Catherine, a french communications consultant in Milan
For years I have been involved with the Professional Women Association (PWA) in Milan. It was founded in the ’80s by women who had moved to Italy with their husbands/partners /boyfriends or for work and wanted a place where they could meet up for social and cultural purposes and to have support in their day to day and professional lives. This is where I met Catherine.
Catherine is from France and after studying and working for a period she set-up her own consultancy company in the PR / Corporate communication sector in Milan. She had been working as a communications consultant for 14 years, essentially on her own, but using colleagues for specific projects when necessary.
... I understood that there was a period in my life before I got to Italy and another one after that. The choice of leaving my own country was very important in professional terms.
After I finished my degree in Italy I thought that I no longer wanted to do menial jobs and that the time had come to really kick-start my career. I thought about my experience as a journalist and I thought that PR was quite a logical choice (I couldn’t write Italian as well as a native, so journalism was not an option). I sent some CVs and I had interviews before I started working for an agency. When this experience ended– because there wasn’t enough work … I lost my job and had to start again from scratch.
PWA was a great help to me: I learned many things about the labour market, and it really allowed me to see things in a new light. This is how I thought about finding the resources to help me work on a freelance basis.
I took part in a competition organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Milan that helped me prepare a business plan, and as I progressed in this process I met professionals, including a consultant who became a real mentor for me. My project ended up coming second and I was awarded a free grant. I took the big plunge - I have to say that my own personal experience that began in Paris, then continued with my Italian degree and work experience has given me quite a lot of belief in myself. It seemed achievable.
In 2008 the crisis struck. My main customer went bankrupt and that was a major blow. I asked a coach to help me. This period of coaching proved to be very important for me becoming a consultant as opposed to a freelance worker who occasionally had a customer as boss. I redesigned both how I marketed myself and my way of being.
Throughout all these processes I always had the support of my husband and family as well as many of my professional contacts. In Milan I found a real entrepreneurial culture that was of great help to me. The perception of my business from friends and people I know has been very positive (and I think it is very different to what it would have been like in France).
I have a great deal of belief in the strength of the network because on a personal level it gave me a great deal. The help of a mentor, knowing how to ask for help and even coaching – when you work on your own like me - can be a fundamental tool at key moments of your professional development as it enables you to focus on certain areas that need to be improved”.