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In conversation with Penny Power OBE

Updated: Oct 21, 2018

In conversation with Penny Power OBE

This week's episode is a great conversation with Penny Power OBE. Penny is, as always honest about her experiences and shares her vision for The Business Cafe, loneliness, resilience, skills, looking after yourself, valuing your time and the most important skill that every business owner needs!


Abbreviated Transcript of Penny's Interview

An abbreviated version of the interview is below. I've pulled out some of the main aspects of our conversation. Approximate timings of each topic are in brackets after the headings.

Penny and The Business Cafe

It's a real passionate purpose for myself and my business partner, Gail. We've both been in self-employment or building businesses for the last 25 years and we know how hard it is and I think the two big things that can hit people is loneliness and skills - the need for those two things.

The Business Cafe is to bring a home to the high street or to a town center that's an alternative to Costa or Starbucks where it really celebrates the business person and gives them a home where they feel they matter and where they can pop out of their house, have a nice coffee, it's not co-working, you know, sit down have a nice coffee and know that there's a friendship first culture.

Additionally to that, that hopefully will start to reduce loneliness and make people feel that they matter. There's a community manager in there. The staff are all trained to, to care. So that might help to combat loneliness.

One of the things I find so overwhelming is keeping relevant, keeping up and the skills that we constantly need and the breadth of skills that we have to have that we can't delegate necessarily or even finding the right person to delegate to as a sub-contractor. So we want to give free skills. The average earning of a freelance, self-employed persons in this country is £27,000. They can't afford to go out and get skills. We want to just give them little bite size one to one training for free on bookkeeping apps and maybe project management apps and it's just enough to get them started and then they can go find specialists in their town who can help them to become really good at that skill. So it's just to get them over the hump.

We're wanting to feed businesses with leads and opportunities by just getting people away from apathy and fear onto actually just starting to download [accounting packages, project management etc] and register and use these a little bit and then they'll need people like you to help them with project management skills and understanding the soft skills as well as the hard skills around that.

Why will it be different from the other coffee shops? (04:45)

It's just when you're in that, in that mindset where I'd quite like to sit amongst other business people, you're not having to pay anything extra for that coffee. It's a business lounge environment. There are no children, much as I adore children, sometimes it's not appropriate, you know that everybody in there has gone through some induction so that they understand that this is about the community and about talking to one another.

I want to create an environment where it's, you can be quite comfortable talking to the person next to you. Also evening events and things that can go on that can make us feel part of the fantastic ecosystem of small businesses.

Penny on...

Balancing digital and real world (06:33)

In 1998, I think I was, without blowing smoke up my bottom. I was one of the first, I was the first social network in the world with Ecademy and I'm really evangelize the online world and I really bought into certain Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Twenty-nine years ago this week [note this was recorded March 15th 2018], he gave birth to the worldwide web and I bought into his, the internet's force for good. But there's no denying that we've perhaps gone into the online world in an addictive way. In fact, this week I've had to reestablish my own pattern because I've had a tough couple of weeks. My first thing would always be to grab my phone and go through Instagram / Facebook. If I'm not in a good place and I see everybody else looking like their life is just awesome, it just kills my energy.

You know, we all feel isolated. We all feel small at times. And I think we have to rebalance it. I think there's a place for it.

Managing your mental state and resilience (08:54)

When you decide to go into business is learning very early on how you manage your mental state. You may be a resilient person, but you never know how resilient you are until you've had a lot of doors banging in front of you. And you have to self motivate everyday and create the discipline of still getting out of bed, even though you're not getting out of bed for any reason.

Your mental state is really, really important. We really have to think about our own mental state and make sure that feeling anxious doesn't become anxiety. Feeling a bit low doesn't come, depression. Feeling a bit busy, doesn't make us feel stressed, you know, we've got, we have to be the governor our own emotions in that way and there's no doubt about being connected into great communities of people online and offline to help us balance that, um, because it can make us feel we matter. But I think we have to realize that, you know, flexible working is really important.

