What kind of woman comes to mind when you hear the term self-made? A woman who has built her legacy from the ground up? A woman who has both irresistible energy and quiet power? All of the above? For me a self-made woman is a risk-taker, a dream pursuer, a boss lady; she doesn’t wait for opportunities to present themselves—she, instead, creates them. How many women do you know that embody these qualities? As an entrepreneur and a branding nerd, I’ve had the privilege of meeting quite a few, and am now thrilled and honored to share these connections in my upcoming Iconic Women Series. This interview series will showcase some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met (and I’m not easily impressed), who have had a significant impact on my personal growth, my confidence, and my perception of the modern world. These women don’t fumble; if they want something, they go for it. And, if they don’t like something, they change it. They work for their luck (instead of wishing for it). They are trend-setters. They are dreamers and doers.
And guess what, if you want to find such women, just look around yourself. Most of them are all around us. They live next door, they make the cakes for our children’s birthday parties, they build our websites, they are friends of friends we have—we see them every day. They may not be Oprah or Angelina Jolie, but they may have a much greater impact on our personal journeys than anyone who is saving the world or speaks on national television.
So with this series, i.e. this line-up of awe-inspiring iconic women, I invite you to look around and give your recognition, your deep heartfelt appreciation, for such women who are the true Icons of our times; and, while you are paying your gratitude, take some time to recognize your own value and unique gifts. When you start honouring and fully owning your life experience, you create the circumstances to live a miraculous life.
Today, I am honoured to introduce you to an amazing woman who is doing just that—living a miraculous life and changing the world, one woman at a time.
Joy Foster has helped many women re-enter the workforce by up-leveling their digital marketing and technology skill-sets. I met Joy some years ago, while she was living in Switzerland with her family; she helped me build the first Mums in Heels website. It was Joy’s careful guidance and support that allowed me to break through my own limitations, showing me that I am not so hopeless when it comes to technology. She changed my view of technology as something I can have more fun with try new things. The greatest lesson I learned from our work together is that everything is learnable. And now I am absolutely thrilled to share her wisdom with you. This interview is full of invaluable lessons for every entrepreneur, no matter your stage of business. I devoured Joy’s answers and then read through the interview at least 10 more times. Make sure you read every sentence carefully because you might find she answers some of your biggest (and most burning) questions.
#unapologetivallyme #turnyourdreamsintoyourdestiny #Makeithappen
Tsitaliya: What is TechPixies?
Joy: TechPixies helps women get their confidence back after a career break by upskilling them with technology and helping them get back to work – either by setting up their own business or by getting a job working for someone else.
Tsitaliya: How was the idea born?
Joy: I am a Mum of two and was always afraid of the dreaded ‘career gap’. I actually took my first career break when I was training for the Olympics for Archery from 2003 to 2008. I didn’t realise it at the time, but taking 5 years out to pursue an Olympic dream was just as detrimental as taking time out to raise children. The shocking thing is that both are noble pursuits and I don’t regret doing either! What I did manage to do when I was taking time out of the official workplace was build up skills that later became very valuable.
When I was on the US Archery team, I was the very first archer to build a website. On the website, I posted daily updates (before Twitter existed!) and raised money (before Crowdfunding existed!). I raised over $20,000 to train full time. Anyone who sponsored me got a t-shirt that said ‘Aim for Athens’ and postcards from all of my tournaments. Even though I didn’t make the 2004 or the 2008 Olympic teams, I did rank 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th in the country from 2004-2007. I lived at the Olympic Training Center and trained with some of the best coaches in the world.
In 2008, after not making the team again, I applied for a job at the Olympics. I was hired to run the Olympic News Service for Archery and went to Beijing for 6 weeks. While there, I reconnected with a man I had fallen in love with 8 years prior and who I hadn’t seen in 7 years. Tim Foster, an Olympic Gold Medalist from the Sydney Olympic games in 2000 (coxless four with Steve Redgrave, James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent) and I agreed to go out for drinks one evening to ‘put water under the bridge’ so to speak. We saw each other and fell instantly back in love and 2 weeks later were engaged.
I then had 5 days to fly back to California, sell my life’s possessions and move to Switzerland where Tim was living as he was the head coach for Swiss Rowing at the time. I didn’t speak German, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, I used my Olympic contacts to secure a temporary contract in Zurich, but it ended the same week I got married – I have since learned a lot about the Swiss! They pretty much assume that if you are getting married and you are in your 30s that you are going to start a family.
What I did manage to do when I was taking time out of the official workplace was build up skills that later became very valuable.
Sure enough, I returned from my honeymoon and one month later, found out I was pregnant. That is when I met Jacquelyn Else-Jack. She had this idea called Living in Luzern but didn’t know how to make it work on a technical level. She had built a website herself, but didn’t know how to grow traffic to it. I loved her heart for wanting to help people and so I stepped in and took over the website. I flew (pregnant!) to London and sat in on a session about WordPress at a Business Startup conference. When I returned to Luzern, I rebuilt Living in Luzern in WordPress and then started using Facebook and MailChimp to promote it.
