As a small business owner, you may have a role model (or a few!) that you look up to as you navigate your business journey – but what is a role model, what do they give entrepreneurs, and how important are they both in and outside of work? We asked the Farillio community what they think...
What is a role model?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a role model is someone that we aspire to be like and often copy or mimic, often taking the same route as them.
This is all well and good as a definition... but it alludes to people as being dependent on our role models, as if they’re people that we use as a crutch in life.
We instead see it as the complete opposite.
Here at Farillio (and we don’t believe we’re alone in this view), we see role models as driving force. They act as a guiding light, and, rather than for us to copy, they help us path our own way.
So we decided to ask our community what they thought about role models – and, clearly, from the vast number of answers and the depth that they go into, this is a really popular topic!
What makes someone a good role model?
Over a cup of tea in the office one day, we asked our founder, Merlie, what she thinks it is that makes someone a good role model and, though candid, her answers were too great not to include!
She first spoke about the importance of them being relatable. For her, there’s a big difference between role models and idols...
Idols are people who you might admire but would never expect to be like.
Role models are the folks that help influence your choices or ideas and thinking because they’re relevant and to who you are as a person. They inspire you in your everyday actions.
We also asked if she believes it’s possible to take inspiration from people who are in a different industry or on a different career path.
She replied with a solid yes! And went on to explain how she often takes inspiration from people who are doing very different things from her, often in very different contexts. Provided they have broadly the same values as her, and they’re relatable, she feels that it’s definitely possible.
For her, and it’s definitely a personal thing, a role model needs to take their own advice, sharing that she knows a number of people who advise others to do one thing but, in practice, they actually do something else themselves.
She also speaks about the value of people who can admit that they're wrong. Merlie says a role model should ‘Work only from the truth and, most importantly, take responsibility for their actions.’ This is so important, and links very clearly with her first point – but it also reminds us to always check what our role models are doing in practice, to ensure they’re keeping true to their own advice.
Dale reinforces the view that a role model is someone who aligns with what you aspire to be. Dale is a data handling expert who is actually also one of our Farillio experts who's featured in one of our video tutorials! He says it could be to do with their achievements, the difficulties they've faced and overcome, or just how they’ve approached business and life.
For this reason, he believes that it doesn’t matter which field they come from, you can always be inspired by them. ‘It may not be what they achieved that is relevant to you, but how they did it and the difficulties they overcame to do it.’
He goes on to say how, often, getting inspiration from someone in a completely different field can be an extremely valuable way to take a different approach and perspective to your own field. This is such an interesting point. In many ways, it takes away the need to compare yourself or measure your success against theirs... which can be very counterproductive, but something many business owners do!
It can be difficult in this digital age to not compare ourselves to others – especially as we have so many avenues in which we’re given a window into other people's successes.
But we have to remember that this is just a window and, at the end of the day, it’s a window that the person has created. We have to take it with a pinch of salt – after all, it’s rare that someone shows the highs and the lows of their business journey.
And, remember, a key part of what makes businesses work is that no business is the same – so we can’t, and shouldn’t, compare our stories to others. Instead, keep track of your own successes over time, and compare your current performance to earlier results… much more accurate…. and much more motivating!
We next asked That. Content. Shed (a content creator, more formally known as Gareth), who we’ve interviewed before… he always has such fab insights! We’ve also spent many a lunchtime sat scrolling through his Twitter – check it out... he is one funny guy!
In reply to the question of what makes someone a good role model, Gareth shared, ‘Someone that is kind and respectful to people.’ He then goes on to explain that it’s also about someone that’s calm and confident, knowledgeable but willing to admit mistakes, and not afraid to be different, which sounds like the perfect role model to us!
Like our other interviewees, he agreed when we asked if it’s possible to aspire to be like someone even if you’re in a different field to them. ‘Yeah, I think so.’ he replied, before going on to say, ‘When you guys asked the question about role models on Twitter, I answered that my role model was my Dad, who is kind and generous and hard working. My Dad worked as a gardener. I hate gardening. Our goals in life are very different, but I still want to work hard and be generous like he is.’