On getting investment for The Business Cafe (15:02)

I'm finding it very, very hard to find the investment. It's a capital-intensive business, so we need to have money to get them going and investment works both ways. It's not just somebody offering you money, it's knowing that you, the person offering you money is the sort of person you want to go into business with. And so finding the right sort of people that understand this and it's again, another new concept for people to, to, to get what we're trying to do. So that is hard and, but we're, you know, very determined. We've got a lot of interest in it. So we just have to keep going until we find the right backers to be able to scale it and do it the way we want to do it.

Walking away from an investment (17:20)

I think we have to accept that sometimes we make decisions, we take on clients, we work with people, we might take on investors when we have to do it in scarcity. We have to just appreciate the reasons we made those decisions and move on and positively surrender from that relationship as soon as you can, when you've got yourself into a more abundant position.

If you can understand your own values and work on your gut and think, does this person, is this person somebody that I can spend time with, whether it's clients, a buyer or an investor, and if it's not somebody - so I've just walked away from a potential investor. The person that this investor was going to put on the board would have just been a nightmare.

If you build that toxicity at the top of a business, you know, that leadership style can really effect all the way through.

So it is hard. Absolutely no doubt about it.

I've said I'm just coming through a tough two weeks and to find an investor go through the due diligence, get to that point, can take six, nine months and then you're starting all over again. I say to my kids - 4 years of this now, it's like constantly failing your university degree and then I've got to get the books out and start studying again. I know I need about six or seven days to recover because I can open the books again and start studying again. And I've had a disappointment.

The definition of happiness (26:13)

Somebody once told me that the definition of happiness that was studied was:

  • 50 percent of our happiness comes from our constitution. If we're not a happy person, then we need some serious work done because then maybe some real things that affected that stopped.

  • 10 percent comes from the achievement of things we want in life and that's always moving because we can never be fully satisfied. That's what helps us to keep innovating and progressive as humans.

  • 40 percent comes from the level of control that we have over the decisions and the people we spend time and our life. So when somebody told me that, that's when I made a decision to positively surrender to the investors I had in the last business because I realized that they were bullies and the level of control that they were having wasn't allowing me to use my brain. Use my thoughts, use my vision. And I think we need to take control of ourselves. And that's one of the joys of self employment or small businesses that's what that gift is. And we've got to use it.

The Importance of selling (27:17)

This might be a bit of a big answer here to start with, so a bit of a Ronnie Corbett if anybody knows that story, but a couple of weeks ago when I presented at a large consulting house and they were asking about resilience. Afterwards I talked to these grads that were in their second year of their grad program with this company and they were saying, you know, it's really hard working here and I'm eventually I'm going to start my own business. And I said, do you think that be easier? Then they said, well, yeah, this is really hard. And I said, why do you think it'd be easier? And they said, well, you know, it's, you know, they push so hard here and the hours. And I said, don't ever underestimate the fact that you never have to go out and get a client.

And I think anybody starting out in business, we usually start from a point of view of we've got a skill, in project management, a skill in graphic design, skill in digital marketing, a skill in accounting or bookkeeping or whatever it is. We've got a skill. Very few people have the skill to sell and it is the most important thing you do.

Being visible as you on Social Media (33:43)

That many sites and twitter accounts I go to and I can't see who the person is behind it. And I, you know, I think the people are tweeting me all the time and they've just got a logo, but they act like they know me and I probably met them, but I have absolutely no idea who they are. They're chatting away to me I think who are. I can't see it

Your face is your brand and it should be so easy for somebody to recognize you across all the platforms. Otherwise it's like me being a different person when I walk into a pub, to a café, to going into Boots and Smith's, I'm a different person, I would have no connection to Farnham as a town if I had a different face on every time I walked into through the door.

Maintaining your wellbeing (35:34)

When the kids were little they were my priority - my marriage, my children were really important to me. You can't do everything. So I didn't have much social life. And so I was quite lonely but you know, I didn't have time to do the tennis, the Pilates, because I would have to have given up time in the evening that I wanted to spend with my children in order to do that. I don't think I did look after myself particularly well when the kids were growing up.

And now I'm a bit older and they're grown-up, I'm sort of trying to learn to do that.

