Prior to establishing her own business, Phuong Barraclough recalls being told by a previous boss that she would never be successful in running her own business.
"I have an employee mentality, and there's no changing that," Ms Barraclough recalls being told.
Now three years in to running her NDIS consultancy, Connect my Community, Ms Barraclough has certainly proved that employer wrong, but she says feelings of self doubt can creep back in.
One of those times was in 2021, when the volume of work became overwhelming.
"Being a single mum with two young girls, I really found that my quality of relationship with my family suffered, and I had a real clarity moment where I realised, 'This is not why I started my business,'" Ms Barraclough said.
To make this change, Ms Barraclough signed up as one of the first participants in a new mentoring program for Illawarra small to medium businesses, run by The Consortium Lounge.
The Consortium Round Tables pairs entrepreneurs who are starting out in their business career with experienced Illawarra business people.
Ms Phuong will be mentored by Foye Legal founder Diana Foye, who said her own experiences of being told she couldn't be a successful legal practitioner had inspired her to mentor other businesswomen.
Ms Foye recalls one incident that occurred when she was pregnant with her second child while working at a major firm.
"I was in Wollongong court, and one of the local male solicitors came up to me and said, 'You're a little too young to be giving up your career, aren't you?'"
In the years since, Ms Foye established her own practice with offices in Wollongong, Shellharbour and Sydney and said she hopes to challenge assumptions about a woman's path in the law.
While Ms Foye said signing up as a mentor was about giving back, it also provides her with an opportunity.
"Working with other people in businesses externally challenges my thinking, and it always adds value to my business here."
As part of the Consortium Round Tables, groups of mentees meet monthly with their mentor and fellow mentees, sharing business tips and insights.
Some spots are still available in the program, and those interested can register their interest online.
Ms Barraclough said she is hoping to work out the nuts and bolts of growing from being self-employed to managing a larger business.
"I'm at a point where I can invest towards subcontracting or expanding my team. I want to make those decisions in a way that's wise, with experience and knowledge, rather than just give it a try and then hope it works."
Founder of the Consortium Lounge and Round Tables, Carmen Rudd, said she is excited to see participants' progress.
"I've seen amazing things happen when entrepreneurs and business leaders come together to share, learn and collaborate in an honest and supportive way, and Consortium Round Tables is designed to help small and medium businesses to thrive - whether they're a start-up, or looking to scale-up," she said.
Ms Foye said she was looking forward to helping other women succeed.
"It's not about the competition, it's about really imparting knowledge and seeing people succeed in their own lane."
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