The female boss: Yellow Fish share tips on succeeding in business

Empowering female business leaders is ingrained in the culture of Yellow Fish from the roots up.

Founder Maria Valentine, started her career in the industry 17 years prior to launching Yellow Fish. With a background in pharmaceutical events, incentive travel and bespoke reward schemes, she decided to go it alone in 2003 and create Yellow Fish Event Management, with the intention of focusing on her personal passion for the industry, putting people first and personalisation to create extraordinary experiences for clients.  A brave move with a young family at the time and husband working in Ireland!

Jumping forward 17 years to 2020, the agency has grown from strength to strength with the company’s values standing stronger than ever and 90 per cent of the senior management team being female; not a conscious decision but one they feel brings empathy, multi-tasking and exceptionally high standards to the business.

Yellow Fish and Maria were recognised by prime minister David Cameron in 2015 and the Fortuna 50 Index, as being one of the fastest-growing, female-led small businesses of the year. The Fortuna 50 was compiled specifically to highlight the variety and diversity of successful businesses being run by women and inspiring others to do the same.

We asked their female-led senior management, with collectively more than 50 years’ experience within the events and communications industry between them, to share their tips and hints of the trade for future female, and male, business leaders.

What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self when starting out in the industry?

If you’re trying to get into the industry put yourself out there and try to get work experience or a short-term contract as a foot in the door within different companies.

Be committed, it can take time to find but there are loads of advantages to this; you’ll get a feel for the real side of working in the industry, hands-on experience, meet inspirational people, and you’ll get to know some of the many different career paths in the industry.

Sales, marketing, creative, production and the actual logistic delivery itself, there are lots of different areas to get a feel for – be open if what you thought you’d be into actually isn’t right for you.

Finally, be prepared to help with absolutely anything, offer your time, show enthusiasm and try to put forward ideas when there’s an opportunity to speak up. – Hayley Exon, head of communications  

How do you juggle your work-life balance?

People always talk about ‘work-life balance’, I actually think it’s very difficult to get the balance right, especially in our industry. Working on events day in day out, there is a lot of pressure and constant deadlines to meet which often requires working additional hours.

Yellow Fish is open to flexible working which definitely helps, as long as it meets the needs of our business and works for our clients. I personally have two young children so work-life balance is extremely important to me as a working mum. I’ll put in whatever extra hours are needed to get the job done and required for me to make things work but, I can’t complain as I’m passionate about what I do; you couldn’t be in this industry if you weren’t!

There are never enough hours in a day and you never quite feel on top of things with so much to juggle, but it’s super important to make time for yourself. I feel I have a good ‘balance’ most of the time, making time for my family and friends and attending regular Zumba classes helps me feel fulfilled and keeps me positive, rather than resentful. – Louisa Vaughan, head of events

What is the one thing young professionals can do to advance their career/skill up whilst holding down their 9-5?

There are so many ways in this industry to boost your personal brand. Picking just one is tricky but taking ownership of your own career and stepping outside your comfort zone is key – you will be surprised what you are capable of.

Focus on your skillset and what truly inspires you and pursue opportunities to enhance your experience and knowledge. We all know this industry is far from 9-5 therefore, where possible attend out of hours industry events, forums, talks and keep up to date on hot topics and the future of the industry.

Challenge yourself, offer to write content for industry press, ask questions at industry talks and even aim to join a panel discussion or industry boards. Small gradual changes will boost your confidence and experience helping you shape the direction of your career.

Welcome advice and take inspiration from everywhere, attend talks or listen to podcasts on topics, industries and people who inspire you, this doesn’t have to be industry-relevant they could be your favourite sportsman or a successful female business owner. We are lucky to work within an exciting and inclusive industry with lots of opportunities to grow, get amongst it. – Becky Shore, head of business development

What are the key attributes young professionals need to succeed within our competitive industry?

Wow – where do I start? Vision, creativity, empathy, intuition, stamina, positivity, fun-loving, an enquiring mind, stubbornness to not take no for an answer, willingness to push boundaries, good with numbers, flexibility to move as the goalposts do and able to function without regular food intake.

The role of the event agency has evolved with many now offering full-service solutions from design and conception, production and logistical delivery; have an understanding of your strengths and passion as an individual to ensure you find the right agency and role for you.

Stay true to yourself and trust your gut instinct whilst following your own path; don’t be trying to mimic other agencies and get too hung up on what others may or may not be achieving. Find your niche offering and deliver it better than anyone else. – Maria Valentine, founder and CEO



What advice would you give to someone starting at leadership level in an established company?

My advice would be to start with listening. Avoid rushing to judgements and spend time learning from colleagues. Most answers to challenges will already lie within the business. It’s important to be open and honest with your team. Truly be approachable and transparent.

A leadership role in an agency is about being multi-tasker and an all-rounder. Don’t get sucked into too much detail and keep your eyes on the bigger picture. Finally, be sure to measure results and adapt quickly. Don’t be scared to try experiment and innovate. – Laura Pace, Managing Director