Interview with Sheryl Miller, award winning serial entrepreneur, business coach and author
Find out how Sheryl Miller’s refusal to adopt a ‘victim’ mindset has helped her to rise up the career ladder and launch a series of successful business – and inspired her book: Smashing Stereotypes: How To Get Ahead When You’re The Only _____ In The Room.
What’s your career background?
I’m a qualified chartered accountant, previously at the firm EY, with a career spanning over 20 years working with Blue Chip organisations. Latterly, I became a consultant helping businesses transform the way they operate.
In 2009, I co-founded the Stilettos Network – a networking and events company for women from all backgrounds to discuss ways in which to personally advance in a more gender equal society.
I since have mentored startups, young people who are long-term unemployed or from disadvantaged backgrounds, aspiring leaders and mangers for the Prince’s Trust and the Professional Women’s Network (PWN) London.
I’m also a founder and director of a number of businesses including the award winning Soup To Nuts – an agency that supports startups and SMEs with marketing, virtual assistants and business coaching; a property and lettings business, and Reboot Global, a company that provides life and career coaching sessions and retreats for those needing more clarity and direction.
How did your career change after having children?
I married my husband at the age of 19 and gave birth to my daughter, Leah, when I was 24 and due to sit the finals of my accountancy exams. Leah was a pleasant surprise and so I didn’t have time to think about how this would impact on my future career prospects.
It wasn’t easy, juggling a baby with work and studies, but I never once thought about giving up – it just wasn’t in my DNA. There was no way I was going to do all that work and then fall at the final hurdle.
I had a natural affinity with practical application rather than theoretical regurgitation, but – of course – with a lot of hard work, I eventually passed and qualified as a chartered accountant.
I’ve always enjoyed working, and becoming a parent provided an opportunity for me to set my long term career goals on my own terms. I knew working as a consultant or starting my own business would eventually lead to a better work/life balance.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I first started attending well-being retreats about six years ago and, for me, they’ve been life changing. It’s very difficult to put into words the transformative effect of getting out of your usual environment for a few days, switching off all devices and tuning in to your innermost thoughts and feelings.
These experiences primed me to set up Reboot Global – a retreat and online coaching business aimed mainly at professionals and solopreneurs.
It was also born out of years of mentoring and coaching people working at large corporates who are often dissatisfied with where they are in both life and career. Typically, they feel trapped, unsure of how to change things.
The retreats give people the headspace they need to truly evaluate what’s important to them, and the coaching gives them the practical support to make the changes they need. Often this means embracing huge changes – such as starting a new business or venture.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
In designing the retreats, I consulted with a small focus group of diverse people who fitted my target market. The insights gained from this helped me design and structure the product, isolating the best exercises, workshops and content to create a practical and revelationary experience.
I tested these by conducting a few polls before running a mini retreat as an experiment. I also undertook market research to identify and examine the competition and isolate the proposition’s key point of difference.
What’s your USP?
In truth, there are many retreats and career coaches out there. As proud as I am of certain elements of our retreat – from the complete flexibility to do as much or as little as one wants, including the one-to-one coaching sessions and completion of the ‘playbook’ (a journal and workbook that enables guests to reflect, learn and personally develop) – these are all replicable and are incorporated in other retreats.
I believe the only USP that you can have in a business like this is being individual, congruent and authentic. This is a human-centric line of work, and when clients usually buy-in to the retreats, they’re really buying into our personalities and expertise shaped by relatable experiences.
I’m lucky in that, along with my business partner Emma Howard, we bring an interesting blend of skills to the retreats; her from an HR and executive career planning perspective, and me from a financial and business aspect.
But there’s a healthy dash of alternative thrown in too: Emma is also a Reiki practitioner and brings a more spiritual element to the retreat. We dial this up or down according to the needs of the group.
Who’s your target audience?
Our target audience is burned-out professionals and stressed out solopreneurs. These are people who typically work incredibly hard but feel very unfulfilled.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We’re very active on social media, particularly with LinkedIn given the target market. We also host a weekly podcast called Whistle While You Work.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Our LinkedIn posts tend to make people sit up and we get a lot of feedback on these, often privately. LinkedIn is a fairly sterile environment in terms of social media because of its positioning as a professional networking site.
People consume much more than they post, but they’re actively reading and watching. We get quite a few enquiries from the content we post on LinkedIn because we’re often saying things that people are thinking about but are too scared to say on a platform where their boss or colleagues might see it.
