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Unfiltered Conversations: Striking out on your own, despite criticism

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

With Daphne Crowhurst and Tracey Spicer

Unfiltered Conversations pairs brilliant business women who are disrupting the status quo, for an honest, intimate and authentic conversation. In this feature, join Tracey Spicer AM, multiple Walkley Award winning author, journalist and broadcaster, and Daphne Crowhurst, 2019 South Australian Business Woman of the Year and Managing Director of Crowies Paints.

Daphne Crowhurst

In this raw and open conversation, Tracey and Daphne talk frankly about what it takes to go it alone in business.

Tracey Spicer AM is a 2019 Telstra Business Women's Awards National Judge and MC and multiple Walkley Award winning author, journalist and broadcaster who has anchored national programs for ABC TV and radio, Network Ten and Sky News. The national co-founder of Women in Media and NOW Australia, Tracey is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers and emcees in the region. For her 30 years of media and charity work, Tracey has been awarded the Order of Australia.

Daphne Crowhurst is 2019 South Australian Business Woman of the Year and Managing Director of Crowies Paints. Daphne’s ethos is doing things differently. Under her guidance, Crowies Paints has tranformed from a small, struggling family-owned business to a successful, viable franchise. Among her team of 50, she supports a positive culture and fosters a flat business structure, making herself available to her entire team at any time, leading by example and in turn gaining respect and productivity.

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Facing life’s challenges, and coming out on top

Tracey: Hi Daphne. I thought we might start our conversation by talking about our backgrounds. Can you tell me yours?

Daphne: Sure. My background is that I started in paint a long time ago. I ended up running a small business with my husband. We divorced, I took the business on and the potential to grow, and it has grown. I believed that the business had more of a future than he thought. I thought that there was a market that we could service and grow. I thought we did it well, so I decided to take a chance and take it over and run it, and not retire into the sunset, really. That's my story.

Tracey: Daphne, I love your story so much. I think you're incredibly courageous to go out on your own. My story's a little bit different. I lost my job about 13 years ago after working in television for a very, very long time. And so I thought, ‘Gosh, I'm going to have to go out on my own and rebuild.’ So I rebuilt my career, predominantly using social media, going online, and diversifying rather than just being the dinosaur newsreader reading the autocue.

I learned to be an opinion writer, talkback radio host, and a travel writer for magazines. I learned to lay out magazines, all the different things that I didn't learn earlier in my career. In retrospect it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to do that, to set me up for the world of the future with technology. I'm really intrigued by your story, when you had to rebuild after your divorce. Going out on your own can be quite scary. Did you find it very exhausting, confronting, or exciting having a new opportunity?

Going it alone in business 

Daphne: For me it was really scary to start with, and I guess you probably felt the same, because you feel very, very alone. You're the only person to blame now. It's only you. You are carrying the load. I was taking quite a gamble, too. 

"It's actually lonely at the top, because sometimes it's hard to find someone to talk to."

Daphne Crowhurst, Managing Director of Crowies Paints

I've got plenty of support, but it can be hard to find someone who is interested to hear all the pluses and minuses and the whole journey till you get to the decision. They sort of want the short-cut version. Did you find that?

Tracey: It's very, very lonely, and I had to do a lot of cold calling, which I've never done before in my life. To have to swallow your pride and be really humble is incredibly difficult.

I took a different turn in my career even three or four years ago and wrote a book. I've never written a book before, and I found that so lonely. I was even going down the street to talk to the local barista who was busy making 100 coffees! Did you find that you kind of reached out all around you to try to get over the loneliness? It's hard, isn't it?

Daphne: Once I committed to it and decided I was going to roll the dice and run with it, it was lonely. After I got over that initial, ‘Okay, I'm just going to do it,’ it had its lonely patches. I had to be careful that I wasn't being taken advantage of because it's a very male-dominated world, the paint game.

It’s still a man’s world

Tracey: Yeah, how did you find that? The judgement of you being a woman?

Daphne: Some were very welcoming and encouraging. Some were absolutely fantastic. And some seemed quite humorously entertained at the beginning, to see what I could do and if I could pull it off. Some were happy to try and take advantage of me in small ways and just slightly to their advantage. 

Tracey: When you were talking about going out into the paint industry as a woman, it reminded me of my time going into talkback radio, which is still very male-dominated.

