The common theme I hear everywhere I go is
“You’re so busy; when do you ever stop working? How do you keep going?
Well this has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t perceive it to be ‘work’ but fulfilling my passion and vocation in life. I am a round peg in a round hole and have found my niche.
BUT HOW DID I GET HERE?
Having started life with an obsession for feet (yes I know crazy; don’t laugh), I always wanted to be a chiropodist. I entered college to get my qualifications to practice within the public sector and found that whilst I was great with people, I didn’t have the intellectual acumen or enthusiasm to understand physics, I just couldn’t “get it”.
Finding myself in Northampton no longer following my desired profession and with no future plans, I chose not to return home and to try and make it on my own, starting work in a department store, in order to earn some cash whilst I found my vocation. My expectation was that I would discover ‘it’ and obtain the relevant qualifications and find a ‘proper career’.
However, no one was more surprised than I to find out that I loved the retail environment, and realised I was good at my job. Within a year I was promoted from a sales assistant to managing a concession within a large department store. Soon I had exceeded sales targets and was earning a good commission. Embodying a ‘customer first’ attitude seemed to reap rewards and we became the Northern flagship. Of course I made so many mistakes, particularly in the area of people management as I didn’t have the life skills to deal with staff effectively. However over time I was trained at the ‘school of life’ and found that managing people combined with operational business were my passion; developing staff skills, believing in an individual’s potential, selling to the public, working in a team, and together increasing revenue for the businesses I worked within was my forte.
The theme of exceeding expectations, increasing profitability, and growing effective teams has been the thread throughout my career, progressing to the flagship Guildford store, then managing an independent retail shop increasing turnover from £32k to £250K in a few years (a lot in the 80’s)
YOU MIGHT THINK I STAYED IN RETAIL, BUT YOU'D BE WRONG
You might think I stayed in retail, but you’d be wrong. The passion for making a business ‘work’ and developing people continued when I was headhunted by the Guildford YMCA to run a youth project having been a voluntary youth worker for years. Dipping my toes into unchartered water, again I found that the operational management side of the business combined with supporting and helping disaffected young people really rocked my boat. The role fed my creativity, allowing me to run ‘gig nights’ graffiti competitions, a youth café and more. Indeed when the funding was cut for the project I additionally moved into managing a hostel and fitness centre. Career diversity has indeed followed me, life training, waiting for the job I now under take.
With my family we moved to Lincolnshire and I started a totally new direction; delivering careers advice for the Ministry of Justice within the probation service and prisons, a slight deviation from the operational management roles I had undertaken but nevertheless using my people development skills encouraging repeat offenders to reassess life and use their abilities in more legal ventures. Careers advice was something I enjoyed and soon I was again managing a small team delivering this provision within the MOJ. But, as with most public sector government contracts, my role, due to funding cuts ceased. I started a period of short term public sector contracts, thus increasing my life skills, my knowledge and my experience; advocacy with the disadvantaged, careers & business advice within the jobcentre, road safety advice within the police and county council, gaining experience and indeed qualifications within all the roles I held.
I KNEW I HAD HIT THE 'JACKPOT'
When my career advice role within the job centre transitioned into careers & business advice. Suddenly I found I knew a lot about a lot. People valued my experience and views and I started to make a difference to people’s lives and businesses in a truly remarkable way. The 3yr contract ended but it was not the end for me, as Business Link won it and I secured the opportunity (after an incredibly demanding 2 day selection process) to expand my skills and knowledge, whilst obtaining the relevant qualifications to support local established businesses to grow, under a 3yr government funded European contract.
I had arrived, or so I thought, but as you can possibly guess the election created change and we all lost our jobs. I had contacts in local government, schools, private business and beyond, but had no strategy. I was grateful, therefore, for the opportunity to become the General Manager for a local translation centre. My remit; to change the perception of the centre as a facility for Eastern Europeans and procure Western and international contracts in the engineering, manufacturing and food & drink sectors.
