The Wellness Entrepreneur
Alex Collinson worked in business change for 18 years. Until she found a different way of supporting people during change. An affordable, quick solution to well-being, that helps get rid of the stress, backaches and emotional turmoil that working in a changing business environment so (too?) often leads to.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? About what you do, and your business?
I’ve spent the vast majority of my career working in big corporate organisations. But interestingly before that I was actually a toxico-bio-chemist. I worked a few years in a laboratory, but found that the pace of actually getting any research done was so slow.
I realised that I needed something with a bit more human contact. I made the shift from research into business, and never really moved out of the world of change. I felt I was able to support people within an organisation with their emotional journey through change.
I always felt connected to my desire to help people. But then again, at the same time, I always found it exhausting, because I got sucked into people’s emotional journeys and I never found I could really switch off. That you were always being held back and stifled a little bit.
I’ve always had that desire to want to go and do something that was on my own terms. Last year, I was actually setting up my own change consultancy. I was working alongside an old colleague, trying to figure out what that journey would look like.
We’d been working together for about 3-4 months. And at one point he said to me ‘Have you ever thought about massage chairs? We could just – instead of thinking of helping people manage change – we could instead help them deal with the stress of change and what our work lives do to us, from a mental and a physical perspective’.
I’d constantly suffered with back issues, and not just finding time, but also finding the money. So we started discussing this idea of could we bring a wellbeing offer to the high street that would support local businesses and local residents. That gave them something that – because we’d be using technology, instead of using people – we would make it more affordable. But we could also make it more convenient.
So then we made a much more coherent plan around what we could do and how we could really create something that was affordable, flexible and convenient to everybody. It all started from there, in a beer garden in Brighton, where all good ideas start!
How did you go about setting it all up?
It did require us acquiring knowledge. In fact, the one thing I’ll say on this, just because you don’t know how to do something now, don’t let it ever stop you or put you off taking a different path. Because we all have the capacity to learn, if we’re willing.
And it was from looking at an angle of what people want as opposed to what do we need to be an expert in that helped us move the idea forward. It was about understanding what was the key element of what the customer wants. It was about understanding about the technology. It was about being really clear about the strategy on how to make ourselves accessible, and about being really clear from a business planning perspective how we were going to finance it.
It’s an understanding of what you need to learn, what you need to do within the budget, and also being clear – because we’re in a partnership – what our different roles were going to be. What decisions we were going to take together and have to partner on, and which elements we were going to give to each other so that we could independently manage parts of the plan without treading on each other’s toes.
Really practically then, how did you go about getting customers?
That is the challenge we are in right now. Launching a business in 2020 has been a very unusual task.
When we started on this journey we made an assumption that we would source some technology from within the UK. Because we assumed it would be available. So the first piece of tech that we chose turned out to have loads of problems. And I believe that the things that go wrong, go wrong for a reason. And you can’t let yourself get disheartened and concerned. You have to figure out what you do to fix it. And typically you learn from it. And it takes you down a much more positive path.
So, you think, we were ready to launch the business but we got nothing to launch it with and were burning rent on our premises. So we then went down a completely different sourcing path and we now have gone directly to source and we now have a far far better product.
Then we got delayed because of Coronavirus. Because our suppliers are out in the far east our delivery got delayed, then we were in lockdown ourselves.
And I had to start learning that whole concept of how to develop messaging for different customer groups. Understanding each customer group and how I was going to reach out to them. To learn about the use of social media and asking friends and people I know to support me.
It’s about having the courage, it’s your business, it has to be seen to be congruent with you as an individual. So you have to have the confidence to put a bit of your personality into it as well.
But there’s a freedom in that as well. By the fact that it is down to me. It’s down to my ability to get stuck in., to become creative, to explore and realise if I make a mistake it’s OK because I can move forward and learn from it. It’s within my gift to manage that journey. And it’s not being influenced by anybody else.
What else have you found difficult in your journey?
We would have hoped to have been set up and up and running by now and we would have had our first 3 months of bedding in and starting to build up our customer base but haven’t been able to do so due to Coronavirus.