Our podcast is popular too. At one time, we actually charted at No. 11 in the UK charts for career podcasts and even made it into the Top 100 for business podcasts, which is no mean feat.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I come from a very ordinary, working class background, which I realised wasn’t the norm the further up the career ladder I ascended. This was particularly true of the bigger corporates in which I had worked. That said, I didn’t really see this as an obstacle that needed overcoming; it was just an irrefutable part of my personal DNA.
Of course, I was aware of my ‘difference’. I knew that, to some degree, my gender and blackness could conspire against me to put a cap on what I could achieve. But I never indulged that victim mindset.
I always remember my grandmother and the way in which she had apparently coped with racism in the Winson Green factory in which she worked as a power press operator. She was the only black employee in the company. Her boss and colleagues admired her for her stoicism, her sense of pride and purpose in the job she undertook (humble as it was) and her faith that kept her going through undoubtedly difficult times.
In many respects, my grandmother – who passed away in September last year – was my muse, my inspiration. Her death had prompted me to reflect a lot on my life. Had she passed away earlier, I wonder whether I would’ve written a very different book to the one that is published today (Smashing Stereotypes: How To Get Ahead When You’re The Only _____ In The Room.)
I have, of course, faced my own challenges as a black woman climbing the corporate ladder, and being a minority working at large blue-chip companies.
From bullying bosses who belittled me at meetings to managers who had ridiculed my religion when I asked for flexible working arrangements; even amongst some of the most challenging instances in my career, where discrimination was flagrant and I saw myself being paid less than more inexperienced male peers, or had particular company benefits denied when other (male) peers were given them, I veered away from identifying as a victim.
In a sense, I just got in with it. Just as my grandmother had on the factory floor in a sea of (not all unkind) white faces. I genuinely believe that honing a ‘carry on regardless’ mindset is the ultimate antidote to the victim mentality that drives our excuses for not achieving.
There’s a saying I like; that people buy what they want, not what they need. Busy people who appear to be successful by most definitions tend to burn the candle at both ends and will always struggle to make time to invest in themselves.
Many, in fact, may not see that their minds and bodies need a break until it’s too late. Therefore, the biggest obstacle I’m currently facing is selling the benefits of the retreats to busy people who don’t actively invest in their well-being.
And your proudest moment so far?
One of my proudest moments was being invited on BBC Newsnight to comment on Theresa May’s speech. I hadn’t actually told anyone I was doing it and, to be honest, I didn’t think many people I knew would watch it.
The proudest thing about it for me was that my Grandmother saw it and acknowledged that she’d seen me on telly. She didn’t live long enough to see my finished book, so the fact that she saw me on Newsnight will stay with me for a long time. She had such a huge impact on my life.
This instance is small compared to some of the other things I’ve achieved so far in my career and life but, in a way, I hope she saw it and thought: “Sheryl’s turned out ok”.
Why is work so important to you?
My work has always involved change by improving the way in which businesses perform financially and how they operate. Over time, that drive for change has shifted more towards helping individuals change their lives for the better through entrepreneurship and finding more meaningful work.
If I can continue to help even one person improve their life so there’s a greater sense of fulfilment, direction and purpose, then it’s definitely worth it.
Who inspires you?
Apart from my Grandmother, I’d have to say Oprah has had a big impact on me. I started watching her show way back when it was slightly trash TV, and then evolved into a space for learning and advancement.
One of the things I love about her is that she beat the odds. She was born into poverty to a teenage single mother, was molested during her childhood, fell pregnant at 14 and then lost her son in infancy.
She is the epitome of triumph over adversity and has continued to use her platform to encourage others to grow and become better versions of themselves.
How do you balance your work with your family?
With more control over my day to day life, I’m in a much better place these days to spend quality time with my family without compromising on the career.
My daughter is actively involved in running my property development business, which is special to me because we actually get to work together on creating something successful.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
The first is to not let fear hold you back. I’ve seen many people unable to make positive changes to their lives because they are paralysed by fear – be that of change, the great unknown, or failure.
My second is to really think about what makes you happy. It’s easy to set goals that are framed in traditional notions of success: wealth, high-flying careers, multi-million pound businesses. But many achieve these things and are still not happy. Often, true meaning in life isn’t achieved through hitting vanity metrics.
Finally, surround yourself with the right people. This can be hard especially if your close friends and family aren’t supportive. But it’s essential that you find those people that will cheer you on and lift you up when you need it the most.
There’s a great saying I like, by Edmund Lee: “Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers but, most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness in you even when you don’t see it yourself”.
Get your copy of Sheryl Miller’s book Smashing Stereotypes: How To Get Ahead When You’re The Only _____ In The Room.