London-based Phanella Mayall Fine is the founder of The Step Up Club, which hosts inspiring events for a community of women who are looking to take a fresh look at their lives and their careers. The Club throws its events inside beautiful spaces because good style and great careers are their core values. The seed for the organization was planted when Phanella realized that most women don’t have access to the career secrets and support that she provides through her day job. By day, Phanella provides executive coaching and leadership training to big corporations. Her 10%, The Step Up Club, started in a roundabout way with conversations with her co-founder, Alice Olins, then slowly morphed into a website about a year ago, then a book (out in beginning of September 2016) and more recently a business.
As mentioned, Phanella and Alice have a book coming out with Ebury (Random House) in September and have run several very successful and sold out events with brand partners including Hoxton Hotels, Kikki.K, Smashbox, Good Roots Festival & Belvedere. They have spoken at a female entrepreneur’s lunch for Made In Chelsea’s Rosie Fortescue and they ran the work life balance zone at Belvedere Balance Bar. All the while, their social media presence is growing and they are upgrading their website. Put simply, their business shas come a long way since launching what essentially started out as a blog about a year ago.
Note: I met Phanella through Mildred Yuan Crotaz, my literary agent at United Agents in London, who is featured in Chapter 3 of The 10% Entrepreneur. The minute I met Phanella, I knew she was a kindred spirit. Her story is one that is clearly relevant for women, but also speaks to anyone who wants to take their unique ideas and skills and create a meaningful 10%.
What is your day job? If you’ve left that job, for how long did you maintain both a day job and your 10% endeavor?
My day job is executive coaching and training predominantly women in big corporates (mostly law firms and banks given my background as a corporate lawyer and hedge fund manager). I am still doing both – alongside raising my 3 kids. It is pretty demanding but I love the chaos and would struggle to give up any of my roles. The fact is that my day job feeds my 10% business and keeps me current and credible.
What was your inspiration for launching your company?
I have always been obsessed with gender equality. As a little girl living in the States (I moved to London at age 8), I wanted to be the first female President of the United States. I couldn’t understand why it was even an issue. As I grew up and went to Oxford and then worked at big law firms and investment banks, I saw my female friends and colleagues falling by the wayside thanks to unconscious bias and lack of flexibility when they had children. I knew I had to do something about it. So I requalified as a coach with the express intention of focusing on women. The Step Up Club was a natural extension of that drive.
Why do you think your business is a good idea?
Women need it. We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to our events so far and are already getting preorders on the book. Women want to succeed at work but in their own way and they need support along that journey. We, and our community of other likeminded women, can provide that support.
What convinced you that you could succeed – why were you the right person to start and manage this business? What gave you the confidence to actually try and go for it?
I didn’t really think about it in terms of success or failure. It has evolved organically and that has made everything less daunting. Both through Step Up and in my day job, I talk to women about confidence a lot. We tend to struggle with it more and tend to be more averse to failure. For me, it’s one part winging it and another part brazening it out – I take each step as it comes and that makes everything feel possible. There is a loose plan in that I have a clear picture of where I want to end up but I also allow that to stay fluid – the combination keeps me focused but means I equally don’t feel daunted by over ambitious goals. The other secret to my success so far is having a business partner. Some of us work better alone, some in teams and I definitely thrive on relationships and interaction. I like to communicate constantly, check everything out and so does Alice – we both also have very distinct skills. We complement and support each other and that has been essential.
How does this particular business idea fit within your life and who you are?
Firstly, it speaks to my passion: gender equality. If my daughter feels a need to join the Step Up Club in 20 years time, I will have failed. Secondly, it fits in with how I want to live my life. Both my day job and work are flexible so although I essentially work full time, I can fit those hours around my family when they need me.
How much and what have you invested in your company?
I’ve invested many evenings and weekends. Every spare moment over the last year. It makes me exhausted just thinking about it, but at the time it is exhilarating. I wouldn’t have it any other way. In terms of money, I’ve invested very little so far but we are about to embark on an upgrade of our website and other big projects (watch this space) so that will swiftly change. We have been strategic in our brand partnerships both in terms of business reach but also in that is has allowed us to monetize things fairly early on.
In what ways does this business play to your strengths – i.e. past business or education experience or network of contacts?
I use the knowledge I’ve gained through my qualifications and day job to make a difference to lots of people. I am also very organized which helps when you have as much as I do to juggle!
Do you have any partners? What do they bring to the table that you do not? Are they also 10%?
Alice, my co-founder, is a style journalist for many of the top broadsheets and glossies. She is currently fashion features editor-at-large for Red Magazine (and has 2 kids of her own – so definitely 10%!). She brings her web of creative contacts, inspiring writing voice and passion. I am more measured, have the corporate experience and bring the subject matter expertise.
What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was probably our first weekend of writing the book. Partnership is crucial to our success but we had to learn how to work together. Going through such a creative process together – one in which you both have clear ideas of how things should be done – is challenging but once we refined our writing process and realized that we were both driving towards the same goal, albeit via different routes, things soon fell into place.
What are your top tips for managing time?
- Focus on the important things first. Don’t allow yourself to get so bogged down in the immediate – answering emails for example – that you neglect the projects that really matter.
- Work out your flexstyle. In the book we explain how each of us has a preference for how to balance our work and lives and that is particularly in relation to time. Some (integrators) will be comfortable doing lots of things simultaneously whereas others (separators) need to clearly delineate chunks of time for different activities to feel at peace. I am a down to the ground separator and so having a clear plan for each day is crucial for me in managing my time.
Who have you gone to for advice and what you do when you need help?
Having a partner is brilliant as I can immediately turn to someone who is as invested as I am in a positive outcome. I do have lots of other mentors though from across the spectrum – some are other senior coaches, some are business people I have met and been inspired by along the way. I am a big believer in composite mentoring – taking advice and inspiration from many different places. There are often many different truths or right paths and having more than one advisor can help clarify what those options might be.
What do you see happening in the future?
I have a very clear vision for the long term future of Step Up. I would like us to become the go to resource for career planning for young women both online and in person.
What books and blogs have you read and that have been helpful to you?
Recently I have been very focused on the issue of time and balance as my work has become busier. I have found particular solace in Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It. On a more spiritual level I am also deriving inspiration from Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now.