Voice of Supply Chain – Aug. 2021
Featuring: Susan Walsh
Welcome to the Voice of Supply Chain, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and Real Sourcing Network. This is a show that takes place the third or fourth Wednesday of each month.
The purpose of this show is to tell stories of people in procurement and supply chain, doing extraordinary things. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder. I’m a growth strategist and help B2B tech companies with their marketing. I currently oversee marketing for Real Sourcing Network, and we help companies make their packaging more sustainable. Today, our guest is a very, very dear friend, Susan Walsh.
This show is meant to be interactive, so don’t be shy about putting your thoughts in the chat and using the Q&A to submit questions. So, those are both available at the bottom, and I will be making sure that I monitor the chat and Q&A throughout the show, so feel free to, uh, tell us whatever you’re thinking.
So, Susan, welcome. I know it’s almost bedtime for you, so thanks for staying up late for our interview today. Oh, it’s all right. It’s not too late right now, but yeah, it’s definitely Wayne o’clock territory, and I don’t see Robbie in the background, so that he’s there. He got featured on a post tonight, so yeah, he’s had enough attention.
So, Susan, I have several questions prepared, and I kind of want to go through your life cycle, and I, I actually want to start with your childhood because I know we have people joining us who have been following your journey of entrepreneurship and everything you’ve been doing on LinkedIn, but they don’t actually know a lot about your past. Yeah, so I would like to start off by having you share a favorite childhood memory. Yeah, so, um, so this is probably a bit weird as a favorite childhood memory. It didn’t necessarily feel fun at the time, but I think it’s quite funny. My dad would work all week, and then my mom would work evenings and weekends, and so Saturdays, um, we would get a magazine or a sweetie, and he’d leave us in the car, and he’d say, “I’ll be back in five minutes,” and then off he’d go. And he would come back in what felt like forever, um, being a child, you know, concept of time is totally different, but basically he was off to the bookies, the bookmakers, to bet on horses while we were in the car with our treats. So, um, so that’s my kind of memory because there was a lot of Saturdays spent like that, but then he would take us to the burger van afterwards by the sea, and we’d watch the seagulls and the seals and everything by the river. So, you know, that’s that’s what my childhood kind of memories are.
So the question is, did he ever win big? Well, he always came back, so I guess not. He saved enough money to get some treats for the chips.
What in your childhood shaped you to be the person that you are today? Well, I come from a long line of stubborn women, so I think yeah, definitely my gran was was a huge influence on me. She was born in 1914, and she was 39 years old when she got married, so she had lived a whole life before she got married, which was really unheard of in the 50s. So, um, so that was always like an inspiration for me. I always felt like, well, you know, I don’t have to do if my gran doesn’t get married till 40, I don’t have to get married. I can do whatever I want. So she was a good role model. Um, and then yeah, my mom’s uh, was was the life and soul of the party. She had the biggest personality, so I took a lot from her as well.
What’s the tradition that you’ve learned from your parents that you’ve continued on into adulthood?
I don’t, I don’t think I have one, you know. Anything from like holiday times or… No, there’s no, there’s not like even at Christmas and stuff, like when my mom was still alive, you would have to, like, get dressed up and stuff, for you know, whereas now it’s like I just want to stay in my pajamas all day. So, yeah, so that’s changed, um… No, I wouldn’t say there’s, I’ve got any traditions or anything like that. We weren’t sporty or… or anything like that, so there’s, there’s no, I guess the only thing and not really a tradition but, um, my dad started taking me to carnivals and taking me on rides from a very young age, so I love like theme parks and roller coasters and stuff like that. So even my brother as well, he’s still, we still do all the parks and things, especially in the US, they’ve got some great coasters out there. So, so I guess that is kind of a tradition that we’ve, we’ve kind of brought forward.
So when you come to visit me, are we planning Disneyland, theme park theme parks will need to be on the agenda? Yes, I think we definitely need a trip to Vegas too, has to be done. Love about Vegas, they’ve been there twice and there aren’t so many rides there, but it is a lot of fun. Um, and yeah, I’ve actually been to Disney World in Florida, I went for the first time about four years ago. So I was there on my own as a grown adult and I didn’t care, I had a great time. I met loads of people and spoke to loads of different people in the queues and the lines. Um, and just, yeah, just got my princess tiara from there and I was happy as anything. Awesome.
