Both dynamic and passionate about her work, Lee Lam is a disruptive force to be reckoned with and, in her own words, ’Not your average consultant’. Her coaching brand is all about being open and honest while actively challenging the status quo. Lee is a champion of collaboration and mutual support among female entrepreneurs.
How did you start your business?
About 14 years ago, when my first daughter was born, I started practising as a coach. I focused on confidence coaching, empowering people to do it for themselves rather than me telling them how. During this time, I felt there was a strong need for my expertise in the financial sector, so I decided to return to the work I’d been doing but to introduce some of my coaching ethos.
After a while, I was frustrated by the lack of cultural awareness surrounding me and the reluctance to listen to advice. Management are more comfortable hearing it from external expertise than from an employee.
I saw a gap in the consultancy market where I could offer something different. I wanted to provide my guidance and advice openly and transparently, challenging the status quo and being disruptive. I would provide an arena for clients to be completely honest about the issues they faced, to be completely open to hearing the truth of why they faced it and to retain ownership of the solution, with a steer from me to keep the integrity of the solution together.
You offer coaching to your clients, tell us more.
Ideally I’d like to make myself redundant in every situation. I find training staff within companies encourages employee engagement. It empowers and motivates clients to feel they are actually implementing the changes themselves. I also mentor start-ups.
Any exciting projects or visions for the future?
Something I’m particularly passionate about, is my Ditch the CV initiative. It started as a consequence of considering the diversity and inclusion problem which exists in many companies.
I believe the starting point for the recruitment process is fundamentally flawed. We’re trying to solve the diversity problem by forcing it into a process that doesn’t even work for the people it’s currently meant to serve. This stems from the view that the CV contains everything you need to know about someone and you can make a decision based on this. But it doesn’t and this locks a huge amount of people out of any selection process.
My solution is to encourage companies to be more pragmatic with their recruitment processes and people strategies – treating people like people. Also, encouraging people to realise they are more than their CV, to understand their personal branding and personal value. If you change the CV process, you still need people to walk into the room saying, ’I can do this job, and I know I can, because…’
What’s the biggest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I have faced so far comes from my approach. It’s a very disruptive concept of what consultancy could be, so I need to get out there and talk to people, explaining my approach and what I offer. As a startup, you’re largely reliant on your network but it can be tricky to know how best to use it for maximum exposure of your concept.
I didn’t have the advertising budget to compete with large companies but I know my value, so my personal brand is my marketing. At first, I had to be relentless about doing it but before long, I was getting more and more opportunities. Eventually it reached a tipping point where more people were trying to find me rather than the other way around.
Whenever I go through a wobble, I return to my manifesto, my due North, reminding myself that is what I’m here for.
What advice would you give to other start-ups?
First and foremost, personal brand is the key.
Secondly, understanding the ‘why’ of your business and sticking to that, regardless of what others say or how others do things. Any passionate entrepreneur will tell you that while building your business and making money is important, they’d do what they do for nothing. Money is secondary to how they serve, contribute and add value through their product. This drive is critical in getting you through the first few years after starting your business. What keeps you going is why you’re doing it. You make better decisions by constantly asking yourself, ’Is this in line with where I can most add value?’
Finally, I’d strongly suggest finding support networks such as mastermind groups. If you’re working for yourself, it’s really hard being a team of one. You need someone to bounce ideas off, to keep you accountable, to challenge you, to be your constant and biggest cheerleader, to hold your hand when times are tough and to encourage you to continue.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
My brand is disruptive, open, honest, which means I’m challenging and so, in that space, I have to constantly be aware of building relationships and working with group dynamics. Sometimes I have to know more about my clients from an emotional intelligence point of view than anything else.
One of the most important lessons is understanding my clients as human beings, with all their frailties. I can’t be open and honest with someone until they trust me to do it tactfully and respectfully. Initially, this was a big challenge but it’s become easier and more natural.
Have you faced challenges as a female entrepreneur?
The approach I took, and one fairly characteristic of women, was to self-select out of processes. Meaning that when a woman sees a job opportunity, she’s more likely to look at all the things she can’t do rather than everything she can. Men are more likely to apply anyway and be prepared to blag their way through.
There’s a lot of unconscious bias out there and women need to believe in themselves like a man does. Remember, you’re being paid for your expertise and for the value you add. You have to know this better than anyone and be very clear on that. Be prepared to potentially wing it when necessary. Take on challenges that may stretch you but that you’re more than capable of doing.
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more female entrepreneurs?
One thing that I feel really stifles female entrepreneurship is that we’re not very collaborative. Culturally, we still hold the idea that women have to fight for scraps at the bottom of the table. As a female entrepreneur, it feels like you’re on your own, in a highly competitive environment and that you’re putting yourself in competition with other women, for a limited space at the table.
So, we need to be more collaborative, to have more women mastermind groups and to have meaningful interaction with other women who have already achieved success.
What steps can women take to help progress their own businesses?
If you’re succeeding and have found a way of handling something well, share it and spread the news with other women, saying, ’This is how I did it and I’m going to help you to do the same’. It’s not a competition, there’s more than enough to go around for all of us and we’re not exploiting this. We need to stop comparing ourselves unfavourably against each other and realise that we are stronger together.
Discover more about Lee Lam Consulting
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