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Unprecedented with Fiona Duncan-Steer

Published 16th April 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Fiona Duncan-Steer, Facilitator and Trainer in B2B networking at RSViP. Fiona spoke to us about how she, as a person, and her business has been affected by the pandemic and what her plans for the future are.

A background into you and your business?

Being a creative person, I studied the arts and theatre design at both college and university which eventually led to a career in sales, marketing and advertising. However, I later took the leap and became self-employed when I launched my own business RSViP.

I was always going to be a business owner as I have been entrepreneurial from a young age. I used to make rose petal perfume to sell on my driveway when I was ten, which then led to buying and selling at car boot sales with my mum throughout school and starting a playground tuck shop selling sweets and cigarette lighters. I have always been a fierce negotiator and dislike paying full price for anything!

My career has seen me work for a large blue-chip corporate company in insurance, to selling for an independent glossy lifestyle magazine publication, where my writing journey began. I have since been a co-owner and editor in chief of a digital business publication, developed the corporate hospitality at Nottingham Rugby Club and launched my business RSViP in the heart of the 2008 recession, which was a huge challenge, but I have never looked back since.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you. 

To me, the definition of leadership is to take control of your own destiny and empower others around you to do the same. Being a leader in my industry is extremely important to me, as I have worked very hard over the years to get to the position I am in, where I am able to do a job I love and help others to do the same through my training and consultancy programs.

It takes blood, sweat and tears to build a business, but it takes a competitive drive, hardcore resilience and innovation to maintain a flawless reputation and to build a well- known and respected brand identity that people actually want to buy into.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations?

My mum- who was a single parent, worked full time as a motor vehicle mechanic and taught in further education for over thirty years, whilst raising my sister and I single-handedly.

My dad, who was a true leader and positively inspired those around him, many of whom aspired to be like him and respected his confidence and ability to not be affected by others and to stay in his own lane without distraction- a really difficult thing to do in life in general and is something that I work on regularly.

Creative people inspire me every day- those who choose to think differently, to question everything and to dare to step outside of the box- there are too many to name.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

“Fiona dared to think differently and wasn’t afraid to try new things, integrating ‘creativity’ and ‘experience’ into everything she ever did. Fiona paved the way in the world of business networking for business leaders to connect and forge new relationships in an enjoyable and non-contrived way through her unique and ‘theatrical’ events. An inspirational forward thinker who loved nothing more than empowering others to make their mark on the world.”

What are the “non negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

To treat others as you expect to be treated, to be kind - always, to listen - really listen when someone speaks, to check in on those you care about once in a while and to show gratitude and appreciation for everything.

Be professional where appropriate and if you’re going to do something, make sure you put your everything into it and do it to the very BEST of your ability.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you?

There have been lots of positives for me actually. I was running at 100 mph for many years with my business and the results of Covid gave me back some much-needed downtime ironically. I reconnected with myself on many levels and actually caught up on sleep!
I read more books and found time to self-develop, watch more Ted Talks, webinars and learn more. I also started new creative hobbies over the Summer such as gardening, flower pressing, calligraphy and watercolour painting, all of which helped me to relax and reflect. 

As a result, I found that my mindset was ready for some business development work and I was inspired to generate new ideas like never before – reconnecting with creativity gave me the fuel I needed to diversify my current business, adapt quickly and launch new and exciting things.

What impact has covid had on your business?

Negatively it has made me lose around 80% of my income, given that I am in the events industry and this has been on hold for a year now. I haven’t been able to host any in-person events since March 2020, with no guarantee of when they will return, and no assurance of whether they will be able to return in the same way as before.

Like many, I have been working remotely, though I work from my home office most of the time anyway, so not much change there, however meetings /training sessions etc. have all had to adapt to go online – as well as our events.

However, there are also lots of positives to take from the situation. Whilst my main events business has effectively been on hold, it has freed up some time for me to focus on developing my training and consultancy business. As a result, I have built two brand new workshops, I have sold and delivered in universities, written a series of five e-books, built a website to house everything (my first attempt at building my own website), delivered several webinars and masterclasses, built and launched my virtual training hub (a long term goal I managed to bring forward), taken on new coaching/consultancy clients, written and read more than ever and have been asked to do more speaking gigs. So all is not lost.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

I was at home watching the news and government announcements with bated breath like everyone else. I remember watching the first official update from Boris and thinking- wow this is really serious – I felt like I was in an apocalypse movie, but never in a million years did I think it would go on for as long as it has done.

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during those early weeks/months?

Yes indeed, I am blessed to have a fantastic support network around me and many business contacts have turned into friends over the years. They have checked in on me regularly and offered their support. Having people in your corner that you know are going through similar things to you, but are there if you need them, is invaluable and I appreciate them all.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed?

I very quickly realised I needed to have another look at my marketing strategy and adapted it very early on to fit with the current climate, and ultimately my sales and promotion angle stopped dead, as it didn’t seem appropriate in the early stages to be ‘selling and advertising in the way many were pre-covid. My message was softened and it focused more on how we could help others.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

I made the decision to take my events online straight away- there was no question that this needed to happen, even though we had never hosted any of our events online before - we learnt as we went along and tried new formats to see what worked and what didn’t.

