Michelle was absolutely delighted to find out she had won a spot on the f:Entrepreneur #ialso Top 100 list.
Founded by Michelle Ovens, f:Entrepreneur highlights inspiring female business leaders across the UK. Through events, content and story-telling, f:Entrepreneur showcases role models to help and inspire all small businesses.
f:Entrepreneur is run by Small Business Britain, the UK’s leading champion of small businesses which offers support, knowledge and access to the country’s 5.8 million small businesses – no matter their location, their industry, or their size.
These women are managing many different and often interconnecting projects across business and personal life and remaining dedicated and passionate about them all to achieve brilliant things - read about them all here.
One of the highlights of the campaign is that she got to go to a breakfast reception at the House of Lords in March 2020. This opened with words from Lord Young of Graffham, who highlighted the growing number of female entrepreneurs he had seen throughout his career.
Read More About Michelle's business story in her words...
It’s amazing how much TV has an influence on what we want to be when we grow up… back in the 90s there was this show called Cracker, starring Robbie Coltrane (AKA Hagrid from Harry Potter!) as a very human criminal psychologist, solving crimes and catching killers. So I thought that would be a cool job.
Fast forward to me on my Psychology degree actually finding out that that job does not actually exist in this UK. Forensic Psychologists generally tend to work for HM Prison Service or similar, working in Offending Behaviour Programmes to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. So I became a little disheartened and fell out of love with my Psychology degree - it was incredibly theoretical and not particularly practical. Until I did my dissertation, I was all set to go to Sandhurst and join the Army (the HR part of it, it turns out!) until I discovered the practical utility of a career in Psychology. My dissertation was on the amount of control a person had on their work and if this impacts feelings of stress. And it did. So I was hooked.
I applied to attend an MSc Occupational Psychology course and was delighted I got in. I was working in a restaurant in San Diego when I got a call from my mum to say the letter had arrived. We celebrated with margaritas that night!
I absolutely loved my Masters course. It was so practical and the things we learned about were desperately needed in organisations!! Imagine that there was a profession that helped make people happier at work, leaders better and organisations more efficient and value-driven! I graduated and secured my first ‘proper job’ as an Occupational Psychologist in a tiny organisation (just me and my boss). Which was great - I was suddenly designing and supporting the running of assessment and development centres for household name clients. It was great and I was learning loads about running a small business, as well as being a Psychologist.
After that job, I got a job coaching long-term unemployed people, people with disabilities and lone parents supporting them and removing their barriers to work. I worked in HR departments in the recruitment team, managing the end-to-end recruitment process and progressing up the ladder. My career went on the back burner a little when I had my son and when I returned I realised I didn't like my job. So I saw a role at Balfour Beatty (BB) come up and went for it. I loved my time at BB, yet I always had this niggle that I wanted to work for myself. I was always frustrated working in large corporates and was always the person who could figure out how to get things done that needed to be done (sometimes outside the process!).
I left BB to join a tech company and never really fit in. I didn't have the mandate to do anything and there was no appetite for change. I lasted 6 months and ended up leaving there without a job to go to. As I was sobbing in the car on the way home from that last meeting, I made the decision to start my own company.
I was slightly sensible and luck had it that there was a maternity cover role for an Organisational Psychologist working in a local NHS trust, which meant that I could earn a part time wage while I was setting up my business - Insights Business Psychology. There was a slight wobble - I also went into business with a friend, which didn't work out, but you have to try these things.
So, just over three years down my entrepreneurship journey, I have a wonderful business partner, an apprentice and a plan to get to the next phase of our development. We have won a contract to deliver a recruitment and HR conference in Newcastle in April 2020 - truNewcastle, so the next year is going to be a busy one!!
How Michelle is living an #ialso life!
As well as being a Psychologist, small business owner and single mum, I also do some other things to keep me ‘out of trouble!’
