This is our new series “Career Insights” where we nosy into a typical Monday in the life of people who have taken an interesting career path. You’ll get some inspiring career insights and a honest and fun read about all kinds of careers.
Would you like to feature in our new series of guest blogs? We’re looking for contributors to tell us about their Mondays and their approach to work, leisure time and career path. You just need to complete a simple template and we’ll look after the rest. Interested? Get in touch!
To break the ice here’s our first with our creator Erica Sosna.
Erica is the founder and CEO of Career Matters, the career consultancy that brought the magic of the Career Equation® to the working world. Fully virtual and with team members spread across the UK, no two days are the same. Here she tells all about how she works, what she loves and what she gets up to when not at her desk.
Erica, Career Matters was developed to help others find a career that they truly love. How has your career developed to this point? Were there any highs or lows that motivated you?
My working life started young, and my first job was a paper round when I was eleven; it’s fair to say this was the start of my strong work ethic. There was a big annual fair that came to my local area and although friends from school were given money to spend there, cash was tight in my family, so I had to be more resourceful. Four weeks before the fair, I got myself a paper round. By the end of the month, I had £40 burning a hole in my pocket – a huge amount for an eleven-year-old, especially in those days! I really got the thrill that hard work means cash which means freedom and choice.
After leaving university, I earned a place on the Civil Service Fast Stream; one of the most competitive grad schemes in the country. Despite my guts telling me, it wasn’t the right thing for me, I felt it was so prestigious that I couldn’t turn it down. I took the job and sad to say; it was a real struggle. Although I learnt a lot, the Civil Service and I were just a bad fit. The conservative, slow moving and diplomatic culture didn’t suit me at all! But it taught me at a really early point in my career that environment really makes a difference.
I had all the skills and passions to be successful in the role but really didn’t fit! It also taught me about the pressure we are under to do ‘prestigious’ things and conform rather than take a less conventional path in our careers.
Career Matters isn’t my first business. I ran a business called The Life Project. It folded and that was a really painful time. It taught me first-hand how the Government can impact on my work, my life and my future. I also learned that social enterprise has to come as a result of a business model that delivers profits and is sustainable.
Now I run a socially minded business without the constraints of the Community Interest Company format. My heart will always be in social change, personal development and enabling people to give their best in work that matters to them. But when I had lots of debt, had to let my team go and move into shared accommodation at the age of 30, it certainly didn’t feel like I would ever climb back out!
How does your day start? Are you a morning person who springs out of bed or do you enjoy a slower start to your day?
I like to start my days at a gentle but productive pace. I usually wake up with a cat on my head; Brian the cat loves to sleep on our pillow and stays with us all night. After sorting Brian’s breakfast, I start the day with a coffee in bed, making a list of my top priorities for the week ahead.
If time allows, I go to a weight-lifting class before sitting down to work at 11am. I try to be at home or in the office on Mondays, rather than at workshops as this let me deal with the business priorities when my mind is fresh and rested from the weekend. I have a ritual of a Monday lunchtime meeting with my team. It’s really important for orientating ourselves and making sure clients get the service they deserve, so I do all I can to make sure this happens.
Do you have a commute?
No commute for me as I mostly work from home – although this could be from home in sunny Tuscany or leafy Surrey! I do have a membership of a couple of shared working spaces (Co-Tribe in Horley and the IoD on Pall Mall).
This means that if I am having one of those days where concentration is scarce, I can take myself to a more focused space – a real bonus when I have a lot to get through.
What do you do to plan your day? Are you super-organised or more reactive?
I am the queen of lists and try to be as organised as I can; there’s so much to keep track of. Building on from my coffee-fuelled list-writing in bed, I use a collaboration tool with the rest of the team called Monday.com. This houses my to-do list that I then categorise by priority, activity, duration and so on.
Basically, I prioritise by client first, client first, client first!
After that I prioritise on what my team needs from me to be happy and effective, then business development, marketing and sales activity.
Is there anything you do on a daily basis?
The work I do is hugely varied as a CEO because I lead the design of all projects and am usually involved in the closing of sales. But there’s always something new in the pipeline, like a digital product or a live launch event. And on top of that, I’m writing blogs, articles, speeches and newsletters for both internal team and external audiences.
I pretty much love everything I do, although I am sometimes a little nervous to look at cash flow! This is the heart and soul of a new business and as I made a choice to retain private ownership and not take on investment, it is often the biggest challenge, as we rely on timely payment by our clients.