I think in the first year of it’s existence, Living in Luzern had about 468 hits. When I left in 2014, it was getting well over 120-130,000 hits. The progress it made in terms of reaching people had a lot to do with figuring out how to market it and making sure that the content we were creating was relevant to people who cared about it. The financial model was a bit trickier! But with the help of some key people, Rachel Lindenmann, Claudia Foertig, Charlie Hartmann and Luke Bragg, it has been transformed from a website into a magazine and now a community centre.
When Tim’s job at Swiss rowing ended, we decided to move back to England. I had a part time job as a digital marketing manager for a charity in London but really wanted to go back to creating and running my own thing. I found out about social enterprise and got really excited, having realized by then that Living in Luzern itself was a social enterprise by definition. I applied for a grant from UnLtd for £5,000 and won. This grant was the seed money for a web development agency for charities, social enterprises and small business start ups based out of my new city of Oxford. We provided free training and paid employment to people who had never worked before such as teenagers or to adults who were out of work due to mental health or learning disabilities.
Mums applying to our programme didn’t face some of the challenges that the teenagers and adults were facing – they already had solid skillsets, they just hadn’t used them in a while.
The agency doubled in size, year on year and by 2016, we had 100 clients. Our main problem was that we had targeted the wrong customers – people and organisations with super tight budgets who couldn’t afford to pay for the true value of our work. It was a real learning curve for me! Although we had doubled our customer base and doubled our revenue, I had very little financially to show for it personally but had provided training and paid employment opportunities to around 17 people.
And then something interesting happened, I started to get applications to our programme from Mums, women who had taken time out of work in order to look after their children. Our training programme was very time consuming as we would train people up one on one. What I quickly learned was that the Mums applying to our programme didn’t face some of the challenges that the teenagers and adults were facing – they already had solid skillsets, they just hadn’t used them in a while. It was then that I had the idea that we could get a group of women in a room and we could teach them together how to do all the things that I had taught myself to do over the years – build a website, market it, etc.
Tsitaliya: From your perspective how else can women empower themselves?
Joy: I was recently quoted in The Sun about this. Here are the 5 things I suggested:
1/ Set up a LinkedIn profile and use it to network.
2/ If you have had a career break of more than two years, take a course in something that really interests you.
3/ Make sure your public social media profiles are not too controversial.
4/ Twitter is a great place for research and talking to people in your industry.
5/ Treat yourself to a makeover – a new outfit, an updated haircut – then get a new picture taken to use on your profiles – THIS I LEARNED FROM YOU AND KATHY (note: Personal Stylist and founder of Style Etc.)!
Tsitaliya: We are living in the golden age of entrepreneurship, why do you think suddenly so many women are becoming entrepreneurs?
Joy: Women are becoming entrepreneurs because they know that the traditional workplace doesn’t work around the needs and desires of their family life. I remember when I became an entrepreneur, I did some research about how much money I could make. I was curious as to whether or not I could replace my salary, which at the time was £3k/month for 60%. I was disheartened to find out that most female entrepreneurs make less than £10k/year after they have taken into account their expenses. I resolved that I would make more than that! But
I also realised that in order to make more than £10k/year, I needed to learn more about how to start and run a business.
The initial grant I won from UnLtd was amazing as I received a whole bunch of courses about how to start a social enterprise along with it. The courses were probably more valuable in the end than the money. I also was given a mentor for a year. With the second grant from UnLtd, I also got a personal coach, who I met with once a month. I can’t tell you the value of a coach. He challenged me to make tough decisions and helped keep me sane when things got tough financially. I also surrounded myself with advisors who had built more successful businesses than me and who had faced some of the challenges I was now facing. Lastly, I made a commitment to myself – within 5 years, I wanted a successful, financially sustainable business, I wanted to still be married (harder than you think – many marriages that involve entrepreneurs don’t last!) and I wanted my children to know who I was because I had been physically and emotionally available to them.
Tsitaliya: What is your personal advice: what can help a woman in business to really stand out at the market place? What skills she has to master?
Joy: You have to master the art of sales and value. Very often in the early days, you are the only one in your business. You have to have a product you believe in that you can sell – and most importantly, you have to value that product. I think, looking back on my career the past 3 years in particular, I didn’t really value my own product. I knew it was good, but I didn’t feel that people should have to pay for it if they didn’t have the money to pay for it. So I gave a lot of things away for free. When I mentor women now, I tell them to have a limitation to what they will do for free to help them master the skills that they want to then sell for a premium. For example, if you want to start building websites for people, maybe do the first 1 or 2 for free, but then after that start charging – you may then charge a nominal rate for the next few, but once you have a solid portfolio of 5 or so websites under your belt – you should know how long they take to build, how well you can deliver them and then you should start charging a rate which values the time and effort you have put into building up those skills. Your 6th website should include all the time that you need not only to build the website, but to liaise with the client, to create the invoices, to balance the accounts and to support the client after the website is finished, you also need to account for the fact that because you have built 5 website prior to this one, your 6th one will have elements which are now easy to do but were difficult at one point earlier on.