So, Susan, I know that you had an interesting story about how you actually got into college. Oh yeah, so we’d love to have you share that with us and then we’ll transition a little bit and talk about some of your college experiences. Yeah, so, I’m… I didn’t want to stay on at school to do my higher grades in Scotland, so I decided to go to college. And I wanted to be free and independent, and I was only 15 when I decided this, so I had not long turned 16 when I started. And I only took three higher grades at college, and it was English, math, and French. And I have never been good at maths, but everyone told me I needed to do maths because everybody needs it, everybody wants it, you won’t get a job without having maths. So I took it and I just… something in my brain paralyzes whenever somebody throws a number or an equation near me, and it could be the simplest of sums and I just freeze. So, it was never ever gonna really end well, and, you know, I got extra help and tutoring and all that kind of stuff and sat my exams, knew I failed… Went to see the university, “Can I do a summer school to make up the difference in grades?” Oh no, you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it, everybody thinks they failed. And I was like, no, I really have failed, and I really don’t think I’m going to get in. Oh no, don’t worry about it. Um, so then of course, the exam results came and it was so bad that it didn’t even show up on the certificate. I just had two higher grades, that was it. Math just didn’t exist. I might as well not have done it. And of course, the university was like, nope, you’re not getting in. And then my dad said, “Well, hang on, you tried to sort this problem out. So, I think you should like phone them back.” So, you know, spoke to the head of the business school and went up to see him and put my case forward. They said they’d have a think about it and yeah, I got in and so yeah, I went to university a year earlier than most of my friends or people that I went to school with. So, yeah, so I just, yeah, it’s frustrating when you know you’re right and you’re like trying to do the right thing and people are saying, “Oh, it’ll be fine, don’t worry,” and you’re like, no, it’s not going to be fine. And I think it’s a good lesson that there’s different types of intelligence. I also despise math and avoided taking math as much as possible. And the college that I chose to go to is actually here in the Bay Area, it’s a small school in wine country. And one of the reasons I actually chose Sonoma State is I didn’t have to take calculus as a business major, and I knew that if I had to take calculus, it was going to be rough and I would potentially not pass. So, completely understand. And I think the world is changing and university is changing a little bit now and I think there’s tools and things we can use now for math, especially in procurement and supply chain. I mean, there’s programs and, I mean, you know, you use Excel religiously to do math and so I think that’s, that’s something that a lot of us have struggled with. Yeah, so you got into university a year early than your peers, so that is awesome. What’s the most important thing you learned while you were at university?
So, while I was at university, I worked for a retailer and I started there when I was like 16 and I worked there throughout university and I was being sick. I was sitting in business classes being told, ‘This is how businesses work and this is what happens,’ and I was working in a real business and I was like, no, this isn’t real life. That’s not how it happens, you know, these theories don’t work in the real world. So, I think I learned before I graduated that, yeah, it was just kind of like tick box exercise to get the piece of paper rather than actually getting some real life skills that were going to help me get a proper job. And you know, when I was there, they’d be like, ‘Oh, everyone’s going to want to hire you, you’re going to be in demand, you’re going to be earning £25,000,’ and you know, my first job at uni, yeah, I was earning £14,000, that was more like a realistic salary. You know, they just, yeah, they just lied, basically.
So, when you were at university, what did you think you wanted to do after graduation?
Well, you see, the whole reason I chose my degree was because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I chose commerce because it’s nice and broad and vague and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll definitely know after four years what I want to do.’ And of course, after four years, I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all. I had no idea. And I remember going to the careers advisor for some help and he was like, ‘Well, I can’t tell you what to do.’ And I was like, ‘What? I just want a bit of advice.’ And yeah, that was all I got, was, ‘I can’t tell you what to do.’ So I was like, okay, I’m just gonna have to apply for things that I think I might like. My dad worked in sales all his life, so I kind of thought that that could be a route. But then in the end, it was actually in working and paint merchandising for retailers and it was my… actually, it wasn’t my degree they got me the job, it was the working for the five years in the retailer that got me the job.
So I took that job and started driving around in a wee red van, with paint color charts in the background, and going around talking to people in stores.
So after you had this job that you landed out of college again, you didn’t really have any idea what you wanted to do, so you just kind of took something so you could figure it out. Why did you leave that job? So, what inspired you after you took that job to take something else and make a little bit of a pivot? I saw it as being ambitious and hungry, I think. Now I can see it’s impatience. And, you know, I was promised a lot of things and they didn’t happen. And, you know, when you’re like 22, you’re like, ‘I want it now,’ and it didn’t happen, so, like, right, I’m gonna try something else. But then, then I didn’t really know again what I wanted to do, and so I just bumbled around for a couple of years, just until I found something that I liked.
