• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on - Fiona Duncan-Steer

At Spotlight, we had the opportunity to talk to Fiona Duncan-Steer Events & Marketing Prof and the owner of RSViP. She spoke to us about her career journey, how she got to where she is today, and how she is adapting to Covid-19.

Career Journey

Being a creative person, my natural course of action following school was art college, from which I went onto study Theatre Design with Nottingham Trent University, gaining an honorary Bachelor's Degree, working with various theatres including the Royal Shakespeare Company and Carlton Studios.

I now work closely with the Nottingham Trent University to run workshops and guest lectures, as well as consult with academics around the subject of business networking and events, and I’m a proud member of their Alumni Fellowship Scheme.

My passion for events began when I worked at a corporate firm, RBS, where I worked with management to develop staff incentives, started a staff well-being group within the firm, and organised events to boost morale, progressing to stand-in team leader positions when required.

The advertising industry was to be my next path-leaving the corporate world for an independent glossy lifestyle magazine, where I embarked on the wonderful, yet cutthroat world of sales and advertising- managing client accounts, tv/field sales, attending celebrity events and networking, as well as regularly writing for the publication. This is where my writing journey had begun!

Taking The Leap

Fast forward to 2008, I had itchy feet at the magazine and a desired to run things my way.

RSViP was a light bulb moment - born from inspiration and desperation to leave an unhappy job- the concept took 9 months to plan and launch, so I guess you could say it was my baby. Many said I was either brave or stupid to launch a new business in the heart of the 2008 recession - I asked myself the same question but did it anyway and it paid off. I began making a profit in year 3 with my business network and events brand- RSViP, so it was a hard slog- I’ve never looked back.

Nottingham Rugby Club soon became a client and I went on to re-launch their corporate hospitality and look after their PR, tripling their attendance numbers, profits, and visibility in one season.

Soon after I launched a second business network aimed at property professionals - WREN and have since hosted hundreds of successful events and facilitated hundreds of thousands of connections, resulting in thousands of pounds of revenue being generated.

Utilising my experience in sales and advertising I went onto become co-owner and editor-in-chief of the digital business magazine- Affari.

These days I spend my time sharing my knowledge and expertise through my training programs, coaching sessions and workshops, guest lecturing at Universities, writing my business column and books, and guest speaking at events/conferences.

The biggest challenges in my career

There have been many and there will be many more to come big and small, though as for right now my biggest challenge to date has been managing my business since the Covid-19 outbreak. Seeing the events industry come to a complete standstill has been devastating for many and it has had a huge impact on me also, seeing my in-person events have to come to a halt and around 75% of my income stop overnight, it has been a challenge, to say the least!

Overcoming these challenges

Since March, I have had to kick into survival mode and adapt my business model very quickly, taking my events online and I am now getting ready to host my eighth event online this month to a well-received audience. In the process, I have had to adapt the format of our events to fit the screen. This incorporates various speakers and industry experts sharing their knowledge and stories with us. I have taken on a new role as an interviewer which I have very much enjoyed.

I have also diversified and launched a new business during lockdown based around my training programs and consultancy which have included my first attempt at building my own website – something I‘m actually really proud of, building my own training hub to promote my webinars, online courses and masterclasses, I have written a series of five e-books, recorded and delivered various webinars and built two new workshops around storytelling and creativity.

Staying motivated

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as an empowerment coach is seeing the change in people and the progression they make through the sessions we have. I absolutely love delivering my interactive training sessions to business teams and students. Encouraging and inspiring confidence in individuals through the use of various creative techniques and activities

Finally connecting people is deeply satisfying for me and even more so when I hear of success stories occurring through the connections I have facilitated through my relaxed and enjoyable events.

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned along the way

Learning from your mistakes and the mistakes of others is super important. Not beating yourself up if you do make a mistake or if something doesn’t go as planned. It’s all an education and none of us can claim to know everything about everything.

What I have realised in business is that everyone is mostly just winging it! Personally, I have found ways in which to deal with stress and anxiety such as meditation, practicing mindfulness, gratitude, yoga, country walks, travel, arts, crafts… all of these things help me to have a balanced lifestyle and form much-needed escapism for when I most need it. It’s so important to look after yourself as a business owner, after all, without you there may be no business.

I also think that you need to surround yourself with the right people and that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of people – keeping your close circle small is never a bad thing. Be kind to yourself, make time for work/life balance, appreciate EVERYTHING even the bad stuff, it’s a lesson.

Follow your instincts and enjoy it - if you are not enjoying your work or something in your life- change it - life is too short.

3 tips for people starting their careers

  1. Work within an industry you enjoy, not one you think you should.

  2. Research and ask for advice- don’t be afraid to ask for help- ever.

  3. Create a network and circle around you that you can trust who inspire and support you.

Advice for people wanting to start a business

  1. Follow your passion every time- you are more likely to make a success of your business if you actually enjoy what it is you do.

  2. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and who you aspire to be like.

  3. Think big, review any ideas you have, then go one step further and dare to think even bigger.

Advice for people aiming for leadership positions

Learn, self-develop, stand by your own beliefs, be your own true self but self-develop in a way that will ensure you are the best version of you. Learn new skill sets and learn from the best, think big, don’t be afraid to ask for help, support, and advice from those you aspire to be like.

Advice for people managing a team

  1. Empower your team to want to work and get the job done by allocating responsibility and ownership to individuals and teams.

  2. Delegate and don’t give all the answers- encourage people to think for themselves.

  3. Ask clever questions – get clever answers.

  4. Encourage creative thinking within your team and allow time for it regularly.

  5. Give praise where praise is due.

The best part of my job

Where do I start! I love all aspects of my job from the event planning and coordination to the business development to the marketing to the training and consultancy side and the parts I don't delegate out e.g bookkeeping and accounts!

I always say- “Identify your strengths and work towards developing them every single day.”

The future

The future is bright despite what we are all going through right now, I feel positive that the events industry will come out of this on the other side and will thrive as a result- people will be so desperate to socialise and have a human connection again. I also look forward to developing my training business and myself in the process.

What has been your strategy for your business during corona?

As mentioned, I have taken my business online for the foreseeable as far as our events go. I have also launched various new support platforms for my clients and members to encourage connectivity at a distance and have delivered several webinars offering support and advice on networking online including writing an e-book offering useful tips which I have offered free of charge.

What top tips do you have for businesses struggling with remote working?

  • Change your work environment every so often- if you’re able to leave your home, find other places to work, such as coffee shops, cafes, or hotels. Lace Market Hotel for example has just launched its ‘Escape Desk’ concept offering remote workers 4 hours in their own work station, Wi-Fi, unlimited hot drinks, and cake for £10!

  • Keep talking- Zoom may get too much sometimes, but it’s one of the only options we have right now so schedule in your Zoom calls each week to ensure you keep connected to people- other forms of communication are wholly acceptable- email/phone/video messaging, etc.. too.

  • Take regular breaks, if you are feeling stressed or uninspired, take yourself away from the screen and go for a walk, call a friend, watch tv for a while or read your book- basically do something different or un-work related for a while – practising self-care is super important right now more than ever.

If you feel inspired by Fiona’s story why not follow her on Instagram? If you want to find out more about RSViP head over to Facebook. If you want to find out more about WREN check out their Instagram here.

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