On Monday this week I visited the Facebook office in London for a special event, they sent me an email inviting me just last week, a little short notice but with a bit of juggling I was delighted to confirm my attendance. Unfortunately although I was fit to burst with excitement, for security reasons we were asked not to disclose the details of the event, a tough job! There was quite a bit of banter on my Facebook status from ‘friends’ suggesting ridiculous events I would be attending. The event? A live Q&A with senior politicians ahead of the general election, hosted by Facebook and televised live by Sky News. All we were told in advance was that we would be able to ask senior politicians some burning questions that are on our minds as business owners did I want to attend… of course I did, otherwise this article would be rather short.
I was asked to submit 3 questions, which I dutifully did. When I arrived at Facebook I appreciated the need for secrecy, although some of the guesses on my Facebook status, as to where I was going and why were quite amusing, I learned the two high level politicians were none other than George Osbourne the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls.
There were 30+ business owners, entrepreneurs and ‘young people’. We had all previously submitted three questions we would ask and upon arrival we were given back one of our questions, as you can imagine there was quite a cross over – I think we all had the business rates in there somewhere, funny that! I was very happy with my question as it was the one I am most passionate about, women leaders in small business.
“99% of UK Businesses are SME’s (small to medium sized businesses). Only 18% of these businesses are led by women, what would you do to encourage more female entrepreneurs?”
That’s not to say you chaps aren’t good business leaders, you are I would just like a little more female company and I am sure most will agree with me.
Ask The Chancellors
The welcome at Facebook was, as ever, very warm, the interviews were being filmed in their canteen area… I have to say Facebook clearly looks after their staff, imagine one of those around the world buffet places – you know the ones, then imagine desserts and sweet trollies and cans of drink and fresh fruit. Now imagine you work for a company that provides this all for you free of charge – yeah I know! What an incentive! We were shown to a roped off area and told to help ourselves to lunch, I was far too busy, Facebooking, Tweeting and sharing bits to LinkedIn and then chatting and networking with the other audience members. The film crew from Sky News were impressive to say the least, very professional, organised and friendly. Time simply flew by and before we knew it, it was time to take our places on set.
Ask The Chancellors
First up was the current Chancellor George Osbourne, I was impressed and pleasantly surprised at how engaging he is, how well he answered questions and at the risk of being unpopular said he was going to tackle the difficult issues. And he did face some tough questions and in my opinion answered them well although there were a few specifics missing. My cohorts asked some really hard hitting questions, especially impressed with the young lady who wasn’t letting George off the hook on the zero hour contracts. Do we really need these as a society or do they simply fudge the employment figures? Surely if you want to keep these for high skilled individuals then I am fairly sure the option of being self-employed and having a contract of works will be more than sufficient. At least then you can have an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) and restrict competitive works which is now against the law in zero hours. Get rid of these horrific contracts! Anyhoo mini rant over. The session was enlightening and although a little disappointed not to be able to do a running commentary on social media during the talks, the activity either side of the event was vigorous, thanks team TLH you guys rock!
Ask The Chancellors
After a short break we had Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who actually apologised, twice! Yes I know, I too nearly fell off my seat. I got to ask Ed my question about the lack of female business leaders, to which his response was that there is a business in his constituency with a female leader, they make wigs… I am hoping there is more than one Ed 🙂 Actually, although his response was a little bit patronising he is on the right track, we do need to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be… and our sons. In fact if we could stop teaching our children self-limiting beliefs that would be great! Whilst it is all too easy to sit and poke MPs with a stick, I was very impressed with the breadth of their knowledge of all areas of the economy, there are some huge topics in there, housing, NHS, (no Ann Brebner I didn’t ask your NHS question… I didn’t fancy being arrested, but with the power of social media why don’t you!) taxes, rates, employment and not once did these guys flounder. Oh there are plenty that will bemoan that so they shouldn’t it’s their job and I would return with, it’s not every day you see two people jockeying for the same position who are clearly up on their game. That is to be admired.
Of course this is all because in a little over a month we will all have the opportunity to vote for which party we want to run our great country whilst I still don’t know who I will vote for one thing I am positive about is I am very sure our country is still a Great Britain. And whilst we may have a low female entrepreneur count, the opportunities are there to be grabbed, we do have the ability to vote and there are quite a few cultures and countries in the news currently where this isn’t so. Sometimes it is important to remember the simple facts before we go off and combat the big ones, it doesn’t stop me from pushing for a larger group of female leaders, it affirms my reasons for them.
I think if you look at the two of them and their responses to the questions asked Ed Balls did something George Osbourne didn’t, he allowed himself to be a person. People buy from people not faceless corporations or in this case Political Parties. The average person when buying into something is thinking ‘What’s in this for me’, being a politician is no different to being a sales person, they are selling their ideas and ideals for the country and voters will buy into them or not. The clear difference I saw between the 2 candidates Mr Balls mentioned his children making him a person, someone you can empathise with, lots of smiles and sincerity, and even apologised…. twice… whoopsy yes we let the deficit grow to 150 bil sorry about that and yes we should have built more houses… sorry about that too. Whilst George Osbourne was very precise with his answers. In summary I believe Ed Balls would win a head to head debate he is far better at drawing you into his world, which is a real shame for our current Chancellor as I actually think reducing a deficit from 150 bil to 90 bil is no mean feat and should allow him to keep his job!
Ask The Chancellors
What a fantastic day and what a fantastic opportunity, thank you Facebook and Sky News, an honour to have been there and thank you for allowing me to put my question forth. Last night I was tagged in a Sky News video on Facebook by our IT suppliers (thanks Chris Lambert), and I was looking through the comment thread, at first with some amusement. One person suggested Sky had fixed the audience, and we were all millionaires to which I couldn’t resist responding that I couldn’t possibly comment for the rest of the panel but I am a rather long way off that mark but never say never. The overwhelming tone of those who have commented is anger, anger at a lot of different things. One chap says that he is out of work and on the dole and that until these politicians talk to people on his level he has no interest. Others say that these interviews are fixed and that the panel are all middle class people who have never worked a day in their lives. Again I can’t possibly comment but these comments have irked me somewhat, I grew up in the Welsh Valleys during the 80’s where there were no privately owned houses, everything was owned by the local council/government and then came the miners strikes…. if you have no idea what I am talking about… Google it. I can’t remember anyone handing me anything, since losing my mum when I was 18 I have stood on my own two feet, with no family to support me and made my own way in the world including some great highs and some plunging lows. There is no secret to my success as a small business owner, it is hard work that reaps rewards, same as it ever was! At times working 16 hour days and for the first few years, 7 days a week, so if you think I have grown my business fast, then you’re right I have, I have worked at times the equivalent to 2 of your work days in just 1 to earn this success. There have been times in the last three and half years when, should you work out the number of hours I have worked in a month against the salary I took from the business it has been pennies rather than pounds so I can reinvest my hard earned into my growing business. For those who say I am just lucky… it’s funny the harder I work the luckier I get… and all this I have done to build a business that I love, with a tremendous amount of support from my husband, from my team and from my local business community.
So after all this who will I be voting for? I honestly have no idea! I am probably more undecided now than before my journey into London!
If you had told me just two weeks ago I would be stood in Facebook’s London office having a selfie with the shadow chancellor, I would have told you to go and have a lay down until you felt better. Make sure you grab opportunities with both hands when they come your way 🙂