Sunday, 19 June 2016

NEW FEATURE ! A Summer Of #Inspiration...#Women Through The Lens - Lily Sawyer , Photographer and Interior Designer

This week I am launching a new feature in my blog. We all need some inspiration sometimes and there are so many amazing women around, I have decided to feature some that inspire me through their work and simply the way they are. You can find out more about their jobs and their passion by reading their guest blogs which I will publish 2-3 times a month throughout the Summer time.

My first 'woman through the lens' is Lily Sawyer, quite appropriately a photographer and interior designer who recently saw off competition of almost 8000 to end up in the top sixteen of  BBC's  interior designing competition.   

1.Please tell us what you do
I create fine art images that look natural and authentic. Six years lecturing, three children and eight years in professional photography later, I have photographed over 250 families and nearly 100 weddings. What makes me really proud is when my clients are always surprised at how they love images of themselves in the photos I capture of them. 

Newlyweds describe me as a bride's best friend and photo ninja rolled into one as my organised approach helps ensure their wedding day goes smoothly whilst creatively capturing it with them hardly noticing.

When not behind the camera, I love moving furniture around and redecorating my house - I have a love affair with interior design!

2. What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different, but it always starts in the same way: taking the kids to school, home for breakfast and then planning my day. A typical morning will have me doing my business admin jobs - emails, meetings, networking or marketing, writing, blogging, uploading photos and galleries, emailing clients their various links and other bitty jobs. In the afternoon I collect the kids from school and sort them out or take them to various activities before going back to any work that needs finishing. I usually do my editing in the evening where I can have a few hours of peace and quiet and have less distractions. I'm a night owl so I don't mind working late.

3. What are the best things and more challenging things about your career?
Seeing people's delight when they receive their photos is the most rewarding thing about my job. Meeting and exceeding their expectations and making them happy with my service are the reasons why I have lasted this long in such a challenging and over-saturated market. I find the business side of things very challenging and that includes networking and social media. This is because I'm an introvert and don't like talking about myself.
I love the creative side of my job: planning and styling the shoot, editing and deciding on the look and feel of the final images, and "writing" the story in photos. I find these really inspiring and motivating to create beautiful images that hold deep meaning to my clients, images that they will treasure for a very long time to come.

4. How did you get to where you are today, including your qualifications and skills?
I have always been creative but I never planned to be a photographer.  I have a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting and MA in Fine Art Painting.  I enjoyed 6 years of studying Fine Art but I was under no illusion that getting good jobs as an artist was going to be a walk in the park. I did well in my studies and was able to get lecturing jobs in various universities with the help of a PGCE in Higher Education.
I left to be a full-time mother when I was expecting my second child. But I became a MWAC - mum with a camera - when I had my kids and took hundreds of photos of them, most were not great! To this day my kids are my most difficult "clients" to photograph, but had it not been for them, I would never have thought of becoming a professional photographer!
I got a bit obsessed with photography and photographed everything that moved or di not move. It was through doing this that I realised I'm a people photographer. Eventually, I practised photography on friends' families and weddings and learned by experimenting as well as going on numerous online courses.  To this day I am still learning and enrolled on courses to keep me inspired and to learn new techniques. Learning never stops.
My business started back in 2009 when I first received payment for my photography services. And since then it was an uphill climb trying to establish a business. No longer was it just a hobby and a creative outlet, it had to also bring in money to help with the family income. That took a few years to happen!
One of the most amazing weddings I have photographed was in St. Paul's Cathedral. It is an incredible venue and not everyone can get married there! It was a great privilege.  My work has been featured in various national wedding blogs and a few magazines.

5. What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?
I would recommend anyone wanting to start a photography business to do these 3 key things:
a. Learn how to use your camera in Manual mode and have a good solid understanding of the exposure triangle. Starting with a sound knowledge of this puts you in good stead as you start your business. Don't make your very basic mistakes with your  paying clients. Never stop learning and invest in educational courses that are right for you and will hone your skills and better your craft. Keep moving forward despite challenges and difficulties.
b. Read up on business and be prepared to face the business side of things square on. This is probably the hardest challenge. It's a completely different beast and I felt like a needed a business degree just to run a very simple business to start with.
c. Start it! Just do it. You don't need to have an extensive portfolio or be perfect at everything. Unless you actually do something about it, it will never happen. Whether that be starting a website, or showing your portfolio on flicker or opening a Facebook page or any other social platform, do something about it. Don't despise small beginnings!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 10 June 2016

People Of The World Rejoice! A #Woman in the #WhiteHouse Is Nigh!

I would be mad not to celebrate what has ended up being an historical week for women's equality progress. Hillary Clinton is now de-facto the democratic candidate to the White House. I cannot help but pinching myself, I 've got to say it again: By next Christmas a W-O-M-A-N may well be President of the United States (after all of 44 men!) . You've got to see it to believe it and yes, I am seeing it!

