Respond: Story of A Start Up
So, it may be just me but has anyone sat in a talk by a successful entrepreneur, where they tell you how they built their global brand and make it sound so easy ?! You know the sort of thing. One minute they’re a student selling t-shirts from their bedroom and the next they are counting their branded bags go by on a city high street and thinking, “we must have had a good day today !” Except, do ethical brands actually even have carrier bags these days ? Anyway, I digress. My point is that, despite telling you how they ‘made it’, and that it wasn’t all plain sailing, there were incredible lows and that they didn’t sleep for the best part of 18 months, you still don’t truly get a sense of what you actually need to do as a ‘start up’, what launching a business really entails and of the ‘nuts and bolts’ that bring it all together.
However, necessity most probably really is the mother of invention, and with my prospects for a comfortable retirement not looking great, I decided to launch into the unknown with my own business, Respond Training, in March this year, which provides first aid, and principally mental health first aid, training. I say decided, but it just sort of seemed to happen. I knew I could deliver effective training and deliver it well but if I’m honest I didn’t have a clue about starting a business. It’s a million miles away from what I set out to try to achieve 30 odd years ago, when I left school at 16, probably much to the disappointment of my school-teacher parents, as a fairly academic pupil, in an attempt to be a star of stage and screen, through training in musical theatre in London. I didn’t quite make the West End but did achieve the dizzy heights of roles in ‘Postman Pat’s Happy Christmas’ at The Manchester Opera House and in panto along side the likes of cricketing legend Ian Botham, Bond girl Britt Ekland and June Brown from Eastenders. I also had a pretty successful career as a TV presenter, reporter and newsreader for around 13 years. I particularly enjoyed the stint presenting a daily food programme back in the days when cookery programmes and chefs were very rock and roll. It was fun and life was good. ‘Magazine lives’ was how my friends and I referred to it as we sipped Cava, not Prosecco back then, through the excitement of New Labour, Brit Pop and Cool Britannia in north London. Actually, I would like to add here that we were that cool that our landlady did actually often bring back Prosecco from her second home in Italy, before it was even a thing ! But there was a but. I felt a bit unfulfilled and frustrated that I’d never really utilised whatever academic potential I had. My relative success also felt ‘hollow’ occasionally and, without attempting to sound like I had a massive social conscience, which I probably didn’t at the time, there were days when I just felt I wanted to do something that somehow seemed a little more worthwhile and meaningful. I think it’s important to say here that bringing up my two girls, who arrived at around this point in my story, is absolutely the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. So, reaching this stage and, perhaps, also trying to understand my own bouts of moderate but fairly chronic depression, led me to studying Psychoanaltic Psychotherapy with the Arbours Association. I loved the intellectual challenge of reading Freud, Klein and Bion and sitting in seminars. Undergoing my own training analysis was often far less enjoyable but a huge time of personal, painful, growth and placements in a crisis centre and therapeutic community were frightening, moving, rewarding and informative and taught me a great deal about mental health in a very short space of time. It felt a bit like being dunked in a sea of freezing cold water but when I managed to remember to not flail around and breath, I learnt I could survive. At around the time I was due to write my final paper the perfect, pretty bloody awful, storm conspired to prevent me from becoming a psychotherapist. My ‘training’ patient moved from the area just before the required length of time for me to qualify, my marriage broke down in a brutal and agonising fashion, my Dad died from prostate cancer and I needed radio iodine treatment for a thyroid disorder. I have since joked with my children that it’s a miracle that I didn’t end up in The Priory. Freud will have us believe there’s no such thing as a joke really. Mind you, he also said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” - which is confusing. However, with the help of amazing friends, I ploughed on, made the first of several downsize house moves, started working in early years education and eventually ended up as school matron at an independent school, in Berkshire, which my daughters both attended. Here I found that a huge bulk of my work was supporting the pupils with emotional and mental health issues and so my training was put to good use, enhancing my belief and philosophy that very few, if any, experiences, are ever wasted. It’s all grist to the mill, if you like. In order to further develop my skills, I persuaded the school to pay for me to train as a first aid instructor, so that I could deliver the in-house training to staff. Fortunately, they backed me on this one and I found that I actually loved being a trainer and that my courses were really well received. So, as one daughter left school for university and the other took up a sixth form sports scholarship in Gloucestershire, we moved to the Cotswolds (also partly for my daughters to further their netball ‘careers’ with the junior section of Severn Stars, a professional franchise. Mad, I know !) and several people tried to persuade me that setting up a training business was definitely the way to go. Something held me back for a bit. I actually think I maybe needed a bit of time to heal, rest, grieve, and reflect on all that had gone before. Six months living in a lovely holiday let on the Cotswold Water Park doing just that, a bit of freelance recruitment screening work and lots of walking with my beloved dog, culminated in me finding the energy to be where I am today, at the exciting start of my business journey. The final part of the jigsaw was attending a training, with the extremely supportive Nuco Training, to become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor. From this point, the strands started to come together, I took the decision to meet with a friend, Joanne, who runs the web design and marketing agency, Design Eclectic, and ask her to design a website for me and that it was it, no going back. I think once the logo was designed and the website was under construction, I felt like I had no choice but to get on with it ! It was real. I was a business owner ! Though, I did have to remind myself that being a business owner with no business was a bit like being an actor with no roles or a Christmas tree without baubles ! Jo, along with Gilly Salter of GS Consultancy, has been fantastic in supporting me to pull the starter-motor chord and get spluttering into action. Life is often stranger than fiction, as I met both these people through netball of all things and I am hoping that another connection through this sport, which, as you can tell, has had a huge part to play in our household, may lead to a further collaboration too.
So, to pick up back where I started, I have so much to learn but have discovered that there is fantastic support out there. Thanks to the Cirencester Growth Hub and Gloucestershire Start and Grow Enterprise, I’m looking forward to being educated about the worlds of marketing, social media, business strategy and undoubtedly much, much more. At the moment I can’t even post on Twitter without my pictures getting cropped in weird and not so wonderful ways and as for the whole URL and SEO thing, it actually makes think me that it would be easier to just give up, get an OCG to pull off a heist and split the proceeds (apologies here if you are one of the very few non Line of Duty watchers). Having said that, I will get there and if, from just one of my delivered courses, someone gains the skills to ask a colleague, stranger or family member if they are ok and prevent a condition worsening or even a tragic loss of life, then perhaps I will have found a new ‘worthwhile’.
Respond Training is running an open Mental Health First Aid course at Gloucester Rugby Club on the 21st May. Get in touch for details or contact Maz at GS Consultancy to book on 01452 616726 firstname.lastname@example.org Cost £175+VAT