Women in Leadership Series: Business Growth Advisor, Isabelle Farquhar

On March 8th 2019, International Women’s Day (#IWD2019) will be celebrated with the campaign #BalanceforBetter; calling for a more gender-balanced world. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in leadership roles. I asked a number of female leaders to answer a series of questions about their experiences to share with you right here on the Ad Florem blog.

In this interview, we meet Isabelle, a Business Growth Advisor. Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.

Isabelle’s background is in Export Sales and Marketing. She was brought up and studied in France before coming to the UK in 1992. She has a Degree in Spanish and International Trade; and has worked in France, Spain and the UK as an Export Manager for different firms and industries. These range from satellite tracking, sportswear, technical textiles, to nursery accessories and toys.

She quit export after 16 years because she wanted to spend more time with her family. She shared, when travels take you away on average 10 days a month, and you have a young baby, your priorities change.

Isabelle then fell into business support. Her Department of International Trade Advisor gave her the bug when she worked in Export, so she applied for jobs that were about supporting businesses develop and  grow. She was privileged to become a Social Enterprise Business Advisor and her passion for the Third Sector grew from there.

She qualified as a Business Advisor, Social Enterprise Advisor, Mentor and Coach. Isabelle became a bit of an expert in that field and started her own business providing training and consultancy for the social enterprise and charitable sector in 2009. There were really rewarding years and she truly felt that her work was having an impact in the life of many organisations.

After 7 years, and a personal life changing experience, she decided to go back into employment and started at the Business Growth Hub as a Start up Advisor, then later on as a Business Growth Advisor.

Isabelle, thank you for taking part in our Women in Leadership series. Tell us, what are the skills that you have that make you well suited to your role?

I have been there and done it. I can share my experience of setting up in business and developing it.

Over the years I have worked with many new entrepreneurs and shared some of their journey so I consider myself as a generalist. I know enough about a lot of things to provide sound advice. When I don’t know something, I go and find out.

I keep myself up-to-date constantly so people can come to me for information. I like structure, so that is reflected in the planning I do with clients and comprehensive action plans; and I keep them accountable, so they say, and it works for most.

I like tools; have developed my own and used others too. A lot of my focus is on business plans, business strategies and marketing plans.

I am still a social enterprise specialist but people also come to me to learn more about legal structures and marketing.

And what does leadership look like for you?

Leading by example is key for me.

Can you share one leadership lesson you have learned in your career?

Managing people does not make you automatically a leader.

Who inspires you, and why?

I could say my mother, because she is hard working, tenacious and very caring at the same time and she has been my rock and my inspiration for the past few years.

But I would also like to mention a French lady called Françoise Giroud. She was a writer, became Chief editor of the Magazine ELLE, then founded L’EXPRESS newspaper. In addition, she had a role to play on the political scene.

She was a pioneer in championing women rights in France, including for widows and divorcees. As “Secretaire d’Etat chargée à la Condition feminine” in 1974-76 she was responsible for implementing over 100 new measures that made careers and opportunities usually reserved to men, suddenly available to women and she fought against discrimination. She has inspired generations of women in France.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities? Do you have any practical tips?

A good work and life balance is crucial nowadays if you want to perform well at work and be useful to your family. My tips are:

  • Ability to switch off. Work stays at work. When you come home you should be available to your family.
  • Find some time for yourself too. That is the hardest I think.

Describe yourself in three words

Loyal, resilient, and hard-working.

Have you ever suffered with ‘imposter syndrome’? What does it mean to you?

Yes. I have taken on many projects where I felt I was out of my depth and possibly not the right person for the job. But I persevered and worked hard to achieve what was expected of me and even more. It has always worked out in the end.

I never regretted it.  My mentality is to learn by doing and one of my mottos is: No venture no gain. I try to live by it.

What challenges have you faced in your leadership career, and what tips do you have for how to overcome them?

As an Export Manager, I had people under me to manage. I don’t think I was very good at it. I am a perfectionist and expect people to do what they are told, on time and produce a great standard of work. It does not work like that. There are many times when I felt like redoing the work given, to my own standard.

I have learned that I should let people do what they have to do their own way and not be controlling.

Being a manager is tough, being a leader is tougher.

  • Show you can do yourself what you ask of your team.
  • Help others achieve their ambitions for the good of the team
  • Don’t be afraid to employ people who might be better than you.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Picking myself up after the death of my husband with very little support network around me, and after 6 years, finally be debt free. It has been a tough journey. It is not over yet, and I could have given up a long time ago, but I did not, for the sake of my children.

What does gender balance in the workplace mean to you?


Men and Women are equal. The way they go about it may be slightly different but they can do exactly the same job.

I am currently watching the “SAS Who Dares Win” Series on TV. It is the first time they allowed women on the programme. Three quarters through the training and you have got 5 women and 4 men left! There were 3 winners, with Orthopaedic surgeon Lou becoming the first woman to successfully be selected to join the military branch known as the Special Air Service. I wonder if they thought this would happen.

Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for aspiring female leaders? Or just for leaders in general if you prefer.

Don’t expect from someone else what you would not be prepared to do yourself.

Respect and nurture others.

Know the job inside out.

How to find Isabelle online

Isabelle Farquhar, Business Growth Advisor

GC Business Growth Hub

Twitter or Twitter




Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.

Want to be a Great Leader?

If you’re keen to learn practical tips you can start doing today to improve your performance as a leader and rediscover what it feels like to thrive; get my checklist of top ten leadership activities, and receive regular tips and inspiration that will help you be a great leader.

Sharing is caring!

Join our free online community Leadership Starts with You. It’s THE group for leaders and service based business owners who want to show up as their real self and lead with confidence.


Add a comment