International cover model turned food entrepreneur Colette Russell Smith shares her thoughts on handling setbacks and the importance of turning your ideas into concrete actions. I also explain how I move forward with daunting goals during the Mental Fuel® segment.
Key Career Insights
- If someone says “no,” it may have absolutely nothing to do with you. Persistence is about continuing on in spite of the rejection.
- By paying close attention to your own behaviours, it can offer clues into what you’re truly passionate about.
- Maintaining balance requires mixing rigorous planning with time to just decompress.
Tweetables to Share
- Colette mentioned Touker Suleyman from Dragon’s Den.
- This is a good book on Getting Things Done, by David Allen.
- If you’re interested in learning more about the modelling agency Colette mentioned in London, it’s Nevs Models.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of turning your ideas into actual concrete actions that drive results. I’d love to hear what bold ideas you’re going to begin acting on. Share your plans with the Career Relaunch community by leaving a comment below.
About Colette Cronje Russell Smith, International Model & Food Entrepreneur
Colette Russell Smith was born in the food and wine region of South Africa and has always been a passionate foodie. In fact, she liked potatoes so much she decided to change her name: she and her husband Mike will got married in December 2016, becoming partners in life as well as in business. Colette is a keen globetrotter and has lived all over the world. Prior to receiving her Honours Bachelor’s in Commerce at the University of South Africa, she studied film at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Colette is also a qualified Pilates Instructor and is very focused on well-being.
She has been an international model for the past 10 years, working with leading agencies across three different continents, representing some of the world’s most esteemed brands in their categories. Colette is now based in England where she’s the co-founder of the SAVOURSMITHS brand, combining quality home-grown produce with big global flavours in stylish packaging for a totally new take on a traditional snack. Follow Colette on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
View a sampling of Colette’s modeling shots . . .
Check out the SavourSmiths flavours Colette mentioned. Yum!?
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): You get gratification by speaking about exciting ideas and things you potentially want to do and actually then never really do anything, which I think is a really big problem for dreamers. You have to put it to work. You have to really do it.
Joseph: Good morning, Colette. It’s really nice to talk with you again and very exciting to have you here on Career Relaunch.
Colette: Good morning, Joseph. Nice to speak to you too.
Joseph: You’ve got a very interesting mix of professional experiences. You’re an international model, and I know you’re really passionate about wellbeing, and you’re also busy launching a new food brand here in the UK. I want to try to get to all these things, but can you start by telling me about what you’re focused on right now in your life and career?
Colette: Right now, I am focused on SAVOURSMITHS mainly, which our brand new luxury potato crisp brand that we’ve started, and also modeling. I’m trying to juggle the two together, but I would say mainly SAVOURSMITHS is taking a bit of priority just because it’s new and it’s like a newborn baby.
Joseph: I have to tell you, I went and I picked up a bag of your wagyu beef and honey mustard crisps from Fortnum & Mason strictly to do some research here. I have to say they’re very tasty crisps.
Colette: Oh, I’m glad you got some and you like them. That’s good.
Joseph: Yes, very tasty. You are our first model that I’ve had on the show and also the first guest from South Africa. I’d love to start today by going back in time, Colette, and digging into your career trajectory as an international model before we get to your time co-founding SAVOURSMITHS. Going back to your modeling days, which I understand you started at the age of 13, can you walk me through how you first decided you wanted to go into professional modeling?
Colette: I was in South Africa. I was in school at the time because I was 13 years old. I didn’t find modeling. Modeling found me. I was walking around in a shopping center somewhere in Cape Town, and a scout came up to me and said, ‘Would you like to join our agency?’ I didn’t really know what he was talking about. Afterwards, when I got home, I Googled it, and there was some of the best South African models at this agency. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’d love to do that.’ I spoke to my dad who then said, ‘Yes, you can do it,’ but I’m going with you, and he went and told the agency, ‘She can do it, but she has to finish school, and she can’t supply like zoo,’ and this and that.
Joseph: How do you come to realize that you are actually model material? I know that this scout came up, and they found you, but as you’re getting into the industry, how do you start to come to realize that, ‘This could be something I could be doing professionally?’
