Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Keidi Janz

One of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. TEDx Speaker. Marketer of the Year. Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Just by looking at a few of Bailey Parnell’s accolades, there’s no question that she’s a woman on a mission.

As the Founder and CEO of SkillsCamp, a school for soft skills, she’s leading the charge in teaching people the core skills that are missing from the traditional education model, helping them to become more employable, effective and successful.  

Bailey wears many hats -- business owner, public speaker (she guest lectured her first MBA class at 21!), digital marketer and Masters student -- her career trajectory alone proving that skills like personal branding, time management and leadership (among many others!) are what we need to truly succeed in today’s work environment.

We’re excited to kick off our interview series with an honest reflection from Bailey on building resilience, the importance of taking calculated risks and what success means to her:

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

It seems my life has handed me my biggest lemon in the form of my Mom’s health struggles. She has been sick for as long as I can remember, and we’ve been told she was going to die too many times. From a brain aneurysm to a lung disease to this past year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, we have seen it all it seems. But, my Mom has helped us turn these moments into lemonade. For my mom, my 3 other parents, and my 5 sisters, these moments have helped shape the people we have become. They are parts of our shared story that make us who we are. The good news in all of this is that very young, my sisters and I learned invaluable lessons:

  • Cherish every moment and appreciate the people in your life because everything could change in an instant.

  • Our family is strong because we stick together with an unshakeable love.

  • Sometimes, you just have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and push forward.

  • Perspective. It could always be worse. Many things are inconsequential in the grand scheme.

My Mom has shown us what it means to persevere and fight for what you want. She is the embodiment of resilience and bouncing back from hardship. She has shown us what unconditional love and zest for life looks life. She has encouraged us to take ownership of our lives and go after what we want. And, she has empowered six daughters to be the strong, independent, incredibly confident women we are today. I wrote a more detailed blogpost about this.

Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.

The ideal environment would be an office extremely close to my condo downtown Toronto. I’d have a stand-up desk, dual monitors, and tea/lemon water close at all times! I’d be surrounded by numerous SkillsCamp staff (or other business owners until we get to that place) all working hard. I feed off the energy though I personally like complete silence when I work. Since we’re talking ideal, I would prefer to be near a park so I could do beautiful outdoor walking meetings!

After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

SkillsCamp is still quite young (not even two years!) The first year was more for testing to see if people would even pay for soft skills training and what business model would work best. Ultimately, we ended up realizing B2B was the best way forward. 2018 feels like our real second year. After our research, I know more about what makes us different from our competitors and what companies are missing with regards to soft skills. This year, we will double down on those skills and finally ignite our networks to sell them. 

Photography by  Keidi Janz

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe? 

I have always been nervous that I’m not a big enough risk taker to make it as an entrepreneur. If I had to unpack that, it probably comes from growing up without means. I know what it is like to worry about every dime and pay off school debt, and I do not want to go back there. But, my business mentors often remind me that there is a difference between playing it too safe and making calculated risks. I make calculated risks, and most of my business success has come from confidence in myself and the work we do. I’m taking a risk on myself, which most entrepreneurs have to do.

How do you measure success in your career?

I have this idea of myself in the future that keeps me motivated. I see a version of me that has had an impact on people and practically made their lives better; a version that is professionally respected for having demonstrated success in business (first by making a business self-sustainable and then by growing it); a version that is continually excited to go home to my partner at our beautiful loft in Toronto; a version that can afford to take my large family on vacations and has time to do it. Some are specific and some more broad, but I think about how I want my life to look and feel in the future, and I try to do what needs to be done to get there. That’s motivating. That’s success.

You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?

I arrive between 15 minutes to 1 hour early depending on the degree of importance and hang out in a nearby coffee shop until it’s time. I like knowing I am where I need to be and do not do “what if I’m late” anxiety. I then re-read through all important information and/or practice what needs to be said. As certain types of meetings or engagements become more commonplace - more “normal” - there’s less and less nerves. 

"I have always been nervous that I’m not a big enough risk taker to make it as an entrepreneur."

Was there ever a moment when you questioned your decision to become an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it? 

I question it every other day, haha. Entrepreneurship is hard and it just happens to be glorified in media right now as being bean bags and hoodies. As an entrepreneur, all business successes and failures reflect on you. That’s public pressure. But, then I overcome it by thinking about all of the joys and perks it brings to my life: the right lifestyle design, doing exactly the kind of work I’d choose even if I won the lottery and didn’t have to work, etc. 

What do you love most about yourself?

I like that I know a little about a lot and a lot about a little. I like that I can easily jive with most people, regardless of identity. I like that my upbringing made me resilient and realistic. And, I like that I’m very self-assured and confident in who I am.

If you could re-live one career-defining moment in your life again, what would it be and why?

That moment I got the biggest and most game-changing contract for SkillsCamp. It was a profound moment, but I didn’t actually realize it until later. I thought we were still in the pitching phase, but the client was already sold. We were talking literal soft skill program details, not hypothetical. It played out slowly, but looking back, I wish I had that big moment where I realized this thing could work. I more… fell into that realization.

Who is a fellow Toronto-based female entrepreneur that inspires you and why?

There are WAY too many, so I’ll just highlight two that have shown me real kindness recently. Kelli Saunders is the President & CEO of Morai Logistics and Joyce Usher-Mesiano is the President of National Brokers Insurance and Monarch Intermediaries - both of whom are featured on this year’s list of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the “Entrepreneur” category. I met Joyce at last year‘s WXN Top 100 cocktail party. She was so welcoming to me and introduced me to her friends when I did not know many people there.

At this year‘s Top 100 Leadership Summit, I told her that I did not apply to this year‘s awards because I didn’t think that my career had changed enough. Joyce thought that was ridiculous and continues to encourage me to keep applying again and again. She believed in me more than I did!  I told her that I was not going to the Gala that night because I couldn’t afford a ticket having not won this year. Upon hearing that, she introduced me to her friend Kelli Saunders who invited me to take the extra seat at her table. Kelli and I had never met before, but someone had dropped out from her table and she warmly encouraged me to take it. I did and ended up having the best time with her family at their Gala table. Both women didn’t owe me anything but showed me a kindness i won’t forget. They also showed me the kind of successful businesswoman I want to be - someone warm, welcoming, humble, encouraging to the next generation, and supportive of other women!

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