I have Small Talk Speech & Language Therapy which runs Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication Groups. The speech therapy side deals with children with all types of speech, language or communication difficulty. We work in their homes, nurseries or schools. The groups, however, are for all children to help them achieve their potential; we do this in a fun way with puppets, stories games and songs. Both the speech therapy and the groups have started to be franchised. Communication is so important for many reasons but if spoken language skills are delayed then it will have a major bearing at school. We can all improve our communication skills.
What was your job before starting your business?
I worked with my ex-husband in a business we set up together, manufacturing and supplying garden buildings. We’d also had a property development business and were in partnership with another couple to own a bar (called Libby’s!) in a local town.
How did you go from your old career to your new business?
We split up and despite intending to work together, it didn’t work out. One of us had to go and as I had a qualification/career to fall back on, we decided it should be me.
What were your reasons for starting a business?
I found myself in a huge house with massive bills, an enormous mortgage and two young children to support. Unfortunately, I had gone for a collaborative divorce and it hadn’t worked out despite a court order so I was virtually penniless. The only thing I was qualified to do was speech and language therapy but as I’d been out of it for almost ten years there were no jobs I could do, never mind one that paid enough or that finished in time so I could collect from school. I needed to stay in Staffordshire, as I couldn’t sell the house and I didn’t want to uproot the boys. I needed something which was flexible, paid the bills and, preferably, that I could really enjoy.
What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge was that I started in the middle of a recession so although independent speech therapy had been very lucrative in the early 2000s, by 2007 was almost dead in the water. In the first 6 months I had just 2 referrals despite advertising and marketing. To make ends meet I did cleaning jobs, telesales, telemarketing and work for a security company. I felt really passionate about it and wanted to use my skills so I decided to set up the pre-school communication groups. As the groups took off, my reputation spread and the number of referrals for private speech therapy went up. I had to take on other staff to cope with the demand.
What training, information or advice did you need to get started?
I had to do a returners programme with University College, London (where I’d qualified in 1986) to be able to start. I’d had lots of experience working at the family businesses and surprisingly all the little jobs I’d ever done came in handy (not sure about cleaning pub toilets but…). The techniques and procedures I learned while tele-selling/marketing were really useful and the cleaning job & pub work taught me more about team work and customer service.
If you could give one piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?
If you are passionate about something, then go for it. If it doesn’t work at first, then look for ways to make it work. Regrets should only be about what you haven’t done!