Primed & Ready: Q&A with Penny Haslam

Penny Haslam is a former BBC business news presenter who now works as an inspirational keynote speaker on a number of topics such as increasing visibility for brands or businesses and creating personal confidence. She has long experience working as a professional event moderator and panel chair at a huge range of events, and is currently writing a how-to guide called Make Yourself A Little Bit Famous – On Panels

Onyeka Onyekwelu, Executive of the Young Barristers’ Committee, sat down to ask her a few questions before the event next month.

It is an honour to have you Chairing the Panel discussion at our Professional Primer Series – Entrepreneurs and Business Law event on 8 February. What motivated you to get involved with this initiative?

We can apply a rare phrase, in law anyway, and say that an event like this is a ‘win-win’ for everyone. I work with barristers and solicitors, as well as SMEs, and both groups benefit hugely from getting to know one another. At the moment, I’m witnessing a lot of handwringing in the legal sector about how to best sell services, as there’s a huge fear of being seen as ‘salesy’ and therefore on uncertain ground. It’s a transition period for the sector for sure, but I’m hoping the YBC’s Entrepreneurs and Business Law evening will show legal professionals that they can have decent grown up conversations with businesses AND talk about what they offer in a way that is useful to all.

SMEs are also challenged, because they are often time poor and don’t have huge budgets for in-house legal teams. So to educate and help them with the law is absolutely crucial – take the new data regulations, Brexit, and employment law around freelance workers. But all too often, businesses see getting advice as expensive and time consuming. I hope we can change that.

Can you share a little bit more about your career trajectory and what led you here?

I don’t like being told what to do in general; so working for myself has been the major theme of my life. When I was 13 years old I became a start-up entrepreneur in the babysitting and cleaning services sector. One postcard in the newsagent’s window later and I was a multi-pence turnover business. So apart from my brief eight-year spell as an employee, I’ve been running my own show ever since. That period of employment was at the BBC, first as a secretary and then in radio and TV production, cutting my teeth in serious business and personal finance journalism, learning the ropes and then jumping at the chance to become freelance when a round of redundancies came up. Like all good freelancers, I headed straight back to my former employer (note to HMRC: there were others!) and worked on lots of exciting and interesting programmes and projects. I was then asked to present a Panorama (gulp) and found my way to presenting live TV and radio business news on BBC Breakfast and the News Channel.

What I’ve learnt from all that is

“it’s better to regret something you’ve done than to regret not doing something”

As a result, I’ve said yes to most things, and then worked out how I would do it. Almost everything I’ve done has brought me to where I am now. Everyday I draw on my skills in performance, scripting, writing, interviewing, talking confidently about topics that are sometimes a bit tricky – and embrace the sheer nosey joy of finding out more about the world and how business works.

What has been your career highlight?

I’m one of those people who can honestly say they never win anything. Raffles, lotteries, hook-a-duckie at the fun fair. So imagine my utter delight at being awarded one of my professional association’s top accolades, without even having to enter the competition? It was national Speaker of the Year, given to me in 2016 by the PSA. And for a relatively new keynote speaker at conferences and events, it was a much welcome boost to my confidence.

You are not only a personal and professional motivator, but you assist businesses to develop and increase their visibility in the market. What led you to do that?

A great quotation that sums up where I’m coming from: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is: it is what consumers tell each other it is”. That was Scott D Cook summing up the challenge businesses face in the light of the fact that modern technology has made mini-authors and publishers and video makers of us all.

And I get really frustrated when I see great ideas and good people being hidden away by the face of the business they work for, or that marketing the brand is seen adequate activity for growth. This out of date approach actually hampers those who are tasked with business development or ‘growing the book’ and the old adage of ‘people buy people’ can’t be underestimated. I help businesses safely unleash their expert brand ambassadors, with training and coaching, so that clients, colleagues and potential candidates can see the real human beings behind the company name. And buy!

In your opinion, what do you think smaller businesses are lacking in the current market in terms of a knowledge base?

The big ones that aren’t going away anytime soon are GDPR, Brexit and employment law around freelance/employee status. Even the large corporates seem to be struggling too, as there is a lack of certainty or clarity in all these areas. And as we find ourselves doing business across nations, tax systems and differing legal frameworks, it would be impossible to have a handle on everything. It’s no coincidence that the YBC event on 8th Feb is going to be tackling these topics.

What advice do you have for smaller businesses ahead of the seminar on 8 February?

You don’t know everything. So you need people in your life to whom you can turn, not necessarily in a crisis, but to support your business over time.  As we know there is nothing worse than being found wanting, when you could have easily avoided costly, and time consuming, mistakes.

What business story or person has inspired you?

For me it’s the woman who disrupted the sight test market in 1984 with SpecSavers. Mary Perkins set up the first branch on Guernsey back then and by the end of 2007 the group had over 1,390 stores with 26,000 employees. The high street was never the same – what a testament of success, and pun intended, what vision! It’s a good example of a professional service becoming accessible to many people, without losing standards and quality when it comes to looking after them.

Any last words?

My advice:

Make Yourself A Little Bit Famous

Attend events, go networking, talk to people other than your peers, and you’ll be doing great business over the longer term. Getting exposure for who you are and what you do (raising the profile), is where most of your effort should be. Otherwise, you’re a best kept secret.

If you would like to hear more from Penny and our stellar panel of speakers on 8 Feb, you can register to attend via Eventbrite. Registration for all 3 Primer Series seminars is also now live on our dedicated Eventbrite page.

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