Don’t Stay Stuck! How to Make Powerful Choices

March 2, 2014 at 6:42 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Woman-ThinkingHave you ever felt stuck?  You know, that feeling where you can’t or don’t know how to change something in your life?  It might be something about your businesses, something to free up more time or generate more money or even something that you know will make you happier!

Feeling “stuck” is not pleasant.  It’s uncomfortable, smothering, claustrophobic even.  Sometimes we confuse being “stuck” with feeling secure.  Do you find yourself saying “I have a business/family/house, I should be happy”? Notice the “should”?  That’s a red flag word. 

So, if you want to get un-stuck, here are four steps to reclaim the decision making for your life and to make your choices more powerful.

1. Acknowledge you DO have choices.

Thinking about, writing down or speaking about choices does NOT mean you are making that choice.  We too often shut down the possibilities available to us because we fear that thinking about them will cause trouble:

We catastrophise: I don’t dare to think about working away from home because I my children will suffer, fail at school and start taking drugs.
We molly coddle:  I don’t dare to think about having a business that I love which pays me a great salary because I might be disappointed.
We presume: I don’t dare think about investing in my business because my partner/friends/parents will think I’m being irresponsible.

These are all excuses. Allow yourself to imagine, to think, to create.  Sometimes the most enlightening ideas come from a seemingly “impossible” choice.

2. Recognise HOW you make choices.

Typically we either Think, Feel or Know when we make choices.

Thinkers lead with logic, practicality and facts.

Feelers will often ask others opinions, be led by emotions, will create stories or images about the potential outcomes.

Knowers will decide fairly quickly and independently, without always being able to explain why they’ve made that choice.

Naturally, we don’t use just one of these approaches.  In fact, it is really powerful to harness all three.  To recognise how you make choices, think back to the best decision you’ve ever made.  What brought you to that decision?

Having trouble making a decision? Perhaps you’re ignoring what your lead factor is telling you?  For instance, we often turn to our Think factor if our instinct (Know) is saying something scary!

3. Make POWERFUL choices

Our values are a core part of who we are and what makes us happy.  When faced with a choice, your values will make the answers much clearer and simpler.  Your choice will either be true to one or more of your values or will ignore them/go against them.

If you’re not sure of your values, answer this “Success in my life means…….” and then for each part of your response follow up with “Which means that….” until you get to the source of what is most important to you.

NB this will not be money or time.  Dig past that to get to the real stuff.

4. Choice = change

Change is inevitable.  Even if you stay as still as you can, everything around you is changing all the time.  And you can’t control it all, no matter how hard you try.  Every choice comes with a risk.  The “what if….” factor.  And that’s OK.  Don’t be afraid of the “What if”.  Just as in point 1. thinking about it doesn’t make it happen.  Work it through.  Think about what you would do “if” your choice didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.  What could you do now to mitigate it or minimise the impact?

And if, after all that, you don’t change anything, that’s OK too.  Choosing NOT to do something is still a choice and by making that choice, you have started a change in and around you.

My favourite saying when I’m deliberating choices is “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” from Susan Jeffers book of the same name.  I’ve never read the book.  For me, the title is enough to jolt me out of my procrastination.

The Secret of How Much Time We “Should” Spend Networking

February 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 2 Comments
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TimeHow much time should I spend networking?

This is a question we are regularly asked when we meet people and talk about their businesses.  In fact, it was a question I asked myself when I started up my own business in 2010.  I was so busy thinking about all the “work” I had to do, networking was another item on to the already burgeoning “to do” list that we each have as busy business women.

I knew I “should” be doing it so I started going along to various networking events.  As I walked away from each event, with a handful of business cards, I mentally crossed off “networking” on my “to do” list and moved on to do something else.

Those of you who know me will be aware of my views on the word “should”.  If ever I feel I “should” do something, loud alarm bells start ringing in my ears!  “Should” is a word of obligation rather than motivation and, as such, is one of the most energy-draining words I know.