We also asked our members and clients what they wanted from us. This was, without doubt, the biggest, unprecedented thing to happen to our business overall as it was so alien to us at the time.

The word pivot was used unprecedently in May/June. What have you done to innovate or differentiate you or your business?

As I previously mentioned, the largest change in our business is the fact that our in-person events have had to stop and go online for the time being. All of our communication has had to change to digital, so we have experimented with different platforms and are using video and social media much more now.

We have tidied up our Instagram accounts which look visually really exciting now, are using stories much more, have upped our engagement on LinkedIn and have also started a brand new closed group called ‘RSViP- Business in the city’ with the aim of bringing people together to share useful resources to get through the Covid crisis. The format of our events has also had to change somewhat to ‘fit through the screen’, so it has been an eye-opener, but one that I have embraced, as I have very much enjoyed taking on a new role as interviewer and am proud to say that I have had the opportunity to interview some amazing business owners and industry leaders over the past year because of this.

I have also taken my training sessions, consultancy 121’s and workshops online, and have learnt so much in doing so. In addition to this, I have been able to go global with people all over the world attending my events, which is something that just would not have been possible before.

I was also hired by a local university to consult, create and host their very first hybrid training session and networking event for their business students who were based all over the world – many unable to get home or back to university because of Covid. The session had the agenda of boosting morale and providing valuable networking skills training to prepare them for the world of work. This has turned into a series of events to include alumni of the university, as well as students and academics, and I plan to roll this out to other education providers going forward.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you have made in 2020? 

  • To embrace the digital space and take everything online as quickly as possible.

  • To develop my training and consultancy business and roll it out to universities.

  • To do more public speaking engagements and develop myself in this area further.

How have you/your business evolved from a digital/tech perspective?

Hugely. We have gone from having our in-person events as our main objective to everything suddenly going online, so we have had no choice but to embrace the digital world and to learn how to operate platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, Bonjoro, podcasts and many others.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

Lockdown one was a breeze for me personally. I embraced it fully and appreciated the downtime in all honesty. I had recently lost a close family member in January, my dear grandmother, and exactly a year prior I lost my dad, so it had been a difficult couple of years anyway.

Lockdown two arrived and again I managed okay, other than a few financial worries based on the uncertainty of when the events would return, as by this point our business had been on hold for a few months, and we had no idea when things would ‘get back to normal’. Luckily, I was able to access government grants to subsidise my lost income at this time, which I was very grateful for.

The latest lockdown I would say has been the hardest, just because it has been a good year now and like many others, I am ready to get back to it! I want to go to the hairdressers, go shopping without the need for a mask and meet my friends for bottomless brunch. I can’t wait to go to a concert or musical again, and of course, I can’t wait to get cracking with our events!

Looking back to March 2020. If you could change one decision that you made what would it be? 

I don’t have any regrets about how I handled my personal experience and business last year, I am so pleased and relieved that I acted quickly as it has stood me in good stead one year down the line, and I now feel that I already have a pretty good lead with my second business, so that when my first returns they will run alongside each other really nicely.

Looking ahead to 2021 what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector?

My predictions for the events industry when it returns is that it is going to BLOW UP!

Many will be looking forward to getting out there again to network, connect, have human contact, have a drink in a bar, eat in a restaurant, laugh and interact. Therefore, I think that everyone in the events or hospitality industry just needs to hang in there, as it will come back, and it will come back probably bigger than ever.

On the other hand, I do also predict that online events and training will continue to run alongside in-person stuff, and why not? It would be a shame for it not to now everyone has gotten the hang of it right? We’ll also, without a doubt, see a rise in new formats of events and training, both online and offline, as well as the launch of new software platforms to aid this.

Fast forward to 2050 .... what would you say to your future self...That you did well or badly in 2020 to learn from.

I’d say I did blooming well to adapt so quickly. I would be proud of the number of people I offered help, without an agenda, to and would hopefully be enjoying the fruits of my labour, particularly from my training business.

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

It’s always a good idea to take another look at your core values for both yourself as a business owner and your company/brand values in order to remind yourself of your why and your purpose. If an opportunity presents itself, I ask myself; “does it align with my company ethos and values?” if it doesn’t then it’s a no.

Lately, I have repurposed quite a bit of my content on social media and much of what I do these days is about helping and empowering others to be the best versions of themselves through mindset work, which I truly believe is the foundation of everything we do, not only in business but in life.

In terms of making my culture remote work-friendly; making our events and training sessions accessible to everyone by taking them online is the biggest change we have undertaken; all of our meetings are via video now and will most likely continue this way unless absolutely necessary.

Saying that- nothing beats face to face contact and in-person human connection.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

  • Stay true to yourself, your beliefs, your passions, your purpose.

  • Follow your gut instincts – always.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, keep learning – you can never claim to know everything.

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals. 

Good question. The pandemic has caused many of us to look within ourselves and has put lots of things into perspective. We realise more than ever what is truly important to us and what isn’t so much. For me, reconnecting with myself and with creativity is what has given me the boost I needed, to not only continue working in my business, but to make time to work on it, as great things can happen, and have happened, as a result.

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to know more about Fiona, visit her website or follow her on Instagram. Alternatively, to learn more about RSViP or WREN, you can visit their website or find them on social media here (WREN) and here (RSViP).

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