Colette: I suppose you’ll be more sure the more jobs you get. I suppose if you’re booking no jobs, then you probably know that it’s not for you. You have to be a certain look and a certain height. If you’re really, really short or really, really, really, really tall or big, you probably can’t do it because you have to look generically pretty, take care of yourself, have good skin, good teeth, good physical attributes. Although these days, especially in London, I know people love the androgynous look – the weirder you are, the cooler. You probably have to have a good personality as well. I suppose clients will book you by your looks, but then they won’t rebook you unless you have a good personality, and they love to work with you.
Joseph: Can you explain to me how your father reacted to your decision to start to pursue modeling? How did you manage that?
Colette: I grew up in South Africa in quite a conservative household. My dad was very much into getting a proper degree. He did inspire me, and I did listen to him because he’s a very successful entrepreneur himself, and he’s made a big success in his own life with his own business in finance, but we did have a lot of arguments because I just wanted to model and act. I started studying originally in Stellenbosch before I did my degree at UniSA. I phoned him one day, and I was like, ‘Hi, dad. I’m quitting. I’m going to Hollywood. I’m going to become an actress,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, fine.’ When I came back, he told me, ‘I think it’s time you do a proper degree.’ I ended up doing Business Management, which in hindsight, was one of the best things I ever did.
Without knowing that I’ll get into food products, I did do some product development, product management subjects. I did a bit of logistics, international business, and things like that, which does help me. I think everything you learn at university doesn’t define whether you’ll be successful, but it has been very good to me. It’s kind of grounded me. It’s also made me come to London, which was a very good thing.
Joseph: When you were studying, were you still keeping up the modeling?
Colette: The deal was always that I could do as much modeling as I wanted to, travel the world as much as I wanted to as long as I do a bit of studying as well.
Joseph: I think when most of us think about what it’s like to be a model—or I at least speak for myself—I kind of think of fun photo shoots or fancy events. What do you think are some of the common misconceptions about modeling that you only realized once you were in the industry for a while?
Colette: I think that is something that I really think people don’t always get, like you said, the challenges, because it all looks glamorous. You’re always looking pretty. You get invited to nice events. People automatically think that you’re cool probably because you’re a model. It’s really not the case. It’s a very unstable, very saturated market.
One of the main things that I really find hard about modeling is that what you put in is not necessarily what you get out. You can go and train as much as you want, work and go to every casting, do everything you can, and then it still doesn’t guarantee anything. There’s no stability, so you don’t really know where your next job is coming from, and you kind of live on the edge, which is fun if you like living on the edge, which I do to a certain extent.
I think being an entrepreneur is probably a bit similar. It’s just that whole thing of you’d never if you’re quite good enough. You get a lot of rejection all the time. Sometimes, agencies will tell you, ‘Can’t you please just lose this much more weight? Can’t you wear this type of clothing? Can’t you make your hair this tone?’ It’s just so much criticism and rejection. It’s just a lot of uncertainty. It’s quite an unpredictable place to be.
I think that’s also where a lot of eating disorders and things come from, because girls and guys both just start feeling really insecure, but I’ve been lucky. My mother and father has been very good at telling me, no, it’s not me. I’m good enough, and it’s just the modeling industry. That’s been really helpful.
Joseph: One of the things that we talk about on this podcast, Colette, a lot is this idea of rejection, because I know when people are trying to make a shift in their career, it’s like what you said: you put in all this effort, and then things don’t always work out. How did you manage those challenges yourself? Specifically the rejection side of the industry?
Colette: I grew up with a mother and a father that’s been very, very supportive, which I think plays a massive role in one’s life if you’re lucky enough to have them. It really motivated me and made me quite firm in who I am. I’ve read a lot of books on self-improvement and all of those, and I’ve also had good mentors along my life. I always try to have people that motivate me, are positive, that build me up, which I think is very important.
Something that made a profound effect on me is a friend of mine. She booked a yogurt commercial one year, and she did the casting for the commercial the previous year. She said to the director, ‘I did the casting last year. Why didn’t you book me last year if you book me this year?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. We wanted to, but the producer thought you look too much like his ex-wife who he hated.’
That just kind of puts it to perspective that, often, you think it’s your fault, but there’s so many little things that can play a role in why people say no or yes. You might catch someone at a good time, a bad time. They might be tired. Of course, people can’t say yes to everyone. There is a chance that you will have no as an answer, but you just got to learn that it’s not you.
