Nicole Austin is actually a registered pharmacist, but branched out into operations management, then marketing and events. She fell in love with the latter and decided to pursue her goal of owning and designing her own life and career.
Here, she talks intimately with Ondela Mlandu about why she left formal employment as a pharmacist, eventually becoming the CEO of the South African division of a global digital magazine and events company.
So, you’re a “serial entrepreneur”… What exactly does that mean?
Nicole considers herself a “serial entrepreneur”, having started multiple companies, including an NGO called Uprising. “I take people on transformational trekking journeys around the world and SA to use the lessons learnt on mountains to better equip people for ‘climbs’ in their personal and professional lives,” she explains of the NGO.
Nicole also enjoys using the platform she achieved through being crowned Mrs South Africa 2018 to promote awareness around rare diseases and women’s rights. “I believe in having a voice of authenticity and advocacy at the expense of reputation. I love starting critical conversations and have done so with my organisation, The Impact Hub, a women-focused yet not woman-exclusive platform where we interview South African change-makers about topical issues women face.”
Know this: you’ll never have it all figured out in the beginning…
“I get asked often: how do I become a model, how do I enter Miss or Mrs South Africa, how do I become a businesswoman, how do I start my own business? My answer is just simply to start!” says Nicole.
“You’ll never have it all figured out in the beginning and you can only start where you’re at, but every single day you can take deliberate steps – even if they’re tiny – to get to where you ultimately want to go.”
The key character trait you need to succeed?
A book by Bear Grylls describes successful people as having one distinguishing characteristic above all others. “Above character, above goal setting, above planning, and above resources… He places resilience and grit at the top of his list and it’s simply pushing a little bit longer than anybody else around you and not giving up. It sounds so simple, but on the days that you doubt yourself or what you’re doing, just keep going a little bit longer than anybody else and you will eventually get where you want to go,” she says.
These six things can make you a much better businesswoman:
1/ Become passionate about learning and develop a hunger for knowledge. You never know enough and you are never where you want to be. There’s always room to grow.
2/ Enrol yourself in free online webinars and classes if you don’t have resources. Look for industry-insider talks on YouTube. “I started there. I started listening to thought leaders and change-makers in my industry. I am self-taught in marketing and strategy and that is simply by studying current trends and immersing myself and what I’m passionate about,” says Nicole.
3/ You don’t necessarily need to be intimidating, confident or brash. “I just need to take my seat at the table and do it with an unassuming kindness that allows other people to believe that they can take their seats too,” she says.
4/ Leadership is about creating spaces to let people shine in their own ways and helping them identify their own skills. This is not a “telling” journey, but rather a “doing” journey.
5/ Stop fighting! Accept the way things are and do it anyway. This applies to any set of limitations, whether it’s being a female in a male-centric industry or being a black student fighting white privilege. There is so much outside of our control. Sometimes the best fight is simply to keep working.
6/ The only person that can limit you is yourself. Yes, there is a set of standard limitations on everybody, especially young women getting involved in certain industries and as entrepreneurs. Stop fighting and just work. Keep working. Work harder. Learn more. Don’t accept the excuses and don’t accept the limitations. Do it anyway and you’ll notice the doors start opening for you despite those parameters.
Practical ways to get your foot in the door
Nicole offers short-term internships through her magazine with Luxuria Lifestyle. “There are always people looking for interns… Approach somebody you respect and offer to work for free. Even if it’s only a few hours a week, offer to come in and do whatever you can, whether it’s making coffee or filing, just to be surrounded by the people you want to become,” she says.
Don’t let your experience, or lack thereof, limit you in your career possibilities. “I should never have gotten involved in marketing, a magazine or entrepreneurship because I have a science background as a pharmacist and I was working in a warehouse counting stock and managing stock rotation… but I also had a passion and a dream,” she says.
Instead of letting her current path and experience limit her, she made it her edge. “I created a niche for myself, and gave myself the angle of healthcare and knowledge in the health and wellness industry in terms of marketing, strategy and business,” she says. If you don’t have the experience, start where you are, then build from there.
Nicole rates short courses, webinars and practical experience. “Get your hands dirty. If you want to get involved in events, find somebody who knows an events company. [Despite COVID-19] there will be smaller events coming up and you’ll be able to get your hands dirty literally by going and spending evenings carrying things or writing name tags and learning how the logistics behind any event work,” she adds.
Mistake: pinning yourself to one thing
“We were taught when we were growing up and certainly in my generation (borderline millennial) that you need to pick one career and never deviate from it. That is a big mistake because we’re realising as humans that we have the capacity for so much more and the ability to give in so many more industries and so many more spheres than one,” says Nicole.
“Don’t let the stereotypical expectations of single-phase career stop you in your tracks. Start looking outside the box to applying the skills you already have in other industries while learning about a new industry in the process,” she says.
Self-care is super-important for entrepreneurs
“Self-care and self-love are the conversations you have with yourself. It’s about deliberately taking the time to invest in yourself by reading good things, and filling your mind with positive, encouraging things. I also deliberately self-love myself by acknowledging my fears. I have a fear journal where I write down the things that terrify me and the things that I wake up every morning anxious about,” says Nicole.
By spending a few minutes every day looking at her fears in the face, acknowledging them, picking them apart and thinking about eventualities, they start to lose their power over her. “That, in turn, makes me feel more powerful, more of self-aware and it’s an indirect way of loving myself,” says Nicole. “So yes manicures, lip gloss and heels are all incredible ways to self-love, but filling my mind with positivity and sometimes positivity through negativity and fear is the ultimate self-love,” she says.