I got stuck in, and within a year the image of the company had already turned the tide, developing relationships with UKTI as preferred supplier for translation services, tendering and winning contracts within the public sector and managing a multicultural diverse workforce. I loved my job; implementing the HR processes, recruiting and training staff, undertaking ISO and becoming the internal auditor. The title General Manager definitely fitted the role. Business grew and I was back chasing the sales, managing staff and making business happen. I loved exhibiting at the NEC & Excel, increasing relations with exporters at trade shows and managing the area managers. But my role was too expansive and we employed an HR manager, an accounting department and my role transitioned into Business Development Manager.
IF YOU DON'T BUILD YOUR OWN DREAMS SOMEONE WILL HIRE YOU TO BUILD THEIRS
So I embodied this saying, increasing sales by 65% year on year and seeing the MD have a bigger house and car, win accolades and reap the rewards, whilst my life stayed the same. So I decided to build my own dream using the skills and experience I had gleaned in so many sectors in the public and private sector and commenced running my business and careers consultancy.
When Churchill became Britain’s Prime Minister at the beginning of World War II, he said that he felt like “his whole life had prepared him for this moment.” a sentiment with which I concur.
D52ltd Business and Career Consultancy was launched because I noticed a gap in the market between traditional careers advice and the need for a comprehensive programme of support for individuals who wished to explore possibilities such as promotion, career divergence, total career re-direction and business start-up. My contacts re-engaged and sub contractual opportunities and private work fell into place, as well as subsidized business support work under the Enterprise nation growth voucher scheme.
I started working with individuals at career crossroads looking to commence an entrepreneurial pathway and found that they appreciated the honest and frank discussions we had. Owners of established businesses also started to engage with me because they enjoyed the confidential nature of a heart-to-heart with someone who understood the complexities of business growth; managing staff, tendering for contracts, sales & marketing strategies and implementing processes. Owners appreciated talking to someone who had gained experience and qualifications by ‘doing the job’ and understood the challenges of business development on a tight budget with a small workforce yet with ‘big dreams’.
It became apparent that my USP was ME
I had worked in so many sectors, experienced so many challenges in business; understood cash flow concerns, staffing dilemmas and juggling priorities, yet had helped businesses grow. My USP was that it wasn’t advice coming from a theoretical perspective or from a limited sector rather a generalist who had walked the walk, who had gained qualifications, but more importantly had extensive business experience first-hand and was willing to share this and challenge them as business owner, to produce good results.
A great 3yrs ensued in Lincolnshire and business flourished, and then in 2014 due to family reasons, my family & I moved to Dorset.
I continued with my Northern contracts for six months whilst I established myself in a new territory, for a short time taking the part time role of Regional Area manager for the Dorset RSPCA, whilst I developed my brand and business in a new area. No one knew me and it was like starting up again. I traversed the local networking groups making relevant contacts and developing opportunities in Devon, Somerset and Dorset. It was hard, gruelling work, getting ‘known’ again but ultimately worth it.
So where am I today? Well interestingly, another short term government contract emerged delivering fully funded business advice within Dorset. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, to do what I loved for Dorset Growth hub, whilst continuing to deliver business advice in other regions under my business umbrella, D52ltd.
Yes, I still keep my hand-in, delivering careers advice with a few carefully selected clients through Appleby associates, and the rumours are correct, I am writing two books to share some of my tips and strategies for growing a small business into a larger and more profitable one.
This past year has been a rollercoaster; networking, collaborating, developing local links and ensuring that business owners understand the value and positive impact of grounded, reliable, nuts-and-bolts business support.
But now everyone knows me, thanks to winning my Venus Award. The phone never stops ringing, the referrals are overwhelming and the opportunities for me to support local businesses and help them grow are immense.
So that’s my story. Thank you Venus for allowing me to share it, and now I look forward to sharing a few business tips in subsequent blogs.
Until next time. Au revoir. DC
If you don't build your own dream someone will hire you to build theirs!!