Interview: GDPR for Dummies by Suzanne Dibble

Skills for Freedom: Hello and welcome. Today's guest is someone I've been itching to talk to for some time. Suzanne Dibble is a former corporate lawyer who's worked alongside the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Simon Woodroffe, the founder of the YO! Sushi restaurant chain and one of the original Dragons on BBC's Dragons' Den. Well after winning many awards for her legal work, a few years ago, Suzanne decided to step away from the corporate world to start her own venture, The Small Business Legal Academy. Fast forward to today and she's recently published a bestselling dummies guide book on the subject of GDPR. And if you've never heard of GDPR, don't worry, you soon will. Suzanne, welcome.

Suzanne Dibble: Thank you. It is an absolute pleasure to be talking to you today.

Skills for Freedom: You've done so much already. It's really hard to know where to start, but perhaps you could tell me a little bit more about where you're from and how you ended up as a corporate lawyer.

Suzanne Dibble: Well, I can give you the abridged version or the very long version. I think for the sake of the listeners, we'll stick to the abridged version. And now some of you, if you listen to me talk a little bit longer you'd notice my flat A's. So even though I've lived down South now for about 25 years, you can still detect the Northern accent. So I grew up in the Northwest in a county called Cheshire, and I went to a private school, actually. And it was the type of school where if you were good at science, you were going to be a doctor. And if you weren't good at science, you were going to be a lawyer. That's about as extensive as the career advice was back then. And as you can tell from the way that my career went, I wasn't very good at science.

So it was really, you were pointed in those directions. I did a placement, I seem to remember, at the local and I mean, very local, high street law firm. And the managing partner drove a very fancy Jaguar and I thought, "That'll do for me. I'll go into law." I'd love to give you some tale about, I went down to the criminal law courts and saw a travesty, a miscarriage of justice that I wanted to remedy in some way. But actually, it was a little bit more superficial than that. But saying that, it's been a brilliant career for me. It's allowed me to do pretty much everything that I've wanted to do. It's exercised my grey cells certainly, it's enabled me to meet some incredible people.

Like you mentioned, I've worked alongside Richard Branson and Simon Woodroffe, and other fascinating entrepreneurs. I've been doing the kind of deals that you would read about on the front of the FT. I've worked to ITV and led the biggest deal that they ever did when we were transmuting over from the analogue signal to the digital signal. So I've had a fantastic career in law. And then I was very blessed that I was able to start my own practice, which has allowed me to work totally flexibly around my children.

So I consider myself very lucky actually to have not been good at science, say that I've gone down the legal route rather than the medical route. Although saying that, I am suggesting to my daughter that she might consider medicine, because obviously, I've had lots of experience of doctors with my husband and my mum and other family members who've needed the support of these brilliant people.

I'd obviously have to say that doctors are, well, I don't know, maybe I'm doing lots of lawyers a discredit here, but certainly, I think doctors are able to give obviously a lot more value to society. So I'm suggesting that she might like that route but for me, the legal route has been a joy really.

Skills for Freedom: And what a journey it's been, as you say. I mean, you've worked for some of the top companies around the country, and then to branch out and set up on your own, that's a huge achievement. And as you mentioned, you have worked with some of the biggest names in the corporate world, like Richard Branson. What was that like?

Suzanne Dibble: Well at the time, to be honest, I didn't realize what a big deal it was. Having now been in a circle of entrepreneurs for the last 10 years since I've set up my own business, I've realized that most of these entrepreneurs would literally give their right arm to go for dinner with Richard Branson, and not just people in this country, but all around the world and I did that many times.

I went to his house in Holland Park. I went for dinner with just him and three other people to a very cozy little restaurant in Chelsea. We went clubbing together on the King's Road. And at the time, I really didn't think that much of it. He was a great guy, we had a lot of fun but I wasn't thinking, goodness me, I'm here with a living legend in the entrepreneurial world. He was fantastic.

I wrote a blog post actually about the things that I learned from him. And what he was excellent at doing was finding really good people and then letting them get on with it. So he wasn't one to micromanage, that's for sure. And I think that actually is a real skill. But also just such a people person. When we went for dinner, we went to the pub first. I can't remember the name, but lovely little pub on the corner of the King's Road in Chelsea.

Everyone was staring and pointing and saying, "There's Richard." And rather than getting annoyed by it, he'd give them a little wave. I thought, "Well, that's jolly nice of him." And then we went to the restaurant and I kid you not, by the end of the meal, the whole of the restaurant had pulled up a chair around our table.

It was only a cozy little place. It's like maybe 30 people in there, and he was regaling the 30 or so guests with stories about his life, about Virgin and they were loving it. And he was so giving in that way. He didn't seem in any way annoyed that these people were interrupting a private dinner. And he was like that all the time. Virgin were very good to their staff and I believe still are.

There was a games room downstairs with a tennis table and some games consoles and free food and free fruit and et cetera. And he would regularly pop in and he just made everyone so at ease and a really huge people person. And of course, there's his legendary vision. I think that was evident in the way that the company was set up.

We had a specific team that purely looked at ideas that people sent him. And every single one was looked at. And obviously, the ones that had viability were taken forwards. But he had about 25 group companies at that time. And he still had this venture capital arm that was actively looking for new ways to make the customer experience better, which is really what the Virgin Group was all about. So yes, fantastic time working at Virgin and getting to know Richard and learned a lot from him.

Skills for Freedom: Would you say he's influenced you in any way, Suzanne?

