The wonderful Fiona Grayson, founder of She Can. She Did, talks to School Should Be about her career, experiences and how school played its part in her journey to starting her own company.
Who are you? What do you do?
My name is Fiona Grayson and I am founder of She Can. She Did, the UK’s first benefit’s programme for female business owners in the UK.
We provide business and lifestyle benefits from health insurance to clothing discounts for all self-employed womxn, freelancers and directors of limited companies, akin to what you would get in the corporate world as part of your employment package.
The aim is to equip more women with the information and support they need to push through their first few years of starting a business and help them build the confidence to define success on their own terms.
How did you get here?
I used to produce finance conferences for a publishing house based in the City. On paper, the job looked like it ticked all the boxes: it paid well, I had a lot of responsibility and it took me around the world. But, I was not passionate about the day to day reality of it. I had a talk with myself and thought I did not work so hard at school and university to then feel unsatisfied by my work.
I always knew I wanted to start my own business (my parents did the same, but when they had reached a certain point in their careers and I wasn’t there yet). I started to see more and more women my age on social media doing it, but I always thought I would take after my parents, starting a business later down the line.
However, all of these women I would see, daily, inspired me. What bothered me was that Instagram presented a very glossy image of running your own business. No one was talking about the sacrifices, the hard work or even the privileges behind the scenes that sometimes come with starting the business. No one was talking about the reality of how.
When my parents started their businesses, I was still at school and there were many sacrifices we made as a family. For example, if my parents were ill, there was no sick pay and when they first started their businesses, there were no holidays abroad or new trainers, which meant a lot when I was at school.
Iwas intrigued by how all of these amazing women had started their businesses. I wanted to know more, so I set it up as my project. I didn’t really know what I was doing except I wanted to call it, She Can. She Did. On August 7th 2017, I opened up my laptop, bought the domain, taught myself how to set up a website and started to set up the blog from there. I’ve learnt a huge amount along the way and it’s all documented in the She Can. She Did Podcasts and blog series too.
Looking back, what areas of school life and study do you think helped you establish your ‘work life’?
I went to a small primary school, a class of 8, and found myself in in a large state secondary school. I felt like a small fish in a very big pond. My big sister had already established herself in secondary school and I found myself trying to do the same. Except, I was a bit of a rebel and not necessarily the favourite student…! I didn’t always do what I was told and I don’t think my Head of Year thought too fondly of me at the time!
I remember when I was in year 8, I saw the Head Girl speak in assembly, and I was so inspired. I remember having a word with myself and saying, ‘I want to be just like her’.
Given my reputation at school so far, I had to be quite strategic to ‘get there’. I started getting involved in extra-curricular things like buddy systems, the school plays and sports teams. I became Rounders captain, auditioned for the school play, and was the lead in We Will Rock You. I was petrified of putting myself out there, but I just kept the Head Girl in mind. When I got to 6th Form, I had a whole roster of things from School Council to Sports Captain to help me with my Head Girl application. But even then, all I will say is it didn’t come easy.
Nothing gets handed to you on a plate. In order to get there, I needed to be confident in myself.
What terrified me the most was giving a speech to my year group to become Head Girl. I gritted my teeth and just did it; if I wanted to get to where I wanted to go, I had to be brave and get on with it. I accepted that the hours leading up to that speech were hard. I told myself that even if I didn’t get Head Girl, it was important for me to give it my best shot.
All of these experiences taught me that every single person is nervous behind the scenes – it’s normal. Equally, don’t be afraid to stand up against the status quo. When I think back, it was all my quirks who made me who I am today. I remember standing up to the popular boys in my class for picking on other kids, or I was always the one who was off at lunchtime doing something, whether it was a club or school council. All the quirks that make you different – I’ve learnt to laugh at them and embrace them. In the grand scheme of things, they turn out to be your superpowers.
Although school may set you up on a particular path, there are always ways to navigate your journey. It’s never too late to figure out who you want to be. It’s easy to nod along and fit in and agree with who is shouting the loudest, because that’s the safe option. Don’t be afraid to stand up for things you don’t think are quite right. It’s not easy, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes over time to own what you say and the values that you stand for.
What would your 3 pieces of advice be for a teenager at school now?
Learn to look up and put your phone down (turning into my Dad, saying this!). There is a giant world out there and it is easy to be consumed by what you see on social media. Learning to have a conversation is a timeless skill and one that will never let you down.
Embrace your quirks – they are the making of you and they will help you standout in what is fast becoming a competitive landscape in the working world.
Always, always say please and thank you. People are always willing to help students with advice and work experience – even if you’re not a student. Nothing is worse than rudeness. Nothing gets handed to you on a plate, but when you have good manners, it gives you a leg up.
If you could look into the future and suggest one area of exploration for the curriculum, what might that be (anything at all, from ‘fun’ to more algebra…!)
If there is one piece of advice I would give all schools, it would be to normalise normalise setting up a business or a side hustle.
Anyone can set up a business, no matter what age you are. Students should definitely be given the opportunity as if anything, it’s a great learning experience.
Fiona Grayson can be found on Instagram @shecanshedid and LinkedIn She is also host of the fantastic She can. She did podcast, exploring stories of wonderful women in business