The Wise Old Bird [1]

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A long time ago in a nest far, far away… Whoops, that’s the storyteller in me getting carried away. But my sales and bid career did begin in the early 1980s, which is quite a long time ago. Throughout, I can honestly say I have been fortunate. Yes, there have been bumps in the road – a sprinkle of redundancies, flashes of frustration, splashes of tears, lashings of anxiety – but overall it’s been a positive journey, a proverbial rich tapestry. As I now happily type my way towards retirement, my mission is quite simply to earn a fair living and give back what I can. So, for this BQ edition, I’m sharing my top five lessons – my golden eggs – from five decades.

Lesson 1: “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

Life at my all-girls secondary school was far from happy – I wasn’t physically bullied, but I had five years of relentless classroom taunting about the things I did or didn’t do, the clothes I wore, my studious nature and so on. It was a horrible experience, but I told no-one. In year five, my parents cottoned on. We talked. They suggested I change school. I thought about it and refused. I didn’t want to ‘run away’ and I knew my tormentors would be leaving as soon as they could. And the fact that my parents knew helped – my first experience of a problem shared is a problem halved, not a sign of weakness.

Since then, if the going gets tough, I talk to family, friends or colleagues and, at times, a counsellor. When I fell victim to a short bout of cyber-bullying a couple of years ago, I ignored what was being said and spoke to trusted colleagues who reassured me and helped me through it. Our chosen world of bidding is generally a friendly one – if you’re facing a problem, there are many of us who will happily listen.

Lesson 2: “Never regard yourself as inferior.”

In 1982, fresh off my graduate training, I joined the Royal Air Force sales team in ICL (now Fujitsu). My boss was a feisty lady. Although we were heavily outnumbered by our macho colleagues, she clearly had the respect of all around. She told me on day one, “Everyone round here is equal”. So, I followed her lead – worked hard, participated and made myself valuable. Not once did I consider myself to be inferior.

I carried this with me into every conversation, every meeting and onwards into future jobs. I never looked at anyone else and thought they were better than me. And here’s an extra tip from a cold-calling course I went on – if you find yourself thinking someone might be superior in some way, conjure up an ‘equalising image’ – I’ll leave that to your imagination!

Lesson 3: “Your best is always good enough.”

In the second decade of my sales career, a wise boss told me, “If you can look in the mirror every night and tell yourself you did the best you could, then you couldn’t have done any better.” As a perfectionist, I tend to be terrified of making the smallest of errors. I go over and over copy, emails, even texts, making sure the spelling and grammar are correct. The smallest criticism plays out in my mind a million times. If I miss or forget something, I am outraged at myself. The ‘mirror’ lesson is a trusty friend and always sees me through. If I find myself getting into a deepening spiral of over-analysis, I say to myself, “Oh come on Sarah, you did your best, and your best is always good enough.”

There have been times when my best hasn’t been good enough for someone else and it became a problem. And I knew what to do with a problem!

Lesson 4: “Never let your values drop.”

In my first sales director role, I faced a difficult decision. One of my salespeople was persistently under-performing. I was sure I’d done everything to support him fairly and squarely and we’d reached the end of the line, but I was dithering. My boss was a wise Dutchman – he ran the company based on good aptitude and good attitude. We sat down and he got me to weigh up my decision, this way and that. In the end, he said “Sarah, never let your values drop – your values are our values. I have listened, you have been fair, and you have made the right decision.”

Sadly, the lovely Dutchman is no longer with us, but he will always be there with me, reminding me that my values are sound and should guide me. So, make friends with your values, trust them and let them guide you.

Lesson 5: “Don’t make the pig fly, buy a canary.”

The last boss I worked for as a sales and marketing director before I went freelance played a huge part in giving me the confidence to finally break out on my own. On his office wall was a picture of a pig with wings and a canary. The slogan was “Don’t make the pig fly, buy a canary.” It symbolised the importance of playing to strengths and not trying to make people do things they were never cut out to do. I learnt to apply this fabulous advice with my team and myself.

By the time I went freelance, I had a crystal-clear picture of my strengths and a laser-sharp vision of how I wanted my new venture to shape up. I found the courage to stick to my guns, share my dream and never compromise about the type of work I wanted to do. It paid off.

So, from a wise old bird to her fledgling (and mature) bidding colleagues, those are my golden eggs. Feel free to crack them open, savour them and see if they work for you.


[1] The Wise Old Bird – a Panchatantra children’s story –

This article was written by Sarah Hinchliffe.

Sarah has over 35 years’ selling and bidding experience, which she loves to share through her freelance work, articles and presentations. A constant champion of creative storytelling and professional rigour, she never tires of encouraging sales and bid teams to join up, work as a team and win more business together.

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