Co-founder and Business Manager of Redvoice, Helen West

Helen West describes herself as a ‘fairly’ normal 45 year old woman – happily married for 22 years with two boys aged 17 and 20. Helen’s working life started off at a secretarial college and from there, she progressed through several secretarial roles until she ended up working in HR for a large national bakery chain in the South. After relocating back to Yorkshire, she entered the world of Recruitment. Helen said that she loved the people contact of the job tole and there was nothing like the buzz of marrying together a new relationship of employer and employee that goes with it. “Unfortunately, the way I liked to work – with honesty, integrity, good communication, relationship building – didn’t match that of my employers who wanted to make the placements and get the money in no matter what.” Helen explains, “It didn’t sit well with me.  After that, I changed direction completely and worked for an independent Optometrist for 11 years and ended up re-training as a Dispensing Assistant which brought along more exams!”

Helen took the decision to give up working at the Opticians “It was an enjoyable job with lovely people but I felt if I didn’t move on, things would be pretty much the same for the rest of my life” she says, “maybe it was a midlife crisis….I was 40! So I bid my farewells and decided to take time out to do what I really wanted to do.” Helen enjoyed the first two months – full of divine long lie ins and no worries – Helen was a lady that lunched, but the only problem was that all her friends were out working in the daytime which left her bored. She felt that her brain was going “soggy” and she still didn’t know what to do when she “grew up.” She came to the decision that she would like to work for herself but as a jack of all trades and master of none, she wasn’t sure how to go about it. The only thing she knew for certain was that she was great with dealing with people and was in her element in that type of role.

Helen takes me back to New Years Eve 2007, ”I was staying with a good friend in Scotland for Hogmanay and whilst enjoying a little early evening snifter before the real party started, I admitted to her that I was really bored, didn’t know what to do and until I found out, I was considering my youngest son’s desperate pleas to get a dog, at which point, her face lit up and she announced loudly (enough for big ears youngest son in the other room to hear) that her friend’s dog had just had puppies and they were ready to leave their mother imminently and that we should go and see them the next day (New Year’s Day!)  Well, ‘Big Ears’ pleaded and begged until I caved in and reluctantly agreed. Cutting very long story short here – I defy anybody to go to see a litter of 8 week old Labrador/spaniel cross puppies and not come home with one, even if it did involve a new year’s day hangover, a four and a half hour journey in the car and absolutely nothing at home for a new puppy. The  result? Meg. or Meggy Moo as she is affectionately known, the little chocolate labradinger!!  What a shock – puppy training is not for the faint hearted!”

2 weeks after bringing Meg home, Helen paid a visit to her local park in Calverley to take Meg for her first walk. “It’s like being a magnet to everybody! Everyone loves a new puppy.” Helen says. She ended up walking around the park with a lady called Victoria Pritchard and her dog Murphy, she realised in one lap of the park that she really warmed to Victoria and admired her for her friendliness, infective energy and passion for life. They also had a common ground – a love of working with people.  “Victoria and I became very good friends and through this friendship, we spent much time walking our dogs and finding out more about each other’s lives.  I found out that she trained 20 years ago at LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) as an Actor and has worked over the years in Theatre and Television where she was cast in Bad Girls, Holby City and Emmerdale. She has just filmed for Hollyoaks and was the face of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, amongst a whole host of other things.” Helen says.

Fourteen years ago Victoria was working for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and was approached by the BBC training centre to see if she would like to deliver a session concentrating on the voice, as part of their Communication/Presentation skills course for the big Canary Wharf Banks.  Victoria delighted in providing this session but after 6  months or so, realised that there was a huge crossover between what she, as an Actor does and what people do every day in business – communicate with their ‘audience’ – be engaging and interesting. From there, she devised an interactive, energetic, experiential programme which covered everything to do just that – looking at verbal and non-verbal communication, body language, posture, eye contact, breathing, diction, dealing with nerves as well as the technical side of how the voice is used.  Over the years, the programme has been very successfully delivered by Victoria herself all over Europe and she even took it over to America to teach others.  The only downside was that Victoria was working as a consultant for other training providers. Although it was her own programme, she wasn’t receiving the lion’s share of the money or the recognition – it was time to start her own business – except she didn’t have any of the business knowledge, administration, business development skills required to do so.