It was, therefore, not much of a surprise that I neither enjoyed networking nor found it useful for my business.  And yet I was spending lots of time on it!  Does this sound familiar?

Get rid of the “should” in your networking

To change the way I was thinking about networking, I asked myself what I wanted from networking.  Think about all the things you are looking for from meeting people.  (Let’s presume that everyone wants to grow their business, so take that as a given.)

Do you enjoy listening to people? Does being with people give you energy? Do you get better ideas when you talk them through with someone? Do you like helping others? Do you work well as part of a team? Do you like being accountable to someone? Do you benefit from taking time away from your office?  Do you want to make new friends? Do you want to connect with businesses that compliment yours? Do you want to meet people in the same industry or profession as you? Do you want to learn new skills to help you run your business?

Once you are clear about WHAT you want from networking, you can look at how important those things are to you and your business.  This supports the prioritisation of the networking activities.

Finding the time

In The Athena Network, the networking is centred around creating relationships.  These relationships allow us to collaborate, inspire and learn.  It is through those relationships that we and our businesses grow.

But how much time does it take to create a strong relationship?

The truth is “it depends”.  Typically relationships develop with time and intensity.  Athena Meetings are designed to provide both time and intensity – working on personal and business development together.  So, by just attending a monthly meeting, your relationship with each person will grow but at a fairly slow rate.

But really great networking is SO much more than attending a meeting.  Here are some of the characteristics of our most successful networkers:

  • They are great listeners
  • They think about how they can help you BEFORE thinking about how you can help them
  • They are punctual and respectful of your time and commitments as well as their own
  • They are passionate about their businesses
  • They keep in touch when they’re NOT promoting something (as well as when they are)
  • They have a “go to” list of connections that they readily recommend to anyone
  • They have their eyes and ears open for opportunities for others, even when they are not “working”
  • They are seeking and are open to feedback about themselves and their businesses
  • They set bold goals for themselves and their businesses
  • They know there is always more to learn from others (irrespective of how long they’ve been doing it)
  • They are willing to share their expertise without expecting something in return
  • They are genuinely interested in other people and their businesses
  • They do what they say they’re going to do

This is what great networking looks like.

Here’s the SECRET

You “shouldn’t” spend ANY time networking.  Be yourself,  Love what you do, Respect others, Be interested, Listen.  The way you are with people says volumes about you and the way you do business even before you get to a meeting.

If effective networking is creating relationships and creating relationships is about who we are and how we treat others, perhaps the questions we can all ask ourselves is

“When I am not networking, what on earth am I doing?”

I’d love to hear your  views.


What Successful Athena Members Have in Common, in 12 Words

December 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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success keyI read a great article on Forbes yesterday about how Paul B Brown, a prolific writer of books on Entrepreneurship is planning to deal with conversations about his work during the festive season:

“One of our guests is going to turn to me and say, “so, Paul, what books are you working on?””

“I’ll run through the entrepreneurship books as quickly as I can;  the person I am talking to will listen politely, and then they’ll say something like this.”

““You have been writing about entrepreneurs for a long time. Is there a commonality among the best ones?””

The article is short, well written and made me smile so do read it.  But if you don’t get a chance, his answer (in 12 words) is:

“Entrepreneurs have a passion for discovering opportunities. Once they do, they act.”

It started me thinking what our most successful members of The Athena Network have in common.

The single most important thing about being great at networking (and, I may say, at business generally) is being yourself.  We are not perfect so let’s not kid ourselves.  We are human and each of us bring something different to what we do, to the people we meet, to the world.  Individuality is a huge strength in life and in your network.  Clones we aint! So if we’re all individuals, perhaps their isn’t a common trait in the successful Athena Members.

