My business story… Citizen Coaching
I worked in the corporate world for 18 years as an area manager for restaurants and bars, but I was becoming dissatisfied with the way I saw businesses being run – a focus on profit for shareholders – and it was taking me away from my values. It also meant I was working away from my family four nights a week, which was really difficult. I wanted to do the things I like doing and that interested me, so I decided to retrain as a counsellor and took a counselling course. Then I just quit my job!How long have you been running Citizen Coaching?
Since September 2005.Have you run any previous businesses?
I was at a senior level in my corporate job, but this is the first company I have run.What was your first job?
Pushing trolleys in Waitrose car park aged 16. After that I progressed to the car park barrier, then the checkout, and finally to the wine department when I was 18. Working for the John Lewis Partnership at a young age taught me fantastic lessons about values and how everybody plays their part in a business.How did you fund your business in the beginning?
It was self-financed. We were in profit from week one because it’s a kind of Robin Hood model – we were selling counselling services for three days a week, and giving it away for two. We also found clients really quickly. In 2005, the internet was still fairly new and I’d cottoned on that it was going to take off in a big way. I built a primitive website, and we were top of Google search for coaching. We quickly gained clients by word of mouth too.What has been your biggest hurdle in the early days?
Prioritising where I spent my time. There were opportunities, I had new ideas, and I had to learn how best to manage to do all of this. Now I teach people my own method of time management.What is the hardest part of running a business?
As it gets bigger, your role changes. At first it was just me. Then me and Moneypenny, then a marketing person joined. Now there are 25 counsellors and nine full-time staff. The hardest part is keeping involved in the day-to-day business whilst still being that person who sets out the vision for the enterprise.Who or what has been your biggest influence?
My father really valued fairness at work, he had a very good work ethic. Also Jan Carlzon – former chief executive of Scandinavian Airlines who turned the airline around through an unrelenting focus on customer service quality – had a huge influence on me in my late teens and early twenties as I was getting into corporate work. His book Moments of Truth is what I base our customer service on. The idea that if a person is smiling as they are greeted in person or on the phone – that this is a moment of truth for the business – is something I always keep in mind.How important is customer service to your business?
It’s absolutely vital. Giving a great service is the biggest thing we can do to give us an advantage over our competitors.When did you realise you needed a telephone answering service?
As the business grew and we got more phone calls, I found I couldn’t answer them and do work at the same time. Hiring someone just to answer the phone in the office wasn’t an option, so Moneypenny was the affordable alternative.Best business move?
Not listening to negativity, particularly at the time of the recession in 2009. At that time we found that we could expand the business, but many people said that we shouldn’t due to the state of the economy, when in actual fact we found we could expand and were able to scale up the business.Worst business move?
We’ve been too kind at times, as we’ve become more successful. We gave too much away and it took our focus off expansion. It’s taught us that to be a well-run business, we have to look after ourselves first.What is your plan for the next few years?
The plan is to grow the revenue by 20% each year, and eventually franchise our counselling sections of the business.If you did it again, what would you do differently?
Be bolder in the beginning. Take investment on earlier. And not do everything myself. It’s all very well building a website, but it makes much more sense to hire someone who really knows what they’re doing.What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?
Have a hard talk with yourself. Ask yourself ‘Am I creating something people want, or am I just doing what I enjoy?’ There has to be a market for what you do.Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running Citizen Coaching, I would be…
A barista in my own coffee shop – I’m a bit of a coffee fiend!