For Conail, who’s the founder of The Travel Bug Buzz (a business that aims to inject the adventure into your holiday!), he sees a good role model as having a number of the traits listed below:
1. Has leadership qualities and tends to lead by example
2. Does what they say they do, consistently
3. Authentic and true to their values
4. Positive and optimistic
5. A good listener
And Jane Hallam from Esteem – no pause (a phenomenal nightwear business that helps women who are going through menopause to have a comfortable night’s sleep) has a very similar view to Conail.
She speaks of how she believes that a good role model is first and foremost someone who leads by example and stays true to their words and actions.
She speaks of the value of observing them in situations and thinking, “that is how I want to act in a similar situation in the future”. Jane recalls thinking this shortly after she started working full time and was able to observe women in top positions and how they interacted with staff at different levels and got things done.
We then chatted with Carly, founder of Anaphase Store, a Cardiff-based company that sells adorable clothing, footwear, homeware (and basically everything else your heart could desire!) all in bright colours with cute slogans and patterns.
She gave such an interesting account of her experience of being a young ambassador for The Prince’s Trust. During this time, she would get to attend events and read her inspirational story to a crowded room. And after 18 months of this, she then became a volunteer and mentor.
Throughout her journey, she had people asking her business questions, asking her about her dyslexia, and how she handles things and how she could speak in front of 500 people and not be scared. During this time, she was often used as an example of a good role model and she would attempt to help everyone that she could to the best of her ability. ‘I just feel as long as you are open about your journey and will assist people that seek you out for advice, then that makes you a good role model.’
Who are your role models in business and in the everyday?
As you can have lots of different role models, depending on what you’re aiming to be inspired about, we asked everyone to share with us who their role models are – both in business and in everyday life.
Merlie told us, ‘Most people would not know my role models, because, in the main, they’re not famous, or well-known or celebrated in any public way. And neither do they aspire to be.’ For Merlie, her role models are people who she admires for having achieved difficult everyday things, like running a business without compromising their integrity, personality, sense of humour or creativity.
Then Merlie goes on to explain how her role model in her personal life would have to be her husband, as well as one of her long-standing best friends. She says that, quite simply, they are the strongest (mentally) and most capable people that she has ever met – and they both have extraordinary family values, making them the perfect role models and support network.
Interestingly, Nik from Hello I’m Nik Design (who’s an incredible brand and marketing designer, with too many wonderful logo designs to list!), told us that her role model would have to be herself.
She speaks of how she doesn’t aspire to be anyone but herself. She is her brand, and if she was someone else, she wouldn't be speaking from her place of truth.
However, she does look up, in a certain way, to businesses and individuals who handle themselves in a similar manner to herself, with their branding and social networking.
But when she was growing up, she tells us that she had loads of role models! Her parents were good people that taught her clear morals and how to be a good person – but she says they weren't people that she truly looked up to. Even now, she speaks of how she prefers being around people who are outgoing and truly passionate but that are still at their core are kind and good people.
This is really reflected in the answer given by Gareth, who also doesn’t think that he has ever really aspired to be like anyone in business. He speaks of how he does have peers that he looks at and admires, and there are some copywriting legends whose work he really enjoys. But he has always wanted to do his own thing in his own way, really, just to pave his own path.
Similarly to in his personal life, Gareth says that he doesn’t really aspire to be like anyone – and that he’s never aspired to be anyone really, other than when he was a kid. There are many people that he admires from art, music, film, sports, activism, politics, etc., but he has always been happy doing his own thing.
Growing up, though, his role model was Stone Cold Steve Austin. He goes on to explain how he was, and still to this day is, a huge pro-wrestling fan and Stone Cold was an anti-authority figure that did what he wanted when he wanted with no fear of the consequences. He always stood up to his boss when his boss tried to mess him around and laid waste to all of his boss’s cronies. ‘Every. Single. Week! It was great.’, Gareth adds. He did things that everyone wanted to do but didn’t dare. For Gareth as a teenager, that was incredible. He even hit Donald Trump with a Stone Cold Stunner. ‘I’m sure you’ll find a GIF of it somewhere.’, Gareth says.
Next, we spoke to Dale, who had an incredibly clear idea of who his role model in business is and was quick to tell us about Jim Kavanaugh, who is the CEO and co-founder of World Wide Technology.