Suzanne Dibble: Even before I met him actually, I'd read all of his books. And if you'd have asked me who I wanted to be when I was 15, I would have said I want to be the female Richard Branson. So, I've obviously failed on that and unless in the next 20 years, I'm going to build and grow 25 companies to the level he has. I think I've failed on that. But he certainly ignited in me my entrepreneurial spark.

I think that, that was what made it a lot easier to walk away from quite a structured corporate life to set up my own business. And I've spoken to lots of lawyers since who I know would, particularly women actually, who at the point that they had children wanted to still have some career, but they didn't want to have the demands that the corporate job placed on them. They just weren't brave or they didn't feel that they were brave enough to walk away from that and set up their own venture. So I think that he certainly gave me that, and working there as well or even, there was already always an entrepreneurial yearning there, but it gave me the confidence almost to see that through.

Skills for Freedom: That's great. You must've been worried as well about stepping away from that well-paid corporate job to set up your own venture?

Suzanne Dibble: Absolutely. Yes. I was on a multiple six-figure package and to go from that to nothing is scary for anybody. I was a corporate lawyer which are the, typically that's the longest hours that you will ever do in a legal job. And it was, regularly you were working 18 hour days, weekends. I think the longest I went without any sleep was three nights.

We did the deal. We signed the deal at 10:00 AM on the Monday. I think we'd worked all over the weekend. It was this Swedish management team and they'd brought their 10 bottles of vodka or whatever firewater it was from Sweden. And at 10:00 AM, after not having had any sleep for three nights, they got that out and did the old toast where you have to look each other in the eye, go around the table and scowl. Then they took us out for lunch and more drinks after that.

By 3:00 PM, I went home hallucinating because of the lack of sleep and by then I'm sure the vodka. But it just wasn't a job that was compatible with having a small family. So in the end it was a fairly easy decision to make in that, I'd just become pregnant with my first child and I knew that I couldn't carry that on. So for me, because it was such a tough job, it was almost an easier decision to make if you like. And also I was fortunate in that, my husband's got a good job. His wage covered the mortgage and yes, we'd probably have to go without a few things if my business failed, but we had that security of knowing that the mortgage would be paid. So I think I was in a very fortunate position.

I had confidence in myself. I knew that I'm not only a good technical lawyer, but I've got good people skills. I was actively looking forward to going out and networking and finding new clients. And I thought well, "I'll give it a go. Worst-case scenario, I'm sure I can find another job." But it's a big leap, particularly when you've been in a very structured high paid job. But I'm eternally grateful that I took that leap.

Skills for Freedom: And that leap, was that to The Small Business Legal Academy? Was that the first venture that you had?

Suzanne Dibble: Well initially, as most people who have an expertise do, I set up as a consultancy. And I really wanted to help other women like me. So women who had been in a corporate life but had quit that because they wanted more flexibility when they were having a family and they'd set up their own business to enable them to work more flexibly. So my very first business actually was called Lawyers4Mumpreneurs. Dreadful name, but it did what it said.

And we won lots of awards for that, because really there were no other legal offerings in the country that were aiming at that particular niche. And very happily at that time, there was a whole industry that was growing up around mumpreneurs. So there were lots of conferences, there were trainings for mumpreneurs, there were bloggers for mumpreneurs, there were membership sites for mumpreneurs.

So really, I just became the lawyer of choice for that industry and very quickly became overbooked. So I realized that I was working the hours I was working in the city, but because I was trying to set my fees to let obviously a much lower level for small businesses to be able to afford my fees, I was getting paid nowhere near what I was in my corporate job. So I thought, "Well, that's not where I wanted to be. I don't want to be working as hard. That was the whole reason for starting my own business."

So I got to one of those sliding doors type moments where I thought, "I've got to do something." And I thought, "Well, I can either hire more lawyers and expand that way or I can productize my expertise." And I thank my lucky stars pretty much every day, that I went for the, I'll productize my expertise route rather than I'll take on more lawyers. It's been, yes, a lot of hard work initially to set up the, that's what ultimately it became, The Small Business Legal Academy.

That was my way of productizing my expertise. I remember I was breastfeeding my youngest, she was probably only four months old when I decided that I wanted to do it. And I sold it before I'd actually created it. And then the idea was that I would produce the content over, I think it was eight weeks that I'd promised to produce it, but I'd vastly underestimated the amount of work it would take particularly to film the videos that I wanted to film.

So I remember I was probably only... I was working through the night. I was probably getting two hours sleep a night for about those eight weeks, which did nearly finish me off. But, then it was done. And actually, the people who initially bought from me were very generous and I said, "I'm very sorry, but it's taken so long to do the videos. I'm going to follow up. The videos will follow later," and people were very kind about that and said, "Yeah, no problem."

But I think people think with a passive income, there's no work to do at all. But of course, there is. There's lots of work to do upfront. But the joy of it is, is that now that that's all set up or the contents there, it's all automated. Obviously I have to spend time in updating it. I'm always adding new documents and new materials to it and making sure that it's all up to date. But once the bulk of the work is done, I'm effectively earning money while I sleep, without the stress of managing other people.

So obviously I have a small support team, but it's nothing like managing a team of lawyers, for example. So that was the early days of The Small Business Legal Academy. And we started out, I say reasonably small although there was still a very good amount of materials in there, and that was in 2013. So for the last seven years, we've been constantly adding to that. We've had many, many thousands of members now go through that.

We do it on a renewal basis so that if people want to renew for a followi