So, one of the things, Susan, that I find really, really interesting about your story and your background is you were actually an entrepreneur before starting your current company, yeah. So what inspired you to become an entrepreneur and launch a clothing store? Um, I think it was always there because I did a module at university called entrepreneurship, and I remember thinking at the time that I just didn’t have a good enough idea to set up my own business. So I didn’t want to make stuff, I’m like the world’s worst, um, like crafty person. I’m so undomesticated. But ask me to put a pair of shelves together or build some furniture and I’m good to go. So I knew that if I had the right skill or product then I could have my business, but I didn’t have it right then. And then I saw a gap in the market when I was struggling to get clothes for the office that were smart casual. And so it was just on the cusp of the internet.
And I have to interrupt, what is smart casual for us in the US? Ah, okay, oh that’s interesting. Okay. So, um, smart casual is, I guess, well, I mean, this sounds silly, I’m not trying to be… I can’t remember the word, but, you know, it’s in between smart and casual. So you’ve got your formal end, which is like suited and booted, blouses, suits, and really formal. And then smart casual would be maybe a nice top and some trousers or a pretty dress. It’s not necessarily a business attire, it’s not as casual as jeans or things like that, but it’s, it’s like less formal, I guess. Yeah. And DC put in the Q&A and I, and I think she’s correct, I think here we kind of call that business attire, where it’s not a suit and coat, but it’s not flip-flops and shorts. Oh, okay. And I like that. Oh, and I like that ‘mini’ range. Yeah, I thought business attire would be the full suited and booted. Oh, there you go. Yeah, so it was a problem because there was nowhere to go to get nice pretty tops or skirts. Business casual maybe, yeah, that could work. Um, and so I just, I knew I wasn’t really having a great time in the jobs.
I found a job I really loved, I was really good at it, and I was like the best forecaster in the whole company, you know, my accuracy was close to perfection. And I really loved that job, and then I had the choice of a couple of different departments going after me, and I went down the salesy route, but it wasn’t really sales in the end, I was a glorified assistant, I was like booking shelf wall blowers for supermarkets and dump bins and like posters at bus stops, and it’s like, that just wasn’t me. And so, after that, I felt a bit kind of lost again, like, oh, you know, maybe I am not cut out for working for a company. And so, I had some money, so I thought, hey, let’s open the shop, why not? And then, you know, I did some sums, I had a business plan, you know, and it looked achievable for Guildford, which is an affluent area, but once I opened, it was so tough. Like, people were so snobby and established about the bright, you know, I didn’t have brands like Chanel, Dior, or, you know, it was just nice clothes and they would walk by for weeks or months before they would even set foot in the shop. And of course, it was only towards the end when I had to shut down that people started saying, ‘Oh, you know, call me when you get new stock in,’ or, you know, even the week I was closing, people were coming in and going, ‘Oh, are you new?’ So yeah, it was just, it was an experience, but I had so much fun buying all those clothes. I can’t even tell you, like, once every six months you go to this massive event and there’s just like hundreds and hundreds of clothing suppliers and shoe suppliers and handbags, and it’s like shopping on an epic scale. And I tell you, I regret none of it, it was brilliant. It kind of reminds me of fashion week. Yeah, fashion week made affordable, yeah, but you had to order six months in advance, so in February, March, you’re thinking about your winter wardrobes already, so that made it harder as well.
So, you mentioned you had to shut down your business, which is not easy on your ego, right? You put your soul into something and it doesn’t work out. What was the best lesson, now that you’re looking back a second time entrepreneur, now you have a successful company, what’s the best lesson you learned in having to shut down your retail business? The best lesson I learned, and it’s probably not one that you’d expect, is you find out who your real friends are. I had a couple of friends just shut me off, walk away, and then get their friends to cut me off like Facebook and stuff as well, at the worst time of my life when I really needed them, and they just walked away. So, I learned a really, really big lesson there. And apart from that, on the business side, I think you always need more money than you think you do. That doesn’t matter what business you’ve got, that’s always true.
So, you made an interesting pivot from going from fashion and retail into data. So, tell me about your journey, about what happened after you shut down your business and how you got into data. So, it was a pretty dire situation and I couldn’t even afford to go bankrupt. I had to save up £600 over six months to go bankrupt. So I had the bailiffs, you know, writing to me, calling, threatening to come and take my stuff away. I mean, it was just… it was horrific. And I just needed a job and I was, you know, as long as I could pay my bills, I would do anything. And I found an ad online and it was for data entry or data classification. Spoke to this guy, he had a business, said we categorized stuff. I said, ‘Well, I’ve worked in a couple of big companies, so I kind of know what they’re spending their money on.’ Did a trial with him, I was like, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ Um, I really enjoyed it. He didn’t have much work in the beginning, so I took on a contract role at Wonderbra at the same time, which is where the TV appearance happened. And then after six months there, they didn’t want to keep me on at Wonderbra, so the spend analytics guy was like, ‘Well, yeah, we’ve got full-time work for you now, so come and work for us.’ And that’s how it started. And, yeah, I mean, it’s the first job I ever worked in that I wasn’t bored after one year, two years. I stayed there five years. That’s longer than anywhere else I’ve ever stayed.
