Guest Posting – Fog City vs. The Big Smoke: what a year in San Francisco has taught me, by Felicity H. Barber

Felicity H. BarberFelicity H. Barber is a speechwriter, executive communications specialist and coach. She write speeches, advises business leaders on messaging and coaches people to deliver stellar presentations and pitches. Before moving to San Francisco from London she was an in-house speechwriter at Lloyd’s of London, the global insurer. She wrote speeches and prepared business executives for presentations, panel discussions and conferences all around the world. And, she once wrote a book presented as a gift to HM The Queen. This posting appears with her express permission.

It’s exactly a year since I waved goodbye to family, friends and a stable job as an in-house speechwriter in London’s Square Mile (the city’s financial center). On 31 July 2015 I stepped off the plane, into the San Francisco fog and started a new life as a freelance speechwriter and communications consultant in Silicon Valley.

After twelve months working in the world’s high-tech mecca I want to share some of the biggest differences between doing business in Fog City and the Big Smoke.

Everyone has a side hustle

When I told people at home I was planning on becoming a solo entrepreneur in San Francisco most of them thought I was mad. My friends were in agreement: moving to a new country and setting up a business can both be done, but are best not attempted at the same time! Nonetheless, I persevered: I networked, I blogged, I got on the social media bandwagon, and eventually I won my first client, then another, and another. I put my success down to my passion for what I do, dogged determination, but also how positive the Bay Area culture is about entrepreneurs. Everyone here has a start-up, a freelance gig or a side hustle. As a result there are systems here to support new ventures, whether that’s incubators, angel investors or co-working spaces. What’s perhaps even more important is that the ‘home of the free’ is also the land of innovation: there’s a willingness to try what’s untested. It doesn’t matter that you’re new in town; most of the people you meet here came from somewhere else and were new themselves once. They will give you a go and if they like you they’ll keep coming back for more.

Things move at lightening speed

I spent the first few years of my career in the public and charity sector. It will be no surprise to you to hear that things moved s l o w l y. In 2012 I decided it was time I experienced what life was like in the private sector, or the ‘real world’ as my civil service friends affectionately called it. I took a job at the insurer Lloyd’s of London. The move was one of the best I’ve ever made. I worked with some wonderful people and learned a ton, but the cogs of specialist insurance don’t exactly turn at breakneck speed either. This is in huge contrast to the lightening pace of business in the Bay Area. In the UK I’ve waited weeks to hear back after a job interview; in San Francisco I’ve pitched for business on a Monday and had a contract signed on Tuesday. The change of pace is refreshing, but it does mean that you need to be ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Slow coaches need not apply.

Get used to a new dress code

In my corporate office in London I was constantly tripping on my heels, tugging down my skirt or looking for a reasonable dry cleaner for my dresses. This is not a problem in the Bay Area! As I do 90% of my work from home I can of course work in my birthday suit if I so choose! (Indeed, there are reported cases of Silicon Valley workers doing just that.) However, I prefer to greet the day and my work fully clothed. Even when I go to a client’s office I leave my heels at home. San Francisco is decidedly more casual that London. Not everyone goes for the Zuckerberg jeans and T-shirt combo, but you’re probably safe to ditch your tie and swap your crisp, white shirt for a plaid one.

Sometimes when I’m at a clients’ office sitting around on beanbags, it must be said, I miss the formality of London. But the entrepreneurial spirit, the give-anything-a-go-once attitude, and the quick pace all make the Bay Area a fantastic place to do business.

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Great to have you in the Bay Area. We are learning a lot from you!

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