Jennifer Bicknell is passionate about helping to solve people’s problems.
The Sydney Business Chicks member has been a lawyer for more than 25 years, specialising in workplace law, litigation, commercial disputes and managing reputation risks. Most recently she has focused on showing people how to manage issues before they become big legal problems.
Two years ago, a Business Chicks breakfast she attended was the catalyst for an enormous new career trajectory – prompting, her to leave the tribe she had been with for eight years, to go out on her own. Jen Bicknell explains why she decided it was time to ‘pick herself’ and start her own business.
Tell us a little bit about your background: where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was four years old, I stood in the front garden of my Grandparents cottage in Randwick and asked what that big building was in the distance. It was the University of NSW, and my grandparents told me that that was where the smart people went. I then asked what the highest part of the building was and said ‘that must be where the really smart people go.’ Much later I found out that was the Law School, and 14 years later, that’s where I went.
I did change my mind many times leading up to that, however. I wanted to teach disabled people, to be a dietician, an economist, even CEO of the Sydney Roosters! Eventually, I studied Law/ Commerce at UNSW, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer. I did a summer clerkship, upon finishing uni and I rather enjoyed being a lawyer and ended up working at that firm for nearly 15 years.
We heard that you ended up quitting your job after being inspired by the Business Chicks event with Seth Godin. Can you tell us about that?
Although I wasn’t sure who Seth Godin was when I booked my ticket, that breakfast proved to be a real light bulb moment for me. I sat there on my iPad taking notes and when it was finished I ran back to my office shrieking ‘oh my god, oh my god!’
For the next six weeks I completely immersed myself in everything ‘Seth’. I realised that although I was happy, I was just coasting, and not challenging myself. Seth’s theme at that Breakfast was ‘pick yourself’. What I really needed to do was run my own business, so that’s what I set out to do.
So how long have you been running your own business, and do you have any regrets about the bold moves you have made?
I’ve been running my own business for two years now. I have my own law firm and continue to consult with my previous firm. I have two lawyers there dedicated to me as I still bring in lots of work. I love having the freedom to do my own thing. There are definitely no regrets. Sometimes I just wish I’d done it sooner, though I certainly felt everything happened at the right time, and as it was meant to.
“I don’t really want balance. If you love what you are doing, then you have less need for balance.”
It was a bold move, but I always felt very confident about it. I never imagined it wouldn’t work. My mum had just died and to be honest that made me even more fearless. It felt like the very worst thing that could happen, had happened, so I wasn’t afraid anymore.
What’s a great experience you’ve had with Business Chicks?
When I started my own business, I knew I wouldn’t be taking holidays any time soon. So when Business Chicks announced they were launching in the US, I thought it would be a great to go to the launch in New York. It was not really a holiday, but a place where I could surround myself with people who were doing the same thing as me. I convinced a friend to come too, and we made some great connections on the trip.
Do you feel that women’s circles play an important role in business? What has Business Chicks meant to you?
I’ve been a Director of NAWIC for nine years. It’s an organisation that promotes the interests of women in the construction industry. It engages women and men and helps build the credibility of women in the industry. NAWIC is obviously specifically focused in one area, so I really liked the idea of joining Business Chicks and exposing myself to women in every industry, at different levels of seniority, with diverse backgrounds. It was a big selling point for me.
“The women I have met through Business Chicks has become a very strong circle for me. I feel like I have created my tribe.”
I have made some incredibly close friends through Business Chicks. And although many of us are in different cities we still stay in touch. The women I have met through Business Chicks has become a very strong circle for me. I feel like I have created my tribe.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given (and by whom)?
‘Pick yourself’ by Seth Godin.
What advice would you pass on to others considering making that leap into starting their own business?
I’d say that it’s not for everyone. It’s hard, and for many people, it is much easier to continue working for an organisation, but if you have that drive to do it then that is what you have to do.
When I went out on my own, so many people said how brave I was. That really surprised me. It didn’t occur to me that I was brave, it just felt like what I had to do. Some people just aren’t built to run their own business, but it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you happy.
What do you do to unwind? How do you manage to find balance?
I don’t really want balance. If you love what you are doing, then you have less need for balance. Working for myself means I have mental freedom and flexibility to do things on my time.
I do think I am a better person and a better lawyer if I exercise though, so I try to be active. I met a friend at the Golden Door trip I went on with Business Chicks, and we sometimes swim together at the North Sydney pool. I much prefer to exercise with other people. My partner lives in the country, so it’s good to spend time with him.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I’m really passionate about mental health in the workplace, so this year I’m focused on workshops in this area, bringing in a psychologist and looking at what is going wrong. I’m also focusing on my own health right now and being active. I’m trying to cook lots of fresh food in my Thermomix. My dad recently had a stroke, so I’m spending lots of time with him. I’m incredibly busy right now, but I’m happy.
Connect with Jen here.
Photographs: Seth Godin.