So, little broad detour because I think it’s kind of funny and humorous and reflects your personality. So, tell us about your QVC. I guess you were a guest on the show, is that yeah? Yeah, so I was a national account manager and QVC was one of my accounts that I managed. So, we got a slot. Now, unfortunately, it wasn’t as glamorous as Wonderbra. It was Playtex, which is more like granny bras. But I got 10 minutes. Um, went there, I had my earphones in, the session started, and the earpiece falls out and I can’t hear anything. So, I have no idea how much time I’ve got, what’s going on. I just kept talking and had to get the presenter to guide me. But what I haven’t told anyone yet, so this is exclusive, when I was moving, I found some CDs, and I think there’s video footage of me doing like selling the bras online. So, I’m going to try and get it uploaded and see if I can, like, get some snippets to share. Yeah, you have to share those on LinkedIn. That is just awesome. The data from selling bras on QVC to data procurement queen is kind of a fun story. Was absolutely terrifying though. I don’t remember any of it.
So, you took a full-time job and you actually liked it, you weren’t bored, which was big for you. And then what happened next, how did you or why startup company?
After a while, I could see some things that kept happening over and over again. I made some suggestions on how we can improve it, and then nothing happened. And I don’t want to overgeneralize too much, but there were a lot of guys that didn’t bother replying to emails for weeks, and that caused a lot of problems. And, you know, I was just getting a bit frustrated by that. And so, I had a chat with them in October and said, ‘Look, you know, I feel like I’ve got as far as I can go here.’ They said, ‘Oh, you know, well, they paid me to do my Prince2 project management qualification, which I will never ever do again, ever. It was the worst thing ever. And then in December, last January, they got bought by Coupa. And then overnight, it changed from a small… And, all right, I’m… I just hit recording to the cloud, so continue on, Susan. Yeah, so I had two options at this point. One was to just go and find a whole new career because I didn’t know where else I could get a job doing the same thing. I… I didn’t… I was really behind the scenes, you know, we were the AI quite a lot of the time, and so we didn’t have customer-facing roles. Didn’t really know who the competitors were. There was only a couple, so that wasn’t really an option to get a job in the same area. So, it was either going to start a whole new career and find something else that I wanted to do or start another business. And, you know, I spoke to quite a few people because I was like, ‘This is… you know, don’t want to make the same mistakes as last time.’ And, obviously, there’s a lot less overheads if you’re working for yourself.
And I did things like took on other jobs at the same time to try and subsidize my income, but the first thing I did was I exhibited at eWorld Procurement in London. And, I had a booth next to Amazon Business, who had just launched in the UK. So, I was like, ‘Well, this is pretty cool.’ And, everybody I spoke to on the stand was like either, ‘Where were you six months ago?’ or, ‘Oh, that’s really good.’ So, I got really good feedback about the service I was offering. So, I had a good feeling about it, but then it took like 10 months to get my first client. You know, like, it takes ages, not only to sign contracts but to get the data sometimes out of people’s systems. I mean, you know, that still goes on to this day. I just was quite naive about that. So, that’s how I ended up with another business.
So, Susan, I know one of the things that you and I have talked a lot about is how hard the first couple years are when you have your own business. And I think it’s something that’s not talked about enough, enough struggles with everything you… you can’t even think about or prepare for. So, what would you say are one or one or two of the hardest things that you had to deal with and experience your first couple years? And then, on the flip side of that, what did you learn from that that some of the others on the call might be able to take note of and maybe avoid those same mistakes?
I think that the hardest thing has been growth. Nobody talks about how hard growth is because, you know, cash flow is always a problem from day one of a business. And then you get… you get a few more clients and then you start charging more and you get more in. And then you maybe have a few people working for you, and you’ve got, now, a copywriter and an accountant. And suddenly, you have all these outgoings, and it’s… you’re not just worrying about how to pay your own bills anymore, it’s how you’re going to pay everyone else’s. And, you know, not getting paid… um, on time messes things up even more. And so, yeah, it’s… there’s no… I mean, I… I don’t think there is a trick to managing cash flow, you know, unless you want to, like, win the lottery or something. Um, but… but nobody, like, everyone says it’s really hard to start a business, and if you make it past three years, you know, you’re doing really well. But nobody really talks about, like, the growing pains of finding the right people, the right fit for you and your business, and how nobody will love your business as much as you do. And so you can’t expect people to have that same level of commitment. You can’t put that… you know, I’m learning and still learning now that I need to spread my knowledge throughout the business so that it’s not just all on me, but it’s dotted around so that, you know, there’s… if there’s a break in the chain, there’s other people still around that can carry on. And there’s just so many things, but it’s so much fun. I wouldn’t swap it.
