MY PERSONAL STORY
Hello and welcome to my candid 'story' - if you would
prefer to look over some facts and data about my
journey to this point, please click on the more factual
I am one of those people who, apart from a few
(OK a lot) of extra lines, does not look vastly different
to how I looked 30 years ago. Mind you, the unflattering
assessment could reasonably read ‘stuck in a time warp’!
However, if you were to have seen me ten years ago,
you probably wouldn’t have recognised me. I had no hair!
So yes, for those whose minds have raced ahead, I either
had alopecia or the dreaded C. It was the latter. It was quite
a shock. Don’t worry, I am as fit as a fiddle now and it
would seem that the treatment and operations I had were
a massive success! But ten years ago I was in the midst
of chemotherapy for breast cancer and that was quite a
turning point for me.
I was 44, with teenage children and desperately wanted to hang around til they were ‘grown up’ – whatever that means nowadays! – but 50 seemed quite a good goal to aim for. You don’t know how long you’ve got when you get a cancer diagnosis, so I felt the need to do a deal with whoever might be up there pulling the strings, that if I was allowed to continue to live, I would do all I could to improve the lives of other people, to do things which had impact.
I have to admit, I had been taking it easier for the previous ten years. Enjoying the fruits of my entrepreneurial success from my 20’s and 30's, I had an award winning training business but had taken my foot off the pedal a bit to be around for my children while they were growing up. I had projects, and relatively low key business projects around my photography, which was another passion, and that did attract some interest from the world of business awards but to be honest, I wasn't in a position to fully embrace the opportunities. Photographing the Queen for almost two hours however, as official photographer on behalf of the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, as she visited an exhibition in Stevenage followed by an exhibition of all the photos in the Gordon Craig Theatre was a high light in 2003!
My first opportunity to 'start putting something back' presented itself in April 2011 at my end of treatment party, when the band my daughter was in performed a song they had written that afternoon and I thought ‘they are really good, perhaps I could help them get ‘noticed’ by someone in the music business’.
This turned out to be a good notion, playing to my strengths and led to my starting a community interest company with me providing musicians of all ages (but mostly millenials) free mentoring in marketing, brand management and stage craft. I put on a large festival in 2013, set up a record label which has attracted reviews in Sunday Times Culture Magazine, personally plugged multiple plays on BBC Radio 2, 3 4 and 6, been the subject of research and papers from the Open University and generally had a ball learning about social media marketing, creating and connecting as a new brand, all from a standing start.
If we rewind to when I was in my 20’s and 30's, I was an award winning in house trainer, and so now I am combining 30 years of experience, insights and tailored solutions under the same umbrella – Thomson Training, which was the vehicle with which I started this journey in 1989. This is how I want to make a difference and impact on people's lives now. My desire to show people what I've learnt to make their working lives more productive and enjoyable seems to be mirrored by a desire for companies to start investing again in their staff. Of course, many have been doing so all along but in uncertain times, training can become a low priority as survival takes hold as a game plan.
Looking back to the early 90's, one of the biggest factors influencing my approach to entrepreneurship was getting a response from John Harvey Jones after seeing him on Trouble Shooter. And to my astonishment it was an invitation to meet up with him rather than a polite rejection. I distinctly remember walking to meet him at the hotel he was staying at in London. A very posh hotel. As I approached the hotel my eye was drawn to a shop window with brightly coloured ties. As you may know, outrageous ties were one of Sir John's trademarks. I had a quick peruse, choosing one I simply had to buy for him, at which point the assistant asked if I knew how much they cost, as if I couldn't afford one. By now, I would have paid whatever it took to show them how wrong they had been about their assumption that just because I was young, that I would not be able to afford one. When I presented my gift to Sir John he gasped, said I was very naughty as he knew how much they cost - it was actually the very same shop he bought his TV ties from! some months later I was thrilled to see him wearing 'my' tie on TV!
I think the significance of Sir John's interest in my career was that although I was in my early 20's he treated me like an equal. It was a wonderful boost to my confidence and I am forever in his debt. It has helped me disregard age barriers and respect others who have vastly different levels of experience, which has definitely enriched my life and my learning.
It's quite interesting to scroll back in my memory to when I first started out in business. I had started it because I saw a 'gap in the market' owing to demand caused by a new qualification in my then profession. I felt this was an opportunity I should not ignore and that I should act on demand following gaining top marks in the first exam for Recruitment Consultants in 1988. A devourer of self help business books which kept me entertained in my train commmutes between Kings Cross and Stevenage - just LOVED the business section WHSmiths, I was searching for nuggets to guide my intuition. Aged 22, I was a bit in awe of the idea of becoming self employed and leaving the security of regular hours so I used the books like props to see what advice I could glean. It all made sense, there were people asking me to train their staff from companies all over the country, (although if I had relied on them I would have gone out of business very quickly as they took a while to 'convert') and I was grateful for their help in giving me the idea.
