Author Kay White: The Power of Flexibility; How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic
Invest In Yourself. At first I was so concerned with getting the business going, being able to pay my bills and get a form of turnover established I didn’t think I could possibly spend money on my own development. It was only when I joined a Mastermind and invested — shockingly for my husband — over £20K to be part of this business building group that I got that you invest in yourself and how it pays you back. I recouped that investment within 6 weeks of joining the Mastermind with the boost of confidence, strategy and chutzpah to increase my prices at the same time own the value of what I was doing for my clients.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kay White, career mentor and author of the Amazon Number 1 bestsellers The A to Z of Being Understood (2011) and It’s Always Your Move (2018) empowers corporate career women to overcome the belief they have to sell their souls or sacrifice their well-being to get ahead at work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a leafy London suburb and had a really easy-breezy childhood with a younger sister and parents who seemed happy together. I didn’t realise at the time how lucky we were and at times thought my parents were ‘boring’ compared to my friends’ parents who travelled, worked late in the night or who were divorced. There is a ‘but’ though. When I was 16 years old and about to take my exams for 6th form or business school, I had a bad pain in my side. It wouldn’t go away. I thought I’d have the day off school and complained about the pain. It was though, Ovarian Cancer which — for about 2 weeks at that time — wasn’t diagnosed. I was rushed into Guy’s Hospital and had, at one point, only 24 hours to live. A surgeon came to see me telling me “we’ve redone your plumbing Kay” which was true. Then followed 6 months of brutal chemotherapy, hair and weight loss and then another major operation just before my 17th birthday — a hysterectomy. I was cured and after 6 months away from school, I went back and joined the 6th form and graduated with a business and secretarial qualification, still wearing my wig. This experience so young has shaped a lot of how I deal with life and with anyone wasting their — or my — time. I’m also so grateful for all that I have rather than what I don’t. I’ve had a +20 year corporate career in insurance broking in London and whilst I couldn’t have children but I married a man who didn’t want them and we have 3 rescue hounds and both run our own businesses. Lemons to lemonade. I’m a godmother twice and a passionately committed aunt to my niece and nephew. 40 years on I can remember so much about the experience and am compassionate, empathetic and driven as a result. I started my business in 2006 and have grown it a multiple 6-figure level by offering my services to show women how to get promoted and paid more money — there’s NO self-developent exercise like running your own business offering your own services!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It relates to what I shared above. You don’t know how much time you have — it’s a precious resource and one you can’t ‘get’ more of. Choose wisely what you invest your time in and remember, stuff happens — will always happen — it’s how you deal with it which counts. And a life lesson quote for me is “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.” ~ Maya Angelou.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Where to start with all the influences! A book I’ve read multiple times and sent out to hundreds of clients over the years is “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. It’s such a simple parable about change and if or how we respond to it told relating to two mice and two humans. The simplicity of the tale is the power of it and I encourage clients to read it once a year, as I do, to keep our open-to-change muscles flexing! 2020 has been a monumental year to recognize the ‘cheese’ has well and truly moved and it’s what you do and how you plan to move with it that’s key.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
My main business focus is paid speaking live on stages inside organisations or at networking events and also hosting my own live events (3-day events and 1-day events) and VIP Client 2-day retreats. Corporate women make the decision to work with me from hearing me speak to fast-forward their career progress and part of that entails the community of other women to share with and learn from. All my business building has been based around speaking, writing my books and then speaking about my books and then hosting live mentoring groups. Live in person, until now.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Just before we were locked down here in the UK in March, I hosted a 1-day Day of Magic for 11 clients. Over the 2 days leading up to the date 7 of them said they couldn’t come, couldn’t travel from the States or Belgium or just didn’t want to travel. 4 clients and I met and had a surreal but still very useful day and it was then, at that meeting, I said along the lines of “OK ladies, we’re going to pivot and use a programme called Zoom to host our meetings from next week”. We had a live 2-day Retreat in the diary for May and I quickly cancelled the hotel I was hosting that it and knew it would be online. The group started to ‘train’ themselves that Zoom worked and that we could still have meaningful discussions and masterminding as we built up to the 2-day Retreat.
