Top business tips from Karren Brady

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Abi Jackson
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Beginning her career at Saatchi & Saatchi when she was 18 years old, Karren Brady has been a director of Sport Newspapers Ltd, managing director of Birmingham City football club and, in January 2010, she was appointed vice chairman of West Ham United FC. In the same year, following previous guest appearances as one of Lord Sugar’s interrogators on the hit BBC show The Apprentice, Karren replaced Margaret Mountford as his right-hand woman, where she remains for this year's series.

Recently, Karren joined Stylist for a live web chat, where she answered your questions on getting a promotion, raising capital, work-life balance and what to wear in the office.

Career advice

I would love a career running a football or rugby club. What do you think I need to have achieved in order to get such a role? Many thanks. Samantha

The business of sport is a great career. Lots of people do not realise that you don't have to be a professional sportsperson to enjoy a career in football or rugby. Behind the scenes we have marketing, retail, finance, ticketing, catering, hospitality, media, community, data, publishing, IT, and much more - depending on your circumstances, it might be worth volunteering at your local club either on a match day or in the summer holidays to get a real taste of what's on offer and what might suit you. Good luck.

I'm really enjoying watching you on The Apprentice! Can I ask - do you have any tips for negotiating pay rises or speaking to employers about bonuses/money? I have a meeting with my boss next week! Hannah T

Be prepared and have your list of reasons as to why you deserve a pay rise, be precise, business-like, take the emotion out and list all the the things you have done well. Good luck.

I have been unemployed since August last year, took the opportunity to have a few months off and have been looking since January for a new role. I am being told I have been out of work too long to be employable! This is the only gap in my CV - all other jobs have been 15 , 8 and 7 years long? Should I fill the gap or what do you advise?? Thanks. Marie

I'm sorry to read your news but I do not accept that anyone is unemployable because they have had a few months off, whoever told you that doesn't know what they are talking about. Often its better to take a step back, so you can get into the swing of working again and then re-apply at a higher level. A friend of mine was a CEO of a large company, took 12 months off and went back into the work place as a marketing manager for a smaller company and now two years later is the CEO of that company. Wish you really well x

I use to live opposite you when you were in the Midlands. How did you get your first break? I have re-located to London and I'm trying so hard to work, writing CVs, interning and I'm making myself ill working so many hours. I'm thinking of going home but don't want to be beaten. Vicki

Vicki, keep going, don't give up. Write a plan of what you want to achieve and set yourself goals. Best of luck x

As a very successful business woman, do you have any advice about changing career in your thirties? Is it possible or should you just keep doing what you're doing since it's lucrative, even though you hate it. The recession is definitely affecting my decision. Thoughts? Dree

A career lasts a lifetime, so it's really important you do something you love. I have a friend who at 50 re-mortaged her house and set up a business (her husband has still not got over the shock!), it's never too late and in some respects the older you are the wiser you are. You know what you are and are not capable of. Test your idea, make sure it works, and ask yourself what is the worst that can happen, and if you can't live with the worst don't do it - good luck to you xx

I'd also love to know your top tips for networking to make contacts. I know it has to be done - I just find it awkward and uncomfortable! Robyn

Robyn, thank you for your question. The most important thing is to remember that if you do not champion your career who is going to do it for you? If you want to a promotion, set out your plan to get it - approach it in a business-like manner. Take out the emotion, take out the nerves be precise and firm, and have your list of achievements in front of you so you can sell them to your boss. The tone and the content of what you are saying and how you deliver it is what crosses the line between confidence and arrogance. Best of luck.

Work/life balance

You lead such a busy life, juggling work, filming and family. What are your top tips for getting through a busy day? Sophie T

Great question, firstly I am very organised. Secondly I accept I can only do what I can do. I also understand what's important - so sometimes I need to be at home, and sometimes I need to focus on work - I embrace the ups and downs. I always say I have my two personalities, my home one and my work one, the real trick is not to allow one to drain the life out of the other. Very important stay healthy - I've started to swap bad treats for good ones to keep my energy up - I am now an almond eater (also improves my hair and skin)!

Hi Karren, I bought your book last week, it is such a great motivational read. You're a true role model! Will you be doing any book signings soon? I would love to meet you in person and get my book signed. Pamela

Thanks for buying my book, Strong Woman, I'm really glad you liked it, it's now fifth in the bestseller list. I'm not doing any book signings, but if you post the book to West Ham FC I will sign it and send it back to you.

I'm loving The Apprentice this season and your frank advice. I'm in awe of how you juggle so many responsibilities with work, TV appearances family etc. Any tips on how to stay healthy and fit with such limited time? Daniela

I'm so pleased you are enjoying TA. I never have time for the gym, I think most working mothers will tell you the last thing on your list is always yourself! But I also accept that it's important to be healthy and active. I've swapped bad snacks for good ones, all my friends and I swear by almonds (and they don't melt in the bottom of your bag!) and I try and walk as much as I can. I'm on my feet a lot when we are filming, running after the candidates, that's always good exercise!

