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The 7 secrets of successful women

1. Surround yourself with good people
Ive also learnt that even having one person on staff who isnt sociable can poison the rest of the team. Its not enough to hire people solely based on talent. Weve had great designers who just follow their own brief and get protective over their work, so theyre unable to work in a team. A lot of people arent brave enough to get rid of someone if their attitude isnt right.

The lesson I learned from my parents is a simple one: you are the company you keep. As a result of surrounding myself with good people I have learnt from their successes and enriched my experience and knowledge. Thats what inspired me to launch the Sorority, a club that unites trusted, successful women, cultivating a supportive community.

Its really enriching to meet women of different ages and from a variety of sectors. And when I became a mother, I had a hundred aunties giving me advice on juggling business and motherhood!

2. Show your human side
At first I contented myself with campaigning for other candidates, stuffing leaflets through doors and so on, but when David Cameron was made leader of the party, there was a lot of modernisation you could have a more rebellious background so I put myself forward.

My first rule of politics is that if somebody accuses you of something and its true, dont deny it its always the denial that catches you out. When I got an email alleging that Id taken drugs while working for a record company, frankly Id forgotten all about it. My husband said, Dont sweat this. Were going to defuse it with honesty and good humour. Thats what we did, and it worked. It was a serious issue, and I admitted to the wrongdoing, but it was 20 years ago. I trusted the publics good sense. I dont think people judge you on the sins of your youth; what they care about is whether youre fiddling your expenses or attempting to use your position for personal gain.

3. Put your dream first
Later, writing my novel at the same time as holding down a very demanding job took a huge toll on our marriage. I wrote it in lunch breaks, after work and at weekends. I didnt have time for myself, let alone anyone else. Thats what you expect when you become a mother not when youre 27 and just married. I had to explain as diplomatically as possible to everyone that, unfortunately, they didnt come first at this point in time.

All my friends were going out and doing fun things and I had to stay at home. My husband was a tower of strength, though. He took it with good grace because he knew how important it was to me. Friends were all very understanding, but it did put my friendships under strain.

I led a secret double life and submitted my manuscript under my married name. I didnt want people to think Id been published because of who I know. When I got my deal I told my boss and she screamed. Everyone was so pleased for me. I now make more of an effort to be there for friends and to do things with my husband as a couple.

4. Politeness opens many doors
Im always sure to send thank-you cards and emails, first to the person who invited me, and then I also mention her in a card to the most senior person who was there. When I was invited to a Santander event by one of their senior women, as well as sending her a card, I wrote to the chief operating officer of the company to say what a great host the woman had been and that shed connected me to some fabulous people. Its about giving back, because you wouldnt be there if it wasnt for them. I believe that what goes around comes around, but when youre starting out, youve got to be committed to giving.

About three years ago I met a regional manager from Barclays at a do. We had nothing to gain from each other, but we went for coffee and stayed in touch. He later got a big promotion, and then introduced me to the head of global human resources, who went on to sponsor my first Womens Business Forum. You dont know where that ball is going to roll.

Through politeness, Ive built up a company based on recommendations. Weve done no advertising or marketing, but within six months of launching, 22 global companies connected with us. Last November, I was invited to Downing Street for a celebration of women who are making a difference to the economy. It was a defining moment for me.

5. Be can do
I did focus groups and research, which showed there was a gap in the market, even though lots of friends told me it would never work. I wrote a business plan and got an offer of a loan from a bank, but the terms were outrageous so I decided to use my savings. It was very scary stuff and I definitely made mistakes mainly when I didnt trust my instincts. I was let down by suppliers that I shouldnt have used.

It took me a while to settle into the business, but this year we have seen a 50 per cent growth in turnover and customer numbers. Last summer I opened a second store, and I want to open six more in the next few years. But I still muck in. I washed the windows yesterday and was up a ladder changing light bulbs last week, and I often do a stint on reception.

From the outset, I created mission values and a manual on our way of working, because I think consistency is so important, especially as we roll out more stores. I hope my outlook filters through the whole company.

6. Keep work and personal life separate
My approach definitely makes [being a boss] a lot easier, because youre seeing people for their work, judging them on their performance. Youre able to be a lot more objective. And I rarely bring work home, so I can really focus on my personal life. When I first started working on the Outnet, we were a real startup, and it was tough. It could have been all-consuming, but because I wasnt taking my work home and it didnt overtake my life, I was able to maintain my relationship. In that time,
we got engaged and married, and had a baby.

7. Talk to everyone you meet
There isnt a day that goes by when I dont chat to a stranger about something. My husband refuses to sit next to me on aeroplanes because he says Im so embarrassing. I dont care who they are or where they come from, Ill talk to anyone.

I once asked a well-endowed actress how she crammed her boobs into such tight dresses! But often Ill start a conversation by telling someone that I love their shoes. Then I tell them about French Sole and well get chatting. Often we end up swapping numbers. Ive made a lot of contacts that way. I work with the Starlight Childrens Foundation and theyve said that since I came on board things have changed for them, because I talk to everyone. Ill say, Can you do this to help? and people do it.


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