Being ever present without being there
Nicola Bird has, like many working mums, not had a conventional career trajectory. After a career in the corporate world, she turned to coaching and has now built up an impressive coaching business on the back of a lot of hard work.
She hopes the next step will see her reclaiming a bit of her family life. Nicola’s career began fairly traditionally. After she left university she worked as a support worker with people with learning difficulties and head injuries. Then she went travelling and returned to do an occupational psychology masters before working in the recruitment and audit team at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The job was full time and involved a lot of travel.
However, after her first child was born she realised she didn’t want to go back to a corporate career. She got a part-time job at an NHS Trust. “I could just go home at the end of the day and not have to think too much about it,” she says. It was within walking distance of her home and there was an on-site nursery.
Then she fell pregnant again. “I had to sit down and think what I really wanted to do,” she says. She made a list of what she was good at. All she could come up with was that she was bossy and liked telling people what to do. The jobs that she came up with were teaching and life coach, though she did not really know what that was. She researched teaching, but realised she wanted to have a break from children and have some adult conversation. So she ordered a book on coaching from Amazon.
“I had always been interested in counselling and psychology,” she says. “I realised that coaching was nothing to do with being bossy, though, in fact it was the reverse. I had time to think about it all while I was breastfeeding. I was not looking for something flexible or well paid. What was important to me was to do something I had a passion for.”
The book detailed how to set up your own coaching business. Nicola trained as a coach through a distance learning course in 2007 and started to set up her business while still working for the NHS.
She handed in her notice a few months later. A year later she had another baby. Her business was still in the fledgling stage at that point. She decided she wanted to work with women like her so she started approaching corporates, but they said her business was not yet established enough so she sent her cv to Managing Maternity, a maternity coaching business, and was hired as an associate.
She did some training and maternity workshops for them while her daughter was just weeks old and then started to work more with women business owners.
Since 2008 she has focused on her own coach training business JigsawBox, working with coaches who want to sell more than their time. The majority of her clients are women and many have young children. The idea for JigsawBox came when she moved to New Zealand for her husband’s job and was trying to keep her coaching business going from there for nine months.
She started using an online coaching tool because she needed to maintain her UK clients. However, she found the system she was using was not flexible enough for her needs. She thought “I can do this myself”. So even though she doesn’t know how to programme, she decided to investigate how she could set a system up that would respond to her needs. She put a post on elance about what she wanted and some programmers in India built a prototype for her for £1.500. She tested it herself and sold it to 30 people. “I realised that there must be something in it as people bought it,” she says. So she hired a team of developers in New Zealand to develop a system where it didn’t matter about the time difference between the UK and New Zealand because people could log on whenever they needed to. She posted training videos and answered coaching questions via email.
Her clients have grown significantly since then and she offers a whole range of training programmes. She increased her investment in JigsawBox when she returned to the UK as she realised there was a good market for it. As the development costs were high, she found people who were willing to invest. She launched the current version of JigsawBox in April 2010. She has since taken on staff, including a virtual admin support team. Half her clients are in the US, where she has a business operations manager. A Swedish coach has also developed a Swedish version of the programme. Nicola says using virtual or contract staff means she has the flexibility to pay for as many hours as she needs. “You can grow your business up to a certain level quite easily using a virtual team and you don’t then need to have a lot of people coming into your house if you work from home,” she says. She has now passed that level and is onto the next stage, but still works from her home in Woking.
Earlier this year she started to create a business model that takes her out of the business so she can spend more time with her children. This involves creating a network of JigsawBox associates who promote the system and automating the marketing system so as soon as people sign up for JigsawBox [www.jigsawbox.com] they are followed up with appropriate offers and automated weekly webinars.
Automating the webinars also takes the stress of evenings spent trying to work while her children were going to bed. Her goal is “to be ever present for my clients, but never actually there”. She also wants this for her coaches. “I want to give them the freedom to do the stuff they love,” she says.
She adds that she has “worked my butt off so she wants now to be able to have that freedom. In the first few years I earned nothing. If I hadn’t had my husband I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
The business has grown fast, however, and the revenue for 2010 was $250,000 and currently stands at $580,000. She says working for yourself and building up a business is not an easy option, but the financial rewards are much greater than she would have had if she had continued in the corporate world. She is hoping that in the next phase of her work she can claw back a greater work life balance too so it will be a win win all round.