Instinctively I thought of all the little touches I add to a live Retreat — flowers, baubles, gifts, sweets, refreshments, cocktail party and thought “OK, let’s send this to you if I can’t deliver it to you live” — so we did. The little gifts, the same flowers, same wine etc has proven to be such a success and the women love to receive little surprises in the lead up to the Retreat. Same as when I hosted a one-day Live Event for 60 women from 7 countries in September. Sending out little gifts, warming up the energy and building the excitement for the gathering is truly the same as building excitement for a live event (or party) and the messaging and planning is every more important in the lead up to ensuring people show up. I also quickly decided to record 3 on-point Webinars to send out, complimentary, to clients to support their teams as they adjusted to home-working or — as it’s been called — living at work.
I recorded How To Get Your Emails Opened & Read, Structure & Time Boxing Gives You Freedom and Maximise Your Virtual Meetings. These went out and were posted on companies like Aon’s intranets as part of their support packages for staff. There’s an OMG story about one of these though. I thought I’d pressed “Pause” when recording one of the Webinars as there was a disturbance outside my office door. I said the F-Bomb word as I moved, sorted out the noise and returned. I checked myself, pressed ‘Record’ again and carried on. I hadn’t pressed “Pause” and the recording went out with the F-bomb in. It was only when a client asked to speak to me about a month later that she told me what had happened… I was mortified AND quickly had the Webinar edited that day and then asked her to post something on the Intranet. What was interesting was the women said “Oh wow, I love her even more for being so honest”. There was a real lesson in there about stretching yourself, knowing enough to be dangerous, making a slip up AND then apologizing, making it right and moving on….
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Following the lock down I sensed by clients would appreciate support as a group so introduced a weekly Lockdown Lowdown Huddle as we called it. A chance to gather on Zoom each Monday evening to compare notes on personal developments and how their various offices were responding — Big4 accountancy firms, global banks, insurance brokers, insurance companies, law firms — a real cross section of women. This gave me the sense of how to really use Zoom and the connectivity and sharing with me as the host/guide really worked. We changed to ever-other week as lockdown went on and we felt we needed it less but it was the catalyst to what I then went on to introduce.
In May 2020 I attended The Virtual Event on Virtual Events hosted by a company called SAGE in North Carolina. They showed 1100 of us over Zoom for 3-days how to host a live event on Zoom/virtually and shared all the secrets they’d learned hosting events for big personal development players.
This gave me the confidence to host my own event which I did in September and it was called Blaze Your Own Trail. 60 women from 7 countries gathered for the day and I hosted it with a team of 2 video/camera men from our home just outside London. Broadcasting from home was such a success and I did many of the ‘secrets’ I’d learned from hosting the Retreat — sent out gifts, little packages for preparation, a door-handle sign which said “Shhhhh, I’m in here blazing my own trail” and touches which I know helped them feel connected. The event was a success energetically and most stayed for a drinks party at the end and it was financially rewarding too as I made an invitation to join my mentoring group with a 50% conversion.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I continued with my mentoring group renewals when I didn’t think I would — it didn’t feel right to stop something which was a supportive and collaborative vehicle for clients at this time. I’ve just hosted my 2nd 2-Day Live Retreat for my VIP Golden Circle clients and it was brilliant — guests from the US, clients from the US and Belgium, everyone at home but connected and masterminding on their career progress together. I believe going forward we’ll have virtual events for most of 2021 and then a potential hybrid model combining live and virtual. There is always a risk when you have the two versions of not concentrating fully on the room/the virtual room but this can be done with careful positioning and coordination with the events team. I’ve been to a Tony Robbins event with 11,700 people on Zoom and it was truly brilliant. It was a masterful demonstration of what can be done rather than what can’t and that is such a sign of entrepreneurialism!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Someone saw for me what I hadn’t yet seen myself! I had lunch with an ex-colleague who seemed different when I met up with him. More curious about me, less anxious, more open and reflective and I asked him “what’s happened to you James, you’re different?” — he told me he’d been working with a coach to help him get clearer about the direction of his career and said she reminded him of me. This was 2005 and I’d never heard of coaching or a coach outside of football or a large bus! That was it. I went off to find out about it all and put myself on a weekend introduction course. Having worked for over 20 years in international insurance broking I was looking for my next direction and James pointed me towards it. I now combine my own insurance background juggling budgets, tricky characters and the working pressures with my passion of mentoring corporate career women to accelerate their careers. I truly love what I do and my clients get new roles, paid more money, are offered promotions, lead their teams more assertively — one client was counting down the months to retirement (5 years of months) when she started working with me and now has rebooted her passion for her work and had 2 recent promotions. It’s what I’m built to do — be like Yoda in the background when they’re out there in the arena of the working corporate world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
An early mentor of mine encouraged me to go ‘faster’ than I wanted to which is something I now encourage clients to do too. Take leaps of faith. When she heard I was writing my first book The A to Z of Being Understood she said “Great, why not offer teaching it as a course and teach principles each week as you’re writing it?” Talk about motivating me to keep writing. At one point I was hosting a virtual class in 2011 with my clients only 2 letters behind me ie I was ‘teaching’ P, Q, R, S from the A to Z and I was only writing T — I knew that in the week following I’d make the time to write T, U, V & W — which I did! I felt like RoadRunner — meep meep.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Get comfortable talking about money — like many women, I wasn’t comfortable talking money and negotiating your salary at work is key. As an entrepreneur you have to get comfortable and have that “show me the money, honey” attitude. Not leading with it but knowing that it’s not a business if you can’t charge for your services or products. When I first enrolled my first ever paying client with a fee for £75 per hour back in 2007 I nearly fainted when he happily handed over the cheque — I photocopied it before I banked it. Now, I look at exchanging value and believe it’s about the value I bring to the hour. Just as Jim Rohn said “We don’t get paid for the hour. We get paid for the value we bring to the hour.”