However, when I think about the people who have gained the most business or connected with the most people or grown their business the most, some themes do emerge:

  1. They love what they do
  2. They are experts
  3. They stand out (clear about what makes them different)
  4. They are fully themselves, all the time, with anyone, in any situation
  5. They are open-minded
  6. They give time, referrals, connections readily and freely
  7. They have confidence in their work (even if they are not confident at speaking/meeting people)
  8. They ask for help
  9. They seek out collaboration
  10. They value and nurture their network

These members have seen real, measurable growth of their businesses as a result of their networking.  And it is not just the well-established business owners who can lay claim to this either.  Some of our members with relatively new businesses have reaped significant success by doing (and being) all the above.

So, how to summarise what successful Athena Network Members have in common, in just 12 words?  How about this:

“Athena Members trust themselves, love their work and value others”  

Ok, that’s 11 words – but, like I said, I’m not perfect either!  What would your 12 words be?

September’s Networking Tip – Dare to Dream!

September 1, 2013 at 6:00 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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dream-big-miniDo you ever have those moments where you think about your business and wonder…

“What would it be like if……”

And then, usually, we tell ourselves it’s ridiculous, a pipe-dream, like winning the lottery.  Perhaps we start thinking about how people would mock us for thinking about something so big, how they’d tell us we were crazy or getting too big for our boots – or worse, not tell us that but just THINK it about us – horrors!!

Well, what if you did hold on to that thought for a bit longer?  And what if you shared that thought with someone else – someone you trust, perhaps one of your networking connections?  And what if they didn’t laugh?  What if they agreed with you and perhaps even had some ideas about how it could work? What if it transformed from a dream in to a goal and from a goal in to reality?  YES!

Athena member Samantha Pilling of Biteme Bakery did just that.  She asked for an introduction to a celebrity who wanted a wedding cake designed.  A few months on and, “Ta da!”; her creation is gracing the pages of Hello magazine! Click here to see the results.

successSo, this tip is to dare to dream and, even more than that, tell someone about it.  A great network is there to support you and to believe in your dreams and hold you to them even if you doubt them every once in a while.

I’m looking forward to hearing some big dreams and exciting goals for the rest of the year!

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching


August’s Networking Tip – Building Trust = Building Your Business

July 24, 2013 at 11:08 am | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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trust handsIt probably won’t surprise you to know that M&S and John Lewis are the two most trusted brands in the UK according to a poll by Lansons and Opinium Research.

So what?

Trust means consistency, reliability, professionalism, quality, value and reputation.  All words that we would like to be associated with our own businesses.  With trust comes that “money-can’t-buy” competitive edge that is REFERRAL.

When someone is prepared to put their reputation on the line by recommending your business to one of their valuable connections in a referral, they are demonstrating high levels of trust in you as a person and in your business.

It is unrealistic to be able to use the services or buy products from everyone in our networks and vice versa. So, how can you support others to develop trust in your business when you network?

Consider the Know, Like, Trust Factor:


Get to know your connections.  Not just their businesses, products or services but the individuals, their motivations, what sets them apart from others.  The more you get to know them, the more they will get to know you.

This is where 1-2-1’s, follow-ups and a bit of research on Linked In goes a long way.


This is not necessarily about being friends, although it can be!  As you get to know more about your connections, you are likely to find areas of common interest, either professionally or personally. This could be because your businesses work with similar markets, or represent the same values or even because you both play netball.  When you find that common element, you will deepen your business relationship.

This means that you will be  in each others thoughts more often, you may share ideas or answer calls to action by connecting them with others.


This is the point where someone can, with full confidence, refer you to one of their connections, even if they have not used your services or bought one of your products.  They know enough about who you are and how you operate to TRUST you with their hard-earned, well-nurtured network.

This happens when someone sees that everything you do and say is consistent.  That your values (the way you are and the way you do business) closely match their own.  This is when people will go and actively seek opportunities on your behalf, taking a call to action and making it bigger and better than you could have imagined.

And guess what? You can’t force this bit!

So, when you are out networking, consider these questions: “What am I doing to help others trust me?”

What am I doing to…….

  • Get to know people and their businesses?
  • Find out things that we have in common?
  • Understand calls to action?
  • Respond to calls to action?
  • Demonstrate my consistency, reliability, professionalism, quality, value and reputation?

