Real Women in Business: Q&A
1. Why did you start your business? The moment I decided to set up my own company came as I was walking on Waxham Beach. There was me, the sand and the power of the ocean. At the time I was working for a Local Authority as a Health and Safety Inspector. I was not happy, a number of issues had arisen at work and I did not feel valued. I knew there was more in me. So from that date I planned my escape. I went to see a local accountant and I attended a WEETU Programme and all was set for the 6th April 1999.
2. What is the business? The RedCat Partnership is now a team of Ex-Enforcement Officers. We help other local businesses with their regulatory Risk Assessment concerns and compliance issues. We are gamekeepers turned poachers!
We are Chartered Practitioners and are on the recently launched Occupational Safety & Health Consultants Register. We offer a bespoke service in Health and Safety, Food Safety and Environmental Management. We also offer an open and in-house suite of courses accredited with CIEH & HABC and we deliver ‘made to order’ courses in Risk Management, Asbestos, Legionella, or whatever the client requires.
The business started with just me, and it has grown quite slowly. There are now four of us, three consultants and an administrative assistant. We are based in Eaton, Norwich and we have an office at the back of the house.
3. Tell us about yourself. What did you do before you started your business and how has that experience helped your venture? I grew up on my parents’ farm in North Norfolk. I did my first degree in Environmental Health and subsequent post-graduate courses in Health and Safety, Food Safety and Integrated Environmental Management. I am married to Richard who also works for RedCat (so we have to work hard at making everything in our lives work) we have one daughter Jasmin and two cats.
When I was at high school, I was lucky to be involved in the Young Enterprise scheme. I was Managing Director and it gave me that first taste of success. I still remember having to give a presentation at the awards ceremony and beaming with pride.
I worked on the family farm while I was living at home, whenever an extra pair of hands was needed. Although the hours were long, the rewards were there and that sense that you made your own destiny was formed. After university I waitressed as well as having an Enforcement job, this taught me the power of customer service! I am pragmatic, down to earth and incredibly action centred.
6. What are the high points? The high points are clients doing well; with Food Safety this is judged by an inspector giving most of our client premises the highest ‘scores on the Door’ rating! Or if we have written a Safety Policy / Risk Management system for a client and then help them with its implementation and both the client and the staff really ‘get it’ and develop a sense of pride in compliance.
For the last 2 years we have won CIEH Best Health and Safety Training Centre, Tutor and Best Student, based on our results. The awards are presented by the Minister for Health at the House of Commons!
7. What were the low points? The most common low point is bad payers. We have only had one company go bust on us. It was very early on and we weathered the storm, but it was painful seeing the Director walking around in a brand new car just after going bankrupt. I am now much more savvy with debt management and I am incredibly tenacious when it comes to chasing invoices.
Another significant low point is some of our competitors who are not as well qualified and seem to produce some really dire work that backs up the myth that health and safety is all about stopping things happening or it needs to involve reams and reams of paper!
8. If you needed funding for start-up or to grow, where did you get it from and how was the process? I really didn’t need a huge amount of start-up funding. I used the Full Circle loan fund from WEETU to purchase a computer; that and some business cards and I was off. We have never had costly premises or brochures, preferring to go and talk to customers.
9. Tell us about a marketing tactic that works really well for your business? Regulatory compliance can be a real turn off, so we do a lot of face to face marketing – networking – so people trust us. Companies will not sign up to a consultancy service from an advert, it is a very personal relationship. Relationships and trust are key to running a successful consulting business. The rise of social media has been great for us: we use Linkedin so people can check-out our qualifications and background, and Twitter, Facebook and Ipatter to let people know what we are up to! It has enabled me to give Health and Safety a bit more personality.
10. Your favourite tech tool and why? I have two things I would not want to be without: a small lightweight Laptop and my iphone, which is great for modern communications and has a great camera. I don’t have to carry another object with me.
11. Where do you get support from? Obviously working with my husband is an interesting relationship and we are a great support for each other. I also have a great relationship with my Dad. And I have a great set of close female friends who are like my unofficial board of Directors. Friends that I trust to talk about anything and who are at the end of the phone if I am having a tough time.
12. Who has inspired you? This has to be my Dad, a huge inspiration for me. His work ethic is amazing and he always has a smile on his face!
13. What are your future plans or goals? My goal is to carry on delivering a bespoke service to clients with a huge amount of passion and drive. I really enjoy my job. I do not want the team to grow too huge as I want to keep the service we offer very personal.
Regulatory compliance is changing and my goal is to stay ahead. When I retire I think I would like to run a high end Tea Shop!
14. Your best piece of advice? My mantra is ‘treat everyone how you would wish to be treated’ – you cannot go wrong then. I would also say ‘Network and ensure that you have a real passion for your product or service’.
Thanks to Sarah for completing the Real Women in Business Q&A! If you’ve taken the leap, maybe you’ve a story to share too? Click on this link for further details.