But the pressure that I’m feeling right now is ‘I’ve really got to make this work’. Because I need to be able to support the family. And sometimes you get this feeling of ‘have I been really selfish?’. This desire to go and pursue my creative and entrepreneurial desires are going to have an impact on the others in the family. Because my husband has to still be the main breadwinner. So I’ve really got to make it work. That’s quite stressful.
How do you keep yourself going?
There are three things:
Number one – the plan that you have for your business it’s got to be realistic. And this is where my change experience has been really good, because we have a thing called ‘optimism bias’. Where you are too optimistic about the benefits of something. If you’re only ‘pretty confident’ that you’re going to achieve them you need to take off 30% of whatever your number is
Secondly I talk about it regularly with my husband, because we have to keep that conversation real. And I’m quite good at burying my own anxiety. And that doesn’t help us as a family.
And also, you need to be clear on what your exit strategy is going to be. If it all goes wrong what does that look like? If it all goes wrong how are you going to get out of it without wrecking your finances and your relationships. That’s another honest conversation you have to have.
All of that happened before we launched in a big way. It’s all about good planning.
How do you manage your emotions during all of this?
I have moments of fear. But I rely on talking those fears through with people. I rely very heavily on my mum and dad. They’ve run their own business for 30 years, with their ups and downs. And I can learn from the lessons they can teach me. If I feel that anxiety I need to acknowledge It and then make sure I talk it through. If I don’t the stress starts building up. I also talk regularly to my husband and business partner.
How did you make your transition, from working in the corporate world, to consulting to now into your own business?
Once I had decided to make a shift out of the corporate world you start seeing the opportunities that you didn’t see before. Within a week of making the decision I found a contracting job. I was doing contracting and some pieces of consulting in between when I was contacted by someone I’d worked with who asked me to set up a change function in a charity. I was more interested in people managing their own change. So as soon as I started having that thought process this idea came along. A lot of my moves have come from circumstance. With my mind opening up to opportunities. It’s whether or not you follow that opportunity or you don’t.
And it’s also about thinking positively. If you do that opportunities will appear.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
We made an assumption that we could source our technology in the UK. But we could have thrown the net far wider and looked at going directly to the manufacturers. Because that’s the right way to do it. But we did what we did with what we knew at the time. If we had been a bit braver we would probably have thought bigger.
Also, if we had done things a bit more in time, we would have found out that we had the wrong technology earlier, we would have got our order in before Covid, everything would have been shipped and we would have had only about three weeks delay from our original January launch date. The choice was between saving money and giving ourselves time to set up. Either one was a perfectly good argument but the one we chose caused us a bit more problems.
But you never know how things are going to turn out. You just have to live with the decisions you make.
Also, you shouldn’t get too wrapped up in the ‘what-ifs’.
What are your other plans, inside your business, or out?
We are planning to have three arms to the business:
The first one – having a high street well-being presence, our Pod studios, and obviously Brighton is the first one and really is a trial of the concept. Do people really buy into in having affordable accessible therapies being delivered just using technology? The first phase is to prove that part of the business model. And prove the technology.
Then – we’d like to pick another location in the South East of the UK to trial another store in. And then we’d like to roll out to every major city. And have a real brand presence across the UK.
The second part is the lease side of things. We’re looking to develop that lease model, so that we can lease those massage pods into corporate spaces, spas, hotels, airlines, high end retirement homes, to offer added values to employees and customers.
Corporate organisations are investing more in health and well-being programmes. Organisations are turning part of their office space into well-being spaces, like sleep pods, places where people can go on a treadmill. And we can position ourselves in that environment.
And finally, we also like to go into private sales. We would like to be the only ones in the UK to do this.
Each business in its own right has got the opportunity to be very profitable. Those are the three spaces that we’ve got earmarked. But in the first year we’ll focus on the Brighton studio and make that profitable.
And finally, what are your recommendations to women who would want to pursue their own business - on the side, or make the switch from their corporate career?
Firstly, let your entrepreneurial ideas flow. Don’t follow the first idea, but let your ideas come. Go through the journey. Don’t expect it to happen straight away.
Answer the question if you want to go it alone or if you want to be in a partnership. For me partnering with someone has really made it fly. It also allows you to not be a jack-of-all-trades and master of nothing.
Be realistic about your plan and be aware of what support network you need around you. Also, consider how the change will affect others around you.
And have fun whilst you do it. That’s been our guideline from the start.