Dale was lucky enough to work under Jim, at WWT, for 4.5 years and was extremely fortunate to get to spend some time with Jim face to face. Jim has built an incredible company with a brilliant culture. ‘I've heard a lot of his story and some of the challenges that he overcame to build a company from day 0 through to a $10 billion behemoth and it is a truly inspiring story.’, Dale says.
He always aspires to stay as close to the technology and core business of WWT and invests heavily in the development of his people and the company culture. Most of all, despite all his success and, no doubt, wealth (WWT is still privately held!), Dales comments that he is the most humble and approachable executive that he’s been given the chance to work with.
Ultimately it's his humility and infectious passion for learning that has been entirely unhindered by his success, and that is why he’s Dale’s role model.
We then asked Jane who she aspires to be like in business, and why. 'Sara Blakely, the woman behind Spanx.’, she told us. She’s a businesswoman and philanthropist, and in response to a need that she had, Sara created an item of clothing that women didn’t know they wanted or needed and subsequently transformed their lives and the way they dress – but, more importantly, their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Similarly, Jane found menopausal night sweats debilitating and couldn’t find any clothing that appealed to her sense of style (it was all old fashioned and loose), so she left her full-time job and set up a business initially making clothing for menopausal women, now extended to a male range to accommodate male cancer patients and those with thyroid conditions.
With her daughter, Jane is working on a Curve range to address specific excessive perspiration of curvy individuals. As well as her clothing, she also educated people on the menopause through articles and blogs in the media, and talks on being an entrepreneur and the menopause at events.
When she was younger, though, Jane had very different goals and instead wanted to send rockets to the moon or work in animal conservation – she says she was a big Clarence the Crossed Eyed Lion fan growing up!
‘Our business aspires to be a highly reputable, fun, adventure tour travel company.’, says Conail from The Travel Bug Buzz. He speaks of how, as a business, they take inspiration and learnings in how to be a charismatic brand from the top-down learning from the likes of Richard Branson, Tim Cook, Anne Mulcahy and Elon Musk (the latter particularly for his travel-related ‘SpaceX’ programme).
Then, in his personal life, he speaks about how he had various role models when he was growing up. Some of these were friends and family, and others were those in the public eye. In particular, as a child, he wanted to play a professional sport for a living and thus had role models in that field: Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp spring to mind, he says, from whom he learnt leadership, professionalism and the value of quality output.
Conail then added, ‘At the risk of sounding a little ‘high-and-mighty’ here, I am going to be honest – I didn’t really want to be anyone other than myself.’ Growing up, he always had an inner confidence that developed further as he got older. But a big part of that, in itself, is taking the good, and dismissing the bad, characteristics and traits of his role models.
Lastly, we asked Carly of Anaphase Store who her business and personal role models are – and she told us the person that she aspires to be like in business has to be Richard Branson. Mainly because, even though they have completely different businesses, they have had to pitch ideas to the world that already exist.
So for example, there was already train travel, aeroplanes, etc., but Richard sold his idea and his sales skyrocketed.
There were already phone contracts out there, but he introduced Virgin and people used it – so she gets her business energy from him.
She sells her candles and big businesses, like Yankee, already do... but she has to pitch hers to get customers to buy hers over the current market leaders, just like Richard Branson has done, and succeeded in doing, for his many ventures.
Then in her personal life, Carly says, very similarly to our other interviewees, that she never really aspired to be anyone or look up to anyone in her personal life – instead, she’s just gone after what she has wanted and hasn’t held back.
She often gets asked about how people can take the leap, and she replies ‘don’t live a what-if life, even if you fail, you still tried. Don’t live a life where you regret not doing anything’. That’s her inspirational line, and she has never regretted anything and has achieved a lot with this attitude.
We’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has taken part in this blog post! It’s clear from the vast number of people that we chatted to just how passionately people feel about role models, both in and out of business.
It’s wonderful how a topic that, at first seems to be quite narrow, actually allows for so many different opinions and viewpoints – and we love hearing about all of them, so thanks again to everyone for speaking to us!
Please tweet us and tell us about your role models, as this is a conversation we’d love to keep having with even more members of the small business community!