This is not a politically motivated blog so I am not entering the Democratic-Republican debate.  What I am saying though is that everyone, absolutely everyone should come together and celebrate that Mrs Clinton has now a serious chance to be elected President of The United States of America. The reasons why this is true are many.  But please let me remind you of a few stats just in case you were skeptical about the reasons to celebrate:

- In the United States 20% of  congress seats are held by women. In the UK latest stats suggest that out of 650 MPs 192 are females.

- In the United States 1 in 5 members of House and Senate are racially diverse and this is considered a huge improvement on the past (after all they have the first ever ethnic minority President...). In the UK apparently only 41 Member of Parliaments define themselves as coming from an ethnical minority background.

- In the US, for every 1$ earned by a man, a woman owns 0.79 cents. In Britain the male-female pay gap considering all employees remains steadily at 19.2%.

Whether Mrs Clinton's personality and style wins your vote or not, what must earn your vote is the relatively simple truth that Hillary stands for a lot of us, not just women, but an entire, diverse slice of society that has been considered everything from a minority to utterly irrelevant. She has waited patiently in line, working hard behind the spotlight for a very long time, to get where she is today. A woman who is also a grandmother, who is possibly less photogenic and less inclined to care about look or age over substance and who as a result is still quite subject to criticism for it.

Now I don't know about you but I suspect that  she might have the blessing of those hundreds of suffragettes, pioneers and 'first-woman-to...' that have come before her.  I also suspect that 2016 notwithstanding she has worked just as hard to be where she is today because, as we see from the stats above, gender equality is far from achieved and there is no place for complacency. But from where she is and going forward, she can now inspire generations of women, older women and younger women, white women and ethnical minorities women, to dream big dreams. What's more, she can possibly also inspire some of society's more diverse men to think that well, if she did it, they can do it too.

So I do not care if you agree with her political agenda; if you think her dress-sense is awful or if you believe she is too old to be in politics. Hillary Clinton is helping society and the human kind take a huge leap forward. Let's rejoice at that!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

3 Actions That Turn Managers Into Leaders

Managers and Leaders: there could not be a more discussed topic! All you need to do is google these two words to see how many thousands of pages are being written in and around them.

The reason, in my opinion, is because true and authentic leadership is very difficult to achieve.

Yet, organisations are asking their managers to think and act like leaders in order to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities that come from the complex world we live in.

Personally I believe that leadership qualities can be developed and nurtured through self-awareness, self-reflection and on-going feedback.

They can be also reinforced through role-modelling and mentoring support. In summary, and to a great extent, they can be learnt.

But where might one start on his or her leadership journey? Which actions are going to provide the greater impact in the shortest of times?

In my opinion, apart from achieving even greater self-awareness, most impactful actions will be those that involve building relationships and achieving the trust of the people around you. For that to happen, few simple steps can make a whole world of difference:

#1 Harness Positive Emotions    

Whoever said that emotions have no place in the workplace has clearly overlooked the impact that expressing positive feelings can have on people. Empathy, laughter, joy, optimism, encouragement are just some of the emotions I am thinking of that can help create a totally different difference workplace experience to the people you manage.  When we open up to these emotions we show our 'human' side and at the same time encourage others to do the same. There is plenty of evidence that happy people are more productive people, thus sharing a joke, celebrating a success or even  a colleague's out of work achievement can make the difference to a team's ability to deliver on a daily, weekly and annual basis. It is not by chance that most successful leaders are also highly emotional intelligent: they know full well that success at work starts (and finishes) with the people who are supposed to execute their vision and they harness positive emotions to motivate and uplift others.

#2 Ask insightful questions

As managers focussing on a task we are required to tell people what to do so that we may achieve that task on time and to budget. But when managers stop telling staff what to do and start asking staff what they thing they should be doing, something quite different begins to happen. All of a sudden the tables are turned and colleagues realise that their opinion matters; that they are trusted to make good decisions; that they are empowered as to what should be short, that they are accountable and have ownership of their work. The impact of this can leave you astounded and certainly as a manager, wondering why you had not done it before. As  a manager you are going to find yourself with a lot more time to focus on the really important tasks. You are also going to find that solutions, different perspectives and new ideas are brought to you on a regular basis, just because other colleagues have been given the opportunity to contribute their own views. So simple yet ever so powerful!    

#3 Invite feedback from others

Feedback is one thing that authentic leaders do well - it remains very important as well as a courageous thing to do because it implies a number of other qualities. More specifically, it means that the manager is willing to listen, reflect and learn from others  which in itself are already leadership attributes!

Feedback matters because it is through feedback that we show a willingness to dig deeper into ourselves, taking a closer look at aspects of our personality and our work, even when this causes discomfort. It also matters because it helps us create a culture of open and transparent communication where nobody or nothing is untouchable. In inviting feedback we also confirm our intent to remain humble and grounded - even though we may sit relatively high in the 'pecking order'.

Above all, by inviting feedback we send an important message to the people around us, that their views matters and that learning is an on-going, never ending process we all need to embrace.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.