And if you’re not sure, try something new and see what a difference it makes!

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching


July’s Networking Tip – Active or Passive – Which Are You?

June 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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antFirst and most important principle of networking?


As I describe in the post about Laurenne Dorgan – Phenomenal Business Through Athena but That’s Not All…. when I first started networking, I expected everything to happen instantly and for my business to grow just because I’d shown up and shaken a few hands. I was building relationships wasn’t I?  I was being nice, smiling, listening etc. So why wasn’t the business just rolling in? Thinking about it now, it’s embarrassing.  I’d done the easy bit but had failed to grasp the other principles of networking that would transform a “nice chat” in to something meaningful.

  • Give to others first and freely (ie not just when there’s something in it for you)
  • Be trustworthy (if you say you’ll do it, do it – no empty promises for the sake of saying something)
  • Invest in & nurture your network as a whole & your connections as individuals (it says more about how you do business than any promotional material)

In other words, I was being PASSIVE when I needed to be ACTIVE. So, what does that mean for your networking?  Take a look at these lists and see which category you fall in to….


  • You attend meetings if you can but if you get too busy you don’t worry about not showing up one month
  • You have a couple of people you’ll call to hotseat if you can’t make it but if they can’t do it, you stop looking
  • You prepare for the meeting on the morning you attend, and sometimes you don’t even do that
  • You rarely ask for one-to-one’s (121’s) and if you do accept someone else’s invitation you may cancel it at short notice or turn up late
  • You follow up with someone weeks after the meeting or possibly not at all – if they really wanted your business, they’d contact you….


  • You treat every networking meeting like a potential client pitch.  You showing up prepared and energised demonstrates how important your network is to you.
  • If you really can’t attend, your hotseater is well briefed, knows you and your business and does a great job to represent you and your brand.
  • You have prepared for the meeting several days in advance. Your call to action is clear and concise. You have studied the attendee list to see who will be there and how you might be able to help them.
  • You schedule between 1 and 3 121’s (or 122’s, 123’s) meetings every month because you know that, even if it’s not clear immediately, you may be able to help that person and they may be able to help you.
  • You follow up with every contact in a timely way and more than once if necessary. You know that the way you follow up outside the meeting shows others how you respect your potential customers and how you run your business.
  • You invite new people to visit your network to keep it energised and productive.  You know that this demonstrates your commitment to the group as a whole as well as to your individual contacts.
  • You’re always on the look out for people you can introduce to others in your network.

So, which are you?

By Stephanie Smith, Stephanie Smith Coaching

Thanks to Lisette Howlett from Sandler Training for her Athena Central London Blog Post which inspired this article.

June’s Networking Tip – Listen With Your Eyes!

May 31, 2013 at 8:35 am | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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I was reading a blog this month about how Richard Branson networks.  Yes, he has presence, charisma and sharp mind, all of which are pretty compelling.  But what shone out above all that, was his ability to really listen to what the other person was saying.  He has the ability of giving someone his undivided attention even while lots of people wanted to catch his eye for an audience with him. The writer described it as “laser focus eye contact”.  That level of focus made the writer feel amazing – really listened to – and it made him realise that Branson’s success was due to more than some good ideas and a few shrewd business decisions.

In our Networking Strategy Training this month, we used some networking scenarios that we had experienced or heard about to start off conversations on how to deal with them.

One scenario that prompted great discussion was when people you meet appear to be looking over your shoulder whilst listening to you.  If it happens to you, it’s easy to feel that your fellow networker is waiting for “someone more interesting” to arrive.  In that situation we may, at best, disengage from the conversation and move on or, at worst, go home feeling shunned.

Strong eye contact does not have to mean your conversation is intense or serious, it can be fun and relaxed but it does show that you are interested in the person and what they are saying.  It increases the likelihood that you will remember their name, what they say and what they are looking for so that you can provide them with better connections.  And, perhaps best of all, it will make you memorable as someone who really listens.

