Name: Dr Jan Green
Job title: Freelance Business Strategist/Educator
Career path: Back in the 1970s the careers room at an all girls’ grammar school in the West Riding of Yorkshire was packed with leaflets about secretarial work, nursing and primary school teaching and had little appeal for me as I played every sport that was offered and rode rather dodgy horses …. I had wider horizons, but my mother insisted I learned to type, a skill that has paid for itself many times over.
Ideas & Planning: During my career I have learnt that inspiration and ideas do not have a timetable, they are often a surprise, occurring at any time – and may be fleeting and fragile. They are important and potentially valuable and lucrative, so I follow the habit practiced by the famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson. He always carried two books – one to read and one to write in. When the idea is captured, on the page or screen, it is safe. It can be stored and referred to in the future. Developing ideas, in my experience, is sporadic and intermittent because it is essential to keep up the day job, the routine and maintenance elements that make up most of our working day; this is the foundation of a career. But that idea, it won’t go away, it keeps asking a question: “What are you going to do about me – and when?”
Reflecting back, I have come to the conclusion that forcing ideas rarely works effectively. I rearrange the sequence of letters in my idea, I might write a list of words that occur to me as I stare at the idea and ponder ‘are there any links between them?’ I use a thesaurus for alternatives and focus on the present tense, for example I spend time thinking, I allocate time for reading and staring into space, preferably outside. The formal description is below baseline activities, I can almost feel my brain sorting, like a filing system into order and is a strong personal recommendation.
I need distant horizons and in my mind’s eye I work back from the distance until I am up close and immediate. Sometimes when I am tracking in this way, I stop because that is where the spark or catalyst has emerged – and the decision is made about where to progress – how follows later. This exercise may take place when I am walking, cycling or running – not necessarily sitting at my desk. William Wordsworth, the poet, used to walk on gravel and the sound of his footsteps crunching gave him the rhythm for his words – and what words they were … those daffodils!
When an idea is formed, I plan by asking myself questions about timescales to develop, potential clients and rates. All of these aspects require clarity and should be underpinned by research into the potential market and the going rate. These are stop go points when further progress can be made – or the idea has to be put on hold. Working on one idea at a time is good for progress and being focused is far more productive then the illusion of busyness.
I always wanted to travel, to go beyond those horizons and the term ‘gap year’ did not exist back when I completed my A levels, so I trawled the job vacancies and did a simple exercise a boyfriend of mine used – put a square round the jobs you would like and a circle round the jobs you have a realistic chance of getting if you put in an application. Interesting outcomes! However, this resulted in a season in Ibiza where I ran a stable and took tourists out on treks – a fascinating experience which taught me the realities of customer care and high expectations people have when on holiday. Then I took a deep breath and went to University, emerging with a degree, far greater career opportunities and a realisation that education has the potential to change lives.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do,” said Alice in Wonderland. Most of us are not in Wonderland and compromise was a major factor in my early days when I decided not to be an accountant and moved into sales – because there was a company car with the job!
Working in sales encourages opportunity spotting and effective communication is a great asset, and I was supported by excellent training. Any training and/or development opportunities that have been available, I have grabbed – and learnt so much – whilst still retaining the longing for travel – I always say yes, if at all possible, then work out how afterwards. This approach has taken me to so many parts of the world and provided material to write a PhD about exemplary business performance, which identifies ways in which people who are excellent at their job approach work – fascinating.
As I have moved into the later stages of my career, I have been asked to coach managers in companies and also teach in the post-graduate executive education sector. This work has brought a steady stream of projects in far flung locations and my top tip is preparation. Research the client and ask questions via your contact so that expectations are met and always be professional in your manner. Of course the reality is not all glamour – Dubai airport at 4am is the time to catch this airline cross roads before it gets too busy, smaller provincial airports outside core hours can be challenging when tired and jet lagged and running for connections, whilst carrying a suitcase and wearing high heels, anywhere is certainly not meant to happen, but it does! However, many journeys do go according to plan and the opportunities to meet people and experience different cultures and places are good for the memory bank.
Finance: Nobody expects to work for nothing, unless it is a voluntary role or for a charity. Checking vacancies to see what rates are being advertised for similar roles within your area of expertise is good practice. Calculating personal monthly outgoings is the foundation for budgeting so whenever a situation arises when you are asked for a quote, or to name your salary, you are prepared. Having a clear notion of what your own unique selling points are, together with previous experience, qualifications and any awards, all contribute in a positive way to enhancing personal worth and value within the market-place. Your personal profile and CV should always be up to date.
Self-employment requires careful attention to cash flow and appreciating that invoicing for work carried out will usually be on 30-days credit. A working knowledge of accounts is valuable and there are digital packages which are very easy to use and can be linked directly to a bank account, enabling a live income and expenditure account to be available at all times. Professional advice can be expensive in the early days of a business – but usually less expensive than making costly mistakes. Women often overlook longer term financial planning and thinking about pensions – this is a priority, for us all. One of the most valuable lessons at school was compound interest – and the first £1000 is still the most difficult! One day your pension will be founded on these calculations.
Networking: Opportunities to engage in networking are extensive. When I see an event of interest and it is at a convenient time and location, I try to attend, and going alone results in the best value. Many years ago I attended an event about networking and I arrived just before the speaker was about to start and I had to walk through the audience to locate a spare seat – realising as I did that I was the only woman in the room! However, the speaker was interesting and I learnt three valuable lessons: how to shake hands with confidence, the best networking line ever: “May I join you?” and what will I say, as an icebreaker, that I am comfortable with. Keeping it light is my recommendation, examples being “How far have you travelled?” “What sector do you work in?” – remembering that the art of conversation is to keep the conversation going! Several years ago, networking provided me with the opportunity to take a position on the Board of Directors of a multi-million-pound business and make an active contribution to the ongoing success of a crowd-funded start up.
Accepting guest speaker invitations is an excellent way of growing your own network and contacts – and organising your own event is a way of ensuring the people you want to meet receive an invitation!
Quote to live by: From my grandmother, who was ahead of her time: “DO IT NOW, WHILE YOU CAN”.
Graphics: Hannah McCreath