Penny Power on the power of a supportive community, overcoming adversity and tackling business loneliness.

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In this episode, I speak to Penny Power OBE.  Penny was pivoted into entrepreneurial acclaim upon founding the first social network for businesses, alongside her husband, Thomas, in 1998. 

‘Ecademy’ grew across 52 countries and gained over 650,000 members. In 2014, her ‘contribution to entrepreneurs in the digital economy was recognised by the Queen with an OBE. Penny has always believed in creating conversations and deep networking. 

Penny’s experience as a business owner now spans over twenty years and is the backbone to her pioneering approach as a torchbearer having more personal awareness and making decisions in business that are right for you personally. 

In September 2020, Penny and Thomas launched BIP100, an exclusive, members-only branch of their hugely successful Mastermind programme. 

At the centre of Mastermind and BIP100 is the importance of having a group of like-minded peers, who share the desire for personal and business growth, seeking guidance in the form of a loving business community that cares, supports and deeply knows the needs and desires of one another.

What You’ll Hear

  • [2:16] About Penny and her background
  • [8:45] How Penny found the motivation to build her business
  • [11:40] Why some businesses are more successful than others
  • [16:10] The impact of business loneliness
  • [20:13] Overcoming business loneliness
  • [24:51] How Penny overcame the loss of Ecademy
  • [35:39] Penny’s final comments 

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About Penny and her Background

Penny says that what’s important to her is that people lead, and live their lives the way they want to, especially in a world of social media. There’s a huge amount of people who get on a conveyor belt of ambition – they mimic other people, rather than thinking about what matters to them. 

When she was 19, she joined the IT industry in sales and marketing. She really enjoyed being in distribution and channel marketing, but left after nine years. Sales and marketing have always been important, but Penny says IT skills are equally important. 

In 1998, Penny’s husband was working in the internet market and e-procurement. She noticed that while Myspace and Friends Reunited gave people ways to connect, there was nowhere for business people to be friends. 

They sat down with a pen and paper and came up with Ecademy, the first social network for business people. It ran for 14 years and was incredible, Penny says. However, it was a very emotionally stressful period, with trying to be a good mum to the couple’s small children.

The business went global very quickly, but Penny says they had very strong moral rules around how people connected and built their personal brands. They charged for the service too – £10 per user. 

LinkedIn arrived four years after they started, with Facebook and Twitter following. Running Ecademy taught Penny and Thomas how people build their businesses in the online world, which has been their life since then. 

In the intervening years the pair have changed their business, but they’ve always loved online, and Penny says the Covid pandemic has encouraged that way of connecting again. Five of their Ecademy members have joined them in BIP100 and say it’s like coming home. 

How Penny Found the Motivation to Build her Business

Penny honestly admits that a lot of her success with building a business was blind ignorance. She had a purposeful drive to connect people and to make sure they didn’t feel lonely. 

She’d stepped away from the world of business after the birth of her first child, and lost some of her ambition. Penny says that when she started Ecademy she saw it as a cottage industry – she thought she’d connect a few people. 

Today, what remains important is connecting people and creating a community of people with all different skillsets but the commonality of kindness. She hoped to do that for 20 or 30 people. 

Penny adds that she hadn’t realised that they’d created something stratospheric, and once they started it they couldn’t get off. The membership grew so fast that the machine of Ecademy got hungrier and hungrier. They had to sacrifice a lot of their own lifestyle and finances. 

There was also a lot of expectation on Penny and Thomas as leaders, but she says: “I was only 33 when I started it and nobody had ever built a social platform before. Even Reid Hoffmann (founder of LinkedIn) was on our platform! There was nobody to turn to at that time. 

“As a business coach, I say to my clients ‘It’s all well and good having a person, but you have to be a business person; you need to gain the right secondary skills. My primary skills might be around building a community, but I had to learn skills around being a businesswoman and my own boss.”

That’s the hardest chasm, says Penny, and there’s a mindset shift required as well as going off and developing the skills and getting qualifications. 

Why Some Businesses are More Successful Than Others

Penny says this is something she thinks about often. Why weren’t she and Thomas LinkedIn? They were the first to market, they had a lot of goodwill and a great platform. When it came to an end in 2012, it left them not only several million pounds in debt but feeling like failures. 

She lost her sense of identity and felt as if she couldn’t do anything. Penny began to write a book and got clarity on the situation. She realised it wasn’t a failure, because thousands of people have good things to say about Ecademy. 

We all have to consider how much we’re willing to sacrifice when we decide to start a business. If you’re willing to sacrifice a lot, you can get the skills and investment you need. Penny wasn’t willing to sacrifice her time with her family, which is why they brought in an MD. 

Now her kids are grown up and independent, she has more time for her business, and she hopes to put that into BIP100. However, many rich people have hit their business goals but lost other things at the same time. 