We have another company - Inspiration North - which started as a podcast. We interview inspiring people with inspirational stories and this has grown and gained momentum. We have a mission to fly the flag for the north of England. We want to create a movement for people to raise aspirations, take action and create a more fulfilling life. The missions of the two businesses are interwoven - we want to help people fulfil their potential. We are currently working with a local university to analyse our podcast guests’ stories and find out how people have found their passion. We also run monthly events to share, learn and grow together. This originally started out as the LinkedInLocal global movement. I set up the Newcastle event as was tired of many networking events and being sold to. Something more was needed for true connections and for building valuable relationships. Through Inspiration North we are working with a local social enterprise, Asian Business Connexions to support their AWEsome campaign; highlighting asian women entrepreneurs to identify role models in the Asian community.
I also volunteer (with my partner) as an Action for Happiness, Exploring What Matters course leader. We run an 8-week course to help people get the skills needed to create happier lives and help the charity in its mission to spread happiness globally. We are also about to launch a Happy Cafe in Newcastle that will allow wider members of the community to explore the material and concepts without committing
I am passionate about children being given the right information about careers and exposing them to as many opportunities as possible, so I also volunteer as an Enterprise Advisor for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. I work in a local secondary school and support the Careers Advisor with creating opportunities for the children to learn more about different careers.
I also volunteer as a board member of The Association for Business Psychology, responsible for coordinating the regional networking groups and events. We are the home and voice of Business Psychology and are committed to helping our members improve relationships between people and organisations they create, based on an evidence-based understanding of people’s behaviour.
So, first of all, I am a mum, partner and Business Psychologist; I also call myself small business owner, author, sales person, procurement person, social media executive, product and service developer, customer service person, project manager, website developer, bookkeeper, events organiser, podcast host and producer, board member, course leader, enterprise advisor, daughter, sister, collaborator, friend and pirate.
What has been your biggest learning running your own business?
Asking for help is something I really, really struggle with. I’ve always had this fierce independence and I honestly don't know where I get it from. I don’t like to be told what to do (or how to do it!) I have had to learn that you actually can not do it all yourself! If you try, you will fail. I have burnt out having this mindset and needing to do it all myself.
Make sure you find good people with the same values as you and get out of their way to let them do the work you need them to do! When you start a business cash is so strapped that you really don’t want to spend the cash. The irony is by saving cash you are working on non-value generating tasks instead of working to your strengths.
So a year in to running my business, I realised I was running the business the wrong way, taking on too much low-paid work and ended up with anxiety and in counselling.
I then gave myself a bit of a talking to, had a couple of interviews for a J.O.B. which really made me realise that I want to make my business a success. So I adopted a Mentor and in the same week I was referred to an AWESOME Business Psychologist – Wendy Kendall who specialises in supporting the acceleration of Psychology Practices. I joined Wendy’s programme and was introduced to a fabulous Mastermind Group of kind, open and generous Business Psychologists.
This quickly gave me the boost to expand my business, realise my value and follow my dream. Because of this help I’m doing really well. I was also accepted into a community of Entrepreneurs and had a Coach (who described herself as my best friend and worst enemy – eek!) who helped me to focus on my business goals.
I recognise throughout this that all the massive leaps in my career and my business have been due to me employing awesome coaches to support, guide, push and challenge me.
These are the lessons I’ve learnt:
1. When you are struggling, ask for help from an independent outsider (not family/friends – someone who is completely impartial)
2. ALL sports people have coaches and we don’t think that is a ridiculous extravagance… how can an athlete get to the top of their game without this?
3. You need to choose a coach to suit you… people enjoy different styles and I personally need someone who I respect, admire and I’m going to be fearful of disappointing. I need that cheerleader, a person to challenge me, keep me accountable and show me I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to!
4. If you can dream it, you can totally do it!!
What piece of advice would you give to you when you started out?
Do not listen to the people who tell you that you are ‘too nice’ to run a business. There is this myth that in order to be successful you have to be pushy, aggressive, rude, have no scruples etc. It’s simply not the case.
Get a coach asap!!