Fortunately, most of them really respect and understand this and so we rarely have to send any ‘nudges’. As a business owner, it is crucial to be on top of your numbers – they help you to focus, to deliver and to grow, so they are non-negotiable even if you are not a strong operational type.
My days are also filled with important conversations – with associates, partners, clients, the in-house teams and my speaking agent, accountant, copywriter and other essential third-party experts.
We all work so differently and on such varied businesses. Could you give us an insight into what a “big” project looks like for you?
Of course. One of our big projects is the digitisation of our workshops so clients with remote populations can deliver Your Career Plan direct to their phones and laptops. The process begins with a design brief conversation in-house, where we consider what we think are the key aspects of content and function. We will then go and find someone with the skills to code and develop it. We hope to be able to get to a minimum viable product in around 6 weeks so we can play with it and test it with real clients. I love the initiation of a new product or methodology. It’s so exciting to see an idea take shape and become reality.
What about breaks? Do you work through the day without pausing for breath or are you more structured?
I don’t have a work structure as such, but if the weather’s good and I’m working from home in Surrey, I like nothing better than a taking a toddle round our garden; I find fresh air and nature to be very rejuvenating.
I’m lucky enough to have 6 acres of shared grounds to enjoy, and if I have a lot of thinking to do, I sometimes work outside all day; I find it helps me think and catch creative ideas!
If we are in Italy, the seasons affect my breaks a little more. In the cooler months of the year I love to go for a run at lunchtime. In the summer, a wee nap is a lovely way to take a break…
I agree, there’s nothing lovelier than working outside. Next up, we’re looking at skills. What would you describe as your superpower skills; the things you’re especially good at?
Top of the list is my ability to explain complex ideas in a fun, simple and engaging way. I’m also incredibly self-motivated and love what I do.
Although self-motivation and enjoyment aren’t skills as such, they’re essential to the way I engage people; I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t love it so much. I know that I’m good at the relationship building and communication side of my role; I’m constantly in conversation and listening to the industry, my clients and the people I work with.
As well as this communication superpower, I also have a strong creativity and problem-solving streak – essential in helping Career Matters continue to move forward.
I’d also rank horizon scanning as one of my skills. I spend a lot of time thinking about what will come up next, what the big trends will be and how I’ll deal with that! As a CEO of a start-up, it’s so important to continuously consider and look to the future whilst still delivering quality in the here and now.
What about the things you need to improve on? We all have them, can you tell us??
Probably the most testing parts for me are the details; the last bits! They say the devil is in the detail, and it’s true! I can lose focus if I don’t move quickly to completion, but sometimes a project needs my attention at a time when my availability is really low. This means I can be a bottleneck and slow things down because my perfectionistic control freak tendencies won’t let me let go, but I don’t have the headspace to give the necessary sign-off. Often it is me that has to give the final nod before something goes into production and errors can be costly.
Linked to this is the skill of delegation. It’s essential for any CEO, but I’ll admit it can get a bit scrappy if I’m overwhelmed or in a hurry.
Lunch is done, and you’ve had a breath of fresh air. Are your afternoons any different to your mornings?
Afternoons are my time for getting into meatier pieces of work that need a lot of focus. Proposal writing or design and sign-off tend to work best in this time slot. Every project we work on goes through consultation with the client followed by a design process. We then make materials and train the team. All of this means I’m usually engaged in this process if I am not in front of participants!
When do you tend to clock off? Are you a night owl working until late, or are you disciplined about your free time?
I tend to take time out between 5.30 and 9pm to make a meal, spend time with my husband and catch up with my best friends who live a little way from me. I may also use the time to learn something new. The nature of working with a virtual team means I usually check in once more before bedtime – sometimes I have meetings with colleagues who have small children as they find their best thinking happens in the evening.
No matter what, I always aim to have a decent amount of downtime. A bath, some fun and a check-in with family and friends is essential for me. Work is important but it certainly isn’t everything! Having burnt out in the past working for others and their schedules, I do my best to be kind to myself.
Absolutely, work isn’t everything! What else do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m a very sociable person and love catching up with family and friends. If I had to list my top 5 passions they’d be:
1. Family and friends
2. My cat
3. Exercise and health
5. Creativity and the arts
I really enjoy getting out into the great outdoors. I love nature and travel so am often off doing something in the open air. One thing that I like less about my work is the amount of time I spend in front of a computer screen, so I try not to spend my time off-duty in the same hunched position! We love getting away and seeing new places in the UK and further afield, so downtime tends to be a quick breakaway to refresh the heart and soul.