We cite this quote a lot because it is one of the best reminders for us as we network and, in fact, as we live our lives – the quote from Maya Angelou:“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

So ladies, use your eyes to listen and see what a difference it makes!

Would you Like to Improve the Condition of Your Business?

May 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment
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Are you and your business in Tip Top Condition?

Are You and Your Business in Tip Top Condition?

How often do you step back and evaluate the condition of your business?  I don’t just mean assessing the state of its bottom line, I mean giving it a thorough going-over –

Asking yourself questions such as:

  • Who are my clients – am I happy to be working with them?
  • How well do I work with them?  Could I communicate more effectively?
  • How easy is it for potential clients to find me?  How do I know?
  • As I am my business, how well am I looking after myself? Do I feel healthy and motivated?
  • Why exactly am I running this business?
  • How do I spend my time?  Am I trying to be jack of all trades?
  • What is my financial goal – is it clear and is it motivating me?

Taking time to consider the condition of your business and stepping back to think about how you could improve it can often feel like a low priority, when there is so much to be done, but it is one of the keys to running a successful and healthy business.

Six of our Athena members have come together to form a dynamic strategic alliance of expertise and will be sharing that expertise on 9th July at an already popular Business Conditioning Workshop.   We asked each of these experts to offer our readers a Top Tip, which we are delighted to share with you here.

Grainne Ridge from Business Fit Club:

“Keep checking that you are doing what you are best at – both as a business and within your business. That means saying no to work which isn’t a good fit with your product or your skills and outsourcing the tasks in your business that you’re not skilled at.”

Stephanie Smith from Stephanie Smith Coaching:

“Be very clear about what is unique about you and the way you do business.  Each of us IS unique so, by association, how we do business will be unique too.  Put your uniqueness in to words and get confident talking about it.  Once you are clear and confident about that, others will see it in everything you do and say – it will become part of your brand and set you apart from your competition”.

June Dean from The Elevation Factor:

“The key to successful marketing is monitoring everything thing you do, especially the return on your time and investment.

On-line you can use free Google Analytics to track visitors to your website, what they were searching for and what pages they visit.  However one the simplest forms of monitoring is just to ask the question “Where did you hear of us?” – keep a note and the review at the end of each month”.

Juliette Smith from The Relationship Coaches:

“Regardless of how someone speaks to you, what someone does or how unreasonable you think they or their requests are, remember that you are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. If you behave and speak in a way that honours your values and reflects who you truly are (regardless of how the other person is behaving), that’s you, being the best you can be.  Try it and notice the influence it has on others and your relationships with them”.

Ellie Barnes from Barnes Fitness:

“Having a conditioned body can most definitely help keep you business in peak condition. Taking some time away from your desk to move your body can have so many benefits including increased levels of endorphins (feel good hormones), uninterrupted thinking time & a great stress buster. Plan exercise as a meeting in your diary….try it at the start of the day and see how virtuous and energised you feel for the rest of the day”.

Josephine Blythe from St. James’s Place Wealth Management:

“All the hard work you put into your business should probably show on your bottom line. There are many things that motivate business people but without a profit they won’t be in business for long. It is really important to set clear financial goals for your business and for yourself and to look at the future and be clear about your exit strategy – even if you have only started out. Start with the end in mind – plan for a comfortable retirement, plan for the unforeseen changes that could scupper your business and personal plans and most importantly make sure you are keeping some of the fruits of your hard labour”.

If you would like to join these experts for a morning of Business Conditioning presentations and discussion, you can book your place by clicking here.

Early Birds who book before June 9th will secure a reduced price ticket.

May’s Networking Tip – Spring Clean Your Networking!

May 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Networking Tips | 1 Comment
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Window-CleaningIt’s Springtime at last.  It’s a time of optimism and growth – in nature and in our businesses too.

So, what does that mean for your networking? If you did a “spring clean” of your networking, what would you keep and what would you change?