“The other thing is how much risk are you willing to take? We risked and lost our home, and it also damaged my mental health. And then, how much do you want to make a difference?” 

Some people will pay you for your help, says Penny, but they want to hand over responsibility for their business too. They’re not willing to put the effort in to make it a success. Not everyone has the tenacity and the growth mindset to keep innovating. 

Finally, says Penny, it’s about how connected you are and whether or not your connections truly care about you and want to refer business to you. 

The Impact of Business Loneliness

More people than we realise are lonely in business, says Penny. Covid and the enforced lockdowns have accelerated and brought to front of mind how lonely people are. It’s important to understand that this is different to other types of loneliness. 

Business loneliness is when you don’t know what you do day in and day out has an impact. You don’t know whether people care if you exist and if they’d notice if you weren’t there. With social media, there’s so much noise but not enough depth of friendship. 

We keep churning out content and hope we get likes, but we don’t connect to people. Now, Penny sees people wanting to connect and have conversations, which can only be a good thing for their mental health. 

If we explore business loneliness, it helps us grow as a person. If we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he talks about the five needs for human motivation. The first is whether we can feed ourselves, the second is our sense of safety and our third is our sense of belonging. Fourth is our self-esteem. 

A lot of people are leapfrogging from the bottom to the top – trying to give back – but they don’t get a sense of belonging anywhere. Their self-esteem is impacted, and when that happens it’s very hard to ask for the price that you think you deserve for your business. You struggle to reach out to people and can’t generate leads. 

It affects our mojo and our sense of resilience, too. If you’re lonely in business you take the cuts deeper, because you don’t have the balance between mattering to so many people that one person’s bad opinion doesn’t count.

It impacts on our relevance in the world, as well. If we’re not deeply connected to listening to people, we quickly become irrelevant. We’re not seeing whether or not our product or service is resonating. And it stops innovation and seeing the needs of others. 

When you want to build a personal brand, don’t look at celebrities for inspiration. Instead, look at those who’ve built social capital in their lives. No matter what they go through, there’s a group of people who are there to support them. The biggest gap Penny sees is between people’s identity and their truth. If you’re always living in your identity rather than your truth, that’s a very lonely place to be. 

Overcoming Business Loneliness

Penny says she’s always believed in communities rather than networks. Going to networking events does her more harm than good, she says, because they’re selling not listening. They aren’t interested in you as a person. 

Penny’s community is friendship first, business second. BIP100 (Business is Personal 100) is designed for people who want to stay with them long-term. They’ve curated the group to let people to connect, know their colleagues and be able to support and help each other. 

Look carefully at the leaders of these groups, because that’s how you’ll find the people you can connect with deeply. Finding that support will help you overcome loneliness. The irony is, says Penny, that that’s the culture she and Thomas created but people weren’t ready for it at the time. Now they are. 

How Penny Overcame the Loss of Ecademy

Penny says there may be a lot of people who need to positively surrender their business. They realise it’s not right for the current climate, or they know they need to do something else. 

Her approach is: “I’ve got one life and I’m in control of it. I focus on what I’m in control of and I’ve got to make this life the best it can be. I’ve never delegated my happiness to anyone. I even told my husband that on our first date.” 

Too many people delegate their happiness to someone or something else. As a family, Penny says they’ve been through financial adversity as a family for 16 years. And yet every picture from that time shows her smiling. She says that’s a choice, and when she’s not happy she works hard to get back to happiness. 

Penny’s daughter had a very traumatic experience a few years ago and decided to go to Bali to rediscover herself. She said to her mother: “As well as never delegating your happiness to someone, you’ve also got to fight for it.” 

If a 24-year-old can overcome adversity and commit to making her life brilliant and happy, anyone can. The family experienced trauma after trauma, personal and business-wise, but Penny is determined to be strong and to make sure she has an impact. And she wants to show her children you can overcome adversity and rise from it. 

Whatever we go through in life, especially if we’re in business, we have to find a way to be happy and fight back to get there. Penny particularly likes a comment that Jack Ma said to Elon Musk: “A clever man knows what he wants. A wise man knows what he doesn’t want.” 

It’s about living your life and running the business the way you want. Don’t look over your shoulder and think you need to be like someone else. That other person may be sacrificing something you’re not prepared to. 

Penny’s Final Comments

Everyone has the capability to create small, intimate groups of people around them. You lead them, care for them and have an impact through that. If you’re an expert in something and want to connect with others, get in touch to learn about BIP100. 

Finally, she wishes everyone happiness in life and asks them to go and fight for it.

You can also contact Penny to learn how you can create your own version of BIP100. She has a Business Health Check on her website www.pennypower.co.uk

which looks at 42 ways you’re treating yourself and your business.

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