British entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den investor Sarah Willingham reveals her secret to success – just say no.
As a self-made business success and mum of four, Sarah has managed to find that elusive balance between working life and spending time with her children, even managing to take time off to travel the world with her family over the past three years.
In HuffPost UK’s new Sorry, Not Sorry podcast series made in partnership with Galaxy® and presented by Gemma Cairney, Sarah explains how empowering it was to realise by saying no, she could free up more time for her family and work that excited her.
“It was when I realised that the most valuable thing that I have is my time, and yet the world conspires to fill my time all the time,” says Sarah, 45. “That ability to take back control really empowered me. To take control and to say no to things that were taking up my time, that was a real tipping point for me in terms of getting that balance right.
“I still do get it wrong. You think, ‘Why did I do that?’. I’m never going to get those two hours back again! But on the whole I’ve got much better at just saying no.”
Sarah, who grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, initially made her name – and fortune – by turning the small, loss-making Bombay Bicycle Club into the largest chain of Indian restaurants in the UK.
She now works from her home office supporting 10 established businesses. When not travelling with her family, Sarah lives in London with her four children.
Sarah had no hesitation in appearing on the Sorry, Not Sorry podcast. “I love this strong and powerful message and actually I hope that someone listening to this will say ‘Actually, I can make the change’,” she says.
She says her 30s, when she became a mum and sold her share in The Bombay Bicycle Club, was a personal ‘coming of age’ time.
“From that point in my life, I felt very comfortable in my own skin. Becoming a mum was big for me. That was when I lost a lot of my insecurities. I felt genuinely at peace.”
It was also a time when Sarah realised something else was needed: a new direction.
“You’ve got to actually change something. We can all say ‘I want, I want’, but unless you actually do, nothing will change. Be honest with yourself. What type of person are you? What do you need?”
We know that women can find it particularly hard to prioritise themselves over the demands of work, family life, housework and caring for elderly relatives – and our own and society’s expectations of what we should be doing. It will surprise no woman that research shows that we have one hour a day less than men to dedicate to themselves.
In the Sorry, Not Sorry podcast series, radio presenter, author and columnist Gemma Cairney talks to a number of successful women about why it’s time to take that hour back – and how they’ve all seen the benefits of making a conscious decision to grab time back for themselves. Funny, relatable and inspirational, this is the podcast we all need to listen to – and act on.
As Sarah concludes: “Just saying ‘Oh I need to take more time for myself’ is not enough. You have to take steps to change. Diarise it, book it. Do it.”