The other reason you have to account for all of these other things – apart from the finished product – is that one day, you will need to replace yourself with people who can do those things. This is the only way you can grow. Eventually, by the 8th or 9th website, you need to build in a profit margin. So many women don’t do anything that I have just said – I know it took me nearly a decade to understand these concepts. As women, we want to help. Helping is great, but like a face mask on a plane, we have to help ourselves if we want to be able to help those around us. If I had one piece of advice, it would be that you fast track these skills that have taken me such a long time to master.
Tsitaliya: What is the biggest challenge you have faced as woman in business till now and how did you deal with it?
Joy: Exhaustion. I work 49 hours a week, but I don’t work at an office from 8am to 8pm. I have breakfast with my kids, take them to school and then start working when I get back home or go into the office. I will work from 9am straight until 3pm (or 11am until 3pm when I’m training for an ironman). I will pick them up from school at 3:20pm and while they are doing homework, get a bit more work in. I often cook with my computer open on the counter top so I can respond to emails as I’m waiting for the pasta to boil. I try and have the computer shut down from 6pm to 8pm, for dinner and family time. As soon as the kids are in bed, I’m working again, often from 8pm until the early hours of the morning (1am, 2am, even 3 or 4am).
I’ve learned if you don’t write emails on weekends, people don’t send them!
This sort of working pattern takes a huge toll on me and my marriage and my general attitude. When things are really intense (which has been often over the past 3 years in particular), my husband does take over most of the childcare and cooking and I finally caved and got a cleaner when I started getting a small paycheck from my company.
So apart from sleep – I would say get your partner on board. It wasn’t an easy transition for either one of us, but when we made it, it actually meant that the children were better off.
One other thing I started doing was shutting down on Friday night and now powering up until Monday morning. I’ve been doing this for a while now and it really has made a difference. I’ve learned if you don’t write emails on weekends, people don’t send them!
Tsitaliya: How do you deal with business fears? Do you ever experience a creative rut and how do you usually get out of it?
Joy: This is tricky. Business and fear go hand in hand. If you aren’t afraid, you aren’t in business. I am a strong woman of faith. I started meeting with my vicar once a month for the past couple of years. I talk through my fears and problems and try and work out answers using the Bible as my reference. For example, in December, I had the option to apply for a £50-£150k loan. It would have meant not laying off staff. When I prayed about it and discussed it with my vicar, I came to the conclusion that borrowing to save jobs without solving our revenue problem – which had been exacerbated by not charging women for a valuable course that they would ultimately benefit from – was not the right thing to do. In the end, I had to make a really tough call and lay off 4 people. 3 additional staff members left in the wake of it. Nothing is fundamentally wrong with the business, but at the end of the day, we have to value what we do, we have to charge people for it and we have to build back up the team as and when we have the resources. You get out of a rut by staring it in the face and telling yourself that every problem has a solution. In my case, it requires a lot of prayer and inner reflection in order to come to the right conclusion. Often I find that I am able to do this more when I’ve had sleep.
Tsitaliya: How do you define success?
Joy: In business, a financially sustainable business which provides me with an income which is greater than I would get working for someone else.
In life, that I have done everything in my power to represent my faith and to be serve others to the best of my ability.
In family, that my husband and I are a team and have a rich and deep love and understanding of each other and that my children know me – that I can be there for brownies and school plays and bike rides and reading time. What good is anything else in life if you don’t have your partner and your children by your side.
Tsitaliya: What changed in your life when you became your own boss?
Joy: Gaining control over my destiny. When I worked for other people, I was made redundant twice. After each of those experiences, I never really believed that I had job security in any job. The jobs I wasn’t made redundant from, I either got bored or wasn’t being paid enough. So really, running my own business was about doing something I love and paying myself to do it.
Tsitaliya: How do you take care of yourself? How do you practice self-love?
Joy: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Well I realized I needed to start doing this when I kept getting ill and my hair started to fall out because I wasn’t getting enough food or sleep. I started by trying to go to bed by midnight which I’m now able to do most nights, but not all, thereby giving me 7 hours of sleep – nearly 8! I also started getting my hair cut once every 6 weeks by a guy who comes to my house, this means I can work while he cuts 🙂 but then have a fresh hair style on a regular basis. I also started running or cycling or swimming in the mornings and one evening a week (Wednesdays at 9pm in the local pool). The training has helped me keep my head clear but also helps me to eat healthier and I’m more tired and thereby sleep better. I also do yoga in the morning for 5 minutes to help stretch me out and get my blood flowing and because I have not time to get into the gym, I do squats while I brush my teeth at night. Reading and praying in the morning and before I go to bed also help a lot. I have a prayer journal which I write in and have done so for years. It is nice to look back at the past and see how far I’ve come or how a problem that seemed huge at the time eventually got solved. I also try and do a date with my husband once a month although that doesn’t always happen!
Tsitaliya: What makes you laugh?
Joy: My kids and my husband and our new kitten. Family. Which is why we do everything anyway right?