Joseph: It’s a very good reminder that I think it’s hard not to take these rejections personally, and at the same time, it may have absolutely nothing to do with you and some other circumstance that you have no control over. I love to shift gears now a little bit, Colette, and talk about what you did next in the next chapter in your career. What happened next for you? Because I know that you mentioned you moved from South Africa to the UK. Can you describe how your career started to evolve at this point in your life?
Colette: At the time when I moved to the UK, I was still studying, and I did an open-distance university so I could travel, do modeling, and study at the same time, which worked perfectly, because obviously, with modeling, you have castings, but they don’t necessarily run the whole day. You can work in the evening, morning, whenever, so it worked really well.
I joined Nevs Models in London, which is a really good agency that I have a lot of respect for. They’ve been really good to me. At the same time, they got me so much work, and it went so well that I decided to just live in the UK because it was financially such a good thing compared to South Africa and some other countries in the world. It was a really good market for me, and it still is.
Then I thought, once I finish my studies, I’d really like to do something with my life and have my own business. I spoke to someone who had a proper business in finance, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should start doing that.’ At the time, I also met Mike.
Mike was quite good. He played quite a crucial role in steering me towards doing something more entrepreneurial. He said, for example, my lifestyle would change so much if, all of a sudden, I had to go to the office every day the same time, half an hour lunch break, commute, this and that. I thought he’s probably right, so I started reading a lot, thinking a lot about what I wanted to do. London is such an inspirational place for new ideas and finding your thing that you want to do because everything is possible.
I, then, thought I would go into retail and fashion maybe and do something in that regard. By accident, I bumped into Touker Suleyman, who’s one of the guys from Dragon’s Den. We eventually met up. It was all like serendipity. I spoke to him about doing this thing in retail and fashion, which I thought would be perfect for me because that’s what I’m good at and that’s what I know.
Joseph: Was that just a completely random interaction you had with him? How did this opportunity to talk with Touker Suleyman come up?
Colette: It was really random. I was standing in the street. I was waiting for Mike. We were on our way to dinner. Touker was also waiting in the street, kind of walked past me, came and stood next to me, and said, ‘Hi, do you work in fashion?’ and we chatted and whatever. I was kind of like, ‘Who is this?’ I have no idea who it is. The next week, a magazine came from my Pace box, and he was on the cover. I was like, ‘Oh my word. I should have spoken to him,’ because he’s obviously quite a successful guy who I can learn from.
The next week, it happened again. He was in another magazine. I thought I’m just going to pull up my courage and give him a call. I thought the way I can get his number is I’ll make contact with him on LinkedIn, which I then did, and immediately got in contact, phoned him. We went for lunch the next day, and that’s how our friendship started.
It was really funny, but it just shows you once again that even people that you think you can’t talk to, people that are so successful and inspirational, they often love to share knowledge, and they love for you to pick their brains. They’re happy to help you because obviously, somewhere along the line, someone helped them. He made me realize that I should find a different path.
I, then, took a metaphorical sabbatical – few months of no talking to people about what I wanted to do and really think about what I wanted to do, because I think, often, what I’ve done—I’m guilty too—is you get gratification by speaking about exciting ideas and things you potentially want to do and actually then never really do anything, which I think is a really big problem for dreamers and entrepreneurs because you have to put it to work. You have to really do it, which is the difficult part.
After a long while, I realized that, actually, all I like in life and all I think about, want to read about, and do is food and drink. I’m a real foodie. I love everything about it, and I thought, ‘Let’s do something in that area,’ and Mike loves it too.
Joseph: You mentioned you took a sabbatical from talking to other people about your ideas. Was it just the space and the time you had to reflect on what you wanted that ultimately allowed you to figure out what it is that you like? How did you decide that food was a passion versus just an interest of yours?
Colette: I finished my studies and I needed modeling, so I had quite a lot of time. I just went for a walk, did things where I really thought and reflected on what I really like in life and what I wanted to do. I really realized that that is what I like, and that is what, me as a person, always wanted to think about, do. I’m always looking at new foodie things, new restaurants. I took myself out of the box and looked at my own behavior. That’s how I came to realize that it’s a really big passion for me.
