'Be careful who you trust.' 8 female business leaders on the lessons they wished they learned sooner.

Lately, we've been hearing from female entrepreneurs via Mamamia's Lady Startup Stories podcast, where they unpack the story behind how they built their successful businesses.

Of course with the highs, also comes a few obstacles along the way

From dealing with the ugly side of business, to the need to trust your gut - there's plenty of core learning curves.

From Sally Obermeder to Constance Hall and more, Mamamia spoke to eight fabulous women in business about their biggest lessons learned, and the advice they have for others.

Watch: Attention Lady Startups. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Dr. Naomi McCullum, Founder of Dr Naomi Skincare.

"The lesson I wish I learned sooner is how important aligned values are for a team and for my own peace. Diagnosing people's values as early as possible is vital, and exiting early or even better, avoiding working with those who don't align is powerful and helps maintain a healthy culture and business," Dr Naomi tells Mamamia.

"I've found that the price of business success is seeing a very ugly side of humanity at an unexpected level. Learning to deal with deceitfulness, manipulation and other dark triad personality traits has been a wild experience."


Two ways Dr Naomi gains clarity is by asking herself 'how can I add value' or reminding herself of her 'why'.

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"It has been important to accept these negative things that are the price of being in business. It's all in the game - the ups and downs, the risks, the attacks, the loneliness. People treating you strangely like you're more one-dimensional or robotic rather than a human being," she explains. 


"There's a lot to tolerate in the journey and it's definitely not for the weak."

Wittner CEO Catherine Williamson.

"Not having everything perfectly mapped out has been a large part of my journey as a woman in the business world. Life, especially as a woman navigating professional paths, is a constant work in progress and that's completely okay," says Catherine.

With experience in dealing with burnout, Catherine says she has learned the value of embracing life's unpredictability. 

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"As women, we often feel compelled to prove ourselves, but it's not just about what challenges we encounter; it's about our responses and resilience."

So, if there's one important lesson Catherine wishes she had understood earlier?

"It's the kindness we should show ourselves and the recognition that it really is all a constant work in progress. Finding common ground in the collective growth of women is where the genuine beauty and excitement of our experiences unfold."

Sally Obermeder, CEO and Founder of SWIISH.

Sally Obermeder has three lessons she wishes she had learned sooner.

Number one: say 'no' to make room for 'yes'.

"As someone who doesn't want to let anyone down by saying no, this lesson was hard - at first. But like anything the more I did it the easier it became. Saying no is just saying yes to something else. I said no to many things in order to allow space to say yes to work on other projects," she tells Mamamia

Number two: being nice and kind are different.

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"Try and avoid emotion affecting how you make decisions. In the early years, I thought being nice and agreeable was the best way to conduct business. But the truth is that to truly run an effective business and team, you need to be direct."

She continues: "Most people want a boss who stands up for themselves, their ideas and their vision… but who is kind in the process. It's different."

Last, but certainly not least: "The biggest waste of your time and energy is looking to see what people are doing to your left and right. You have to believe what you are doing is worthy of all your focus. So blind yourself to what's happening either side and just put your head down."

Alana Maria Jewellery Founder Alana Ellis.

"Always trust your gut. I used to seek a lot of external validation for my ideas and let other people's beliefs sway me a lot," Alana tells Mamamia


"Seeking advice from others is of course crucial when building a business. But I try to separate knowledge from opinion and equip myself with as much knowledge as possible from others to be able to trust my own intuition." 

Alana Ellis. Image: Supplied

Another big thing for Alana has been prioritising self-care. For much of the past five years, Alana has lived in a constant state of work. It's been establishing and maintaining healthy habits and boundaries that was the turning point.


"It's honestly one of the most rewarding long-term investments you can do if you want to start and grow a business. It doesn't have to be too complicated, but making sure I eat well, moving my body a little bit every day and having regular check-ins with myself has been a game changer for me," she explains.

"I've found journaling to be an amazing way for me to stay grounded - I try to do it every night. It clears my head and many of my best ideas have come to me through my journaling."

Constance Hall, Founder of Queen The Label.

If there's one thing Constance Hall wants you to know, it's that "money corrupts".

"It corrupts most people and they don't even see it happening. Eventually, gratitude evolves into entitlement," she tells Mamamia

"Then there is spending, big or small. No matter how big or small your business is, watch your overheads. Even when the profits have hit a ceiling, the overheads have a way of continuing to grow."

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Another handy tip from Constance - be careful who you trust.

"Work with people you have found and not people who find you, and it keeps the sharks at bay almost every time. Be careful with generosity, make sure it's coming from the right place," she explains. 

"And remember - being a successful businesswoman is so fraught with obstacles. The majority of us need to earn 10 times what our male counterparts need to make just to get ahead. So keep hustling, and keep slaying."

Emelia Morris, Founder of Emelia Morris Stylist.

Emelia Morris. Image: Supplied/@carlonandco.


The world of styling has taught Emelia Morris a multitude of invaluable lessons.

"I've come to realise that the assumption of glamour surrounding the fashion industry and styling is not what it's cracked up to be, from the allure painted on TV series and in the movies, especially when we're talking talent styling. One of the most crucial lessons I wish I had understood earlier is the necessity of unpaid hours. Those hours clocked without a paycheck, those internships - they're the unsung heroes of the journey," Emelia tells Mamamia.

"And let's not even get started on the 'it's exposure' spiel. After a point, exposure just doesn't cut it. It took me a while, but I've got a grip on my skills' value now, and it's far more than just a moment in the spotlight."

It's all about knowing one's worth.

"I've definitely had my moments of self-doubt, wondering if I stack up to the seasoned stylists. But you know what? I've kicked that doubt to the curb. Now, when I want to take a leap, I just jump. No second-guessing, no looking back."


DISSH Owner and Director Lucy Henry-Hicks.

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Lucy's biggest tip: if it doesn't feel right, it's not right.

"It took me a while to learn to lean into trusting my intuition or gut when making business decisions. I've always been an intuitive person, but in the early days of DISSH, I second-guessed myself (a lot!), especially if logic was at odds with how I felt or knew something should be," she tells Mamamia


"Rational thinking should prevail, right? Or at least I thought, especially in the world of business. Wrong!

"We are all gifted with an innate knowing or inner wisdom, it’s up to us whether we choose to tap into it. I'm not suggesting that everyone write their business strategy based on a hunch, but the science now shows that pairing gut feelings with analytical thinking helps us make better, faster, and more innovative decisions."

NAJO Jewellery Founder and Creative Director Jo Tory.

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It was never really in Jo's mindset to start a business. 

"It was much more a lifestyle than a commercial enterprise," Jo says about starting her business NAJO. 

"Having never worked in any company or trade, I was flying blind. I learned through doing, researching and communicating. Often disheartening, frustrating and challenging, the key is persistence: put those things aside, put your head down and keep on going.

"In hindsight, I wished I had sought more advice regarding business plans, budgets, inventory control, and software maintenance, which of course I have learned over the years. To have researched these things sooner would have meant an accelerated path. But then again, it was a lifestyle for me, and I was happy."

Tests have included the rising price of metal, currency fluctuations, a pandemic, and an economic crisis. 

"In these extreme times, essentially you have to preserve the core and identity of the business, this is of utmost importance. Then work behind the scenes to maintain it."

Feature Image: Supplied.

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