So, Susan, we have a pretty broad mix with us today. We’ve got procurement practitioners, we’ve got suppliers, we’ve got entrepreneurs. So just briefly tell us what your company does and why data has become so important in supply chain and procurement, I would say, in particular in the last year or so, definitely.
Well, first and foremost, I’m a fixer of dirty data. And what that means is that with procurement departments, I normalize and classify their suppliers so that they can then have visibility on spend. And that could be globally by supplier, by category, and by number of suppliers in a category. You’d be amazed at the number of clients that don’t even know how much they’re spending with one supplier because there’s like five or ten different versions of that one supplier. So, you know, PwC, Price Waterhouse Coopers, the Hilton Hotel or Hilton Hotel, like loads of things like that all hidden away in data. And for the first time, they get visibility, a true picture of what’s going on in the business. They can start to look at things like what they’re being charged for the same item across different regions, across different suppliers. You know, they can… it can help them look at things like risk. And I think there’s a huge myth within the procurement spend data world that the AI will fix it all. And the reality is the AI is not there yet. And, you know, I’ve had a bit coming out, but something I say in the book is when your third-party supplier comes to you and says, ‘Oh, we’ll… we’ll automate your data, the AI will classify it,’ ask them what percentage it’s classifying. Because there’s a natural assumption that it’s a hundred percent, but I bet you’ll stump them with that question because the reality is it’s probably like 30 or 40 percent, and the rest is probably being done manually. So, yeah, child, there’s a… you know, I’m trying to challenge that, and it’s not because I don’t believe in AI, I do, but you have to get the data right before you can start automating. And we need to kind of educate, and not necessarily procurement people and practitioners who are working with every day, because they know that. It’s the decision-makers and the purse-string holders that need to be aware of that. So, that’s what I do. And then, you know, I’m expanding my little mini empire. So, I’ve also been doing quite a bit of supplier cleansing recently, for like S2P and P2P implementations. So, you know, creating that golden record that is perfect, that is one name, one address, and with the right information, the right phone number, it’s all perfectly formatted. And that could come from maybe 10 or 15 different records. And, I don’t think that that’s necessarily something that automation would be able to do, because, you know, my team and I, we Google stuff, we use context, and, you know, our knowledge and to figure out what might be the right record or the right supplier. Or, you know, just knowing that actually it hasn’t been called that for five, ten years. You know, I’ve seen some really old supplier names in records and things. So, that’s something else. So, that’s, that’s quite exciting. And then, finally, there’s also things like just normal, regular databases with just from Mailchimp, it could be people, it could be other businesses. And so, working not necessarily with procurement but maybe marketing departments to clean up their data, because it’s sitting in five different systems. So, that’s it. And all of that adds up to time savings, cost savings, increasing profitability, possibly avoiding GDPR fines, you know, all the good stuff.
So, data is something that is just such a hot topic in procurement and supply chain. I swear I see it every single day on LinkedIn and all the major industry reports. It’s coming up in the top one or two things that are just so important for procurement organizations to figure out and get under control. So, I want to give this opportunity of anyone who’s listening today is have questions about data, this is a great opportunity to ask Susan. She spends her life and her world in this space, and she’s just a wealth of knowledge.
So, if you have specific questions about data or you know how your company can kind of clean up or get your data and track, feel free to put those in the chat or Q&A, and we’ll try to make sure that we have time to get to those. It’s a shame you guys aren’t a bit closer. I’m speaking at Big Data London next month, and I’m gonna hopefully be working with my software supplier and to be on their stand for about an hour and do a day-to-clinic. You know you could have popped along or to try something for the U.S.
So, Susan, we’ve got some questions, data questions coming in now, so I want to make sure we have time to address these because I think this is so important. So, this is from Audrey Ross. She says, ‘Do you think the lack of standardized terminology/industry terms hinder the progress of getting AI from 30 percent to a higher level of processing of data?’