Whilst delivering the courses, Victoria continued as an Actor and presenter and moved from London to Leeds for 6 months to film a series for Yorkshire Television.  During this time, she was unable to live in the serviced apartments provided by the studios because she had Murphy, her little dog. She explored the local area and arranged to view a rental property in Calverley.  Turning up for her appointment to view, the owner didn’t show, so instead of marching back to the taxi to take her back to her apartment, she decided to stay and have a little look round the place.  She ended up having a chat with a lady who suggested that she try another house on the same road which was for sale. Although she didn’t want to buy, the lady suggested that she speak to the owner who might consider renting it out – that was nearly 4 years ago.

“What did Victoria find out about me?” Helen says, “Well really, all the aforementioned details and how frustrated I was becoming by not working and getting out there and how much I wanted to ‘do something different’ but I didn’t know what. We were both there looking over each other’s shoulders for the solution to our frustrations when she suddenly jumped up with her arms outstretched  in a ‘Eureka’ type of moment and announced ‘I’ve got the product, you’ve got the business know how, we’ve both got the passion…how about starting our own business?’  The seeds were planted. This was my sliding doors moment – what would have happened if I said no about getting the dog? What would have happened if Victoria had been hasty about the house viewing and ultimately taken herself back to London?”

Moving forward with their business ideas, Helen and Victoria started careful planning into their product. Helen says, “Victoria delivered a one day course with 6 accountants who wanted to improve their skills in communicating and presenting themselves, I was absolutely blown away by the results, the feedback from the delegates and the overall delivery and interaction of the session.  I was excited, I wanted to see more – I did see more and the more I saw, I realised what a truly fantastic product we had here. Redvoice was then born.”

Redvoice concentrates and is centered around the voice. ‘Red’ in the name stands for a number of things; passion, fear, danger, anger, excitement, vibrancy…hopefully Redvoice hopefully is a name that stands out in peoples’ minds.

Helen and Victoria decided that they then needed a business plan, a brand, a USP, a strategy, a route to market….and maybe some money! They also had realised that we were right in the middle of the recession – training and marketing budgets were being slashed, people were being made redundant, money was tight…why would they start a new training business now? “Because a  recession is EXACTLY the time that people need what we have to offer more than ever!” Helen says, “People are having to work so much harder to fight for business against their competition – it is all about making contacts, relationship building, earning trust, getting back to the basics of communicating and doing business with honesty and integrity.  Gone are the days of the hard-nosed sell , people buy from people they trust.  This brought us to our strapline/USP ‘It’s not about being confident … it’s about being YOURSELF confidently. It’s true and it works.”

Helen and Victoria networked attending as many events in their area firstly to just to build up contacts and it wasn’t just an opportunity to spread the word, Helen says, “we turned up with real passion in our bellies and shared it with others. Victoria delivered talks and seminars at networking events about communication and presenting yourself with confidence – showing that she ‘does it herself’ in her own working life and then shares the knowledge in our workshops and courses. We’ve listened to what people want – many lawyers are crying out for what we offer as they are really fighting for their business now, but they want their mandatory CPD points for it. We went away and worked hard to become accredited suppliers for the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. We blog, we write articles and have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century that is social media, which I’m sure we can improve upon.”

Helen and Victoria found that their main obstacle was making people realise that taking the courses are actually an investment on themselves – investing in great training can ensure confident business owners who know their goals and targets well and can deliver the goods. Helen believes that her best success is the fact that every single delegate evaluation form comes back with nothing less than ‘excellent’ and ‘life-changing’ on the report. She was also delighted at being accepted as an accredited supplier for the SRA and being contracted to deliver a course on the spot after hosting a breakfast seminar at a networking event.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Helen says, “And don’t expect everybody you meet to deliver on their promises – ride the disappointments and move on. Make a good initial investment in your Branding and keep it simple.  We did that, we made it an extension of our own personal brands and we have had nothing but good feedback about it. When the going gets tough, the tough get going – keep the passion going when things seem hard and just be yourself!”