Joseph: How did the idea for SAVOURSMITHS come about then?
Colette: Mike then said, ‘If you do something entrepreneurial, I’ll do it with you. I’ll support you. I think it’s a really good idea.’ We thought, ‘Let’s maybe do something with fresh food’ because of my whole Pilates instructor background, and Mike’s also very healthy, and we wanted to do something that we could be proud of. We chatted to a guy called David France, who ended up being and still our known executive consultant. He’s been a really good mentor for us. I read a few books on fresh produce, and we were thinking and thinking.
One night, I think we were just having a glass of champagne, and we had like a ta-da moment. The plan came together. We were like, Mike’s family are potato farmers. It’s amazing. We love snacks. That’s something we absolutely love. ‘Let’s go into potato crisp manufacturing,’ which is not a noble idea. It’s not a brand new idea, but we thought since they have the farm, it’s so nice. It’s something we personally love. Let’s make the best crisp that there’s ever been in the UK. That’s kind of how it came together.
Joseph: How do you now think about how you balance your time between SAVOURSMITHS and also your modeling? The reason why I ask is a lot of times, people who are listening are interested in portfolio career – this idea of having multiple interests and keeping them afloat. How do you balance those two? There may be other things also because I know you also mentioned you’re a Pilates instructor.
Colette: I try to do SAVOURSMITHS when I’m not modeling. If I’m modeling, obviously, I take the day off, and I focus on that. I do my castings. If I commute and go on the train, I send emails from my laptop while I’m commuting. When I’m working and I have a free moment, I work on SAVOURSMITHS. The funny thing now, which is really ironic, is before, agencies will tell you to eat healthy, go to the gym, exercise. Now, all of a sudden, I have the clients and the agency devouring my crisps in front of me at castings and the jobs, which are really funny. They’re like, ‘Oh my word, we can’t believe you do this now.’
What’s really important is that you must realize that you can do more than one thing. Mike always has a really good motto in life, which is ‘It’s not about what you do but what you get done.’ I try to focus on that because I think, sometimes, you can spend 10 hours kind of floating about doing various things but not getting so much done. I think it’s the lunk who sold this Ferrari. He said the first 90 minutes of the day is so important, and I really try to do that. I try to sit down and really look at everything and go through everything and make lists.
I think when your mind gets so busy, it’s really good to keep lists and plan because I think if you fail to plan your tomorrow, then you plan to fail basically. I think it’s easy to keep balance if you have to take everything off and do everything because it’s very complicated if you just tried to remember what must do.
I also think another way in which I balance my life is I try to make time for myself as well because I think it energizes you, just where you sit back and get inspiration and do things you enjoy where you can reflect. I go for a walk every day. I know Mike does that too. We don’t go together. We go separately. Just a little walk is really good for you to just take a breather. Then you can get back, be focused, be balanced, and it really makes it easy. Some people would need to just sit and have a cup of tea, whatever they want to do.
Joseph: What do you think has been the most surprising part of having both of these careers, which at least on the surface don’t seem to be directly related with one another?
Colette: The rejection is so similar. I actually feel so lucky to have had a modeling career before I started being an entrepreneur because there’s so much rejection in this. We obviously phone a lot of people up, go see a lot of clients, make contact with them, email them, and a lot of people just really don’t care about you and are really just like, ‘No, I don’t want to work with you. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know why you’re phoning me,’ or they just simply don’t like it or they like something else or they’re friendly with someone who has another crisp brand or whatever. You’ll never know. I think that’s very similar as well.
I think what I’ve learned from modeling that I find in the entrepreneurial world too is you just got to push through, and you mustn’t dwell on it too much and think about the rejection too much and think about the uncertainty too much. You just look for the next thing and the next client. Every day is a new day with new opportunity.
Joseph: When you look back on this past year of launching SAVOURSMITHS and now managing that business, what’s something that you wish you had known about this new life of yours that you now know?
Colette: I wish I started earlier because it’s so much fun. It is so satisfying. It’s not been simple, but it is possible clearly, and I just absolutely love it. I think before, I was always uncertain about what I should do. I was thinking, ‘Can I do it?’ It’s also part of the whole rejection thing, about, ‘Will I be good enough to achieve this and grow a good business and everything?’ If I let go of all those insecurities and fears, I would’ve started earlier. That’s what I wish I knew. It can be done.