I think I've always believed in massages and reflexology. I don't actually see these things as a huge luxury. I think they keep me on the road, a bit like making sure that I put oil in my car. Of course spending 70 pounds a month or whatever that I might spend on reflexology or a massage is an extra cost. But I think it's my investment in me that I need.

Healthy eating and making sure I don't drink too much and more rest and not feeling guilty about, about that rest.

Creating boundaries. You know, I have always, always believed that you need your weekends. So even right back to the beginning of Ecademy days, if I was asked to anything at weekends I would say no. I just think that I can put my all into during the week, but it's very, very, very exceptional. I'd give up a weekend so if I'm asked to speeches at weekends, I don't do it. I think that comes down to understanding your own boundaries and what you're capable of doing and just not being all things to all people

Maintaining boundaries (37:38)

My biggest boundary I find really hard to maintain is how much people ask me to do things for free. And I think that's a plague of being self employed. I think that's my biggest weakness is being able to say no to people. Partly because I want to stay relevant and, and know that people still know who I am because your brand reputation is really important and partly because I want to help people. So knowing when to say no is really hard.

I would say my boundaries around that aren't brilliant, um, but I think some people have helped me. For example, people were always asking me to read their books and do a testimonial on them. Hundreds of people ask me do that.

One day my daughter said, "Mum, do you really read their books? "

I said, "Well I scan them darling."

She said, "It makes me feel a bit sick about that."

I said, "Why?"

She said, "Because people really look at this book and think oh Penny Power recommends it and you've not actually recommending it."

So I said, "That's a really good point."

Now when somebody asks me, I say, you're going to have to pay me to read the book. It's going to take me a day to read your book and that's a day out of my life and I will read it and therefore it is authentic. And therefore when you launch it, I can write a proper Amazon testimonial, I can properly tweet about it.

So that sort of thing has come in. But I think that all of us self employed people struggle with being asked to do things for free all the time and I think we've got to get good at knowing when it's right and when it is wrong, because you will get exploited.

On recognising your value (40:16)

The world doesn't want another poor person. And do you know what, I've been caught out so many times where I've spoken. I've done a speech and then I've discovered somebody else was paid two grand and I wasn't. And what I have really learned is that a lot of rich people are rich because they are a tight as a gnat's ... and they know how to make money and you know, it's the same with charities and things. the people who give money are the ones who've got the least. And so just always think that you potentially are being massively exploited and if they don't value you then don't value them and don't be embarrassed to say I need to make money. I think that's what makes the world go around. Uh, you know, I can't ask, waitrose, chose to give me free food, or Sainsbury's or ASDA to give me free food for the next week.

On Imposter Syndrome (41:30)

Yeah, I think that is definitely something that we all suffer from. I remember Roger Hamilton talking about being in your flame or your wax and knowing that there are things in your business life that you have to do that's like the wax of the candle and it shrinks and you hate it. Then there are times when you're in your flame.

I think learning how to delegate and learning the skills of project management and knowing what the priorities are really important and that's a skill that you maybe I could get a lot better at.

I have got a business partner now. She is absolutely fantastic. We've got very similar values around what we're doing, but whereas I'm more sales and marketing and brand and community, Gail is very much finance and ops. Whereas I need people and I like to go out all the time to meet people. She loves being at home, sitting in front of a computer, doing the project management, the processes and stuff and you can't be skilled at it all. It's really hard and I think, you know, if you can get your business to a point where you can start bringing in some people who have the skills that aren't yours, then it might create some short term cash flow pain for you, but it should help you to catapult your business if you do that.

And finally...

Make sure that you do recognize that you're in business and it's a serious thing being in business and you have to understand your money cash flow and learn how to sell. I think that is really important, but you know, really celebrate it and know that you are the bravest people in the economy and to stand tall with that. Don't let anybody make you feel small.


The next episode will be released on 15th April 2018. I am speaking to Nikki Faulkner of Mulberry Bush Consulting. If you know someone who you think would be a great fit for the podcast, drop me an email at


Penny Power OBE is CEO and Founder of The Business Cafe. Follow her on Twitter @PennyPower.


i work with people to put together plans to sort out your problem areas so you can get to where you want to be! Contact me on 01344 289985 or


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