To be compassionate is a wonderful thing – to go out of your way to ease the physical pains, or emotional burdens of others, is the very definition of empathy. To help others shows that we understand their difficulties and we wish to help in whichever way we can. Astrid Schmitt Bylandt is the embodiment of compassion. She explains where her life’s work of helping others originated from, and how helping others allows her to gain happiness.
“ If you give, you will receive something back without a doubt. sometimes In weird but wonderful ways.”
How has your early childhood shaped your ideologies, decisions, and ambitions in your adult life?
My dad worked as a radiologist, and he was deeply religious. Although there were good and bad sides to this, one thing he did without batting an eyelid was helping others. Whenever someone asked him for help, he would always jump on the phone and make things happen. Whether it was to help someone find a job, provide support within his career field, or to help a patient with anything, he would connect them to the right people. Sometimes people would call late on a Saturday night, and he would still pick up the phone to help and offer his last shirt. One thing that I have taken on board, is that giving is more important than receiving. If you give, you will receive something back without a doubt. Sometimes in weird but wonderful ways.
You state that you knew that your life’s work was to “help people improve their lives.” What brought you to this realisation?
Well, partly because of my dad’s willingness to help, and because I was brought up as a Christian. Helping others and making other people happy makes me feel good in return. Early on, I realised that I was happy to take on this responsibility, as I am well organised, I speak up where needed and I stand up for what I believe in. Even if along the way, you may frustrate people… it happens. Most people do not want to listen or take notice. It just takes a few individuals to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.
Since I was young, I have loved talking to people, as I have very good communication skills. When I started my work life, these people skills served me well, working in sales. Over the course of 25 years in business, I have maintained contact with nearly all the clients I have worked with, and many still work with me in some form or another. Thus, helping people really came natural to me. I am so incredibly grateful that I can make this skill one of my biggest assets in moving my newly founded charitable company forward.
How was your experience transitioning from a full-time job to running a business?
My full-time position was as a director of sales, working in the travel industry. When I was made redundant heads rolled left, right and centre. I decided to take that opportunity to open my first business two weeks later, based on my knowledge and experience. I never looked back. I grew every year, made so many mistakes and got back up. I dusted myself off and moved on or into another direction – whatever was required.
Three things you need when you open your own business:
When obstacles like redundancy or Covid arise, you must believe and know that there are always difficulties. It is part of life. So, you must always find a solution. There is always a solution, which is why I called my coaching business Solutions Finder.
You have established Yes It’s Possible, a company centred around helping the homeless find work, through several training and coaching programmes. What is your view on the current homelessness situation in the UK at present?
I started to really support the homeless during the lockdown, as in the first lockdown public toilets and winter shelters were closed. The homeless really had nowhere to go. Yes, the government put people in hostels and hotels for a while, but it was clear that they would all be kicked out without actual solutions. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened this year. As a company, we cannot do outreach work, as we are too small now. However, we have reached out to Acton Homeless Concern and to St Mungo’s, to ask them to send us their clients that they believe are ready to work. That is the area where we can help the most. We put their CVs together, look at their skills and free courses available to them. We also help them find English language courses where appropriate.
That is our niche, and it really makes the difference. You cannot simply say “Here is a library, go and apply for jobs.” It would be through an online application (if the person is able to do that, which not everyone can) that they would get a job. More often, no company will take people that have been homeless and out of work for a long time. In these situations, I would talk to companies, find out what they need, check what kind of clients we have on the books and match skills with the employer. The most important part is to convince the employer to give someone a chance – they have nothing to lose by interviewing people.
The biggest nightmare we face is people in HR hiding behind a generic process, a standard email, and no personal connection. Employment is a people’s business; we need to make it people friendly again. Another big issue of course is finding accommodation. Even if we find a place that will take someone who has been homeless, the councils want to see the contract first before they pay housing support. However, any landlord would want to have the money first (1 month rent and deposit) before they issue a contract.
So… now we are trying to do two things:
- Raise funds for us to support as many homeless in London (for now but I would really like to branch out to other cities).
- Ask companies to lend us money so that we can pay a landlord directly.
This way, the homeless person will get a contract, and can move in ASAP. Then, once the landlord gets paid by the council, they will pay us back. Thus, the client will never see the money and cannot spend it on anything unnecessary, and they are housed in suitable accommodation. You would think this is such a simple thing but… no one seems to be doing it.
As an entrepreneur with multiple businesses, how do you effectively manage your time, finances, and resources?
Funnily enough, I do not manage these things well. I am forever struggling for time. I do think that I get an awful lot done, more than some people, because I am quite organised. Although, between dropping off the kids at school, going to the office, working until I pick them up again, then playing with them or cooking, getting things done at home etc, it is a crazy day. I would genuinely like to have 48 hours in the day, but since that is not possible, I always try to do the hardest tasks first… but that is just not always possible.
As for finance and resources, as I mentioned before, entrepreneurs must be flexible. When I was made redundant, I opened my own business. When Brexit happened, I changed my other business from bringing students over for internships, to coaching unemployed people for the job centres. When the lockdown happened, I started coaching online privately and for the jobcentres. When I saw the horrible situation that the homeless faced, I felt rather than doing lots of talking and moaning, this needed action – so I acted. My company is not as big as I would like to be, but with the help and knowledge of others, I believe I can move forward and quickly progress. Now, I reach out to everyone I know who can help, in any way they can.
How do you find the perfect work-life balance, as a successful businesswoman and a mother of twins?
What is perfect? There is no such thing as perfect. I would love to pick up my kids at 1pm, rather than at 3.30pm, and spend more time with them. I would love to work more hours to help house more homeless people. You must accept that nothing is perfect, and that something will always be there to complete the next day. If you stop occasionally to make sure your priorities are in order, you can recalibrate and start the next week with a better schedule. That is how I do my best to move forward.
As a life coach, you provide numerous services, from personal development to career and business guidance. What key tips would you give a first-time entrepreneur?
Initially, you must make a written plan and be prepared to throw it all out when reality hits you. I started my businesses from nothing, and in hindsight, I would have been much more successful if I had money and a team for marketing, finance, and coaching behind me. If you can find people that will support you, then that will pay off a million times over. Of course, you need to find the right people that have your best interests in mind, not their own pockets. You must also stay flexible – adapt to the market and environment. Make sure you build structures early on in your business, so you will not need to do it all yourself eventually. Lastly, it is imperative to make sure you improve your sales skills every day of the week. Relationships make a huge part of every business.
But mostly importantly, love what you do and everything else will follow.