It’s a small part, I would say context is the bigger issue. You… when I’m classifying, I’m looking at the supplier name and the description and the value, and that can tell you if something looks right or wrong. But I mean, I guess you could put parameters in within AI to start flagging those things, but you would need someone who knew that in the first instance. It really is more of a context thing, and also, you know, there are different clients will like a supplier to be classified very differently depending on who it is. So, for example, Dell could be just IT, RIT services, or RIT hardware, or it could be middleware and XPS server. You know, it could go to that detail depending on who the client is. So, if you’re building an in-house AI automation tool, then yeah, I think that’s great. But if you’re looking for something off the shelf that’s going to offer that, I think that’s quite a while away.
Leanne has a follow-up question: ‘Does this also encompass contract data?’
No, I have not worked on that. Well, I haven’t seen contract data. I mean, I’m guessing that’s in like documents rather than spreadsheets. But if it’s in a spreadsheet and needs some work, then there’s a good chance I can probably help.
And then, Susan, what are… what are a couple tips that you have for people in procurement or supply chain that are just completely struggling to get data from their internal stakeholders or from their systems? I think one of the challenges is people can’t even get the data to send it to somebody like you to even get it cleaned up. So, you know, stakeholder me… I mean, there’s all these different factors, but have you seen anything in particular that’s worked well that people could maybe take away from this session today?
Okay, so first of all, think about what can you get and where from. So, are you looking to IT for it because maybe you can get some of that information from finance instead or vice versa? Is somebody roadblocking you because they say they’re too busy? Is there another way into that department to get the information you need? Is it that it’s crossed wires and actually… and I see this a lot, IT don’t understand what procurement people want and vice versa. They talk in very different languages, and maybe actually it’s about being really clear about what you need. And actually, then the IT person thinks, ‘Oh, that’s dead easy, I just press the button for that.’ But if you just say, ‘I want all the data,’ they’re like… they’re in their head, they’re thinking of every single piece of data in the whole organization. Whereas if you just ask for like a specific set of data from a specific, even a specific region or something, then you potentially might get somewhere with that or at least start. Because the other thing is you don’t want them to pull a whole ton of data and then realize it’s the wrong thing. So, start with a sample and see how you get on.
And then, are there any softwares or programs other than Excel that you recommend people use to kind of keep and sort and track their data?
Well, I use Omniscope, and with a bit of training, and I’ve done that for clients, I’ve trained up their teams to manage like the refreshes and things like that. It’s… you can build models and so you take all the data that you have classified already, you put it into the model, your new data comes in, you can match on the supplier name and the description. Anything that matches gets automatically classified. It might be 40, 50 to start with, and then as you classify more and more, that number becomes higher and higher and higher each month until you’re left with a small amount to manually classify. So, that’s what… I know there are providers that you can go to who will do it for you and outsource it, you know, they’ll send it to you monthly. But I really genuinely believe that you should really have control over your own data, know where it’s coming from, know what it looks like. It will make it much easier to spot things like fraud, irregular spending, you know, the wrong amounts on invoices, things like that. If you just give it away and don’t look at it, you’re not going to notice if something’s off. But if you’re looking at it regularly, then it’s much easier to spot.
So, Susan, you post a lot about some of the projects that you’ve worked on. I know you can’t always share client names, but could you just share an interesting or something really funny that you worked on this year?
Yeah, so, yeah, unfortunately, I do work in the kind of area where people don’t necessarily want to admit they have a problem and that’s been fixed. But hopefully, I’m about to start working with Skyscanner. I’ve done a little bit with Trustpilot. I’ve worked with the University of Edinburgh. I have worked with various medical systems. They’ve all openly kind of said I can work with them. I’ve worked with global market research companies, global water manufacturers, global media companies. I’ve just started a project with a global food service company that everybody would recognize. So, we are currently going through a lot of food and classifying it. So, in Dutch, so that’s been interesting. So, there’s never a dull moment in our world, but yeah, just crazy classification sometimes. You know, I did some stuff for Piano Fairies as well last year, and they had the sticks like [ __ ] which is actually an adhesive. And I thought they had literally just somebody had fun on the ship, had just written that, and then I found out it’s a real product. So, that… that gives me no end of enjoyment and entertainment. And just the best thing is, like, you know, these companies or even, you know, universities, you know, really intelligent people and they can’t spell for any… for toffee. They… you know, the spellings are crazy.
Like travel, I’ve seen that spell so many different ways. You’d think that one would be pretty safe, but no, nothing is safe. So that’s why I don’t trust anything. I always check, check every line to make sure it’s right.
