Making Business Decisions With Your Heart – Carrie Barker, The Projects*
Last year you spoke at the CBA Women in Focus Real Stories event. What made you decide to share your story?
My story was based on ‘making decisions with your heart’ in business – a real passion of mine. Before joining the projects*, I worked in corporate where decision making was a long process. When I became an entrepreneur one of the benefits was having the freedom to make decisions in a different way; following my heart. I wanted to share that as a concept for the women in the audience, and to encourage them to apply this to business decision making.
My story was particularly aimed at young entrepreneurs and I wanted to show that my life is not perfect and polished. It’s ok to be real, and vulnerable and to have challenges and failures along the way, especially if you learn from them.
Why is your focus particularly on young women?
I have worked with a lot of young women in their 20’s who have self-confidence issues, who often question themselves and are nervous to push themselves forwards to achieve their career ambition. So, my absolute passion is to support them using my own experience of 30 years, both in corporate and as an entrepreneur. Sharing my learnings and experience in the hope that I can inspire them to achieve their goals.
I share my journey as a career woman in her 50’s, a working mum at that, overcoming daily challenges, and certainly not having a perfect life.
What are some of the successes you have had that can inspire other women?
There are a lot of success stories. At the projects* we love seeing careers taking off.
One of the girls in my team joined as an intern with the ultimate desire to work on the client side, for a champagne company. When she started she was lacking confidence and felt nervous presenting to clients. She worked her way up, growing in confidence and amazing ability and recently left us to become the Assistant Brand Manager for a major Champagne brand. That was so exciting.
I have supported many women across all walks of life from students to MD’s but they all have similar issues.
Growing up, did you experience self-confidence issues?
I was fortunate to have very supportive parents who were confident and instilled the same confidence and encouragement within my sister and me. I was a millennial before millennial's were invented; I was a pain in the ass in my 20’s thinking I should be CEO at the age of 23. At the age of 25 I got my first management job and really believed in myself – probably too much If I am honest.
I really suffered self confidence issues for the first time in my 30’s sitting around the board table with very alpha dominant men, and multiple times since. It is natural and a sign that I care and want to project the best.
What is the key to self-confidence?
Believing that what you have to say is worthwhile and that the reality is that you are a well informed professional knowing more than most people in the room on your subject. You are in the room and have a voice because people want to hear what you have to say. Always back yourself and your talent.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced which resulted with you deciding with your heart and not your head?
I moved to Australia with my family from the UK as CEO of a UK corporation. It was a fantastic job and I loved it. After 8 months I was unexpectedly asked to sell the business and was going to return to the UK However, I started having quite an emotional reaction to leaving Australia. I’m generally balanced so I was surprised I was experiencing such an emotional turbulence. I would look at the ocean and start crying, I would see a friend and start crying. And it wasn’t me being dramatic. I started having panic attacks and anxiety which I’d never experienced before in my life.
There were so many signs; including the fact I hadn’t bought tickets back to the UK even two weeks before we were meant to leave.
At the last hour I was offered a job to come on board at the projects* as a Partner with an 80% pay cut and no certainty – it was the middle of the GFC and I had been offered a large corporate job in the UK which was safe and highly lucrative – I had to decide whether to listen to my heart or my head.
I decided to follow my heart. I didn’t want to leave Australia, so I took the job. It was a stressful decision to make but it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made – and I became an entrepreneur or the first time in my 40’s.
Who has been your inspiration and why?
My father who sadly passed away three years ago. He was amazing. He was CEO of a magazine company and was the person who gave me the best advice I like to give now and that is to respect everyone you meet no matter their position. He knew the name of the post boy – and played table tennis with him at lunchtime. My father was that sort of guy.
Everyone loved him. He just made such a difference in people’s lives. And he was incredibly successful. Whenever I met anybody, they would rave on about how much they loved him
He would make difficult and tough decisions but was still able to be humane. He would always say how proud he was of me.
One of the highlights of my career was when a young guy who worked for me told me after several years that he had also worked for my father. On my last day in the business he said that I had the same ‘amazing style’ as my Dad. This was a dream come true.
How does the company grow from having three staff to having 40 employees globally in 10 years?
The global growth has always been around following our heart. Someone in the team wanted to live in Los Angeles so we launched in LA. The same happened when we opened in New York as my business partner thought there would be a great opportunity there – the decision took hours rather than months and it is paying off really well.
What are the challenges of growing?
Ensuring that you can protect and cherish the culture; when you are growing people need to still feel they are part of a small business and are able to continue to make a difference.
Managing the resources vs, the cash flow vs the risk. Deciding when to move from freelance to permanent staff. Ensuring that there is strong process in place.
Being stretched and able to prioritise and focus on what is important.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to build a start-up?
Follow your heart but develop a plan with your head. It’s important to set yourself benchmarks
Ask for advice, and use your network. There are people out there who can help you. Identify what you are good at. Generally, people become entrepreneurs because they have a passion for a product or service but they may not know about law or finance or service or distribution for example but there will be people in your network who do.
If you’re really being challenged ask for help. It is stressful running and launching a business and you will need people around you to give you support.
Once you’ve launched, focus on how you are going to balance working on the business and in the business. Always keep one eye on the future and one eye on the business.
Most importantly, when you are in the position to have a team around you, make sure you have teams that compliment your skill set.
Also don’t lose sight of your long term vision and values both personally and professionally.
Ultimately you will spend many many hours in the business so it is vital to do something that you love and have passion for – remember to have fun it will keep you sane – and wine helps!!