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Balancing the Grind With Corrie McLeod, CEO of Hello Espresso

Corrie McLeod is the CEO of Hello Espresso, a group of companies which includes InnovationAus, a think-tank and public policy advocacy group, Espresso Communications, a full service consultancy, and One Part Idea, a content development agency.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I haven’t really followed the typical career path, spending a good part of my 20s working in hospitality and then starting a catering company in Melbourne. At about 26 or 27 I decided one morning at 5.30 as I lugged a food warmer up the back stairs of a university for a breakfast function that it was time to reassess my career choices.

A friend of mine suggested PR might be an interesting field for me, so I went back to uni to update my qualifications. Trying to find a job as a junior in an agency in my late 20s was an eye-opener.

I was considered too old, and was told that specifically during internships and job applications. There was a view that I wouldn’t fit into an agency pecking order because I was older than the people who I would be reporting to.

I eventually got a job in Sydney following an introduction to Howorth Communications, who were recruiting for an Account Coordinator role. I’m grateful to this day for the opportunity, and the great people, most of whom I’m friends with to this day. I loved it.

Two years into the role, I found out I was pregnant – surprise! And given I was single, I didn’t return to work following mat leave, but instead started freelancing which provided a bit more flexibility given I was a sole parent.

I balanced freelance work, a baby* and the single parent pension for nearly a year, before relying solely on a freelance income. And from there, Espresso was born.

*That baby is now 15 and considers himself a ‘co-founder’

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I’m now CEO of Hello Espresso which includes Espresso Communications, a publication called InnovationAus and a marketing consultancy, One Part Idea. My role is to ensure all three companies are successful, our people are supported and that I am thinking critically about how each of the businesses must evolve to meet the needs of our clients and partners.

On any given day, I might be consulting, providing client advice or working with the senior team at Espresso on agency management, HR and new business. On the InnovationAus.com side, I support the editorial team as needed, produce forums and events, oversee commercial partnerships and focus on growing our reach and audience.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I wake up, get a coffee and proof the InnovationAus stories that may have been posted overnight. I’ll then review emails from clients and partners that have come through overnight and have a look at the meetings scheduled for the day to make sure that I am prepared.

I’ll do a news sweep of media reports in our sector, and jump on Slack to make sure that the team have what they need from me to crack on with their day.

I switch into family mode for an hour and a half or so while listening to Radio National. Once the kids are off to school I jump in the shower and make my way to work.

The day is a mix of meetings (internal and external) and I will often try and find a quiet place to get some work done without distraction. Lunch is at my desk, as I don’t work a particularly long day – so need to make every minute count.

I finish close to 5.30/6 and head home to make dinner and get kids sorted.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?

Write a list, and choose a couple of the chunky tasks to tackle first. Also crossing things off the list that I have already done gives me a weird sense of satisfaction!

Working with the broader team to delegate things they can move forward – i.e. turn my blue-sky thinking in to action – is definitely helpful. It has become a bit of a joke in our office that the team voice record a briefing with me, rather than wait for me to eventually draft what they need. It’s a great hack when information has been buried in my head for too long.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I savour weekends with my family. There are five of us now, and we try and do an activity with all of us on each of the weekend days.

It seems obvious, but making a plan to go and do something together that is new and interesting really helps me to make sure we are living, and to not feel resentful about work encroaching on life.

We also made a decision to ensure that our house, office, childcare, primary school and high school are all within a square kilometre. This gives us back a huge amount of time to potter around with kids in the morning, rather than sit in traffic.

6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

I spend a lot of time on the weekend cooking. I’m one of those people that finds cooking very therapeutic, and luckily it’s handy to have a fridge full for the week ahead.

I’m not a recipe person, but like making dishes up on the fly. I’m also a huge podcast listener and somewhat of a true crime aficionado, so I spend many hours listening to podcasts while getting other stuff done. I’m making a list of my recommended podcasts, so feel free to hit me up for it!

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Make peace with failure, and have a strong ‘failure’ plan to set you free. It helps pull everything into focus when you know that ‘the worst’ isn’t really that bad.

Secondly, I’ve learned to focus on what I am good at, and work with people to develop the areas I’m not good at. In trying to find balance and productivity, it’s liberating.

The other thing is committing to ongoing education, and this might in part be about working with people who bring industry skills and experiences that I haven’t had. I try and make as many events and trade missions as I can, and the trade missions particularly have been invaluable to keep inspired and energised.

The final one, and this is hard, is learning how to switch off and remember that nothing is ever solved at 3 am. Easier said than done!

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

Not books per se, but I did listen to half of the audio book of The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I had to stop listening frankly because it was too hard to hear!

In reality, the business part of publishing is brutal, and the key thing I took from that book is that it can get very lonely when the buck stops with you. You are the only one who can make it work, or make the tough calls. This isn’t about workilife balance exactly, but I guess it helped me think about how much I am personally prepared to sacrifice as a founder.

Chris Savage also has a blog called Wresting with Possums that I read from time to time. There are always nuggets in there, and apart from being one of those outstanding communications pros, Chris manages to articulate the ‘human’ side of what we do and the purpose with which we do it.

Again – not work-life balance specifically, but many of the posts challenge me to think about not only what I am doing at work, but why I am doing it.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

To be honest, it is really about making sure there are enough things to be excited about. I’m at my most productive when I am working on things I’m passionate about, so having run the company for 15 years, I make sure that there are constantly new things to work on to keep the spark alive.

If you found the above conversation helpful and inspiring, be sure to check out Balance the Grind’s guide to achieving a healthy work-life balance.

About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.