- Don’t do it all or think it’s saving money to. It’s so easy to feel you have to do everything and that you should be able to turn your hand to everything but that’s disasterous. You become ineffective in many areas rather than really effective where you need to be — doing what your business it there for. I quickly hired a Virtual Assistant who was based in Alabama and we worked together for 6 years without ever meeting. I now have a VA here and in the US and a designer in the US. Being clear what I should be involved in and delegating the rest is key.
- Establish boundaries out of the gate. Your business is like a child or a pet! It needs rules, boundaries and needs to be kept carefully protected. This, for me, means being clear how much time invested in my business is enough. You can work 24/7 and then end up without social life, marriage or your health. I start no earlier than 10am as I often work until 10pm but I take big chunks of time out of the day to rest or walk the hounds. No one else will tell you to. I have 3 Hs at the heart of my business decisions — Husband, Hounds, Homelife — I always consider the effects on them first before deciding to go ahead with initiatives.
- You’re never finished. I’ve found that one idea or business stream naturally leads to another and that your clients will tell you where to go next. I rarely put together an offering without testing it and the phrase “build the plane whilst you’re flying it” was given to me by an early mentor. The idea being, don’t put a bow on top of something you haven’t tested in case it doesn’t work or sell. I always think of this phrase and it inspires me into inspired action!
- Invest In Yourself. At first I was so concerned with getting the business going, being able to pay my bills and get a form of turnover established I didn’t think I could possibly spend money on my own development. It was only when I joined a Mastermind and invested — shockingly for my husband — over £20K to be part of this business building group that I got that you invest in yourself and how it pays you back. I recouped that investment within 6 weeks of joining the Mastermind with the boost of confidence, strategy and chutzpah to increase my prices at the same time own the value of what I was doing for my clients.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Since May 2018 I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation and my husband and I meditate twice per day for 20 minutes. It’s been the most effective way to decompress from the news cycle and has formed part of a daily ritual rarely ever missing a session. I also walk our hounds every day and that, whatever the weather, is like a real tonic to be out in the air with the hounds rushing about. It connects me with nature, myself and grounds me. I would recomment TM to anyone who wants to slow their mind down and I know I’m more balanced and less agitated as a result of it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be a movement which — whilst happening now — accelerates the equality for working women. Both their opportunities to work and their equal pay. Women are the backbone of society and take most of the responsibility for the homelife and family relationships and also most women work to contribute and for their own benefit.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Oh my goodness — Dame Helen Mirren AND Arianna Huffington please. Helen Mirren is one of my go-to role models for her humour, poise, intelligence, longevity and general kick-ass disposition when needed. I often ask myself “What would Helen do?” in a situation and the thought of her way of being guides my actions! Arianna Huffington because I so admire her huge capacity for personal and business growth and also her searing honesty when writing the book “Thrive” about her overworking and collapsing at her desk. I’d love to chat with them both and ask them tons of questions!
How can our readers follow you online?
My website www.kaywhite.com has all the ways to be in touch including all the social media handles and also, if your readers would like a complimentary chapter from It’s Always Your Move, my 2018 book — they can go to www.kaywhite.com/always-your-move and the chapter “Shine In Interviews & Appraisals” is downloadable from there.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you from me too — I’ve really enjoyed answering these great questions!