Shoe expert Susannah Davda, aka the Shoe Consultant, writes and speaks about shoes, as well as helping people to start shoe brands.
“I don’t love working for other people, and after 17 years of working in the footwear industry, I set up my (now successful) business The Shoe Consultant.
I’m naturally shy. I’d class both of my parents as pretty antisocial, so I suppose I have shy genes, or was brought up to be shy.
Socially, I’m happiest in small groups. 2-4 people feels comfortable for me. Even in groups of friends of 5+ I sometimes struggle to know when it’s my turn to speak. Large groups at networking or other business events can be challenging. I find arriving at an event the hardest part. Wondering who I can talk to, who will be happy that I approached them.
I don’t think I’ve let shyness affect my work, because I’ve learnt techniques for dealing with groups. It’s been challenging to get to this point, but practice has helped. Weirdly, I’m a confident public speaker, and love speaking to large attentive audiences. My shyness is related to the awkward parts of 2-way conversations with groups.
The thing I find hardest is working out my role in a group. I also have to remind myself why I’m there and have as much to contribute as anyone else.
Networking is probably the toughest bit of being an entrepreneur for me. It’s that barrier I feel when faced with a large group, all appearing to have established uninterruptible conversations.
Oddly, standing up and speaking in public doesn’t frighten me as much as networking. In fact I find it quite thrilling. I describe it as my adrenaline sport.
My amazing business coach Jess Rogers taught me a great way of working out who to talk to when you first arrive at a networking event. Odd numbers are usually best to approach because there’s often someone left out of the conversation. One person on their own is an easy one. Groups of three can also be easier to approach and engage with than twos or fours having in-depth conversations.
As a shy person, I’m an excellent listener, and my clients, friends and contacts appreciate how well I listen and then share my thoughts in a considered way.
I think deciding to set up my own business was a way of embracing my shyness. Taking myself out of an open plan office environment and a deeply unpleasant commute, and into my garden-facing work space has been great for my happiness levels. Being able to truly be myself in business, without having to conform to someone else’s idea of how I should interact with colleagues has enabled me to develop and grow enormously, whilst staying true to who I am.
Practice the things you find challenging, and they’ll become easier. You might never love networking, but you’ll feel more comfortable in that environment the more you do it. Having said that, don’t build your business around a situation which makes you uncomfortable. I spend most of my work days sitting alone at a computer, typing or on the phone or Skype with one person at a time. Find the right balance for you, where you’re pushing yourself, but also allowing yourself time to recover in your comfort zone.”