"Some of the comments were like, “You're a woman. You'll never make it in talkback radio. People don't take women seriously. People don't want to hear their opinions. People don't want to hear the whingey, whiny voice of a woman.”

Tracey Spicer AM, Journalist and Broadcaster

And I'm really fortunate that I've got a good sense of humour so I just laughed at it because it was so absurd. I think when things are said to you, you can take them in different ways. You can just go, “Look, that's ridiculous. I'm going to forge my own way forward.”

Forging meaningful relationships with people 

Tracey: I love the fact that you've got a really flat management structure. I know that you're out there loading the pallets and stuff like that. What are the benefits of that and what are the disadvantages of that as well?

Daphne: The emails keep popping up and the phones keep ringing, so I end up with a huge workload. But the advantages are that I always learn something. The staff will often come up with a better way of doing it. I also get to have a personal relationship with them.

"I received thousands of messages, and it was a real privilege to be able to connect with people and help them through what they're going through."

Tracey Spicer AM, Journalist and Broadcaster

But equally there's a disadvantage to making yourself so accessible: it can tend to take over your life a little bit. I put up boundaries between my private life and public life. I imagine you find that as
a leader too, that sometimes you've really got to draw the line somewhere?

Daphne: Yeah. I'm not good at that. I could take a lesson from you in that, I think.

Cresting waves of criticism

Tracey: Whether it's on social media or within the broader industry in real life, people who build a profile do face criticism. How do you handle criticism levelled at you or your projects?

Daphne: Depends on the criticism. It still hurts. I still find it hurts because you're trying so hard and you're juggling so many balls. It's my house at risk and my assets at risk. Do you find that sometimes some of the social media content sort of gets you? 

Tracey: Yeah, totally. I can handle the criticism from men's rights activists now, because I understand their modus operandi and I know how to block and mute them and I know how to deal with that. I've got my strategies in place. What hurts me the most deeply is criticism from other women.

"I've got that real, “We're in a sisterhood, we should be in this together.” I'm like, “Come on, we should be working together, not against each other.”

Tracey Spicer AM, Journalist and Broadcaster

Daphne: And do you find that criticism comes more from social media?

Tracey: Yeah, definitely more from social media, because social media has amplified people's voices. I think when you get sucked into that criticism it can feed into your negative self talk, and really damage your self-esteem. What are your strategies for trying to build up that tough exterior?

Daphne: I rationalise it and connect with staff. Quite often I will ask my senior staff, “I had this criticism levelled, are there any grounds to it?” I try and find out just how big and how real and factual something is, or whether it is just in their minds.

I am very firm at making decisions, so if I can go through the logic and come up with the same answer four or five times, to me that's the answer and I'm happy with that. I can sort of let it go.

Overcoming imposter syndrome 

Tracey: What about things like imposter syndrome? I believe that women predominantly suffer imposter syndrome more than men. At the age of 51 I still feel like I'm an imposter in what I'm doing. Do you get affected by that?

"I think I'm a complete fake. But I'm a good fake!"

Daphne Crowhurst, Managing Director of Crowies Paints

Daphne: I didn’t go to university. I get applications from people who have got all these certificates and all of these qualifications and it's like, "Wow." They're far more qualified than me, so I'm a complete fake!

Tracey: Oh, my gosh. That's so funny that you should say that, because when you said about not going to university, I reckon there's definitely a class base as well as a gender base to imposter syndrome. Daphne, did winning the award help with your imposter syndrome? Did you think, ‘Yes, I've finally made it?’ 

Daphne: It's a bit new for me. I was totally and completely sure that I wouldn't win. Because of imposter syndrome and that I'm a straight-up commercial enterprise. There are so many more socially worthy outfits out there… I'm still getting used to the idea.

It’s doing business, unfiltered.

Daphne: Tracey, I think you are doing a great job. You hold the banner for a lot of well-rounded, well-founded organisations, so congratulations.

Tracey: Oh thank you. Congratulations to you on your award, Daphne. Lovely to chat.

Daphne: You too. Take care.

Tracey: Bye bye.

For more Unfiltered Conversations, join Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International , and Lee Shearer, 2019 New South Wales Business Woman of the Year, as they share their personal experiences on rising to the top in mostly-male dominated fields.

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