I really admire your strength and motivation. I run my own jewellery business and wear many many hats during my day as I am running the business myself, and have to keep motivated and positive every day. How do you manage to balance a very busy work life with home life? Rachel Galley

Its really important to stay focused. I try and live by the saying that I do the things that need to be done, when they need to be done, whether I'm in the mood or not - that's the can-do attitude. When you run your own business you have to accept that you're the FD, the MD, the marketing/sales director as well as general office manager - after all if you don't champion your business who will?

Balancing both work and family life you must have to be incredibly organised. What are your handbag essentials? Katie S

I never go anywhere without my Blackberry, my diary, my glasses, three pens, my purse and my almonds - I could probably live out of my handbag for a long weekend!

Absolutely loving you on The Apprentice, your no-nonsense approach is so refreshing and love love love your wardrobe! I wanted to ask, with all that you do and manage to fit in, how do you make time to switch off? Running my own business and with techonology meaning you're contactable 24/7 I'm finding I'm quickly burning out and unable to ever switch off completely to give myself a chance to recharge my batteries. Do you have any tips? Many thanks. Kate

Nothing is work unless you'd rather be doing something else. I have two loves in my life, my children and my career - I embrace both and I enjoy the ups and downs but I also like a good holiday - with only one criteria - no agenda, no diary and no place to be other than where I want to be when I want to be. It's an escape from the diary you need not the job!

When your confidence is low, what do you do to bring yourself back up again? Anonymous

I think its important to remember all the things you have done and all you have achieved and to accept not everything goes your way all the time. A mistake is only a problem when it stops you in your tracks and prevents you from achieving what you want to do. Battle on, is my motto!

In the workplace

I'm a young businesswoman and have just changed career from working in beauty PR to a director position in a male-dominated industry. Do you have any set rules that you work (and play) by to ensure that you retain respect? Do you try to blend in or stand out? Thank you! Hannah B

My main rules for life are:










I have always admired you as a great role model. Taking up a senior position at very young age requires lots of real assets and you have absolutely nailed it. I am just wondering, in your career, have you ever come across difficult/selfish people that are senior to you, who have always wanted to put their needs in the first place and not bothered to consider others' feelings? In a plain word, they don't know what 'fair' means. How do you handle such a situation? Chris

I say to all my staff if you don't like something change it. Unless you deal with this nothing will change, except you'll get more miserable.

In my line of work I'm required to speak in public occasionally, but I find it really nerve-wracking, and unfortunately this comes across when I speak. I've seen videos of you speaking in public and you seem really relaxed and you manage quite quickly to get the audience to warm to you. Have you got any tips for someone like me who is trying to achieve the same effect? Toni

The very best advice is to practice and practice some more. Be sure you know what you are talking about and be very prepared. They say 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail' - the trick is to be comfortable and confident in what you are saying. Very best of luck x

I manage an amazing team of 30. I'm always looking for new ways to keep them feeling motivated and excited. We work in a very busy environment so they can often burn out. Any tips? p.s. loved your book!!!! Gemma

I've learnt from the most competitive team game in the world that nothing can be achieved unless you work together. There are plenty of things you can do to build team spirit, from nights out to away days, but the most important way is to listen every day. Encourage ideas, allow people to be the best they can be and promote from within. Glad you liked the book x

Any advice on a core corporate wardrobe which attracts attention for the right reasons? Also kudos for managing all The Apprentice egos which such dignity! Thanks. Kat

Firstly I like to be comfortable and smart. I'm not a great lover of suits as I find them restrictive! I prefer dresses with cardigans (as offices are always too cold for me!). My rule often is never anything too short or too low, elegant is always better in my opinion. I don't often wear prints, but do like a nice scarf to brighten an outfit up. Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you're enjoying The Apprentice x

Small business tips

As a young man trying to get into business the hardest part is building the capital to re-invest in myself. As the cost of living rises and credit gets expensive do you have any tips for raising investment? Alex

Firstly, make sure you have a targeted proposal. Then consider all available options such as traditional bank finance, Enterprise schemes, invoice and asset finance, grants and soft loans. Research everything and look at all the options, you may have to go down more than one route - good luck.

I set up a company and am now looking for funding. Would you recommend bank funding over a private investor or both? Do you have any tips on raising finance? Lily Simpson

I think it really depends on how much you want to raise and your plan to pay it back. I think a mix of finance is always better as it gives you have different people to influence on the outcomes you want to achieve. Good luck.

I am trying to progress my business and attract advertisers (internet based). How do I know I am pricing myself competitively without knowing what others charge for similar services? I can't really make discreet enquiries without being rumbled. Is there an easier way of accessing this information? Love your poise on The Apprentice BTW. Erica

I'm not sure I can help as I don't really know what your business is but why not be honest, call a few companies say you're starting up and could you come and spend a day with their company - many large companies will say yes - and if they say no you've not lost anything. Also speak to your local business services like Business Link - it may be called something else now - they will have access to all sort of information - best of luck.

As a new retail business trying to spread my reach via an ecommerce site, what is your advice on effectively spreading the word/getting noticed at an affordable price. I'm in dire need of a strategy to kick-start the business and take it to the next level. Lynn

Work out firstly what does your company stand for, and then stick to the one message you want people to know about your company. Keep the message simple. Speak to people in your own situation, networking is great to get advice on a range of things - ask people what's worked for them and try it. Good luck.