Joseph: Having been through this career transition, what’s one thing that you’ve learned about yourself?
Colette: One thing is that I’m really a people person. I love people. I love being creative. I love just working with people, and I love this lifestyle of being an entrepreneur. I like the rush of not knowing what’s next. I’ve also learned that I can be quite disciplined and I could do a lot in a business more than I thought I could, because at the moment, it’s just me and Mike still. We both do everything from our accounts to our marketing to our flavoring, everything we do. I never realized that I could do quite so much myself and in such a short space of time as well.
Joseph: I want to wrap up by talking a little bit more about SAVOURSMITHS. Can you tell me a little bit more about what’s next for you guys at SAVOURSMITHS? I know you were recently listed in Waitrose. For those people who are outside the UK who aren’t familiar with Waitrose, it’s one of the most well-known and more upmarket mass grocery stores in the UK. What’s next for you guys at SAVOURSMITHS?
Colette: We’re just trying to continue selling our product to more places in the UK. We try to focus on farm shops, delis, gourmet pubs, gourmet restaurants. We really love quality, and we’ve tried to put the most luxurious ingredients into our crisps. We try to go over that sort of markets or try and get into more shops like that. We’ll try and export a little bit. We’ve already started exporting to Germany. We’ve done some in America actually as well, but we haven’t done that much because we’re only still a baby company. We’ll try and look at that, and we’ll try and bring on new exciting flavors, which we’re currently working on some, which is quite exciting.
Joseph: Do you have a favorite flavor? I think you guys have four flavors out right now.
Colette: I think my favorite is the parmesan and port flavor. I really like it. We’ve actually just been nominated for great British food award for that flavor. Then I think the champers and Serrano chilli is a very fun flavor because you get that fizz of champagne on your tongue followed by a hint of Serrano chilli, which is really fun and exciting I think.
Joseph: I do have a confession, Colette. I didn’t tell you this the last time we talked, but I think you know I used to work for Gü Desserts. It’s another indulgent brand, and whenever you joined the company at the time, you had to say what your guilty pleasure was. Then they include that underneath your staff headshot on the website. I kid you not – I said my guilty pleasure was eating meat-flavored crisps, so I was very happy to see you guys launching some of these products. I’m definitely digging the wagyu beef flavor that you guys have out there.
Colette: I like that too, but I personally like cheese a lot.
Joseph: Finally, I got to mention this. We’re recording this in July 2017, and I know you’re featured on the cover of this month’s ‘Your Fitness Magazine’ and also in this month’s ‘Wedding Ideas Magazine,’ which is very cool. I’m just curious, what’s been your most gratifying modeling gig and why?
Colette: Each job is special on its own because you work with so many interesting people from all around the world all the time, which is great. I would say I’ve done ‘L Magazine,’ which I love, which I think was one of my favorite things that I’ve done. Then I’ve done Condé Nast ‘Brides,’ which was gorgeous. Lots of interesting other jobs like with Swarovski, Sony, Virgin, Cornetto, which is all really fun, and I absolutely love them.
Joseph: If people want to learn more about you or if they want to learn more about SAVOURSMITHS, where can they go to find out more?
Colette: If they want to know more about me, they can probably give me a call.
Joseph: We will not put your phone number on.
Colette: Or go on our website, email me. No, don’t worry. Please don’t. No, I’m joking. We’ll probably do a little bit more marketing and stuff where we write more about our story and the story behind SAVOURSMITHS, so people will be seeing that. They can listen to your podcast obviously.
More about SAVOURSMITHS is on our website, which is www.SAVOURSMITHS.com. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, which we update and we keep it exciting and tell you all the new and exciting news and where you can buy it and everything like that.
Joseph: Very cool. Thank you so much, Colette, for telling us more about your career as a model and entrepreneur and how important it is to be persistent in your career and most of all how to balance the different priorities that you have in your professional life. Thanks for your time, and best of luck with the rollout of SAVOURSMITHS in the UK, Germany, and America.
Colette: Thank you, and hopefully more.