So 'all I had to do' was research the existing training provision for Recruitment Consultants, create a unique brand and associated promotional material, decide what I would need to cover and write the bare bones of the courses, show people that training was the answer for the question they weren't even asking ('get rid' if they don't work out was the order of the day, 'here today, gone tomorrow' mentality which did nothing for client confidence), establish a reputation using advertorial and public speaking and get it out there! it took about six months and in September 1989 I launched Thomson Training. (A less chatty version of this story can be found on my About the Trainer page by the way, in case you've actually got work to do!)
So what has changed since 1989? So other than the demise of WH Smiths at Kings Cross, and everyone reading physical books or paper on the train, what else? well shockingly there were four channels on TV one of which broadcast Sir John's Troubleshooter of course, Silo mentality is the new empire building, there were actually a number of women at networking events but everyone was pretty homogenous, there was definitely a sense that women were trying to fit into a mans world, whereas now they seem to be more their own people. In the area I was specialising in at the time, many more women were running Recruitment businesses than men, so I was largely dealing with women which I think made me feel that there was no 'glass ceiling'. It's only relatively recently that I've noticed the gender issues within other sections of commerce and it's shocking that it's still 'a thing' which needs addressing.
Businesses were as focussed on profits then as they ever have been and Americanised 'achiever' rewards and recognitions were becoming very popular. The Brits were loosening up! Advertising was in print magazines and newspapers. And very expensive. But there is another massive difference of course - technology. If you were late for a client meeting you had to find a phone box, instant office communication was by fax (and woe betide anyone who left their machine on at night, as you would come into the whole roll of paper filled with 'spam' faxes! and the paper was surpringly expensive!), Word Processor typewriters were all the rage but there was no 'memory' function which was a pain - editing was pretty much impossible and shorthand was an essential skill for most secretaries. Art and images were a specialist profession and those people tended to be proud owners of Apple Macs. Some things haven't changed then! Computers were few and far between and posting brochures and letters was the norm, not the exception. The time of the postal delivery was a very real issue for some businesses, which seemed to vary across the country from first thing to midday. The speed of business communication has the potential to be so much faster now and yet with it, perhaps because of 'overwhelm', there are new challenges which can ironically slow the communications down again! 'Lost in the post' has been replaced by 'I found it in my spam folder', 'it only just turned up', 'I just didn't get it'. SO while the methods might have changed, the real issues of effective communication and dealing with customers, both internal and external, are still a very pressing requirement, which is reassuring in some ways.
To help guide me back into todays commercial environment I consulted with WENTA, which is a provider of the rather superb Hertfordshire Start Up Programme. Charles Shun, whom I saw at the Stevenage branch was able to sign post me towards various support services and give an objective eye and ear to help me frame my ramblings. I then accepted an invitation to one of Tim Baugh's excellent BIz4Biz Breakfast meetings which further cemented my belief that I had something to offer the current business climate, and particularly a key area which I had unearthed.
You see, there are other issues which technology has perpetuated relating to effective communication. I feel partly responsible for this particular shift and feel almost duty bound to try to put it right! What am I talking about? Millennials. Both my children are Millenials. I have brought up two millennials and the parenting style (often directly opposite to the approach of autocratic Baby boomers) as well as the technological advancements during their upbringing has presented a generation with different skill sets to those of the generations before.
And it not seen as a universally positive label let’s face it! Does anyone agree? Does this resonate with any of you?
As outlined elsewhere in this website, many people find speaking on the phone, for example, unnecessary and uncomfortable and they can lack confidence with tasks that require direct communication. Not because they can't do it, but because they've never had to. It's sortable though but will mean it's a higher business priority than when I first started out.
I have also noticed a greater awareness of emotional and psychological needs, with companies going to great lengths to help their employees enjoy an improved quality of life, almost along altruistic lines. Perhaps it's a sign of low unemployment, that retention and respect for the individual are high priorities, but that is no bad thing.
What changes have you noticed?
I am excited to be drawing everything together as I relaunch Thomson Training as Helen Froggett-Thomson, with a fresh energy and a desire to bridge the gap between digital and interpersonal communication skills, enabling transformational change to extend communication comfort zones and help your business blossom and bloom!