time to when I was 20 I would tell myself…To worry less about what other people expected of me and focus on the things that made me happy.
I believe…In living for the moment and squeezing every drop of experience and joy out of the opportunities that come your way.
The biggest lesson I have ever learned is…You can have everything, but not necessarily all at the same time. A cliché but true.
My favourite business tool or resource is…Linkedin (and my iPhone!)
My favourite quote is…“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” – Nelson Mandela.
The Telegraph Women How She Did It series showcases stories of work success.
Original article for Telegraph Women, published 19th May 2015: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/11613342/Careers-and-business-advice-from-Michelle-de-Klerk-of-Womens-Chapter.html