So, Susan, I want to pivot. We’ve got about 15 minutes left, and I want to pivot and talk a little bit about marketing because I think marketing is a really important topic for people who are in our industry. Whether you’re a procurement or supply chain professional, whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re working for a supplier, it’s so important to build a brand for yourself, no matter where you’re working because you own your own brand, and nobody else does. Yeah, one of the things that I really like about what you’ve done as you’ve built your business is you’re really authentic and honest and funny, and you just are who you are. You don’t try to be corporatey; you don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. And so, I really appreciate that, and I think that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed as I followed your marketing journey. So, let’s start by talking about how you are currently marketing your business. What are some of the things that you’re actively, consciously doing to get in front of people?
Yeah, so I guess it’s weird because I’m doing what I needed to do to get my business known. So I realized pretty quickly that people weren’t looking for my services because they didn’t exist anywhere else. You know, doing a Google search and becoming the top of the list is great, but if nobody’s looking for you, what’s the point? You know, so AdWords and all that, no, no point. So, I looked to LinkedIn because that’s where I knew procurement people would be. And I don’t know, I remember one of my first posts, and it was one of my “You know I love data, so you don’t have to” Friday posts, and it got like a thousand views, and I was like, “Thousand people saw my post, oh my goodness!” And then I thought, “Okay, well, I must be on to something here.” So then I looked at just posting. I was posting about my business, but it wasn’t getting the same kind of engagement. And then I was doing some local networking, and I was finding it really hard to explain what I did even in a room with people. So I started doing some videos and put them on LinkedIn to show the people that I’ve met at the networking what I did, and they kind of went down really well. So then I started doing like, you know, “What is a taxonomy?” and “What is supplier classification?” and then I started doing picture posts as well. And it kind of just snowballed from there. And from very early on, I’ve responded to how the post has been reacted to. So, you know, if people like it, then I’ll do more of the same thing. If it doesn’t do so well, I’ll try it a different way or try something else. And focus on the things that do work, and it just kind of snowballed into one big, massive craziness of what I can only describe as fun. I’m just having fun. And yeah, I’m not corporate, and actually, it’s for me, it’s been a really good filter to filter out the people that I probably wouldn’t want to work with anyway because the people that do want to work with me are drawn to me. So it’s been really good in that way that I don’t get kind of many people that I wouldn’t want to work with because they’ve already kind of screened me before they get in touch. They kind of know who I am. And my kind of tactic, I guess, a little bit has been like put everything out there, and then they’ve got nothing to call you out on. So, you know, everything I say, I can back up. You know, I’m not putting lies or exaggerations out there because, you know, everything I’ve done, I can say I can prove it, you know. So, and that’s worked a lot more successfully than I had ever anticipated, so I’m very thankful for that.
So, you spend a lot of your time on LinkedIn. I think it’s fair to assume that’s your main marketing platform, and that’s where you’re dedicating a lot of your social media efforts too. What advice do you have for the procurement practitioners that are with us today that don’t use LinkedIn very much, that work for another company? What are some things that they can do to start using LinkedIn to build their own brand as a professional?
I think decide what you’re comfortable with. So if you just want to write, you know, because everyone says, “Oh, you need to do video posts, and you need to do text posts, and you need to do picture posts,” do what you’re comfortable with. Put yourself in a zone where you’re comfortable. And if that’s once a week, post once a week. If that’s twice a week, post twice a week. And just put some thoughts out there and see, you know, ask questions to your network. And if you don’t have a big network yet, that’s fine. You know, look for people who are commenting on other procurement professionals’ posts and connect with them. That’s what I do. And build your network up. And then you can start to have bigger discussions, and you know, I recycle posts all the time. You know, because only such a small percentage of your network will actually ever see any of your posts, so you know, you can post again and again. But don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Stay within your comfort zone, but you know, push yourself to post. You might not want to post at all and draw attention to yourself, you know, but don’t just post for the sake of it, like, “Oh, it’s nice weather today.” You know, post something that you think will be relevant to your network and the people that you connect with. And see how it goes, like respond, watch how the post reacts, and you know, watch the views. And you know, a silly post or some kids or a cute bunny will always get more likes or views, but um, it’s about making sure the right people need to see your post. So if that’s future recruiters or future employers, you know, comment on some of their posts, you know, just make sure that you’re in their network. I can guarantee you that none of the people who engage on my posts are my clients. It’s the ones that sit in the background and watch away and observe for a long period of time, and then they’ll come out of the blue. And it can be exactly the same for networking or recruiting, you know. Find a topic that people aren’t really talking about much that you’re really passionate about and talk about that, raise awareness on something that you know maybe people don’t know about. You know, find something a bit different. And if you like to collect teapots, then tell the world about it because I can guarantee there’ll be someone else on LinkedIn who wants to collect teapots too. So, you know, don’t be ashamed to show your personal side, just whatever you’re comfortable with.
