9 things you need to know to get to the top and stay there

Vanessa Vallely's work provides a refreshingly honest insight into the business world from the perspective of a successful woman, mother and wife. Start making notes, ladies...

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Vanessa Valleley is a name that everyone should know about.

The CEO and founder of WeAreTheCity.com is known as "the most networked woman in the City", starting on the career ladder at age 15 and working her way up to the C-suite.

She now has an OBE for services to women and the economy, and is a popular and empowering public speaker on smashing the glass ceiling.

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Luckily for women and men everywhere, Valleley has compiled her tips, advice and practical steps for "surviving and thriving in the corporate world" in her autobiographical book, Heels of Steel.

From defining success and grabbing opportunities to the importance of female support in a male-dominated world, Heels of Steel is full of the career inspiration and guidance that everyone can benefit from.

Here is Vanessa Valleley's advice for getting to the top and staying there...

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1. Define your own success Ask yourself: what does success look like for you? The key is to create your own definition of success because, ultimately, you are the one in charge of achieving your ambition. It is also important to be realistic and understand that your definition of success may change over time due to life’s inevitable lumps and bumps. Don't let your success be defined by others – you own your own success and only you know what you are truly capable of.

2. Be able to measure your progress Write your plans and progress down, track yourself and don’t forget to ask others to help you achieve your goals. What can’t be measured doesn’t get done, so even if you loosely detail what you wish to achieve on a scrap of paper it’s a good start. Once you have your list, start to detail the people you need to help you and what you need to do to achieve those goals at a task level. Review your list every three months in order to measure your progress, and don’t forget to set yourself interim milestones so you feel like you are constantly achieving along the way.

3. Not everyone will understand you Along the way there will be people who just don’t understand what you are trying to achieve. Opinions of others are invaluable at times; however there will also be times when you have to consider them as nothing more than background noise. Keep focused, put in the effort and over time you will achieve what you set out to do.

4. Grab opportunities Opportunities are around you all of the time, you just need to open your mind to see them. Grab chances with both hands. Seek opportunity in every person you meet and in everything that you do. As long as you have time and health on your side there is truly nothing that you cannot achieve. Every Sunday, rather than reading the newspapers, I used to spend an hour writing to people with different ideas, at least 50% of them responded in some form. From asking for simple connections to proposing business collaborations, that hour on the weekend was always well spent.

5. Give back Regardless of where you are in your career, giving back to the next generation is integral to your longevity and success. Take time out to share your knowledge, connections and advice to others who are starting out. Charities, social enterprises and schools are usually crying out for experience, help and volunteers.

6. Learn every day There are so many opportunities to learn new things, for example by attending events and conferences, Open University programmes, online training or leveraging the skills and talents of those around us. I still take a day out each month to learn a new skill. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something: people are often more than happy to teach you, but as I say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. What’s the worst that could happen? They might say no, in which case, you can ask someone else!

7. Network for success Networking should be top of the agenda for any business or career plan. In order to grow your career or business you have to put yourself out there. This requires effort, but the effort will pay off three-fold in the way of opportunities. Actively seek ways to meet new people, join a network (i.e. wearethecity.com) or a similar group. Use social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to stay connected and make connections.

8. Money isn’t everything Coming from a background of having very little financial stability I grew up believing that money equated to happiness. As I got older I realised that although money was an enabler for some of my life goals, it didn’t always make me happy. I recently left my job in the City and as a family we are down to one salary, but I feel like I am now in charge of my own destiny and above all I get to spend more time with my two little girls and family, therefore I feel rich in life and for me that’s what is most important right here, right now. 9. Having it all Balancing it all is tough and you need to be careful what you commit to, otherwise you will burn yourself out. It is all too easy for us to make assumptions about what others expect of us, for example, to be a perfect mother, high-flying career woman, supportive best friend, immaculately presented, or super organised. Be kind to yourself: recognise when you need a break and take it!

Heels of Steel by Vanessa Vallely is available to buy at Waterstones for £3.74.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.