Inspir-age-ional Women: Business Woman Erica Wolfe-Murray

Our mission this year is to prove that us older women are not only competent, but brilliant at work. This is true whether we’re setting up new businesses or working in someone else’s.

Erica Wolf Murray, business woman and entrepeneur

With that in mind, we took the opportunity to meet with our new columnist, businesswoman and author Erica-Wolfe Murray to discuss success in the office at every age.

Hi Erica – it’s amazing to ‘meet’ you, you’re often called the ‘Delia’ of business – can you share why? How do you feel about that title?

I love this nickname. 

We all have a ‘go to’ cookbook that we use for recipe basics, like pancake mixture, or scones, or sponge cake – it seems that Delia Smith’s wonderful books fulfil this role many people’s kitchens.  We trust them and know the recipes work, so they get battered but are much loved. 

I wrote ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas’ as I felt there were so many easy, everyday ways of growing a business that I wanted to share. 

I want the book to be one you reach for when you need a fresh idea, that you can annotate, which sits on your desk, getting regularly used and is both fun and inspiring. 

I take the name as a great compliment – if it helps people get to grips with some new thinking and helps their business grow, that’s all that matters to me.

I loved your talk ‘How to work bravely’, how did you learn to be ‘brave’ and what one key thing would you share with a business?

Being ‘brave’ in business involves taking ownership of what you are good or excel at and really going for it.  It means recognising your own value, finding your space in the business community, being committed to owning that space.  And, of course, being paid properly for it. 

One activity I encourage with every single person I work with is getting them to narrate the story of their life, their career – from early childhood to here.  No-one else will ever have this trajectory before or after. 

If you ensure you build your business or company round this unique storyline using all your individual skills, learning, experiences – your business will be original.  It works as effectively with a board as it does with someone who is self-employed.  And being that open is very brave.

How do you deal with the dreaded ‘imposter’ syndrome? Is it something you experience?

This is something that affects so many people, both men and women.  But particularly women.  You have that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach thinking that everyone in the room knows more than you, that you are about to be ‘found out’ any moment.  And yes, I have experienced it.  But hopefully I’ve put it behind me now.

Remember that everyone has valuable and unique knowledge.  Some people will know more about a subject than you, or have particular skills – sure, but you will know more about other subjects than them.  Use them to teach you their knowledge, and share your knowledge with them.

You’ve had a big career, especially in the tech space, which is traditionally male dominated, do you think that mattered in your experience?

I describe my career as encompassing the ‘creative, cultural and tech sector’ but just as creativity spans so many aspects of business, so too does tech.  It shouldn’t be in a silo as it is a tool we use in so many different places – from healthcare to farming.

Understanding where technology is best used or can made a difference is what matters.  Women are as effective at recognising this like men.

The other way is to get someone younger to mentor you.  We always assume a mentor is older than the mentee, but what if you ask the youngest team member to mentor you?

As director of a fintech company, I know that my value sits in understanding the end user/audience and my experience as both a creative head and a financial director.  I have no idea how to code…

However where men do dominate is in tech-focused companies who may be tackling the tech build.  I look forward to the day when the tech build companies are more welcoming to women, where investors don’t make female-led start-ups jump through more hoops than their male counterparts and share the investment pot out more fairly.

A lot of our readers struggle with staying up to date with emerging technology, even if they acknowledge how important it is.  Is there an answer to that, especially as it moves so quickly?

There are a couple of really easy wins on keeping up-to-date.  Read, read, read – blogs, the press, online and print magazines. 

I am hugely curious and continually being inspired by what people or companies are doing.  I tuck interesting thoughts away in my mind but recognise that retrieving that knowledge when I need it will keep me several steps ahead of my clients. 

The other way is to get someone younger to mentor you.  We always assume a mentor is older than the mentee, but what if you ask the youngest team member to mentor you?  Or the son/daughter of a friend?  They know a huge amount so why waste it?

older businesswoman

Many of our readers talk about ageism in the workplace as they get older hindering their careers, even though they’re still ambitious – how would you suggest they continue to get ahead?

I frequently get asked by those reaching their late 40s/50s who feel they have younger colleagues snapping at their heels, are being made to feel outdated or are a weighty salary cost for their company as to what they should do. 

With us all living longer, being fitter and pensions not kicking in until later, your working life has to extend too.

However be patient – there is a shift starting to happen around diversity.  Companies are recognising that they lose older skilled team members at their peril. 

Just as we need fresh young approaches to problems, we need people who have been around the block too – working together.  Diversity of thought is key.  Successful companies need mixed genders, backgrounds and ages. 

Older workers have to understand how younger people work and vice versa for the good of the business. So can you restructure your team to make the most of everyone working together?

The other route that many older people are taking is to leave to launch their own start-up, harnessing all the skills they have honed through their working life. 

Over 50% of start-ups are founded by those over the age of 50 – men and women.  And they have a much better record of success than those started by younger people.  Not only do they have more practiced business skills, they are more risk averse, but have a far wider network of connections, past clients and the like to tap into.

The choice is yours for the making and taking.

You’re launching your first book, Simple Tips, Smart Ideas – where did the idea for it come from?

Over 50% of start-ups are founded by those over the age of 50 – men and women. 

I have worked with so many freelancers and small companies over the years. 

But there is only one of me…  Yet the methodologies I use with my clients are very simple and I know they work.  I thought that if I could pour them all into a book, it would mean that anyone can pick it up, open it pretty much anywhere to find an idea to help them develop their business.  I used to work as a copywriter – sitting writing it was a joy once I had organised the chapter plan. 

What can someone expect to learn?

I’ve covered some basic things such as how to draw a business plan, understand your value and your finances, ways of developing new revenue streams and products/services, how to view intellectual property and nurture what you own, the benefits to be found within your team, your clients, your suppliers and also looked at some inventive marketing ideas. 

Most of the content focuses on helping people understand that the secret to their business growth and success really lies within them, within their knowledge, within their orbit already. 

The book encourages them to see the worth in their ‘assets’ and use them inventively.  And most of the ideas are free to do – because you already own the raw materials.

What advice would you give to a woman looking to start her business this year?

I think the year ahead is going to be tough.  If you can start a business in a hard year and make it succeed, when the economy eases you will fly. 

I would suggest you grow your business out of what you really know well.  Understand what makes your career to here so unique, what knowledge/skills you have that are particular to you and use them as a springboard. 

That way you are already ahead of any potential competition giving your business a real truth – something we are all looking for in deciding where we spend our money and those we want to work with. 

And be passionate, care deeply about what you do.  I truly love my work and my clients.  They know it, feel it, see it.  Wouldn’t you rather work with a business that had passion at the core of what they offer?

You talk about how you’ve been a creative head, a consultant and a financial director (not to mention now author). What’s next?

It sounds like an orderly career sequence and it really isn’t.  I still do a lot of creative work, lots of financial planning and IP advice for many of my clients which fills my days. 

But if I wanted to add anything else to the list – it would be to work with government agencies in an advisory capacity on how to help the UK’s 4.6m freelancers and 5m micro companies thrive.  That’s a lot of people, revenue and opportunity – how can we best ensure they feel part of a supportive economy?

Read Erica’s new book Simple Tips, Smart ideas here

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