Thank you for those tips, Susan. So, I want to pivot and talk about a couple of accomplishments that you’ve made this year that I think are really, really exciting. And we need to shout it out to the world and share it with the LinkedIn community. And the first is that you applied and got selected to do a TED Talk. So tell us about that journey and what you spoke about and where people can find your talk if they want to check that out.
Yeah, so I guess last year, I started talking a lot more at events about data and procurement and all that kind of stuff. And I’m really comfortable talking about that, and I think I’m quite good at speaking about those things. But I didn’t know if I was just good at that or whether I was a good speaker in general. So I saw the advert in an email to apply for a TEDx booking, and the theme was resilience.
So, I had no control over what, well, I couldn’t really find a way to relate data to resilience in a good way. So I thought I would talk about my story about how I got to where I got to. You know, you’ve heard about how I didn’t get into university, and then I pushed, and you know, there’s been a number of occasions in my life, you know, even with the shop and stuff, you know, it was, you know, just the world saying no, you’re not good, this isn’t going to happen. And I didn’t accept that as a final answer. I kind of kept pushing.
I spoke about my mom, who for most of my life had body dysmorphia, depression. Um, she took—I mean, I lost kind of how many overdoses she’s talking over the years, like we literally lost count. She was indestructible, she could take 150 pills and walk out of the hospital the next day. She was honestly unbelievable, she just would not die, and we used to joke about that because you have to, you know, she really didn’t want to be here, she struggled a lot, and she was in and out of, I mean, they even did like electric shock therapy on her, she’d be on lithium, she had been, like, they tried everything with her, and she got really bad one Christmas. So I got her into a psychiatric hospital, but unfortunately, I came home after Christmas, they let her out on an overnight stay, she didn’t want to go back, so she went missing overnight, and they found her washed up on the beach in the morning. So, like, we knew when she’d gone at the house that was it, because she didn’t take anything with her, but she was, like, so far gone by that point, like, she wasn’t even my mom anymore. So, you know, again, we could have just wallowed in our sadness and, you know, wouldn’t blame anyone for doing that, but that’s just not the kind of family we are, you know. So, and, and the newspapers, you know, it was all over social media as soon as it happened, um, you know, we didn’t want people to think that it was a really selfish act, that she was a really selfish person, you know, she was the most lovely person, like, everybody in Dundee knew her, um, and so, so we went to the papers and put her story out there so that people could see that, actually, you know, there’s people out there really struggling and you shouldn’t judge them, you know, for leaving their families and doing these things when they’re really, like, at the end and they just have got nothing left, you know, they can’t fight anymore.
So, I talked about that, and then I talked about starting this business and all the no’s I got from that as well, and even now, you know, still getting those, you know, ghosted by clients, no’s for this, that, and the next thing. But, you know, you—I just keep going, you know, nobody can stop me. In fact, there’s a post the other day, and it was something about knocking on doors for opportunities, and I said I just kicked doors down, I got tired of nobody answering. So, you know, if you really believe in something that you’re doing, you just have to keep pushing, and eventually, they’ll listen.
And speaking of pushing, you have decided to publish a book. So, as we close out the last five minutes, we’d love to have you share a little bit about that journey because writing a book is so hard, so much work. My dad’s a writer, and many of my friends are entrepreneurs and have published books, and they always say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done because they never make time for it in their schedule, things come up, and then it’s bedtime, and then they just never do it. So tell us about your journey, and then when your book will be available here in the U.S.
Okay, so shortly after mid-September in the U.S., you can go to Amazon. If you are not an Amazon fan, there is Bookshop.org, which is the equivalent of an online local bookstore. It’s on Barnes and Noble as well, and also the American Library Association. So, plenty of different outlets for you to get hold of it.
Awesome, and I host a Sourcing Industry Happy Hour twice a month, and we are going to be doing a book launch party for Susan for one of the happy hours on October 6 at 5:00 PM Eastern. So, if you want to attend, Susan’s going to be reading some stories and talking about her book, and we’re going to hopefully get a bunch of sales to get her to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. So feel free to reach out to Susan and me if you’re interested in attending. So, Susan, we are at time. I want to thank you very, very much again for staying up this evening to share your life story with us. And for those of you who are following the show and interested in our conversation next month, join us September 22nd at 2:00 PM Eastern for my interview with Sam Gupta. And with that, I want to wish everyone a wonderful afternoon or evening. Thank you.