Behind The Scenes with Ali and Liv
We're switching it up once again on the blog today, as I am joined by my favourite person in the world, my mum Ali Roy-Conlon.
With an extremely demanding career, Ali managed to juggle a successful training business and two children, making her my hero. When I started ThePropertyStagers at 16, I knew that I eventually wanted a partner in business and, of course, the person that I wanted to share that experience with was my talented mum. When I was 18, and the business started to gain traction, I bit the bullet & asked my mum to leave her successful business to join me at ThePropertyStagers.
This woman is my inspiration, my best friend and my business confidant. It's no surprise to those of you that know us that we are conducting this interview with margaritas in hand
Ali discusses her career to date, in both the corporate and business world, the importance of communication, working with family and how to keep going when the going gets tough.
Liv: Our readers will be surprised to learn that you've had quite a varied career ranging from jewellery design, which you studied at university, to owning your own wedding planning business, training business and various corporate roles. Tell us about them.
Ali: I didn't go into the jewellery business after uni as I wasn't very good at it, and I think you have to be very, very talented to succeed at that. My first job was working for a magazine at the BBC, which I really enjoyed. It was fantastic because I got to meet with some of the most amazing lifestyle brands in London. I started my wedding planning business as a side hustle which I thought I could manage on weekends. It was lots of fun, but you only had one day to get it right and, if you didn’t, there was no do-over. Very much like ThePropertyStagers, it was a high pressure job that demanded attention to detail.
Liv: Early in your career you entered into a very male dominated industry. You worked with Volkswagen and became one of the first female Operation Managers for the brand. Was that difficult and what did you come up against during that time?
Ali: It was tough being one of the first females in a role like this, especially in a mainly male dominated industry as the car industry was at the time. There were some dinosaurs still left in senior positions without a doubt & they had the attitude "I was a woman, what did I know about cars". I didn't know a lot admittedly, but what I did know about was customer service and that was ultimately what my role was...to ensure they delivered outstanding customer service to people who walked into their dealership. There were also a lot of progressive men there too, who definitely helped me in so many ways & I'm grateful for that.
Liv: What was it that enabled you to work your way up in an industry that seemingly had a glass ceiling for women?
Ali: In terms of glass ceilings, I feel that high achieving women have always faced barriers to success, and glass ceilings are a really subtle and damaging indictment of discrimination. Woman are 18% less likely to be promoted as a result of that, and in traditional businesses men are usually seen as more suitable leaders. That can drive women to become entrepreneurial and I know this was a major factor for me. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and glass ceilings are really difficult to smash, but definitely not impossible. One of the ways I did it was by upping my standards, and I really challenged myself to work smarter rather than harder. I expected more from myself than others expected from me. I would have certain rituals to get me closer to where I wanted to be and whatever role I was in at that particular time. I’d work later and I'd complete the tasks sooner than any of my colleagues. I realised quickly that results don't happen without rituals.
Liv: Did you take any skills from the corporate world into the business world?
Ali: Absolutely! I think what we tend to forget is that the comprehensiveness of our knowledge, skills and abilities are not just limited to what we're doing at the time but they are essentially transferrable.
We always need to be improving on those skills and abilities; they are always a work in progress. My skills are definitely in communication, and in my corporate role I was the voice of the brand. It was essential that I communicate whatever the current brand message was in a language that was tailored to the person in that particular role and in a language that people would connect with. At times I could be communicating it to the business owner, the manager, the receptionist, or sometimes the technician that was working on a car. It was also important that you embodied the values in the behaviour you exhibited...kinda 'walk the walk not just talk it'!
Teamwork was also essential; you needed to work with others to get the job done. That’s been really important at ThePropertyStagers, because there's so many moving parts and it’s a logistically tough business. My role has been to ensure all the moving parts operate efficiently and we work together as a team. Problem solving is another crucial skill, because almost all businesses generate revenue by solving problems their clients face. For property investors, it's the hassle/problem of furnishing their properties & we're the solution, we take care of that for them.
Liv: You worked as a self employed trainer in the motor industry, and you were constantly in front of people in a coaching role. How did you manage to maintain your energy through that role?
Ali: It can be challenging. You're almost like an actor on stage when you're in front of your audience. It doesn't matter what you've got going on in your personal life, you need to put that to one side and carry on. You need to be the ultimate professional.
Once again, communication skills are critical as they can make or break the learning experience for your audience. You need to be inspiring, engaging and also really adept at teaching and not just talking. Everyone learns differently and you need to take that into consideration. As a trainer, you need to have a thirst for lifelong learning, as you need to empathise with your learners and put yourself in their shoes.
Liv: How does working as part of a start up business differ from working in the corporate world?
Ali: It’s definitely a culture shock, but we've had so many laughs along the way. It’s a really fun stage to be at, because you are hustling non stop and we have done some long 16 hour days, collapsed into bed and got back up in the morning to do it all over again. Further down the line you start to see the fruits of your labour and it all becomes worth it.
Liv: What would your advice be for someone going through that hustle period?
Ali: Just keep going, because I think that most people stop just as they're about to achieve success. The success will come one day, and one of the my favourite sayings is ‘what you do in the dark is what people see in the light.’ Success didn’t happen overnight for ThePropertyStagers, it took time, I think at times we just make it look easy.
Liv: What was the turning point for ThePropertyStagers where the business started to take off?
Ali: It was a job that we undertook in Liverpool. We had 10 apartments to furnish & stage and we hadn’t properly scaled the business yet, so we were doing absolutely everything on our own. I’m sure you built something crazy like 86 chairs in one day. It was a huge learning curve for us but we did a great job, the client was delighted & from this we were able to pitch for bigger contracts
Liv: How do you find working with family?
Ali: I love working with family and I feel really blessed I get to work with both my children. Like everything though, it has its ups and its downs, and you need to have clearly defined boundaries. One of the things that I struggle with most is switching off, because we spend so much time together, we tend to talk about work a lot, so it’s all about finding that balance.
Liv: How do you raise an entrepreneurial child? Is it nature or nurture?
Ali: Children are mainly influenced by their parents in life and they watch you very carefully. I had a business of my own and you used to come away with me on my business trips. I remember when I was training and you would have all the notepads set out on the desk as you just wanted to be involved. I think you probably thought it was pretty glamorous at the time, staying overnight in nice hotels . You of course then realised when you started the business, a lot of it wasn't glamorous. Even as a young girl, when most kids your age were playing with dolls, you would always be making brochures, pretending to manage a hotel or bossing me around, I always knew you were destined for it.