Going Solo: The Canonbury Consultancy Group

The advent of COVID-19 saw many changes in the world of L&D, the rapid movement from face-to-face learning, the advent of many new home workers getting to grips with Zoom/Teams/etc. and, the creation of The Canonbury Consultancy Group. I decided in this life-changing year to step out stop and launch my own limit company.

I have always worked for someone else, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur.

When I was 12 my father rang me from his business to say that his Saturday worker hadn’t arrived for her shift and would I take her place. My father had owned his own three storey hairdressing salon in Warwickshire from the age of 18 until his death at 53 in 2005. I used to sit at an empty salon booth after school doing my homework, and after it was complete I would help him in the salon. I would load towels into the washing machine, fold towels into their respective categories from the dryer, sweep the floor, make drinks for clients, and prepare the colour and perming trolleys for appointments. At the end of the night I would help him to count up the till, record the takings, and prepare the till’s float for the next day. So obviously I was his first port of call.

Knowing the market advantage with my years of experience, and the immediacy of my availability that Saturday morning, I at the age of 12 negotiated the terms and conditions of my employment. I stated that I would accept his offer of employment, if: I was paid £1 an hour (this was 1994 and before minimum wage), I would keep all my tips, and he had to provide lunch. It equated to a minimum of £20 a day. My father laughed and said’ “I don’t know if I should be impressed or insulted, but I accept”.

At the age of 14 I began working on weekend evenings as a silver service waitress for the heady salary of £3 an hour (time and a half on Sundays, and triple on Christmas Day), whilst maintaining my role in my father’s business as by this point I had advanced to being receptionist, appointment booker, and shampooer, so my tips and increased hourly wage at the salon were piling in.

By 16 I was working as a hairdresser’s assistant (now also a trained colour technician), a silver service waitress, a tearooms waitress, and I also had a house and pet sitting business in my home village. In this timeframe I had also completed 16 GCSE’s A*-C and had enrolled on 3 A Levels, one of which I completed in less than 6 months. As my school had different term times to my mother’s school, I also filled in as a teacher’s assistant in her classroom.

Looking back I was honing skills that I still use today, clients engagement and time management, as I was working for 3 completely independent businesses and a junior school, negotiating salary, working hours, and requirements of the shifts, in addition to my own house and pet sitting business that I was marketing in my village, all whilst studying towards my academic career at school.

This pattern never changed. At 18 I became a Business Improvement Team Leader and Trainer, training sales people in how to utilise skills in communication, marketing, sales, and customer service, by 21 I had moved into working for the government as a Litigation and Audit Training Officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. During both of these roles I continued my studies completing 4 NVQs (two at Level 3) in just over 2 years.

At 19, using my savings for the past 7 years, I moved into my first home. Since then I’ve flipped 9 further properties, thankfully finishing the building works on my current home 24 hours before going into lockdown.

In 2005 I joined The Open University, and embarked on producing online and blended content for 13 years. It was such a fantastic opportunity, creating content and platforms for a plethora of corporate clients such as the Foreign Office, Microsoft, Google, CMI, CIPFA, NASA, even Pinewood Studios to name a few. I also created content for platforms such as YouTube, iTunes U, Amazon Kindle, Google, OpenLearn, and FutureLearn to circa 10 million learners worldwide, collecting a number of global awards along the way. I also continued my studies, and completed a business management undergrad, a postgrad diploma, MBA, MSc and my doctorate collectively in 9 and a half years whilst working full time advancing my career, freelancing as a sole trader, and serving on a number of think tank panels.

In 2018 I was invited to join Solera Holdings, a global car insurance software development company operating across 37 companies in 93 countries, to build for them a business school from no legacy, as prior to me joining there was no L&D department. Given the size and complexity of the holdings group, I was consulting with 37 separate client companies to define their needs. Within 10 months I was shortlisted for LPI’s Learning Professional of the Year award, for which I received bronze, and the year after LPI’s Learning Leader of the Year award, for which I was a finalist. It was both challenging and enjoyable to create for Solera my dynamic vision of a multilingual school based on a flexible five tier micro qualification structure utilising flipped classroom methodology built on the foundations of what I call ‘socialist L&D’.

Then 2020 came, and a multi-billion dollar company that operated on a pay-per-use licence of their software with global insurance companies rapidly felt the effects of a global pandemic that put almost the entire world’s population into lockdown and off the roads. No cars on the roads, no claims to insurance companies, no use of Solera’s software. So, I, amongst 13% of the workforce were in the first wave of redundancies.

For the first time in 26 years I was unemployed, and not studying, yet incredibly I did not bow to social media pressure and bake banana bread. Not once.

After discussions with colleagues an the field, I decided that my best direction was to combine my 26 years of business skills, with 20 years of L&D knowledge, and 15 years of working with clients in L&D consultative roles, to form my own limited company. Before I had even finished formerly registering my company I had clients. So, whilst to some, I may look like it’s all new to me, it is in fact second nature.

I think my dad would have been impressed, but I think he would definitely tell me to negotiate more than a pound an hour…

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