Do you visit the same meetings every month, saying  the same things to the same people, with the same results?  Urgh, that sounds unproductive! And guess what?  It’s not the fault of the meeting or the people, or the time of day, it’s because you’ve got stuck in a networking rut.

So what can you do to put a spring back in your networking?  There are plenty of networking meetings around Reading so why not pick out two or three that are new to you or you haven’t visited for a while and give them a try?  You’ll be surprised at how quickly your networking skills sharpen up AND you’ll meet new people, growing your network.

And to make it work even better, you can invite those new connections back to your regular networking events, bringing the great results of your spring clean to your network.  The MOST SUCCESSFUL business women in The Athena Network are those who keep their networking fresh and vibrant and who share that energy with everyone they meet.

Reading Networking Events to Try:

  • Business Biscotti – Reading North – 2nd Wednesday of the month, 10am-12noon, The Mill, Sonning
  • Business Biscotti – Reading Central – 1st Tuesday of the month, 7.30am-9am, QV Offices, Queen Victoria Street
  • First Friday Club – First Friday of the Month – various locations
  • Redingensians Rugby Business Networking Lunch – 7th June
  • Network your Business Berkshire – Facebook and some meetings

WOW! The Event of The Year

November 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Posted in News | 1 Comment
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We were delighted when 50 ladies had signed up weeks in advance of our Christmas Visitors’ Event on Wednesday, but before we knew it, we had also sold the 10 extra tickets we were able to secure and in the end we had 70 ladies on the guest list!

It’s an event that won’t be forgotten.800PX 72DPI_121128-xmas_IMG_3006

Côte Brasserie welcomed ladies arriving in their droves with Champagne.

800PX 72DPI_121128-xmas_IMG_3036Lively and animated conversations, laughter and great connections were taking place in all four corners of the room within minutes of the doors opening.  The Athena Network was at its best.

The ladies from Athena Reading ready to greet their guestsTara Taylor (Professional Photographer and member of The Athena Network) managed to organise the Welcome Team of members for a photograph, before they got networking and before she moved on to capture more fabulous images of the evening.

800PX 72DPI_121128-xmas_IMG_2977Informal networking was followed by an opportunity to share our “Minute to Win It” in small groups, and some strong connections were made.

Guests listen avidly to Melanie SarahMelanie from Melanie Sarah Image Styling and member of Reading West Athena, presented House of Fraser’s Women’s Wear and offered us some great ideas to help us Dress for Success.

800PX 72DPI_121128-xmas_IMG_3051The Athena Network’s CEO and Founder, Jacqueline Rogers, together with Reading’s two Regional Directors, Juliette Smith and Stephanie Smith, motivated guests with thought provoking networking tips and inspiring suggestions on how to be truly authentic as we network and do business.

Clarins, La Prairie and Bare Minerals shared beauty tips and gift ideas with guests, whilst House of Fraser Womenswear experts were on hand to offer fashion advice for 2013.

The canapés served were delicious but they did not stop the conversation flowing, nor plenty of ladies from signing up to join The Athena Network for 2013.

800PX 72DPI_121128-xmas_IMG_3008Armed with goodie bags filled with discount vouchers and giveaways, as the event came to an end, guests made their way across to House of Fraser for another Champagne Reception, more free gifts and an opportunity to shop for great bargains ahead of the House of Fraser sale starting the next day.

Thank you so much to our extremely supportive retail event partners for providing the prizes for our charity draw and the generous contents of our giveaway bags:
House of Fraser
Côte Brasserie
Lisa Edwards Hair and Beauty
Salvo & Alex
£265 was raised for Sue Ryder.

A big thank you too, to The Oracle for arranging very low cost parking for all our guests and to Waterstones for their discount vouchers.

What better combination than motivated business women getting together to build connections with each other in an environment comprising great food, fashion ideas, shopping opportunities and beauty advice? We wanted to show one of Athena’s main aims in action – providing opportunities to make strategic connections with other professionals from a variety of industries – and that’s just what happened.

So when’s the next one Athena?………………………..

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